Tag: Marguerite Roza


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The Magic Bullet-Shooting Holes Fallacy in the Urban Teacher Quality Debate


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One problem within the debates over education reform is what I call the “magic bullet-shooting holes” fallacy: The tendency of each side to either attempt to use some sort of…

We need a Chase Mielke in every urban classroom. Let's get to making it happen. Photo courtesy of the Kalamazoo Gazette

One problem within the debates over education reform is what I call the “magic bullet-shooting holes” fallacy: The tendency of each side to either attempt to use some sort of magic bullet to prove their argument or tear down the argument by complaining that the research is full of holes. Given the fact that education research is, for the most part, so notoriously lacking in rigor that debates can end up being little more than shouting matches with five-dollar words in substitute for salty language, this isn’t surprising. But it often means that one of the two sides tend to miss the point entirely.

Stanford economist Eric Hanushek– one of the foremost researchers in education — exemplifies this in a commentary on Education Next about addressing the low level of academic instruction in America’s poorest schools. Arguing that there is more inference than evidence that low teacher quality is the underlying cause of woeful student achievement, Hanushek then declares that several of the key methods used by school reformers to determine this — most-notably the teacher salary comparisons pioneered by Marguerite Roza and the Education Trust — offer little evidence that this is so.

Certainly the Roza model isn’t exactly foolproof. Some of the worst-performing school districts certainly have plenty of veteran teachers. Which is often as much a problem in those districts as having far too many inexperienced teachers. Considering that just 1.4 percent of tenured teachers are ever dismissed for performance issues (and less than seven-tenths of one percent of newly-hired instructors are ever fired), the veteran status of teachers merely means they have avoided felonious activity and more-rigorous performance management. Additionally, as  Dan Goldhaber and Michael Hansen of the Center for Reinventing Public Education pointed out in their report, the average 25-year veteran is no more effective at improving student achievement than a teacher who has taught for four years.

But the Roza method does offer a  good starting point for measuring teacher quality among and within school districts. Why? Because the nature of the current teacher compensation system — in which teachers must earn years of seniority and numerous degrees before gaining high levels of salary and benefits — means that salary can be used to measure the number of newly-minted teachers in a school or district. Salary and experience are positively correlated (even if experience and teacher quality may not). As Hanushek concedes, there is correlation between the number of rookies on a teaching staff and the quality of instruction. I have used Roza’s basic method in my own work, most-notably in a 2006 editorial on improving teacher quality in Indiana’s poor urban schools.

Yet Hanushek fails to consider the fact that there are other ways of measuring teacher quality in urban schools which can stand scrutiny. This is something he should know quite well.

There are teacher absenteeism levels: For one, the higher the level of absenteeism, the more likely students are being taught by substitute teachers — who, no matter one’s views on credentials, are usually teaching out of field and thus providing lower-quality instruction; the measure may also show whether a large percentage of a teaching staff is coasting towards burnout. There is also the percentage of teachers with less than three-to-five years of experience; Hanushek already concedes that there is a correlation between number of rookie teachers and quality of classroom instruction.

Another is the percentage of teachers reassigned to new schools more than once every three years; this allows researchers to determine the percentage of teachers who are part of the notorious dance of the lemons that occurs between schools year after year. One could even use teacher test scores on such tests as the Praxis I — which is required in most states for initial certification — along with the percentage of teachers who have failed those tests and retake them for a second or third time.  As Katie Haycock of EdTrust (Hanushek’s foil in this debate) also points out, even the value-added assessment techniques Hanushek pioneered is offering new evidence that low-quality teaching is at the heart of urban school failure.

It is sad that Hanushek (and, to a lesser extent, Fordham Institute research czar Mike Petrilli) engage in the same sort of “magic bullet-shooting holes” argument that plagues so much of the education reform dialogue. Improving the quality of education for the poorest students requires high-quality reasoning and dialogue, along with high-quality research.

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More on the Civil Rights and School Equity Front


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Back in December and last month, I reported on the announcement by U.S. Department of Education civil rights czar Russlynn Ali at the Schott Foundation “Opportunities to Learn” conference that…

Back in December and last month, I reported on the announcement by U.S. Department of Education civil rights czar Russlynn Ali at the Schott Foundation “Opportunities to Learn” conference that the agency would step up its investigations into civil rights allegations. As I mentioned, this was sweet music to school funding activists and other elements of the Ivy League-based civil rights movement (yes, not to be mistaken with those who work the grassroots) who have not been successful in bringing equity and adequacy torts.

In the following months, additional lawsuits have come onto the radar, including a tort in Indiana launched by the Hoosier State’s suburban school districts. Last month, a superior court in Washington state ruled that the school funding system there was unconstitutional. And now, there is the prospect that even more lawsuits will come to the fore. As reported today by the Washington Post and the New York Times, Ali’s boss, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has further echoed Ali’s announcement. Thirty-two school districts will be subjected to even reviews that promise to be even more in-depth than under the Bush administration (or so ED says). Altogether, 38 reviews will be conducted this year, according to Ali and Duncan.

The likelihood is that there will be more school equity suits, not just against states, but against individual school districts in how they use (or, as the Education Trust often calls it, misuses) Title I funding. It is well-known that even though Title I is supposed to be used as additional dollars targeting poor students in order to achieve  comparability, districts often use the funds to equalize funding between poor and wealthier students. Essentially, instead of spreading local and state dollars equally across students, then ladling Title 1 as additional money for low-income students, the districts hand over most of the state and local dollars to wealthier students, then use Title 1 to fill the gap for poor students. As a result, low-income students are still shortchanged because they aren’t getting extra money for additional services that will help them improve their educational achievement.

Another aspect that may come into play is how districts place experienced teachers. Thanks in part to collective bargaining agreements that give teachers with seniority the ability to work in any school they so choose, schools within a district that serve poor children are largely shortchanged as those with more experience flee to wealthier schools within a district. As proven by education scholar Marguerite Roza and in a 2006 editorial I wrote on teacher assignments, it is borne out in individual school budgets, which mostly consist of teacher salaries  If the Department of Education focuses on the role these contracts play in fostering these inequities, it may end up playing a major role in reshaping seniority rules even beyond requiring the use of student test data in measuring teacher performance through Race to the Top.

By the way, it’s not just states and school districts that could be subjected to greater scrutiny. Cities with multiple school districts such as Houston and Indianapolis could also end up under ED scrutiny; the inequities that can be found between various school districts could invite federal investigation (and torts by equity activists against states for allowing such local problems to continue).

This is going to get even more interesting.

UPDATE: Richard Whitmire wonders if the new civil rights agenda will include addressing the low graduation rates among young black, white and Latino males. His answer: “Offending women’s groups (remember, eight million more women than men voted for Obama) by expanding the idea of what constitutes gender discrimination seems unlikely.”

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