no child left behind Archives - The Jose Vilson

no child left behind

A few years ago, I read an article in Wired Magazine detailing the events that led up to the Market Crash of 2008-2009, wherein they pin down much of the blame on an elegant and seemingly infallible formula created by world renown mathematician David X. Li. Recounting the events that led up to the crash, the Wired article reads similar to every other well-intentioned idea: the creator thinks he or she is solving a problem, assumes no one will tamper with the few good assumptions within the creation, and hands it to the people entrusted with its longevity .

Only for it to fall into wrong hands and get adulterated for other, more vile purposes.

This formula created by Li assumed, essentially, that the market would continue to grow, and if it didn’t, it wouldn’t lose too much ground. It also meant that those who abused the formula, and didn’t understand the maths behind the formula, would continue to push it to validate selling and reselling pieces that essentially had no value or ground behind it.

That’s how VAM (value-added modeling) threatens to dice the teaching profession.

Proponents of VAM remind me of the proponents of the market’s wild success before the market crash. The mathematicians may have had the best intentions for using test scores as a means of determining how much the students are learning. The value-added model tries to control for external (socioeconomic) factors which differentiates it from a strictly evaluative model (taking the average of all test scores as is). It also tries to emphasize the growth a student makes from year to year, another boom for proponents of VAM.

What we have then are governors, mayors, newspaper heads, corporatists, and education celebrities (who have come under fire for massive erasures across their former school supervision) trying to tell the public that this formula is the only way by which we can hold teachers accountable. Policies like No Child Left Behind and initiatives like Race To The Top both implicitly and explicitly push schools to use student test scores as the most accurate way to evaluate teachers in the classroom.

Yet, it just doesn’t work. By many accounts from statisticians, financiers, and other vested mathematicians, students’ test scores used in this form are wildly undependable in all sides of the spectrum, and full of errors used as a continuous product of teacher quality.

What really shocked me was the ridiculous margin of error: 35% over 4 years, 11% over 10 years. As a measure of the teacher, it means that those who make it to the 4th year of teaching (if they do) with a 47% percentile on their Teacher Data Report may either be a terrible teacher at 12%, an excellent teacher at 82%, or anything in between. If they make it to their 10th year, and go up to the 53rd percentile, they’re still a below average teacher at 42%, a pretty good teacher at 64%, or anything in between. Let us guesstimate here and say that the margin of error by the 20th year is 5%, the same margin of error for many major political polls. Wherever the teacher is, frankly, won’t matter much because the teacher may be ready to move on to another career or retire.

How is using VAM a way to help a teacher as they grow in the profession with staggering numbers like that? For that matter, how does that help the school as a whole? It doesn’t.

It’s the equivalent of having to wait for someone a few hours too early or too late when you asked them to meet you at 8pm, a plane flying from Chicago to DC ending up anywhere between Massachusetts to North Carolina (give or take), or Ross Perot possibly getting the majority of votes in the 1992 Presidential Election or no votes whatsoever. (he won 18.9% of the votes that election year.)

Also worth noting that many teachers don’t stay in the same exact place and time, and neither does the neighborhood in which they work. With the fluctuation of populations in the places using these formulas, we can’t rely on the same type of students staying in there. How do we know that teachers aren’t teaching students how to take a test by means of mastering test methods taking or aren’t getting “help” from certain individuals?

With dangerous elements like VAM, we’re practically begging teachers to teach to the test, narrow the curriculum, and hope the child had breakfast that morning. We also have to limit creativity, assure students get the right answer on a particular question instead of getting the right answer on all types of questions involving that learning standard. I believe our solution lies in multiple forms of assessments for teachers and students, mainly formative, without repercussions or punitive scare tactics. If we want real professionals, we should find more professional means of treating everyone in this business we call “teaching students.”

Not that it’s a corporation. It’s a lifestyle for us.

Proponents of VAM couldn’t have possibly read up on using formulas for things they weren’t intended to measure and still think they’re benevolent. Public education is a future that’s too big to fail.

Jose, who read the briefing papers and statistics, so you could get back to lesson planning …

P.S. – For more on this, please check this paper by Darling-Hammond, Ravitch, Baker, et. al. …


Running To The Edge

by Jose Vilson on March 7, 2011

in Jose

Dennis Littky, radical educator and co-founder of Big Picture Learning, wowed everyone with his TEDxNYED speech on Saturday. The man with the colorful kufi and grey beard might have struck the unsuspecting (and uninformed) as discordant in contrast to the business casual of the rest of the crowd or aloof because of their own prejudices, but he removed all doubt of his passion and intelligence without so much as one PowerPoint slide or high-tech wizardry. TEDxNYED is wont to having the fanciful and aesthetic come before any audience member could glean anything from a speech.

Not so with Dennis.

While I’m intentionally not recapping his speech here (for fear that I’ll totally misquote him), I’ll give you the last jewel he bartered to the rest of us:

“If you’re not standing on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.”

Perfect words in the now crowded discussion about education in this country. What’s happened is less about solutions and more about regurgitating problems. For those keeping track, the same problems with the current education system are the same problems with the education system of every decade for the better part of the last century. The huge attention drawn to K-12 education has a whole nation of soundbite kings with fold-able podiums in their suitcases, ready to sell us their schemes for education.

Yet, No Child Left Behind still leaves an entire generation of children ill-prepared to answer the set of daunting problems facing this world, much less answering some of the questions we’ve already answered. Governors stripping the rights of local workers to come together and bargain cry echoes of hypocrisy as they don’t even wince at the idea that a corporation as a “person” exists to place them upon their seats. Media heads nudge the most common reporter to hysteria, and help brand anyone who speaks for the people with McCarthyist fervor. Entertainment and marketing execs have our whole country hypnotized into a dilapidated culture of values, urging youth to adult-erate and the old to act oppositional but never reciprocate, and balance is off-key.

All the while, people like me across the nation stand in the middle of this teeming mass of confounders, getting a chance to jump above the fray to see people actually near the edge, where the rest of us need to be.

It’s not that I think all mainstream people are somehow corrupt, misguided, or uncaring. Some are. Many just don’t see it the way I do. Or some of you do. But the edge is where all the action happens. It’s where the proverbial beginning of human civilization happened. It’s where disasters naturally occur and the place where wars begin in earnest. It’s where people found ways to make unknown territories into horrors unforeseen. It’s where we fear what keeps us grounded the most. The gravity and courage it takes to get to the edge cannot be overstated.

It’s also the place where we built things that connected more of us together.

Those who find their way to the edge know the landscape better than anyone, and now that the mainstream has been forced into this corporatist vision for education, we have to live on the edge. We have to speak up and out about what we believe is a wrongheaded version of the story. We have to dissent against those who insist on separating us by age, class, race, and gender. We have to show more than outrage for the ways our children have been pushed by this system into virtual and real prisons for private profit. Those of us on the edge have to speak up about the overwhelming majority who may not have the words for it, but nod their heads knowing that something just ain’t right.

Those of us with a present and future voice who only point out problems run the risk of running in circles or, worse, running off the edge with Wile E. Coyote. If we’re willing to innovate enough to find solutions and humble ourselves enough to support others with good solutions, then we see the edge. Once that edge becomes clear, let us stand together while we draw the lay of the land, drawing less on paper and more on each other’s passion for this.




by Jose Vilson on October 11, 2007

No Child Left BehindEvery year, sometime in September, teachers and administrators get a huge stack of papers describing to us exactly how our kids performed in the 2-3 largest tests in the city (for those outside of the city: Math, English / Language Arts, and Mastery of the English Language). I honestly feel sorry for the tons of trees that die on this occasion because 1) once it’s handed out, the higher-ups never really have to look at it again and 2) most teachers look at the report very briefly. Unfortunately, these reports don’t really tell us much except at their proficiency for passing state tests according to the difficulty of the test (the stats also depends on whether the mayor wants people to think he’s doing a good job or not, but that’s another story).

If you look at a student’s score and see a 2 next to his / her math state exam score, we’re supposed to assume the child is “approaching” the math standards. Isn’t everyone in a math classroom approaching math standards, just at their own speed? And what part of math is he / she not doing well in? Of course, I can look at the raw score and see whether the child is a “low” 2 or a “high” 2, but it still doesn’t tell me much.

Is the child not able to reason through certain problems? If worded differently, will the student get the answer correct? Is the issue geometry, algebra, measurement, or just a lack of command of the English language? Did the child get appropriate services throughout the year or just made to fill out paperwork that he / she didn’t understand? Do the teachers have an opportunity to address the different intelligences they come across when they get the students?

And this might seem weird from someone who’s compared people to numbers that can be broken up into a unique set of primes, but to wit, we are all composite, and thus more complex than a 1,2,3, or 4 rating on our math or ELA exams. We have different strengths and weaknesses, and a good teacher should be able to address and differentiate according to those intelligences, not simply to what a state exam tells them. If we really care about the students, then data-driven education is only a reasonable fraction of what we as educators should look at. Classroom management, chemistry, and personality types also come into play when we cater to the students we teach.

Despite or because of this, we all know the key to most students’ learning is to make our lessons if not always fun, but informative, interesting, and in tune to our children’s needs. Characteristics like enthusiasm, focus, routine, and caring cater to the child’s most prime of needs.

Tests, on the other hands, are often disingenuous across the board, and easily manipulated in the face of political gain or corporate investment. Our children have been looked at as nothing but numbers and means for monetary gain, even before No Child Left Behind. A “3″ in one math test can mean something completely different from a “3″ in the same test from the previous year (and usually does). How many educational “non-profits” do we see at our schools nowadays? How many times are math and ELA scores emphasized more than school culture and morale? When’s the last time you heard a teacher tell a student a really good but unrelated story for fear that they might not have enough time to prepare for the test? If they don’t want us teaching to it, they sure have a funny way of showing us.

All this to say that the students who I say good morning to have much more potential than some contrived message we’re supposed to gather from that number. The real data we collect, the diagnostics, pre-tests, post-test, post-post-tests, finals, midterms, portfolios, projects, etc. should be used to inform you of whether the child gets what we’re talking about and if not then we probably have to teach it again (formative and summative). Yet, we can’t give in to the influences and pressures to become drones to a heartless system.

Then again, I’m still a dreamer.

jose, who just made a portfolio project based on the upcoming Penny Harvest …