January 22, 2008

NYC Puts Cart in Front of Horse

The NYT reports:

New York City has embarked on an ambitious experiment, yet to be announced, in which some 2,500 teachers are being measured on how much their students improve on annual standardized tests.
This is a bad idea, at least today and at least in New York City.

In theory evaluating teachers based on student performance is a good idea. But only if the schools are functioning properly in the first place. Imagine this.

Company A and Company B manufacture automobiles. Each company has several factories where cars are assembled.

Company A has perfected its assembly line such that 99% of the automobiles coming off the assembly line function properly and pass all the quality control tests. If the cars rolling off of factories A, B, and C are rolling off at a 99% pass rate, we have good reason to believe that all the workers, including the managers, are doing their job correctly based on the performance of the products. If factory D only has a 75% pass rate, there's good reason to believe that something has gone awry in this factory based on student performance. Furthermore, if the failing cars were tested and it was discovered that most of the failures were the result of the engine not functioning properly, then there's good reason to believe that the guy who assembles the engine isn't doing his job properly. The solution is for manager to can the employee.

Company B has perfected its assembly line. Only 25% of the automobiles coming off its assembly line do not function properly and fail one or more quality control tests. If the cars rolling off the assembly lines of factories A, B, and C are mostly defective, what do we know about the workers in these factories? Nothing. The assembly lines of Company B are defective and they could just as likely be the cause of the failure as the workers. Examining the products rolling off the assembly lines of Company B doesn't tell us much about the ability of the workers. The failures do tell us something about the ability of Company B though. Company B is the failure. The managers of Company B are responsible for the failure, not necessarily the workers. so who cans the managers? The market, assuming Company B was operating in a properly functioning market.

The public schools in NYC are company B operating under the delusion they are company A. That's how we get silly policies like measuring student performance to evaluate teachers. Using this same thinking, why doesn't NYC measure the performance of the schools to evaluate the performance of the management of the NYC school district, starting with the chancellor. You can bet this won't happen because the public schools are a political beast far removed from the free market. The only losers in this situation are the consumers, i.e., the parents and students.


Tracy said...

Glad to see you back again. I've been stealing your material over for comments on Crooked Timber http://crookedtimber.org/2008/01/22/class-schools-and-research-literacy/#more-6588 - hope you don't mind.

Kathy said...

Phila Inquirer reporter Susan Snyder reports today that all we need to fix the reading mess is to have smaller schools, involved parents, wonderful teachers, libraries,and good books.

This kind of reporting only adds to the continuation of the mal-instruction of balanced literacy.

I have written to this reporter, given her a link to this site, suggested books to read, etc. She never responds to me. Maybe you can write to her and ask her to do some real investigating reporting and research balanced literacy used in the Phila School system.


Kathy said...

BTW, I do reading tutoring in a Phila public school that is number one in its district. We also have good reading scores however we have kids who do not learn with balanced literacy. I work with those kids.

We all know that only the proper instruction will help some kids but getting others to understand this is impossible and this reporter is making it a harder task.

Liz Ditz said...

At least NYC is a unified school district, meaning it has responsibility for all students k-12. Out here in California (and elsewhere) many localities have k-5 or k-8 districts, with a superimposed 9-12 district. In my county, one 9-12 district enrolls students from 12 different k-8 districts.

The 9-12 district is judged (by NCLB & by California state standards) on how closely their students conform to the 9-12 standards....but they have no control over the students' preparation to meet those standards.

Education reform is murky indeed.

BTW, nice to see you back. Hope all is well & sunny in D-Ed-ville.