20
Aug
10

Measure what you want to improve

So this story from the LA Times is making its way all around the big truck, but I figure it (and its implications) need a bit more coverage — thus, this post.  I particularly like Ken’s Patrick’s take on the matter:

The Los Angeles teachers union president said Sunday he was organizing a “massive boycott” of The Times after the newspaper began publishing a series of articles that uses student test scores to estimate the effectiveness of district teachers.“You’re leading people in a dangerous direction, making it seem like you can judge the quality of a teacher by … a test,” said A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which has more than 40,000 members.

Forgive me, as I’m not a teacher, and I’m childless, but if I’m asked to judge the quality of a teacher at all, by what metric should I judge if not by student performance? By how nice a teacher is during parent-teacher conferences?  By whether she’s a union delegate?  By her students’ self-esteem, even if they can’t multiply 11 by 12?

The Times study allows for, and takes into account, that teachers in different schools are given students of varying preparation and ability, by measuring teachers within individual schools and by using student improvement, as opposed to simple scores, to gauge effectiveness.

Pretty incisive stuff, and quite similar to what I’d have written (though I’d probably have said “fuck” a lot).  Ken Patrick deviates from my take in only one detail:

Why is it that the only people, seemingly in America, who oppose judging schoolteachers by the performance of their students, are … teachers?

(Emphasis added.)

It is of course teachers’ unions that object so consistently and so strenuously to measuring teacher performance.  Much like judging a nation’s people by their government, it’s misleading — bordering on invidious — to judge a population of teachers by the bellicose bloviations of their union leaders.  I rather suspect that a lot of hard-working and terrifically able teachers resent the fact that not only is their performance being deliberately ignored, but that this policy is enforced by people who purport to have their best interests at heart and with whom they are contractually forced to associate.

And yes, I know: teaching to a test is not the same as teaching the material; there are many factors beyond teacher performance in student performance; blah blah fucking blah.  None of that is any excuse willfully to avoid gathering data to improve student outcomes, and as far as I’m concerned A.J. Duffy’s position is tantamount to child abuse.

I don’t often say this about the legacy media, but go give the LA Times some ad views.

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3 Responses to “Measure what you want to improve”


  1. August 20, 2010 at 16:52

    Hey I love Ken like a virtual brother, but he didn’t write that.

    • August 20, 2010 at 17:07

      D’oh! Fixed.

      I suppose I could start measuring the mean time between my multi-author blog misattributions. I think I’ve done that once with Alex Tabarrok (attributing his post to Tyler Cowen), once with Seamus Hogan (attributing to Eric Crampton), and now once with you and Ken.


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