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North Carolina teacher's resignation letter (dianeravitch.net)
367 points by bwsewell 1851 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 302 comments

It's fine to grumble about testing, but the debate is not about the tests.

Teachers performance in the US has been terrible for many years. Partly this is because of bad management, partly because of low pay, and partly because of teacher unions preventing any action against the worst teachers and insistance on tenure tracks.

The reason testing is good isn't because it is somehow super accurate. It is good because it keeps teachers honest. Without testing, how do you measure teacher performance at all? How can you tell if someone who is capable of teaching well isn't just being lazy or getting distracted?

So, if you aren't a fan of testing as a way to measure and improve teacher effectiveness, please find an alternative that works better. Just not having any metric at all is far worse than the imperfect tests we have.

It's easy to point out problems. It's useful and important that people find flaws and fault. In this case, however, just pointing out the deficiencies in standardized testing doesn't help anyone unless it either leads to a more effective alternative, or improvements in standardized testing. Standardized tests might be very imperfect at measuring teacher performance, but it's far better to use the tool we have than to just throw up our arms and assume that all teachers are equally competent.

So, if you aren't a fan of testing as a way to measure and improve teacher effectiveness, please find an alternative that works better. Just not having any metric at all is far worse than the imperfect tests we have.

This is a gigantic assumption which you have tossed out there without any support whatsoever. You are basically making an assumption which encompasses the entire issue in question, and then just blithely assuming you are correct.

In fact, the evidence which is staring us in the face indicates that you are not correct, and that we were far better off before we decided to let No Child Left Behind and a group of for-profit "education" companies co-opt our system and turn it into a giant standardized-test machine.

You want an alternative that works better? No problem. Go back to doing things the way we did them before January 2001. By the way, this would emphatically NOT mean that we had "no metric at all", of course...we had testing before 2001. We just didn't structure our entire system around constant standardized testing and force teachers to teach to those tests, that's all. We also had other metrics, such as observing how students do in college.

What evidence do you have that things were better before 2001?

Talk to any teacher or administrator who gives a shit about their students and were teaching before 2001. I come from a family of teachers and school administration and they all point to NCLB as a huge turning point downward in education. Even the ones who favor more standardized testing as a way of finding teachers who aren't up to snuff say the test score has to be one input to the equation, not the only thing. Making the test score all-important skews teaching the same way making one metric in business all-important skews the business toward that metric.

For anyone that knows anything about the current system, its almost obvious. Education in the states is much more of a wreck now than it was BB (Before Bush). The only thing kids have improved at now is....taking standardized tests.

tl;dr No evidence but I hate Bush SOOOO MUCH!

If you have kids, do you really want them to be educated in fill-in-the-bubble hell? Because that is how school is these days, teachers don't teach, they do test prep and then administer those tests, and the testing companies have gotten rich in basically a corrupt cycle. Read the linked article for crying out loud.

Also, NCLB passed with bipartisan support at the beginning of Bush's term, it wasn't his fault, but it was symptomatic of the simplistic shallow thinking that he would use the rest of his term. States are finally able to opt out, thank god, and you can bet I will make sure my kids are educated in one of those states.

This is crazy. If you have another metric for student performance other than test scores, just say it.

Why are standardized test scores a good metric? A more accurate metric might be standardized testing company profits...mission accomplished!

The US educational system is evaluated against other countries, and we've only gotten worse in our rankings despite paying those testing companies all that money. Does Finland have standardized tests? No, they kick our butt simply by treating teachers as professionals and paying the, accordingly.

We do have another metric: The teachers', who spend 5 days a week with the kids, knowledge. They have a dataset infinitely deeper and more multi-dimensional than a standardized test can give. Of course, it doesn't lend itself well to making graphs, but that's the nature of complex data.

The subjective opinions of a teacher are not a metric, they are merely a noisy data set.

They are also nearly worthless scientifically - they are incomparable (how do you compare the opinion of teacher A to that of teacher B) and non-reproducible (how can one repeat an observation).

All true, of course. But numerically accurate data on a proxy quantity that you don't care about are not necessarily inferior to numerically inaccurate data on the quantity you care about. Both pose challenges to interpretation. It's easy to be seduced by clear numbers and worry less about what the numbers mean. We can argue about which fields count as "science", but many fields try to learn from non-reproducible data.

(And I say this having spent my career in the physical sciences. There's too much noise induced by people who present statistically solid analyses of numbers whose connection to the core questions is much more tenuous...)

Standardized tests typically measure how good a student is at adding, subtracting, and reading a paragraph and using the information it contains.

Why do you feel we don't care about that? What information should we care about?

Standardized tests claim to measure those quantities. To be fair, my school system was quite good, so I don't think I suffered too greatly from teaching to the test, but I did read quite a few of the study/test guides put out by Kaplan and their ilk. Much of it was tricks based on the structure of the tests; the "types" of question that will be asked and type-specific solution strategies. These tests are not about basic understanding and skill at adding, reading comprehension, etc., but rather a well-defined subset of those skills. The assumption is that skill in the subset is a good proxy for fundamental skills in the student. If teachers are evaluated solely by these partial measures, it is in their best interest (and, in the eyes of the administrators, produces the best results) if they optimize for these partial measures; the argument from standardized testing opponents is that teaching for these partial measures has not been shown to produce general understanding.

In that sense, NCLB created a race to the bottom; schools that performed below-average got less funding, so if any schools successfully "taught to the test", they all had too or face budget cuts (that's my understanding, IANAT).

Is there evidence that these partial measures reveal and/or necessarily lead to a more general understanding?

Here is an actual CA standardized test:


Please explain why you feel it doesn't adequately measure the ability of students to "read, write, and compare rational numbers in scientific notation (positive and negative powers of 10) with approximate numbers using scientific notation" (as well as the other topics listed).

Or, similarly, can you explain specifically what "teaching to the test" means and why it is suboptimal for learning the aforementoined topics?

Sorry for the delay, I didn't realize you had replied (is there some global notification UI element I should look for?) I don't know if you'll see this, but I'll reply anyway.

I'm not from California, nor have I studied their tests, nor did I claim that standardized tests themselves are flawed, so your first demand is misleading, at best. I will grant that, having done further research, my first examples of teaching to the test were flawed; I'll try to summarize it (and my position) below.

Teaching for the test is explained pretty well here: http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/perspectives/teaching-test and on wikipedia [ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teaching_to_the_test ]. Note that this definition of teaching to the test isn't necessarily bad, only when applied wrong. Punishing/rewarding schools based on student performance on a small set of tests creates an incentive to have student "learn" by mercilessly practicing on those tests, to the exclusion of other approaches. As per the sources on wikipedia, this doesn't impart a "general understanding," nor does it necessarily raise test scores. Other people here have linked stories where teachers and schools actually helped their students cheat on standardized tests. Standardized tests themselves aren't the problem; we've had them for decades, and they can provide valuable insights in some cases. The problem is when we focus on standardized tests to the exclusion of all else, putting a perverse pressure on schools. I believe you previously supported evaluating by standardized tests because they're the only quantitative measure we have; maybe this means we can't reliably quantitatively evaluate the impact of a single teacher on a small set of heterogeneous subjects. Demonstrate we can, then I'll reconsider NCLB.

edit to add another thought: I'd liken this to the problem of overfitting in machine learning. You have a way of measuring the performance of your system, and try to improve the system via that feedback. It's easy to overfit it, making it work beautifully on the provided data, but lack generality. The problem isn't in how we measure "fitness," necessarily, it is in how we update the system based on that result. That is, standardized tests may be a fine measure among students with that "generalized understanding"; I've not been convinced we are using those results intelligently.

Thanks for responding. I appreciate you taking the time to explain what you mean. I didn't mean to imply you criticized a specific test, I'm just trying to understand what critics of testing actually mean by "teaching to the test".

I suppose our probable point of disagreement is fundamentally that I don't think classes will ever impart a "general understanding". I consider the purpose of a class to be imparting a specific skillset, and most of the skillsets taught in school are quite amenable to testing.

You are also correct that my arguments in favor of testing implicitly assume teacher quality matters in a significant enough way to measure - if it doesn't, measuring them is pointless. (Then again, so is trying to use teacher quality as a lever to improve outcomes.)

I'm not certain he had another metric in mind, but it seemed plausible that he may be suggesting that test score performance did not actually increase after No Child Left Behind, or that an increased emphasis on test scores in the last decade had not had a positive measurable impact, even on an imperfect measure like test scores. I don't know what the actual data say but it seems like that was the avenue he was going down.

Classroom work? Like it used to be when we were kids. You went to school, and learned the material in class, and the teacher had a grasp on where everyone in the class. You did homework, and took tests prepared by your teacher. Now teachers in some states have to spend 30 min a day just teaching HOW TO TAKE A STANDARDIZED TEST! "here you go little johnney, fill in the bubble the whole way"

What prevents the teacher from giving his class all the answers so that he doesn't have to work and doesn't get fired for his students grades being too low.

Teachers and administrators are actually incentivized to cheat. And sometimes even the students are in on it.

Yesterday: 23 schools penalized for helping cheat tests http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2012/10/29/schools-stripped-o...

Last March: the head of the School District's test security program reported more than a dozen testing violations at the school. http://thenotebook.org/blog/125270/wagner-cheating-follow

Last Year: America's biggest teacher and principal cheating scandal unfolds in Atlanta http://news.yahoo.com/americas-biggest-teacher-principal-che... http://onpoint.wbur.org/2011/07/11/teachers-cheating-in-scho...

I remember hearing about a school where the teachers assigned a letter to each corner of the room and would stand in the corner of the room that corresponded to the correct answer to each question.

In Atlanta they were having "grading parties" where teachers were getting together on the weekend to erase incorrect answers and fill in the correct ones. They got sloppy.

The other teachers on his team? Its not like that was a rampant problem when we were groing up....

nothing really.

ITs ok, this types of train wrecks have their own logic - after a while people will cotton onto this part, and then there will be spot checks to ensure that students aren't being given the question paper.

After that they will realize that all tests should come from one standardized system, lets say Pearsons.

Then pearson will conduct tests for all 10th graders and then all high schoolers and so on.

Kids will start spending time coming up with creative ways to cheat and beat the system.

Its happened before in other countries and will happen again.

At the end of this, expect people to enter the test center after going through a metal detector and removing any metallic object.

"I still have no evidence, but I'm going to use more extreme appeals to emotion and stronger language to try to make you overlook this point"

Ya, when it's kids at stake, I get emotional, and the hellish system in place has to go.

"Forget your silly logic and think of the children!"

No, don't destroy a generation of children with bad science.

You're referring to a value judgement, right?

Huh, I read it as "what is that way to measure school quality absent standardized tests?"

While I think you read it as "What's a better way to run schools?"

Your answer, roll back to before NCLB.

That could be true, but we still wouldn't have an answer to the other question. Absent standardized tests, how can we measure school quality? Hopefully something slightly more rigorous than testimonials from stakeholders... (ie, teachers claiming they like or dislike their school).

If there's a better way to get some standardized measure of student / teacher performance, I'm curious to hear it. I'm not pro-test, I just don't know the alternative metrics advocated by the anti-test community.

Same here in Germany. We got more and more standardized tests and curricula (it mostly started after I left school) and the teachers I really respected seemed to become more and more disillusioned and annoyed by the changes.

My personal opinion is that good teachers make bad politicians and thus bad teachers (or even better, people who never were teachers) make the rules.

There is a better alternative: surveying students. Standardized tests attempt to assign one number to teacher performance by quantifying student performance on one three-hour test. The survey examines dozens of metrics while allowing students to capture their over 100 hours of experience in the classroom watching their teacher.

We're discarding some of our most valuable data. In most schools, student evaluations of teachers aren't even administered, let alone analyzed and weighted in teacher assessment. Skeptical? See the research below. Properly-constructed surveys yield very accurate results; students are surprisingly honest in their responses, and students truly value a hard, fair teacher who actually teaches his students over an "easy A" teacher.

Take a look at Ronald Ferguson's work and the MET Project [1]. I can't find the original article, but this New York Times article [2] is a decent summary.

[1] http://www.metproject.org/downloads/met-framing-paper.pdf [2] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/11/education/11education.html

Student surveys could certainly contribute to the evaluation of teachers, but I doubt its a viable replacement for academic tests. We must also note that they are being compared to current test-based methods. They claim to get "good agreement" but without a real publication its hard to tell what that means. Does it mean that in most cases the students are honest? (i.e. that the disagreement is caused by dishonesty) Does it mean that in most cases students appreciate teachers that make them learn? (i.e. that the disagreement is caused by students who like their teachers even though the students themselves are not learning) Or is the disagreement inherent in the fact that one measure is better than the other at gauging teacher performance?

Software developer performance in the US has been terrible for many years as well.

Maybe we should institute some standardized tests?

And if you're gonna complain about how measuring KLOC doesn't make any sense, well, it's not enough to just point out problems. You've gotta point out solutions. Be a team player.

Software developer performance in the US has been terrible for many years as well.

The cost of software has been going up while the output has not been improving? Um, what?

Maybe we should institute some standardized tests?

Big companies already do this. They typically have very rigid processes for evaluating consultants/outsourcers and pretty much just follow the numbers. For higher end work it's trickier, but for standard stuff (build X screens in Y CRUD app) it works well.

The only real difficulty in measuring the output of individual developers is heterogeneity. Last year I built a search engine, this year I'm building a realtime data framework (and other stuff). That's not a problem for teaching, since the output of teaching is homogeneous (and is defined by the syllabus).

> That's not a problem for teaching, since the output of teaching is homogeneous (and is defined by the syllabus).

The syllabus is typically defined politically, which is anything but homegeneous. In fact, pretty much everything surrounding the teacher is defined by politics, which makes it a huge problem.

Until we're mature enough to get rid of the politics surrounding the teaching of even core subjects, like science, we're screwed.

And I don't blame the teachers one bit for walking away.

What you teach is INCREDIBLY political. My mother had to have a multiple meetings with her principle because as a 2nd grade teacher, with a biology degree, when one of her students asked about bird beaks when watching birds eat from a feeder she mentioned evolution. The school wants to keep evolution safely inside the 10th grade biology course where you can send in a note to skip it.

Without tenure, for have a factual enriching conversation with her students she would have been fired. She's going to retire soon, and is worried about teaching because "her generation" only went into it because they didn't fight to get what at the time were men's jobs. Today a 4.0 college grad with a biology degree would never teach 2nd grade.

The syllabus is typically defined politically, which is anything but homegeneous.

Please look up the definition of homogeneous - being defined politically has nothing to do with it. All calc 1 classes are the same, and some politician demanding that pi=3 doesn't change this.

Fortunately, math hasn't been caught up in the same horse manure that science, history and language instruction have been, all of which have ongoing political surroundings.

Additionally, the modern teacher has to deal with and put up with rather a lot of things that aren't directly related to their subject areas, but are politically determined.

FYI, denotatively, homogenous and homegeneous have different meanings. Connotatively, they are somewhat interchangeable. I suggest you look up the meaning of "thesaurus" and "pedantic". Or skip that and ask yourself, did you understand what I meant?

I didn't notice you used a different word (and one that isn't in the dictionary, no less). At this point I concede that I have no idea what you meant.

I do agree with you that people who dislike politics should not work for the government (which is, by it's very nature, political).

That's far from the only real difficulty in measuring developer output.

Large companies generally have very low standards for software quality and employee productivity, so they are hardly proof that the problem is easy.

Some obvious factors that make it hard to evaluate both developers and teachers:

- An important part of the output is in effects on the team - The true test of the output often comes years down the line - The work is done out of sight of the evaluators - There are many confounding historical factors - The profession is subtle and hard for outsiders to evaluate - Poor management often limits worker effectiveness

And in many ways, teachers have it worse. Teaching is much less like writing software than it is like management.

You seem to be asserting that developer performance has improved while teacher performance has declined.

A) I see no evidence for either of these

B) If teachers are doing a worse job, shouldn't the new generation of developers be worse than their forebears?

C) We could argue both points all day. Both jobs are hard to measure. That's my point.

You're right, it's exactly the same in every way. No strawman here!

It's not the same and that wasn't the poster's point and it isn't a strawman. Metrics are hard. Metrics for complex, creative endeavours are exceptionally hard. Both programmers and teachers are difficult to accurately evaluate and manage. Most developers I know object to arbitrary metrics for the same reasons as most teachers I know do, the metrics rarely measure actual performance and metrics are usually gamed.

Perhaps you would like to contribute something to the discussion instead of pointless sarcasm.

"Just not having any metric at all is far worse than the imperfect tests we have."

Are you sure about that? How do you know that a bad metric is better than no metric? It sounds a lot more like "We should be doing something. This is something. Therefore we should do it."

Sure, I agree that in a general sense just pulling a number out of the air is crap.

Testing isn't wrong, it's just not as correlated to the things we would actually like to measure as we would like it to be. This is an open problem in the world, and solving it (besides potentially making the inventor fabulously wealthy) would dramatically change the world.

How do you decide if someone is qualified for a job, or will be successful at a university? In reality we don't have a very solid way to figure that out, so lots of people that would have done well are passed over and lots of people get into universities and hired for jobs and end up failing.

Testing is correlated to lots of things, and is quite nicely correlated to the quality of the training a student was given. I'm sure there is a better solution out there in the aether, but mankind hasn't discovered it yet.

Actually, we do have a good way to determine how someone will perform. The US military has used the ASVAB test for decades, and studies have shown that performance correlates with test results.


Took the pre-asvab in high school back in the 90s, got a perfect score. The recruiters called a lot. Took the full ASVAB at a recruiting station, still got a very high score. Too easy, how can that be a real test? My ACT/SAT scores were good but not perfect.

This is a question about the philosophy of science.

How do you know clinical trials are better than observational methods? How do you know controlled experiments are better than post-hoc reasoning and logical deduction?

Standardized testing is just the application of the scientific method to education. If you don't believe in the scientific method then you shouldn't apply it here.

But if you are asking for an empirical method to compare the scientific method to "other ways of knowing", there isn't one.

Standardized testing is just the application of the scientific method to education.

That's not true in any way.

The purpose of the education system is to create a well-informed citizenry prepared for a productive life and for the duty of running a country.

The goal of standardized testing is to get some very rough metrics about superficial, easy-to-observe aspects of some basic parts of the apparatus.

The two are very tenuously related.

If we were applying the scientific method, we wouldn't be doing things like national, uncontrolled experiments that assume that basing major decisions on those rough metrics will result in improvements along the axes we actually care about. And then acting as if those metrics tell us everything about one aspect of the system, teachers, because that's where the political focus is.

Applying the scientific method would involve formulating hypotheses and then testing them through lab work and field trials. That's what we do with medicine, at least some of the time.

Heck, we could start by testing the hypothesis that getting everybody to focus lots of classroom time on standardized tests improves actual education.

> Heck, we could start by testing the hypothesis that getting everybody to focus lots of classroom time on standardized tests improves actual education.

It's been done.

A quick Google found me this: http://www.nytimes.com/1992/10/16/us/study-finds-standardize...

Which is from 1992. I'm sure if I put some effort into it, I could find more, or at least demonstrate that standardized testing has not meaningfully changed in the last 20 years.

The purpose of the education system is to create a well-informed citizenry prepared for a productive life and for the duty of running a country.

Could you be specific? In particular, how do I measure whether a citizen is prepared for a productive life or not?

Heck, we could start by testing the hypothesis that getting everybody to focus lots of classroom time on standardized tests improves actual education.

How would you set up the experiment? In particular, how would you compare group A (no tests) to group B (with tests)?

> Could you be specific? In particular, how do I measure whether a citizen is prepared for a productive life or not?

I like that you ignored the latter half.

You don't measure the citizen. You measure the rate at which the country is liberalizing. That is, the rate at which its core philosophical attitude is becoming more individualist, egalitarian, meliorist, and universalist. The purpose of public education is to shift us from the medieval era into the modern era. (And to be clear, being conservative is the opposite of being radical; it does not contradict being liberal. Many things that belong on the political Right are legitimately liberal but not Left.)

How many people are concerned with individual rights? How many people demonstrate equal moral worth and status to all individuals? How many people have a positive outlook on the future? How many people recognize universal qualities in all human beings? The rate at which these indicators are moving is positive, but that rate should be increasing in a country with a strong educational system; you'd ask the questions differently in a different era.

So you are proposing that the purpose of education is indoctrination into value system X, and propose that a successful system will indoctrinate more people?

Your goal is now vaguely stated. But how do I actually count the # of people concerned with individual rights/positive outlook/etc?

Yes, the purpose of all education is indoctrination to a set of ideas. Home schooling is also an exercise in indoctrination to a set of ideas. Critical thinking is an idea, egalitarianism is an idea, individuality is an idea, problem solving is an idea.

Education is a way of ensuring a more advanced and productive society through imparting certain knowledge and ideas to its children. The best metric for measuring the performance of an education system is rates of criminality. If a society has high crime rates then its education system is failing to produce productive members.

Education can be divorced from indoctrination. An educated person can display particular skills and knowledge, they don't need to believe that knowledge.

(See, e.g., Einstein displaying knowledge of quantum mechanics without actually believing it, or assorted creationists who actually understand evolution.)

I think your claim that criminality is the best measure of knowledge is interesting. Among other things, it suggests that the best way to increase knowledge might be to shut down the education system and implement a police state. (For the cost of the current education system we could increase the number of cops/courts/prisons by a factor of 6.)

> Among other things, it suggests that the best way to increase knowledge might be to shut down the education system and implement a police state.

Actually, an easier way to reduce the crime rate to zero is to repeal all categories of crime. Make it legal to steal and murder. Then all you have are existential crimes: "How could you let this happen!?" types: where crime is a metaphor rather than a fact.

> (For the cost of the current education system we could increase the number of cops/courts/prisons by a factor of 6.)

Citation needed.

Citation needed.


We spend a lot on education, not so much on cops.

Crime rate is a decent metric, but I feel it's too indirect to be useful. If they do change, there are a lot of possibilities that could explain it: police aren't enforcing silly laws, that laws are reasonably legislated, police have been corrupted by bribery, and so on.

> So you are proposing that the purpose of education is indoctrination into value system X, and propose that a successful system will indoctrinate more people?

What did you think it was?

> Your goal is now vaguely stated. But how do I actually count the # of people concerned with individual rights/positive outlook/etc?

Uh, polling?

Hopefully the goal isn't to indoctrinate people but to prepare them to go to college, get a job, make money, spend money, etc.

> go to college, get a job, make money, spend money

Can you tell me why these are good things to prepare people for?

College leads to job leads to money. Money is generally a pretty handy thing to have.

And some people disagree with the notion of money. Why is your value system better to indoctrinate the young with over theirs?

I don't disagree with you, mind. It's just that accusations of indoctrination are responded to in kind.

I think living a good life and doing something that benefits other people (aka earning money) is a good idea. If somebody disagrees, he can of course take his kids and go live under the bridge and open his school there. Let's see where we'd have more applicants - in a school that teaches kids how to be successful or in a school under a bridge that teaches them money is nothing, you can subsist on garbage and live in cardboard boxes forever. I think you can predict the result - and explaining this result would also explain which system is better, in opinion of your peers.

That's still indoctrination. I'm not sure why that's hard to understand. You can make all the assertions you like; you're still indoctrinating a particular value system.

OK, it's indoctrination. Teaching kids to use toilet, wipe their butts, wash their hands and not put a fork into an electrical outlet is an indoctrination too. So what?

I fully agree. Please address your question to ntumlin.

Polling is another form of standardized testing (unless you propose asking different questions of each participant).

It seems you don't object to standardized testing at all, but merely to the goals of the current school system (conveying knowledge/skills rather than indoctrination).

> Polling is another form of standardized testing (unless you propose asking different questions of each participant).

No, it's not. Polling is an analysis of a large population through sampling. Standardized testing, in the context we're talking about, is an evaluation of performance based on the performance of a different group.

> It seems you don't object to standardized testing at all, but merely to the goals of the current school system

Here's the funny part. The goals are expressed through the school system. The kind of reform I'd like to see (read: infeasible in the short-term, at least) involve societal upheaval. I can talk about it, as long as you recognize that I've been working for the past few months on trying to figure out a good way of capturing my thoughts and have yet to succeed to my satisfaction.

I can't speak for wpietri, but my opposition to standardized testing is multifarious. For instance, I've experienced its detrimental effects on education firsthand. (In high school, there were a number of interesting topics that we had no time to cover because it was more important to teach to the test. My desire for education reform was born right there.) For the same reason, I dislike grading and GPAs and such. I don't consider this opposition very important, though, because I think we're teaching the wrong things to begin with.

> conveying knowledge/skills

The decision of which pieces of knowledge and which skills to focus on is a political decision and a form of indoctrination. Otherwise, you're not actually conveying anything so much as facilitating the ability to discover/develop knowledge/skills.

...evaluation of performance based on the performance of a different group.

I'm confused - what group of people should we be measuring, if not the students exiting the education system?

...there were a number of interesting topics that we had no time to cover because it was more important to teach to the test.

Again, I stand by my claim that your problem is not with standardized tests, but with the goals of the school system. You wanted schools to cover topic B, but the political system decided they must cover A.

The only role the tests played in this story is that they are an effective mechanism for making sure teachers actually do their job.

> The only role the tests played in this story is that they are an effective mechanism for making sure teachers actually do their job.

I am having trouble finding a word in that sentence that isn't wrong.

That's not the only role the play. E.g., they also cause people to spend more time on test prep and less on education.

There isn't just one story here, despite your attempts to pretend that teachers are the only problem and tests are the only solution. Which is the political angle you aim to work.

They are not a particularly effective mechanism. Which is why nobody sane uses standardized tests forevaluating, say, which developers to hire.

They are not an effective mechanism for making sure that teachers actually do their jobs. They could only theoretically cover a small part of the teacher's job, and it's not clear how well they cover that. And they lump together all of the other factors that go into even that small slice of a student's performance.

I'll make one final attempt to bring this discussion to specifics. Here is a test from CA: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sr/documents/cstrtqmath7.pdf

Can you be specific about what "test prep" means and how it differs from "education"?

Again, many larger companies (e.g., Google, Goldman, MS, DE Shaw) do attempt to standardize their hiring procedures and evaluation methods. But I suppose they are all "insane", right?

Are you seriously saying that any of those outfits uses a fill-in-the-bubble standardized test to make decisions about hiring, firing, and promotion for their software developers?

If not, I don't see what your point is.

I also don't believe you really don't understand where education and test prep diverge. I think that's a rhetorical technique.

Are you seriously saying that any of those outfits uses a fill-in-the-bubble standardized test to make decisions about hiring, firing, and promotion for their software developers?

They have collections of questions they ask on interviews, each assigned relative difficulties, and a standardized way to evaluate answers. They ask interviewers to stick to a certain structure, and discard results if an interviewer goes rogue. Standardization is about making sure results are objective and comparable to each other - "fill in the bubbles" is just one particular easy-to-grade method of accomplishing that.

In the past companies (pre Griggs v. Duke Power) did use even more standardized methods, which included "fill in the bubbles", they just don't get too close to completely objective standardized tests due to lawsuit risk.

I also don't believe you really don't understand where education and test prep diverge. I think that's a rhetorical technique.

For a decently designed test (such as the one I linked to) I don't believe they diverge significantly. As I suspected, you are unable to justify your claim that they do.

Ok. So your answer is: no, nobody uses a test like that for hiring. Why? Because, being cheap to grade, they're not a good measure for anything subtle. Like hiring decisions. And they certainly don't use them to evaluate anything after hiring.

As to the difference between education and test prep, I'm not unable to justify my position; I'm unwilling to try to do so to you. I don't think you're a serious conversational participant here, by which I mean one who's actually willing to learn anything.

But as a hint, your basic claim is that a fill-in-the-bubble standardized test is a perfect leading indicator for the decades-long effect we expect education to have. And that it can't be manipulated to diverge from that.

That's a very strong claim, and you're obviously smart enough to find the holes in that. You won't, though, because your whole MO on HN is as relentless debater on a pretty narrow set of political points.

> Again, I stand by my claim that your problem is not with standardized tests, but with the goals of the school system.

You really only care about those standardized tests, don't you? Any other point of interest just sort of gets ignored.

Yeah, sad, isn't it.

Why is it suddenly my job to make up tests? If you'd like some, give it a go.

My point is that NCLB is scientific in the same way Taylorism was: it's a cargo cult activity that takes on the trappings of science and looks for something easy to measure. And then uses those measures in ways that aren't scientifically validated at all.

I'm asking you what evidence (if any) would change your belief. Perhaps no evidence is capable of changing your mind.

That's fine - you've just adopted a different philosophy, one of the "other ways of knowing" rather than science.

My point is that NCLB...

I'm not arguing for NCLB, I'm arguing that objective, comparable and reproducible measurements are the only viable way to optimize a system.

If you want to argue some specific metric is flawed, do it. Explain what should be measured and how the particular metric differs from it (i.e., details). So far, not a single person in this thread has actually done that - the closest we came was this: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4713558

Science is awesome. It is also incredibly difficult and expensive.

I would love it if we did proper science with education. I would love it if we did it with software development. In neither case has anybody put forward sufficient resources to do real science in these realms. Not science sufficient to replace human judgment.

Until we can, I don't think cargo cult science is the way to go. Half-assed studies on software development methods, counting simple metrics for developers, measuring teachers through simple standardized tests: all cargo cult science.

For now, I'd much rather rely explicitly on human judgment. It's not as good as actual science, but it's much better than pseudoscience.

Standardized testing has nothing to do with science. There are studies in teaching and learning that do attempt to gauge the effectiveness of different teaching approaches, etc, and they typically use randomized trials and carefully controlled situations to be able to measure the effect.

But more crucially, the subjects (both teachers and students) in those studies are not rewarded based on the outcome of the study. Even if there is a correlation between the test and what we want schools to achieve (whatever that is), making teachers jobs contingent on that outcome will select for teachers who are good at achieving those results, which increasingly will diverge from your desired outcome. It's an example of dangers of "optimization by proxy" (http://lesswrong.com/lw/28r/is_google_paperclipping_the_web_...).

> Standardized testing is just the application of the scientific method to education. If you don't believe in the scientific method then you shouldn't apply it here.

Sorry, what's the null hypothesis here, and where's the control group?

What about long-run outcomes under standardized testing vs. without standardized testing?

Longitudinal data would be difficult to find, but surely countries differ in their respective levels of standardized testing.

Obviously this is a complex issue, and I don't mean to single you out here, but I'm surprised how often I hear the argument that teachers aren't good enough from people who are concerned about the quality of education in the US. It seems to me that in most other industries, the workers in the field are given the benefit of the doubt.

In other words, do people really believe that Americans are great at being programmers or fire fighters or lawyers but that we just suck at being teachers?

Maybe I'm biased because there are a lot of teachers in my family, but my impression from hearing them discuss it is that the problem is much larger than whether teachers are good enough or not. Many teachers, like the one who wrote the linked article, are working under incredible pressure, essentially in conditions under which is is very easy to fail. Huge class sizes, inadequate funding, etc.

I think we should stop blaming teachers and assume like we do with so many other workers that most of them are smart and capable and will do well if we give them the support they need. And it would probably be wise to ask teachers how we can improve education and give them the authority and resources to implement their ideas.

Most of us have been to public schools. We have direct, first-hand observations about the quality of teachers.

I had a few stars, most were just getting by, some actively sucked. From everything I've ever heard, most people had the same experience.

It's not like we're talking about something none of us know anything about. We've been there, seen it.

We're also teaching kids about subjects they literally couldn't care less about. Every single class I took on World History, Arts, and English literature was very close to useless. I bet the artists and English lit lovers would say the same thing about Chemistry and Physics.

We don't trust 16 year olds to make decisions on what they do and do not want to study, so we force them to study some things we know they won't like. And why?

Because we want them to have a level of understanding of those fields, even if it's shallow. It's good for society if as many people as possible understand algebra or World War I or how to read and write at a high level. If for no other reason than that as a democracy, we need our citizenry to have a certain base level of knowledge of how the world works.

Citation needed on the "broad base of knowledge being useful" tidbit.

The first hand experience of people having been a student once isn't enough information in which to judge a whole profession. If that were the case, we should be letting only users of software direct how software is made.

Also, experiences can be really variable for different people. Some students might have many great teachers and be in a position where school is very positive for them. Other students could be facing an entirely different picture about the kind of schools and teachers available to them, esp. given the variances in local and state politics, class levels, income, and attitudes towards teaching.

"Some students might have many great teachers and be in a position where school is very positive for them."

I've never met anyone who said this about her public high school education. In university, many people said this about their educations in private schools, so I assume such a positive experience is possible. I'm convinced it's rare in public-funded secondary schools in the USA.

This seems roughly equivalent to the argument that we should measure software developer quality by lines of code written per day. Sure, we know it's not a perfect measurement, but it's the easy one to check, and it keeps people from doing nothing.

Of course, we software developers, understanding the complexity of our profession, know that would be idiocy. "But hey," says the MBA, "Some metric is better than no metric."

Then you create a new metric, you don't just throw your hands up and say, "well, I guess this stuff just can't be measured!"

In science, no metric is better than a bad misleading metric, definitely.

It's not science if there's no metric. If your hypothesis can't be falsified there's no scientific method.

I'm not sure what you're advocating, but it seems to be wish-based education.

Do you really think there are only two modes of thought? Pure science and wish fulfillment?

That would explain why you'd cling to cargo-cult science rather than admit that the current use of standardized testing is not scientific in any way.

Great! Then do it. Tell me the correct metric for measuring software developers. We'll use it to hire and fire them, to decide their pay, to compare divisions of a company, and so on.

Do that successfully, and I'll happily give you a good metric for teachers.

Where do you work that you aren't graded on a metric?

The places I have worked have all emphasized goal-based metrics. The software developer lays out what they think their responsibilities should be and how they'll be measured on them. The manager then reviews the list with the developer and confirms the responsibilities and the measurements. The developer is then later graded upon his or her ability to meet the predetermined requirements.

I think the same thing could be used for teachers. Seems workable to me.

I am having trouble taking you seriously.

You argue in one place that scientific metrics are the only way to evaluate educators. And then here you are arguing that managerial judgment is a serious metric. Even though it's entirely non-numeric, personal, unstandardized, unrepeatable, and unreliable.

The same thing was used for teachers: it's called the judgment of their employers. If you're happy with that, then there's no particular need for all the NCLB standardized testing.

Where did I say I advocated standardized testing? I simply want a metric. It doesn't have to be standardized, it can be personalized. However, eventually I would like to see us gather some useful information from it. Think of my metric as performing an experiment. We'll try many different methods for the same curriculum, gather the results of those methods (what were the most common goals, what were the most commonly completed goals, what were the most commonly failed goals, etc.). Do you see my point now?

Believe it or not, this happens on a regular basis. You never hear about it, though, because standardized testing is our current gold standard and people refuse to use something else.

The contention here, though, isn't that standardized tests are useless, it's that they're worse than useless and actively cause harm when they're required.

It's a very different proposition.

As for measuring performance, there are ton of ways to do it (some of which incorporate tests) without mandating standardized testing.

What specifically is the harm they are alleged to cause? Teaching to the test?

I wonder what teachers who currently "teach to the test" would teach if they had no test to teach to. I seriously doubt that they would suddenly become paragons of pedagogy, that it was somehow the existence of standardized tests was the cause of their deficient teaching.

Of course it could be argued that tests offer a shelter to such teachers; in standardized test's absence, they would be replaced by better teachers. I also think this is an unlikely scenario. The absence of standardization would result in non-uniform results, some districts might come up with good measures of teacher performance and successfully replace teachers, but I suspect most would not. Instead, the formerly "teach to the test" teachers would stay on, and that their teaching would not improve as a result of their new-found lack of accountability.

No doubt some replacement for standardized testing could be invented, but that is irrelevant if we are arguing that such tests are worse than useless. I.e. that doing nothing is better than doing these tests.

The problem of standardized testing has a direct analogue in software engineering that makes the situation crystal clear to any programmer - remember when our industry thought it was a good idea to measure programmer productivity primarily (or even solely) by the number of lines of code written? How did that work out for us? Terribly, of course. LOC metrics have a passing resemblance to the thing you want to measure in software engineering but it turned out to be horribly bad at predicting the thing we actually cared about - working software.

Standardized testing bears exactly the same relationship to the outcome we actually care about in education.

In both realms, there is no easy single metric you can turn to. In the end, you hire great people and get out of their way. The best measurements come from multi-dimensional feedback from managers, peers, and customers. No it doesn't scale very well but it's the only thing that works.

"partly because of low pay"

Teachers are actually some of the highest paid people in society. When you don't include benefits teachers make about $40/hr while engineers make $42/hr. If you do include benefits, a teachers compensation far exceeds that of an engineer due to their pensions. Source, BLS via Forbes.

Its a pretty wide spread depending what state.

North Carolina teachers start around $37k, averaging out later to $46k. Some counties are higher, some lower.

The pension plans are problematic, because many of them are under funded. For an older teacher about to retire this might not be an issue, but if you're 30 this seems like a much less certain deal.

Teachers are rarely compensated on an hourly basis, and when they are it probably doesn't count half of their hours.

Would your attorney charge you (in 5 minute increments) for a call at 7pm? You bet they would! But a call with a parent at 7pm nets a teacher nothing. Nor does preparation in the evening. Many teachers have exceedingly low classroom budgets as well, and are often forced to purchase supplies out of pocket.

The High School theatre teacher who is working on a play with students until 11pm every night for weeks and weekends isn't compensated on an hourly basis; or given overtime. Its just part of the gig. And that sucks.

I wouldn't mind being a teacher some day, as I love teaching; but unless I hit the startup lottery there's no way i can accept that level of compensation given my background, experience and skills. And even then, in a state like North Carolina that is more about rules than education, I can't see myself being able to last 3 days in that environment.

I looked that up on the BLS website, and while you're not using the same units as them, your numbers don't seem to match up.

According to BLS, the median pay is $53,230 per year, which would be closer to $26.50 an hour, assuming a 40-hour work week.


Maybe the Forbes article you're referring to about is only counting classroom hours, which is a pretty absurd notion. Teaching is a full-time job, and any figure based on an assumption to the contrary is going to be flawed. Not meaning to straw-man you, it's just that without a link to the article in question, I can only speculate where your figures come from.

Teachers work 9-months out of the year. Here's the site: http://www.forbes.com/sites/warrenmeyer/2011/12/22/the-teach...

That's a detail that's sort of glossed over in the article. I'd like to see some evidence for that. While I wouldn't be surprised if teachers work significantly less during the summer, I'd be very surprised to find out that they don't work at all. It rings of the assumption that classroom time is the only work time.

Even if they don't work all 12 months of the year, is it feasible for a teacher to take another similar-paying job during the off months? If not, then hourly pay is not a good indicator of income. I can't imagine a person who is only going to be available for 2-3 months, and who has split responsibilities with classroom preparation, would be able to get a non-menial job to fill in the gaps, somewhere along the lines of $15/hour.

So taking $15/hr * 40 hours (optimistic) gives $600 per week, multiplied by 13 weeks gives $7800 for the summer. Add that to the $52000 estimate from BLS, and you get $59,800 per year, which averages about $28 per hour on average.

This is a myth perpetrated by people who believe that since the kids are on holiday, so are the teachers.

The correct figure is 38.5 hours/week for 9 months/year.


That's about $33.5/hour for wages alone. It also ignores the value of gold plated health care + pensions, etc.

"Gold plated" (sic) health care?

Tuck in your pants. Your bias is peeking out.

(Edit after being downvoted, in an attempt to be more constructive): Seriously, you seem to have an animus against teachers having decent health care. What's your problem with that, and why do you feel it's appropriate to label their quite average health care plans as "gold plated", as if they were unfairly receiving more health care than they are entitled to?

It's always easier to hate people in your own class who have fought for rights than to fight for those rights yourself.

Sorry, I have to get back to believing whatever the 1% wants me to believe.

According to the NEA, that's only scheduled hours, not actual work hours.


That certainly matches the teachers I've known; they put in a ton of non-classroom hours, and often put in a fair bit of their own money.

A Gates Foundation survey puts it at 53 hours per week:


And for teachers involved in extracurricular activities, the average is over 11 hours a day.

The numbers I cited are actual hours worked "last week" according to the BLS's American Time User Survey. It includes work performed "at a work location", "at home" and "at another location" (I assume this last one means starbucks).

You'd have known all this if you bothered to read even the introduction.

Did read it. I didn't see them resolve the scheduled hours versus hours worked question.

And since the Gates Foundation numbers better match what every teacher I've ever talked to says, I'm going to run with them.

Paragraph 2 explains that it tracks "activities that they engaged in".

Yep. Not convinced that they are really tracking what I'd like them to track.

38.5 hours is … unrealistic. It also ignores the fact that health care and benefits have been slashed heavily in recent decades so while there may be some older teachers enjoying the fruits of stronger unions, a prospective new teacher is looking at something roughly equivalent to what any software engineer would receive as far as benefits go. Salary is probably lower unless you're comparing a teacher in a very rich / urban area with a software engineer well outside of SF/NY/LA/etc.

As someone married to a teacher in one of the highest paying districts in the country (DC), this is completely unlike our experience: less salary, longer hours, far worse working conditions - schools tend to be run like factories a generation or two ago, with rigid top-down management, not information-age businesses, and don't forget significant hassles like inflexible hours and vacation schedules. This is for someone with a subject-area Ph.D and an education masters compared with any normal software engineering gig requiring only a BS.

Since the source is Forbes I would strongly recommend scrutinizing the original data to see how they cherry-picked it. A disturbingly common deception tactic is to only count actual teaching time, which is akin to reporting a software developer's hours by focusing on time typing new code and ignoring testing, documentation, meetings, research, HN, etc. Similarly, you frequently hear "3 months vacation" bandied about when it's typically closer to 2 months and ignores weeks of district/school professional development, pre/post-year planning & prep, mandatory continuing education, etc. We typically have only one or two options for a two-week vacation during the entire summer break.

At 19 I was making more than my high school business teacher on an entry level salary. Seems to me that is a pretty sad state of affairs.

I assume you're counting the hours spent in evenings and on weekends too?

>The reason testing is good isn't because it is somehow super accurate. It is good because it keeps teachers honest. Without testing, how do you measure teacher performance at all? How can you tell if someone who is capable of teaching well isn't just being lazy or getting distracted?

The other issue is that value-added testing should be used in evaluating teachers, but only a single component of a larger evaluation process. On its own, it's almost as pernicious as the system we have now.

For more on these subjects, see

* "What Makes a Great Teacher?": http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/01/what-mak...

* "Why Kids Should Grade Teachers": http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/10/why-kids...

* The collection of articles I listed here: http://jseliger.wordpress.com/2009/11/12/susan-engel-doesnt-... .

>It's easy to point out problems. It's useful and important that people find flaws and fault.

The largest issue isn't identifying problems—it's that the people who benefit most from the status quo (teachers, unions) derive very concentrated benefits, while the solutions to the status quo are diffuse (students, parents, society). One sees this pattern in many fields (farm subsidies are the canonical example), and there's an extensive economics literature on it.

Besides sales, every attempt to manage professionals by an objective formula ends up with horrible results. The technocrats will always insist we just need a better formula.

Testing is only any good if students are assessed at the beginning and end of each year. We care about the difference a teacher makes in the lives and skills of students. Those that make the most difference get the most reward.

But hey - that might be ridiculously easy to game - every which way.

(Personally I would get my whole class pissed out of their brains on the first test, and teach normally for the rest of the year. With any luck I will see an improvement)

And finally - testing is supposed to be about testing the students. Not the teachers. Every Head knows which ones are good and which ones are crap.

Even this isn't enough: teachers suffer from small sample sizes and tests which attempt to reduce very complex realities to simple numbers. Imagine teaching 70 students, some of whom have significant problems outside your control (e.g. not showing up for class) - if that number changes by just a couple of students either way, your evaluation can go up or down completely due to random variation.

At this point, I'd also note that the people running the numbers tend to have very limited math skills – a great way to recoup some of the money we're pouring into standardized testing would be for each district to hire expert statisticians, scientists, etc. so the comparisons could be done by people who understand how to avoid measurement and analysis errors.

"Teachers performance in the US has been terrible for many years."

Terrible at what, exactly?

It's all over the map, and there are hardworking teachers.

I can tell you about my experience in the 90's. There were exceptions, but generally teachers I had would hand out worksheets and assignments, and then class time would be spent doing what was effectively homework. Very rarely would there be an actual lecture. I had several completely incompetent teachers as well, who were completely tolerated by the schools administration.

One teacher, Mrs. Rushing, was completely incompetent. During the lesson on vector addition, she claimed that if you added a bunch of vectors together, it was the same as taking a vector from the beginning of the first vector to the end of the last vector, if you put the source of each vector at the end of the previous one. Well, that's what she was meant to say, she actually insisted that the length of the paths was the same, and she argued for it despite it being obviously wrong. She had at best a weak and often incorrect understanding of the material she was meant to be teaching. She also used her entire planning period each day to sell Avon or Mary Kay or something, which I witnessed every day as I was an aid in the math department and was in the planning room during her planning period. Every day some random lady would come in to the school and chat with her for an hour and try cosmetics during the time she was meant to be preparing for classes. During class she would often get stuck and go ask other teachers questions mid class.

So it would have been great if they had tested the outcomes of the students who were in her class, and compared them to the several wonderful teachers teaching the same subject at the same school. Instead, she is still there.

Standard teaching methods for science and math don't work by many measures. That's not the fault of poor teachers; even well-rated teachers do poorly at improving student understanding.

This is largely the fault of our notion that teachers are explanation delivery devices and students explanation receptacles, where the only improvements can be found in better explanations and better student engagement. The notion is wrong. Students need to actively test their understanding by making predictions and failing, and no courses I've ever experienced attempt to do this.

If you're interested in the mounds of research:


"Students need to actively test their understanding by making predictions and failing, and no courses I've ever experienced attempt to do this."

Shouldn't a good teacher prod students in this direction?

I've visited Montessori classrooms that did some of that. But I think that kind of engagement is contingent on good student/teacher ratios and a fair bit of unstructured time.

Standardized testing pushes in the opposite direction, alas. It encourages teachers to push for the sort of rote learning that is instantly forgotten when the test is past.

Yes, but they often don't. We usually think of good teachers as people who give clear explanations and keep the students interested. Attacking student misconceptions tends to confuse them, even if it improves their understanding in the end, so people are reluctant to do it.

Funny. We call that process the "scientific method," yet it is hardly applied when it comes to actually learning anything. It should be a student's goal to strike out and fail, to discover that he does not know things about the world. But this isn't the environment that is fostered in classrooms - it is compliance and memorization that is taught.

A bad metric can indeed be worse than nothing, because people optimize for the metric, and if it's a poor proxy for the real thing you want, you can actually get less of it.

Imagine what would happen if you evaluated software engineers by lines of code written, and you get some idea of the potential downside.

Other potential ways to assess teacher effectiveness: - auditing classes & lesson plans - feedback from peers, parents, students and principals

I think part of the reason that a lot of student evaluation is now in the form of tests (multiple choice I assume) is because they are relatively easy and quick to mark. Evaluating a piece of design or art work, or asking to write creative prose, or showing all the working out for a lengthy mathematical problem requires significantly more time and energy than feeding a test through a computer.

Yeah, for me, standardized testing has been a canary in the coal mine more than it has been a legitimate point of contention. The fact that it's such a big deal is a signal that the need for a paradigm shift is strong.

My mother is a school board member in a rural school district in Northern California. What I can from conversations with her is that it is often not the district's fault when there are issues, but the state's.

The district is forced to come up with a budget months before the state approves their budget, so they don't even know if they are going to get the money they need.

When money is low, they have gone to the community several times trying to pass a property tax to raise funds to keep teachers and maintain their facilities. The community has refused to fund the school each time.

The district is constrained by their contract with the teachers which forces them to keep the most incompetent and highly paid teachers and get rid of the good but non-tenured new teachers (which are the ones that the students want to have).

The way schools are funded are a major source of the problem. For example, they are funded per student with no regard for facilities, transportation, or other fixed costs.

Lastly, there are too many crippling regulations that don't allow for flexibly to meet the various needs of students in varying districts. What works in the large LA County district is just not going to work in rural northern California.

Throwing more regulations, tests, money, etc. at the system is not going to fix it. I really wish that a large group of educators (K-12, post-secondary), administrators, parents, etc. could get together and work out something different, perhaps even radically different.

Thought experiment: This analysis is based off a premise that schools are for the purpose of <teaching>. This is no longer true. Schools are institutionalized means of baby-sitting and controlling large portions of the countries otherwise-unoccupied poplulation. Thus, they are run more like prisions than universities. This seems to explain the empirical data in a way which shows the system as 'functional' rather than 'disfunctional'. Although whether they are 'fit for purpose' is a political question, of an entirely different stripe. =/

TL;DR send your kids to a private school.

I work as a teacher in the UK, in a Further Education college ('community college' in US I think). The UK has a completely different system for funding and quality assurance in state schools, so I'm not commenting on the original article or much of this discussion as it would not help.

I will say that some of the best and worst teaching I have seen has been in institutions outside of the state funded sector. Caveat Emptor.

right. why fix the system, when you can be part of an elite?

Because your responsibility is to your kids and not to some idealistic vision of what you could be doing to improve the school system as a whole.

False dichotomy. Your responsibility as a parent is to your children. Your responsibility as a citizen is to run your government effectively.

Captain TLDR above is basically saying "fuck other people's kids", which is abdicating his civic responsibility.

>which is abdicating his civic responsibility

He pays taxes that goes to schools, doesn't he? Otherwise, I am pretty sure he didn't sign a contract that said: "You are responsible for improving the well-being of kids you will never meet."

It's government of, by, and for the people. He is responsible for the health of the country, just as every other citizen is.

And he pays his taxes, outlined by said government. If there is a failure to deliver on the goods/services promised by the government, it's not his responsibility to make up for the shortfalls. It'd be nice if he did, but that's getting ahead of ourselves.

Government does not promise to magically take care of everything. And even if they did, the citizens run the government. Any shortfalls in government are ultimately the responsibility of the citizens.

You're going to have to point out the contract with my signature on it where I agreed to that. My attorney is gonna hear about it...

It's not a legal requirement. It's a moral requirement. It's your country, your state, your city. It's your government. You are legally allowed to shirk some of your duties, although not all of them, but that doesn't make you less of a shirker..

Parenting is similar: there are a lot of ways to be a shitty parent that don't rise to the legal level of neglect.

Whose morals? Kant's Duty Ethics?

You are making subjective judgments. This is fine. But don't confuse your opinions on "fairness" with an objective reality.

It's the nature of a community, of a democracy. The citizens, as sovereigns, are ultimately responsible.

Don't like it? You can shirk your responsibility and accept your helping of shame. Or you can move to someplace that isn't a democracy.

>You can shirk your responsibility and accept your helping of shame.

I will. I don't lose sleep at night based on your subjective opinions, fortunately.

"Of, by, and for the people" is not subjective. Neither is the people replacing the sovereign. Nor the nature of a community as a collaborative enterprise.

Or you can opt out of the portions you don't like.

Nobody has any inherent civic responsibility. They may choose to, at their discretion, participate. Your only responsibility is to follow the letter of the law, in such a way that benefits you the most.

If one believes that the private education sector serves their kids better, so let it be for them. The welbeing of other people's kids is at most a passing concern, and it would be in fact unfair to your own kid if you had the resources to "improve" other kids but not focus it entirely on your own kid.

YOu might think such a philosophy is selfish. I would agree, but only because not everyone is following such a philosophy (and of course, other inherent unfairness in the world, like amount of money you have). But such is the world as it is. I don't hold it against anyone who does the same, for I also would choose to do the same.

Nope. Democracy is strictly a participatory sport.

One's only obligation under the law is to follow the law, but that's a tautology. One's moral obligation is deeper. Of, by, and for the people: that's how we roll.

Citizens who don't do more than the bare legal minimum are parasitic shirkers. Which they are legally allowed to be. But I am legally allowed to point out that they are selfish assholes. And I will.

So send your kids to private school while campaigning for better state schools.

Your kids will be part of the society you helped (or didn't help) create. Your view is not just selfish, it's short term.

Or part of the broke.

You can try and help fix the system (and probably fail) while your children suffer, or you can opt out of the system altogether and make sure your kids have the best education you can provide for them.

Many people make an entirely rational decision that their resources are best spent keeping their kids out of a broken educational system.

How does being part of an elite come into play when it comes to parents wanting their children educated in the manner of their choosing?

Because that privilege costs a ton of money that only the upper middle class and the elite can comfortably afford?

That said, i agree with imbracio: parents' primary responsibility is to ensure their kids get a good education, rather than worrying about fixing a system that is unfit able in its current state.

A private school education is not really expensive in most of the country. Think around $5000 a year. I know that's not pocket-change to many people, but you hardly need to be "upper middle class" to do it.

It'd be within the reach of more families if they could take the money that would be going towards their child in the assigned public schools with them to the school of their choice. I don't understand why that idea became a partisan one.

Most of the objections I heard were about putting that public money towards religious schooling (the interaction of government and religion being a fairly well-established as a partisan issue).

I'm not necessarily supporting the concept, but this seems a strained objection. It's equivocating the word "public." People who get social security (which comes from the government, and so is just as "public") can use it for religious causes and no one bats an eye.

And SCOTUS has approved vouchers funded via tax credits.

>Because that privilege costs a ton of money that only the upper middle class and the elite can comfortably afford?

It's almost like people should take some responsibility for their kids' futures instead of handing them over to the state and saying "Well free education is right there, it better be damn good!" Doesn't work that way.

(This coming from a guy who went to a not-very-good public school and plans on sending his kids to public school, mind you.)

What about the case of homeschooling? I'm not familiar enough with the economics of it to say it is cheaper than private schooling. I do, however, know quite a few families that have taken this route and I wouldn't classify them as upper middle class or elite.

Having worked with numerous schools over the last decade I feel there are some serious problems that we as a society need to fix. I do feel that there are other options that are available to parents though.

The best solution to this unfairness is to give everyone a choice in which school their children attend, by instituting publicly-funded vouchers for every student.

Whoops.. I think I accidentally downvoted you. Someone vote him back up, could you?

That's an interesting trend. I think it could be resolved by instead having the ones doing the teaching decide on what sorts of standards and tests should be used to appraise performance.

Some of my family members are teachers, and I hear more and more about how they are given less freedom to teach creatively and are instead forced to administer useless, rote-memorization tests that assess, well, nothing really. It's getting kind of ridiculous.

The problem right now is that the bureaucracy in place is a result of the CBAs of teachers unions preventing the firing of bad teachers or the introduction of regulations strictly for the sake of the student.

In almost every instance of a public service, the right-but-left or left-but-right mentality of Americans creates a bureaucratic Mexican standoff: "We'll stop regulating you when you stop being shits." "We'll stop being shits when you stop regulating us."

It's very easy to side with teachers as individuals, but teachers unions serve the good teachers and the bad teachers, and I would argue (without statistics, mind you) that teachers unions are just as much to blame for the current educational fiasco as incompetent bureaucracies, politics, ham-fisted regulations, and bad parenting.

without statistics, mind you

-- You don't need statistics. There is no measurement.

This is the problem: Seniority rules. skill, virtue, talent are uncorrelated variables. This is by design, au fait.

Isn't this rather self-evident, that those who work to gain control of the structure gain control of the structure, and those who don't, don't? It seems to just be a wordier variant of 'use it or lose it'. Does such a self-evident law really require the appellation 'Iron'?

TL;DR: The writer, a math teacher, is quitting (edit: his) job because of increased bureaucracy and standardized tests. Mostly, it seems, standardized tests.

The problem is, math is the subject which is BEST served by standardized tests. There is really no fuzzy aspect to K-12 math: answers are right or wrong. And there are of course many benefits to standardized testing like teacher and school evaluation, providing structure to the curriculum, etc.

His rant reminds me of another front-page HN article today (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4712230), where the author claims that tough technical interview questions at Google bear no correlation with programming skill. Sure....

Consider the last few real-world problems I've solved (or attempted to solve) with math:

If you have a widget (roughly shaped like a cone with the tip chopped off) held at angle a and the widget is tapered at angle b and the tip of the widget has a diameter d, how far is it in x and y from the center of the tip of the widget to the theoretical tip were the taper continued to a point?

If two 14" pizzas feed five people, how many 16" pizzas do you need to feed eleven?

If a gallon of paint covers 400 ft^2 once, how many gallons cover a 12'x36' room with a 9' ceiling twice?

And to counter your claim that it no K-12 math can be fuzzy, if you live in a family-friendly neighborhood of x square miles, how many pieces of candy do you need to be prepared for trick-or-treating children? (This problem could easily be approached by a high school student, has real world application, but is a lot like the kind of interview problems that are often criticized as being irrelevant.)

But even if you feel these problems fit with standardized tests, the more important point is that none of these problems was presented to me the way I am presenting them to you. No one told me that angles a and b and diameter d would be both easily available and sufficient to calculate the necessary x and y. No one told me that comparing square inches would be the best way to determine how much pizza to buy. I was certainly not given multiple choices like a normal standardized test.

The real world mistakes people make with math are often more about knowing how and when to apply math, than doing the math itself. Almost everyone knows that Google can multiply and divide numbers. The real math skill is knowing what numbers to multiply and divide to see how many gallons of paint, or pizzas, or pieces of candy, you need.

Being able to pass a trigonometry test is useless if you can't figure out what to do with your widgets. Likewise for the other examples.

I'm not saying standardized tests have no correlation to real-world math ability. They obviously have some. But it's not exact. And there are lots of real-world situations that are poorly reflected in standardized tests.

I agree with all this, but consider that the type of math being tested on a standardized test is a subset of the skills you mention. You certainly can't perform complex word problems unless you can do the algebra or geometry calculations, whereas the converse is not true.

IOW, standardized testing of math is testing the bare minimum, and a successful teacher should be able to teach this bare minimum. If a teacher can do better, great!

But if "what gets measured gets done", then teachers will likely take time away from these more complex skills to spend more time going over what's on the test. This is especially true if you tie compensation and continued employment for teachers, and college admission and scholarships for students to test performance.

And if the teacher does better than the minimum, how is that going to be judged with the standardized tests?

UK perspective: have a look at Functional Skills Mathematics tests at what we call Level 1 and Level 2.


Functional Skills Maths and English tests were introduced nationally in the UK after concerns from employer's organisations and other stakeholders. Preparing students to take these is mostly a vocabulary exercise I have to say. I would be interested in any reactions people have to these tests. They are aimed at mature adults who work in factories, administration, medical services with non-degree qualification levels. We use them with non-academic teenagers as well as stepping stones to the 16+ standard exam called the GCSE.

There is a lot to the idea that learning needs to be situated in a context... but then assessment gets expensive!

The standardized tests I've seem often ask question similar to the ones you give, and are actually not all that bad.

The real world alternative to standardized tests is usually tests designed by the teachers themselves. There's little reason to believe that those are somehow better (or even close to the standardized ones, which are usually well thought out).

If math is best served by standardized tests, and a well-regarded and skilled math teacher is quitting because they're drowning his class in tests and test preparation rather than giving him the time to actually educate...

What does that say for non-math areas like English or Art or History?

I read this as "if any area is well-served by standardized tests, it's math" rather than "standardized tests are the best thing to happen to math". Sort of like a honey badger is best served by a snake bite.

The AMS Notices has an interesting article about a mathematician using his sabbatical to teach high school math that overlaps a little bit with this post: http://www.ams.org/notices/201210/rtx121001408p.pdf

I read it the same way as you did, that math is the best-case area for standardized testing. Thus my point: If standardized testing leads to this kind of 'driving out the good' in math, where it's most easily and effectively used to measure performance, what does that mean for less-well-served areas?

>"Nothing happened after over 300 applications and 2 interviews.*

Is a 2/3 of one percent application-to-interview rate normal for this field?

It's possible that there was a state-wide hiring freeze on teachers. State revenues, like federal revenues, declined substantially during the economic downturn. And since education is usually a major part of state budgets, it becomes a primary target for spending cuts if the state government is trying to reduce the amount of debt they're accumulating. A lot of states have balanced budget requirements, but I don't know if Oregon is one. Even if Oregon doesn't have a balanced budget requirement, there will still be substantial political pressure for the state government to reduce spending.

I'm related to two teachers, and the answer is yes, if not worse.

In IT/CS we're used to extreme pigeon-holing of personnel (So, I'm the guy who was hired to install using LVM and ext2 but we'd never hire a guy who listed ext3 on his resume...) Its all about the pigeon-holing and resume keyword scanning.

In the teaching world, its simpler, more like "we want to hire a grade school teacher". Aside from some HR fluff, that's pretty much it for the hiring ad. If there are 200 districts in your state, all of whom hire "someone" every year because of quitting / retirement / firing / whatever, then you have to send out 200 resumes to each district, just like every other unemployed teacher and/or new grad. The majority of new grads end up as retail clerks or waitresses, of course, but some do get hired. Most get hired because someone knows them... but the eternal hope of being the only applicant somewhere springs eternal, and each application only costs a small amount of time and money, so its a lotto mentality.

Sadly, that is indeed normal for people looking for jobs as teachers in Oregon, and has been normal for at least the last several years. The only districts that are really hiring are the very rural ones, and even then it is usually just one or two positions.

That included applications to places like Toys-R-Us.

While math benefits from standardized tests, what is being tested is not math. It's memorization. It's recital.

If I want to hire someone that's good at reciting memorized fact to me, I'll hire a postgres instance.

Take a look at the recently released questions from the 2012 california math standardized tests. Looks like math, not memorization to me.

Here is grade 7: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sr/documents/cstrtqmath7.pdf

Here is algebra: http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/tg/sr/documents/cstrtqalgebra.pdf

Looks like memorization to me. Looks like the questions are formulaic, and that students are expected to memorize both the formulas needed to answer the questions and the formula that the question itself follows. Sure, a student who actually understands the material will pass the test; but a student who does not actually understand the material can pass too, and will have an easier time doing so.

If you accept the notion that computer programming is math, then these tests are about math: you could write a computer program that uses some basic pattern matching and symbolic manipulation to pass those tests.

I disagree that using memorized formulas to solve math problems isn't meaningful learning. But granting you that, I'd argue that a student who has memorized the formulas and can apply them to that test and get correct answers is a success story. That's better than most people, and enough of a tool to make math an asset for that person in life.

Students who conceptually get it, and those who have just "memorized" will do well on atest. The test will help identifying the students who can do neither, and the teachers who are underperforming, which is the real problem.

> I'd argue that a student who has memorized the formulas and can apply them to that test and get correct answers is a success story.

but what is the goal here? I assume the goal is to teach that person how to notice a situation in real life, and use the knowledge learned at school to cope with that situation.

Does rote learning actually help for such a goal?

I argue that it _might_, but only if the situation "looks" similar to one of the pre-prepared situations that the student has studied.

Those who have grasped the concept, and is able to gain deep understanding of fundamental principles, will be much better prepared for that eventual situation mentioned above. And if i was an employer, I'd want to hire that person, instead of the one who learnt by rote.

Now, granted, there isn't really an easy way to distinguish between the two above. Which is why the standard test is used - its the best we've got. But if the teaching method is allowed to be influenced by these standarized tests such that the student, instead of gaining a deep understanding, is relegated to just rote learning, he/she will never really be able to apply what they've learnt to situations they've never encountered before, and thus, the goal is not fullfilled.

Now show me the same test from Alabama, or North Carolina.

Chances are it's not of the same quality. California actually has a relatively good educational system, compared to the rest of the country.

Grade 7 NC math test looks pretty similar to the California test. http://www.ncpublicschools.org/docs/accountability/testing/r...

And I'm teaching someone grade 7 math in North Carolina, so this is something I care about a lot.

There's not a whole lot of secret sauce in a multiple-choice test. Yes, you can do them well or you can do them poorly. But even if you were to assume that California has super-awesome math tests, it would be pretty easy to duplicate them elsewhere.

The "relatively" qualifier leaves a lot of wiggle room, but how are you comparing the educational system?

The author of the letter is male.

I disagree that math is best served by these particular standardized tests. Testing can be useful (particularly something like the AMC or AIME), but when you're given meaningless problems like calculating how many watermelons Jack can carry to the store, there's better ways of assessing a deep understanding of mathematics.

Also, tests are frequently too long. This forces a student into choosing an answer quickly instead of eventually arriving at the correct solution.

Those meaningless low level problems are the basis for higher level skills. Studies have shown that students who are more capable of doing arithmetic without a calculator do better in college level math classes.*

This is not the first time I've read complaints about standardized testing being unfair, nor people rolling their eyes at defenses of testing as people who just don't "get it". What I haven't seen much of is a thorough explanations of which tests are unfair and what specifically is bad about them. I just looked at the math section of the EXPLORE test. I would be very concerned if my child was unable to answer those questions and I would want my teacher to prioritize those basic skills before his so-called "deep-thinking" classes.

Which tests are too long? It seems if tests are too long, we should shorten them. As an observer, it seems the standardized testing critics reach for any and all weaknesses of tests as a reason to shun them entirely, and it does raise suspicions they just hate the accountability.

Standardized testing predicts college math performance. http://faculty.etsu.edu/stephen/diss-stephens.pdf

Less calculator usage in grade school correlates to better college math performance. http://www.math.jhu.edu/~wsw/ED/pubver.pdf

2 things.

1. Where does it say the author is a male? I didn't see that, and the name "Kris" is used as a female name just as often as a male name[1]

2. I'm not sure the parent is saying that this is the best way to test math, rather that it is better for math than any of the other subjects. i.e. 2+2 is always 4 but writing essays is a whole different ballgame.

[1] http://www.nameplayground.com/Kris

EDIT: I think standardized testing sucks mostly, just wanted to offer an alternative interpretation on the math testing part.

http://krislnielsen.blogspot.com/ The author is male.

Some very trivial parts of K-12 math can be tested, but they are the least important, imo. The main purpose of high-school math isn't to have students memorize trigonometry formulas: honestly, it doesn't really matter whether high-school students memorize trigonometry formulas or not. The main purpose that might actually have some benefit is to get kids thinking mathematically, and hopefully some proportion of them interested in STEM careers.

Same with high-school CS. You're not really going to learn a lot of specifics in high-school CS, and what specifics you learn are unlikely to be that important. What's important is to learn computational thinking. The tests, however (at least when I took the AP CS test) only tested trivialities, stuff like the syntax of a particular corner of the C++ STL, and the course was therefore set up mainly around that. We literally spent about a month on minutae of iostreams! In an introductory course where most of the students had never programmed before! I could hardly imagine a more stupid way to teach introductory CS, and can't imagine it could've been invented except via ease-of-testing brain damage.

Math may be best served by standardized tests, but it's still not very well served.

The point of a math class isn't so you can get correct answers on the test next month. It's so that for the rest of your life you have a reasonably mathematical intuition and decent math skills.

We all know people who crammed for quizzes, did ok, and forgot everything. That was a double waste; not only did they learn nothing, but they were trained to treat mathematics as hostile territory. Standardized tests reward the same sort of shallow behavior.

That's ok when there's no particular incentive to do well or poorly on the standardized test. But now that jobs and funding and careers are riding on the results, there's every reason to be suspicious of the results, and worried about a negative effect on people actually learning anything lasting.

The article you mentioned about Google's tough interview questions is from a community manager, not a programmer. If I was hiring a technical community manager, I would not subject them to the same interview process as engineers - that would probably eliminate the best community managers.

Because some amount of some tests are good, then any amount of any tests must also be good?

Maybe I'm gullible, but I tend to think that the person who is doing his or her job every single day actually knows more about it than I do.

No, not guillable. We argue that there should be no upper limit on reward and equity for startups because they drive wealth / value into society, and without the incentive the startups would not get started.

The same entrepreneurial drive, to find new and better ways to teach over a 40 year career, is evident in the best teachers. And should be rewarded too for the value they drive is arguably greater.

We invented equity and shareholdings to enable rewards of entrepreneurial activity - what should we invent to enable rewards for similar achievements in teaching.

I think there's an opportunity cost as well. Standardized tests shift the focus of classroom time from teaching students math concepts to getting correct answers in the next test.

Tests are a disaster for math education: http://www.maa.org/devlin/LockhartsLament.pdf The very essense of math is killed by tests (true for history/literature/physics etc as well).

Clicked for the expected HN defense of all things testing, not disappointed.

There seem to be quite a few people who want to do away with tenure and seniority rules as a means of fixing a broken system. Is there any evidence that doing this would fix the system or make it better?

Academic freedom, tenure, and seniority (to a lesser extent) have a lot of positives. Getting rid of these should only be done if the reasons are compelling and valid. What is required is not a collection of anecdotes of how tenure protects bad teachers - there are equally many anecdotes showing that tenure protects students and educational integrity - but rather statistics, facts, and well reasoned arguments.

There are large portions of the United States where parents without any training or knowledge on teaching have very strong opinions on what should or should not be said in the classroom. Getting rid of tenure and academic freedom will, in some areas, lead to ignorant people making important educational decisions. Will the physics department stop talking about the Big Bang? Does the geology department stop talking about processes taking millions of years to work? Does the history department only talk about the good parts of Manifest Destiny?

Instead of tenure maybe 5 year, renewable contracts would work. I don't know. I do think it is in society's best interest if teachers treat society as the client and not the students as the client. Doing the latter leads to dilution of standards. Doing the former without fear of being fired, at least in me, leads to grading on knowledge and not fluff.

I truly do not see it helping, especially as a first step. The vast majority of those bad and mediocre teachers that everyone wants fired? They're still around primarily because the school administration is comfortable with them. They don't complain, they don't cause problems, they don't garner parental complaints, they simply implement whatever new schemes administration comes up with to try to increase standardized test scores, etc.

Removing tenure isn't going to make administrators magically start firing bad teachers that they like, even if standardized test results were a good measure of such.

And your comment about parents with strong but ignorant opinions is spot on - one of the best teachers in my high school was fired directly as a result of parental complaints.

> There are large portions of the United States where parents without any training or knowledge on teaching have very strong opinions on what should or should not be said in the classroom. Getting rid of tenure and academic freedom will, in some areas, lead to ignorant people making important educational decisions.

It's a very slippery slope, denying some people input into "important educational decisions", or any decisions, based on one person's criteria of ignorance.

I have strong opinions on whether or not the U.S. should go to war with country A. My opinion counts as far as voting goes. I have opinions on tactics involved in fighting a battle. My opinion counts for very little because I am wholly ignorant about fighting wars. My opinion in this should count for very little.

Sometimes it's best to leave implementation to the experts. Sometimes not. One should be careful about when/where such intrusion takes place.

I have strong opinions about dining and auto repair (I'm neither a particularly noteworthy chef nor mechanic). Others have strong opinions about health care, hair-styling, home remodeling, child care, legal representation, or any of hundreds of other widely available services. Somehow we have a system in place that allows expert service providers to consider all of our opinions so as to provide satisfying service. It would be great if something similar existed for education.

Tenure and Academic freedom are applicable to University professors, not to teachers.

In the United States, public school teachers do get tenure in most locations which protects them for being fired except for a limited set of reasons or teacher supply being greater than demand.

Why? Source, or are you just making stuff up?

Actually, pre-university education also includes things that require academic freedom and the protection tenure affords for that.

My wife was a full time teacher (she's now working on her Ph.D in educational technologies), and she's said the same thing over, over, and over again.

Her first year out of her probationary year was a Kindergarden teacher. She had a girl in her class who had telltale signs of EBD (Emotional/Behavioral Disorders), and spent the year trying to convince the girl's mother to seek the appropriate (free) care from the educational system. The mother refused to attend any meeting; my wife eventually drove to her house to find the girl living in a "crack den" (her words). The girl's mother refused to allow her to be tested for EBD, and the girl barely finished the year with passing marks.

Over the summer, the district noticed that my wife wanted to help kids...so, instead of putting her back in Kindergarden the next year, she was reassigned to a juvenile detention center/lockdown facility, where the kids didn't want to be helped. There were instances where they'd pull the kids out of her class, one by one, until it was just her and another student, before they come in to arrest the student for a crime, or, have a disgruntled student show up on my doorstep at midnight with a handgun in his waistband.

Teachers get shit on by society, coworkers, and parents. The good ones are worth their weight in gold. The poor ones need to be replaced with better ones -- the problem is that there's no true way to rank teachers and how they teach that isn't subject to tampering or isn't completely subjective based on inter-school politics.

There's not a good solution to the teaching problem...which is why I'm excited to look at what the technology/startup community comes out with over the next few years. Open Source SIS'es/Course Management/Educational Networking is something that can make the teacher's life easier, and provide pointes and guidance for parents who want to learn more, or students who want to self-learn/pace themselves faster or slower.

I m sorry to hear about the experiences of your wife - i feel that whoever reassigned her to juvie might've even done it with the best of intentions, but is incompetent and made the worst possible decision.

The open courses may lead to a more distributed education paradigm, and i think that ways lies the future. However, the process of ranking is such a subjective method, that i don't believe there will ever be a way to do so and not have it tampered with either via politics or personal gain.

I will not spend another day wondering how I can have classes that are full inclusion, and where 50% of my students have IEPs, yet I’m given no support.

I had to fire our public school (in North Carolina; this was in the first district he moved to in the state) because it took them 3 years to do an IEP. In another example, a family member moved out of state, and it took the school two years to call up and ask if she would still be attending.

I'm know in some places the teachers are the problem, but the teachers we met were working their hardest. The administration just didn't seem to give a shit.

Teacher responsibility is a great thing, but we also need administrator responsibility.

> Teacher responsibility is a great thing, but we also need administrator responsibility.

I cannot upvote this enough. All too often, the administrators get a free pass for blaming everything on the teachers and/or insufficient funding. If you have 30% annual turnover, at some point you have to ask who was the constant in the system.

The school bureaucracy is a symptom of something else, as is the monotonous testing and the union power. The American educational system changed its premise back in the 1960s.

Since that time, we have become addicted to assembly line, one-size-fits-all, bulk format education in which we put kids through a ton of information and measure them by how much they retain. Not the quality of what they retain, and not their actual skills, but what they've memorized.

By prioritizing memorized facts over learned application, we are losing a lot of our most talented kids. To compound the problem further, this one-size-fits-all approach isn't calibrated to the smart kids, but to the average. In public schools, it's also impossible to send home the disruptive kids.

The result is a system that is so hobbled by contradictions that it is dysfunctional. Dysfunction attracts lazy administrators who like to use test metrics to force teachers to teach to the test, thus making everyone look like a success, even when the graduates aren't good at doing anything.

The recent spate of test-cheating scandals should show us exactly why these tests are in favor among administrators. Instead of a broad open-ended task like "teach these kids to reason," all you have to do is make sure they make a pretty bell curve on the standardized test.

I found the following paragraph to be very poignant.

"I’m tired of watching my students produce amazing things, which show their true understanding of 21st century skills, only to see their looks of disappointment when they don’t meet the arbitrary expectations of low-level state and district tests that do not assess their skills."

I hope that this teacher finds happiness teaching in a more productive environment. Charter schools and some universities come to mind.

> I refuse to watch my students being treated like prisoners. There are other ways. It’s a shame that we don’t have the vision to seek out those alternatives.

if i could fix just one thing about the educational system, this would be it. it's the laziest option, so it ends up being implemented pretty much everywhere (this is not a us-specific problem; i grew up in dubai, and every time i visit my old school the place looks more like a prison), and all it does is alienate and disinvest students at precisely the time they need to be engaged and nurtured.

There is a defence.

An engaged, informed, active, body of parents who will take action to ensure their children receive best schooling and care available.

Take 100 irate parents to the next North Carolina State Board meeting and have them raise individually one after the other motions of no-confidence in each member. Then try to elect this woman to the Board.

Will that help.

Yes if you keep up the pressure for the 14 - 18 years it takes your child to go through the system.

There is a website / startup in there...

Perhaps part of the problem is that a lot of parents wash their hands free of the process, but complain when their kids don't get the high marks they think they ought to. And looking for someone to blame, instead of looking at making it work.

We have a brilliant system for determining the quality of teachers - and it is one used throughout the private sector with considerable effect.

Its called a competent boss

Every Head knows which ones to get rid of and which ones to keep. Every Head also knows if they get rid of the bad ones, they will need double the budget to hire in new, also good teachers. Especially if every other Head does this at the same time.

"I lost my job only due to my lack of seniority. I was devastated."

He ("he" is correct; I was confused by the given name at first until looking the person up with a Google search) should blame the typical master contract with the teachers in the school district for that. That is a standard contract provision recommended by schoolteacher unions whether a state has a "union shop" or "right-to-work" rules. Usually, school districts cave in and adopt contract provisions like that, because in states where a union shop is not mandatory, and collective bargaining for public employees is not mandatory either, schoolteacher unions are still very influential political interest groups that can swing voter turnout in the typical low-turnout school board election. School boards have a lot more electoral incentive to align with the interests of schoolteacher unions than with the interests of learners. (The interests of learners align with favoring better teachers over worse teachers, rather than with favoring senior teachers over newly hired teachers.)

The crucial voter action influencing the daily lives of teachers at work happens not at the federal level


but at the state level and local level, where most of the funding for schooling is set (and what proportion of funding goes to anything other than staff compensation, by far the largest line item in any school budget, is set) and where work rules, especially priority for promotions or layoffs, are set.

There is considerable evidence that seniority rules lead to higher numbers of teacher layoffs than would be necessary if administrators were allowed to make effectiveness the determining factor in issuing layoff notices, rather than length of service.


A teacher who is doing a good job helping students learn is worth his or her weight in gold, but seniority doesn't match teacher quality sufficiently well to be the sole basis for determining promotions or layoffs in a particular school district. Actively identifying the most able teachers and encouraging the least effective teachers to find other employment, regardless of seniority, could do much to improve the efficiency of the public school system and free up resources to reward the best teachers better than they are rewarded now.


My Google search to verify the teacher's background turned up this post from the teacher's blog


covering some of the same issues, with a different slant for the blog's different audience.

"I give up. They win. I have joined the ranks of parents who have come to realize that we are only empowered to do one thing: take care of our own. I hope that things change, but I don’t have the energy, the money, or the time to continue beating my head into a wall. And if the choices have run out for my toddler when he’s ready for school, I will do it myself. Maybe I’ll do it for others, as well. Who knows."

AFTER EDIT: Thanks for the several interesting comments. Wisty asks how teachers might be identified as effective teachers in the interest of making more effective teachers available to students. The same scholar of education policy I linked to for the general point that effective teachers make a difference has written extensively about identifying those teachers. These links



from his website (which link in turn to longer-form formal articles on the issues) are a sample of the research on the subject. Identifying teachers with good "value-added" is not at all easy, and there are immense incentives to cheat while attempting to identify such teachers, but there is also an enormous payoff from doing better than is done now in identifying effective teachers.

This article wasn't about him getting fired in Oregon, it was a lengthy rant about him quitting in North Carolina. The reason you chose instead to focus your lengthy comment on that one throwaway line is because it reinforces your preexisting view that unions are the main problem with education, even though this article is mainly about some of the other problems.

I'm not "anti-union," but frankly almost all of the issues he complains about are supposed to be things that the union helps with, especially professional development. It sounds like the whole system is falling over in that area, not just the district and not just the union.

Err, I read the article and I have no idea how you found this to be the most important part.

I studied in India, and had a chance to study abroad as well.

Currently, for reasons that escape me, you lot (Americans) seem to have decided to import those banes of thinking and real learning - standardized tests.

Perhaps in order to have some sort of proxy or measurement for what is inherently a chaotic and un-measurable system of children.

From experience - this is generally a BAD IDEA, but its one whose pernicious subtle problems show up after years and possibly generations of being married to it.At which time it becomes too hard to get rid of it.

Firstly - everyone will stop teaching, and focus on acing the tests. Learning is irrelevant, and students know it. This will bring in rote learning, and soon - tuition classes. I don't know what you guys will call it but expect kids to start studying year round.

Then comes the self fulfilling prophecy - you did well in your tests, so you must be good. You must do well in your tests if you are to be good.

And at this point you aren't even creating or nurturing students, but manufacturing mental athletes with specialization in testing well.

IF you throw in STEM fixation - (Well he should have known better to take a degree in humanities) and you damn students with no interest in science or commerce to do exactly that.

Test are a consequence of a very real problem of evaluating teachers. Since neither parents nor children have in most public schools any choice over the school and teachers in it, regular consumer-driven quality controls that work on most markets are absent. However, quality problem is still real and existing - there are, obviously, good schools and bad schools, good teachers and bad teachers. Assume you are a well-intentioned educational administrator, and you want to improve the quality of education. How you do that? How you know which school is doing good and which is doing bad? How you know which teacher is beneficial and which is not? How you know which policy is beneficial and which is harmful? And most of all - how you do it in a way that is scalable to state and national levels and can be centralized and processed at huge scales (without which Department of Education has no data on which it can base its policies)? Obviously, standardized tests look like a perfect fit for this problem. So there's no mystery in this, it is a natural result.

Of course, there are a lot of deficiencies in this approach, which you can see and teachers can see it too. But given centralized, state-driven education system, what else you can do? You can not have absence of quality controls - this would have immense corrupting potential and the system would have incentive to deteriorate very quickly. You can not have individual approach - DoE can't account for each school in each small town, they just don't have resources for that. So with current approach, testing is inevitable.

While I appreciate that you have decided to test the teachers, and that you have unions which come in the way of it, I am greatly amused by the ill conceived plan to achieve your goal.

Its remarkable really. Years, decades of seeing kids die to suicide and cram pressure and this is what you choose.

So that you can test your teachers?

Anyway, your test doesn't test teachers, it tests students.

And then you assume it is a good proxy for teachers.

So just to be clear.

1) Tests are a perfect proxy for taking that test -> 2) Then they are a proxy for test taking ability in the student 3) Then a proxy for student understanding of the subject 4) And thence a proxy for teacher ability.

I'd understand if we were doing chemical analysis with 4 steps involved in the process.

But with human beings? Kids? The fundamental chaotic units of society?

I really have to point out that this is logic that gets most startups killed, or logic on which they pivot to something smarter.

I know you aren't the one responsible, but I really can't help but be perplexed. Once upon a time you guys were known as the place where "stuff just works."

Your older education system did a great job. Sure it may not have made everyone a rock star but frankly - not everyone is cut out to do so at that juncture in their life.

If you say that there is nothing else that can be done, then I accept and understand. But it is a terrible terrible outcome.

I didn't decide anything. I just explain that the decision to test is inevitable.

>> Years, decades of seeing kids die to suicide

Oh come on. You could at least wait couple of lines before you drop "you are a child killer" bomb. This is complete bullshit. There are very unfortunate cases of child suicide. It has nothing to do with existence and merit of evaluation system whatsoever and assigning to it responsibility for dying kids is a demagogy at its purest.

>>> And then you assume it is a good proxy for teachers.

Again, I don't assume anything - I say this criteria is inevitable, since the job of the teachers is to educate the children, and well-educated child is considered teacher's success, while poorly educated one is considered a failure. Since we don't have a way to test capability of teaches by supplying them with test kids to be taught in lab conditions - we have to test the actual kids to sample their level of education. It's not a choice, it's a logical consequence of current system of assumptions. It's as much choice as for a man jumping from a building it is a choice to hit the pavement.

>>> Your older education system did a great job.

It did great job for some and terrible job for others. It does the same now, only much more expensively. That is another reason why government is so eager to introduce testing - the costs are raising massively, the results aren't improving, and in some places are actually nothing short of disastrous - with schools releasing people that are completely illiterate. Every school complains it's underfunded but more funds do not seem to produce better outcomes. The budgets have limits, so it is no wonder that whoever distributes those budgets wants to see some metrics about how things are going instead of blindly throwing money in an hoping for the best. If something gets startups killed is exactly throwing money out without any way to measure if something was achieved or not.

Arguing against standardized testing is arguing against A/B testing.

If you can't measure it there is no way to tell whether it's getting better.

I'm sorry, but this is a completely wrong-headed statement. Standardized testing for school children and A/B testing for web site visitors are completely different beyond the fact that both involve the word "test".

When you run A/B tests on a web site you don't tell the visitors which version they are being shown, or even that there are multiple versions at all. That would completely destroy the value of the testing. In psychology research, where ethics generally dictates that the subjects be informed, they are still not told what specifically is being tested, lest they modify their behavior.

On the other hand, everyone involved in school standardized tests knows about the tests, knows about various biases that exist within the tests, and knows what is at stake based on the results of the tests.

The reason that the current form of standardized testing is destructive is pure economics. If I tell you that I will count how many lines of code you have committed to the repository at the end of each week and that your pay will be based on this figure, what are you and your coworkers going to do? You're going to start writing hundreds of lines of comments, putting each variable declaration on its own line, needlessly re-factoring satisfactory code, etc. This is, as I understand it, a well-documented side-effect of measuring programmer productivity using LoC.

Once I implement this evaluation scheme, two things happen. First, you are being evaluated based on an objective metric. Second, you have direct control over the value that metric takes on. Economics, which is, to a great extent, the study of incentives, tells us that you (and your coworkers, at least in general) will game the daylights out of the metric.

So why is it any different when teachers, once told that their salaries and very jobs depend on the results of an annual test, teach their students exactly what is on the test, by hook or by crook, even at the expense of "real" learning?

The problem is that teachers aren't oblivious (neither are programmers). When they see that they are being evaluated based on the outcome of X, they seek to maximize X. So the trick is, if you insist on quantitative metrics (which is not totally unreasonable, at least as the default) then the metrics must be linked to the behaviors that are desirable, not some vague indicator that approximately tracks those behaviors.

Edit: missing word

Not sure if you have ever read about the system in Finland, but its fascinating. And very low on testing from my understanding. Searching for Finland on this education site is interesting http://www.edweek.org//search.html?prx=p&occ=p&qs1=F...

There is a reason why rote learning to some extent works especially in India.

There is so much competition you are likely to inevitably work very hard. So much effort that you will ultimately get it even if didn't want to.

I know this is brute force way of getting things done. But it is still far better than getting nothing done.

> I know this is brute force way of getting things done.

now, theres something to be aware of - "getting _things_ done" in this context means getting a high score in a standarized test, not getting a job.

Having such a score doesn't necessarily mean you are able. Especially in a creative field that requires genuine interest and passion. This sort of training works for training operators of machinery and/or manufacturing workers that require special knowledge, but for creative fields such as programming (and not the CRUD type!) i think having such brute force method of learning is in fact a barrier.

I hear in china that there are so many people who get excellent scores in tests, and yet is unable to find jobs. Simply because jobs suitable for them isn't there, nor are there that many opportunities. The sort of rote learning is really exacerbating the problem, not helping, because the students studied hard (despite not being their "passion"), they get a good mark, but still find themselves in a rathole.

Oh? I can guarantee you that if I went and interviewed any graduates of a high school or university that concentrates on rote learning I could shred any notion that, on average, they had basic competency in the materials they are alleged to know.

The sad truth here is that it is possible to "fake it", at every level. For the most part a person can be productive in even the most technical of jobs without fully comprehending most of what they are working with. People talk about cargo cultism a lot, but in the real world cargo cultish behavior often works. A lot of times just going through the motions is enough to get by.

But that's no excuse to continue to wallow in mediocrity. We can and should do better.

That's mixing up measurement for achievement.

We make mental body builders.

But they make terrible people and thinkers. The idea of educated here is lost. Most of the debate the average person can create is middlebrow at best.

Currently, for reasons that escape me, you lot (Americans) seem to have decided to import those banes of thinking and real learning - standardized tests.

Standardized tests aren't the bane of thinking and learning. Drilling children over and over with questions identical to those on some test is the bane of thinking and learning. The United States has had standardized tests at least since I was a child (I took standardized tests in elementary school almost thirty years ago) and U.S. education has continued to be progressive during that time. College admissions were very heavily influenced by standardized tests when I was in high school, but my classmates and I were not taught by rote, because our teachers did not believe rote learning was effective.

Let me give you a concrete example. My ex-girlfriend grew up in South Korea. She did very well in calculus in high school, where she learned to solve problems by rote. They were shown different kinds of problems to solve, they memorized the steps to solve them by rote, and then they practiced solving those problems. That's all they did: memorize the steps and then apply them over and over to thousands of problems. Then they were tested on exactly the same kind of problems. She got excellent grades and test scores, but she cannot tell you what a derivative or an integral are or why you would use them. I was taught entirely differently. I was taught the concept of the derivative and the integral. I was taught from pictures before I was taught with symbols. The motivation for the concepts was discussed. I don't remember if we discussed it in class, but the textbook even described some of the historical context. We often learned computations in the context of applications: a tank filling with water, a car accelerating, etc.[+]

Do you know what? Calculus was tested the same way in my school system here in the U.S. as in Korea. Each test had a bunch of problems. The more problems I solved, the higher my score. That's it! Nothing creative or touchy-feely or magical about it. Not really any different from the way my ex was tested in Korea. At the end of the course, there was a standard test administered uniformly across the nation (the Advanced Placement exam.)

American teachers routinely invoke the idea of "teaching to the test" to imply that there are bad teaching methods that lead to better test scores than good teaching methods. Basically, they threaten to teach more and more poorly the more their students are tested. The truth is that under pressure to produce good scores, teachers continue to use the techniques they believe are effective. Teachers in the U.S. are taught that rote learning is not effective, so they don't use it. Teachers who believe that rote learning is effective will use it regardless of whether their students are tested or not.

tl;dr My ex-girlfriend and I were TESTED the same way, but we were TAUGHT entirely differently, because our teachers were trained differently.

[+] Of course, it turns out that in order to learn how to do the problems, I had to actually do the problems, and to a limited extent, the more problems I did the easier they became. In the United States education system, we are taught to be horrified by this evil, poisonous art of getting better at something by practicing it, but we still do it. Teachers universally disapprove of it, but they have not figured out how to eradicate it from their classrooms. (Getting rid of testing would be a good first step, I suppose, since then we wouldn't have to worry about whether the students can actually demonstrate competence at anything; we could teach them to attain pure, perfect internal understanding untainted by any outward manifestation.)

AP Calculus isn't a good example of the "teach to the test" problem. Most elementary/middle and even high school tests aren't nearly as good as AP tests, and most subjects aren't best taught through rote - the best way to learn US history is NOT to be quizzed repeatedly on which year the Missouri Compromise was passed or how many men died at Sharpsburg.

The problem that "teach to the test" introduces is that students focus on factoids and identifying the correct answer in multiple choice, but in the real world (or in college), I'm less likely to have to pick WW2 generals out of a lineup and more like to need to come up with a few paragraphs on what caused it or how it was won or something. Now AP tests do (at least partially) solve for this with their free response and short answer sections, but Standards of Learning (or other state tests) may not.

most subjects aren't best taught through rote - the best way to learn US history is NOT to be quizzed repeatedly on which year the Missouri Compromise was passed or how many men died at Sharpsburg

As far as I know, there aren't any subjects that are best taught through rote. (The confusion between rote learning and practicing skills is a pet peeve of mine.) Learning and testing don't need to resemble each other, not at all, not any more than a physical exam at the doctor's office needs to include a balanced meal, eight hours of sleep, and some light exercise. I think I established that pretty well in my comment: the way I was taught calculus was very different from how I was tested. I was taught calculus through lecture, demonstration, and practice, using applications to motive a new concept, covering the concept intuitively before learning the mechanics, and finally learning and practicing the relevant computational skills. My ex was the one who was taught according to the philosophy that learning should consist of mimicking the test over and over again.

Most elementary/middle and even high school tests aren't nearly as good as AP tests.... Now AP tests do (at least partially) solve for this with their free response and short answer sections, but Standards of Learning (or other state tests) may not.

In other words, standardized tests are capable of reflecting and encouraging progressive teaching ideals OR regressive fact-regurgitation models of learning. I have no doubt at all that poor tests can be written, have been used in the past, and are currently in use in some places. Tests can't help but reflect the beliefs and competence of the people who write them, but that applies to everything else in education. Nothing is immune to being screwed up by individual or institutional incompetence. If you assume competent, progressive teachers and incompetent, benighted test-writers, it's easy to conclude that tests will drag down educational standards. That isn't fair, though. There's no reason to assume that the test designers are any less enlightened and competent than the teachers manning the classrooms.

in the real world (or in college), I'm less likely to have to pick WW2 generals out of a lineup and more like to need to come up with a few paragraphs on what caused it or how it was won or something

I have to disagree with you there. That NEVER happens in the real world. In real life, you most commonly draw on historical knowledge to generate context for things you read or hear. You often have to rely on little factoids such as names and dates to generate connections between what you're reading and what you already know, because you might be hearing something from somebody who doesn't know the context themselves. (Or you might be reading something by a political pundit who is being selective with the facts.) Knowing dates is highly underrated. In a classroom, you learn that dates are the most sterile and inert form of historical knowledge. That may be true for academics or for students, but for laypeople applying a casual knowledge of history in the real world, dates come in really handy. They're the Kevin Bacon of historical connections.

> In other words, standardized tests are capable of reflecting and encouraging progressive teaching ideals OR regressive fact-regurgitation models of learning.

You are putting the cart before the horse. Standardized tests in America circa 2004 allowed for that flexibility. You had an education system that allowed for progressive thought precisely because you weren't forced to standardize.

as I have argued before. Your standardized test earlier, and your teaching system, was NOT comparable in ANY way to what Korea/Japan/India have.

You are now recreating those systems with Standardized COMPULSORY tests. Your comparisons are superficial and invalid.

> . If you assume competent, progressive teachers and incompetent, benighted test-writers, it's easy to conclude that tests will drag down educational standards. That isn't fair, though. There's no reason to assume that the test designers are any less enlightened and competent than the teachers manning the classrooms.

You are painting a far too rosy picture of test taking limits. And part of that reason is because you aren't straying into the details.

Tests can be only varied on a few axes - if you are testing about the revolt of 1857 or the various ways to calculate capacitance there is only a small subset of problems that you can come up with.

Don't forget - These are STANDARDIZED tests - they have to be graded either through an answer key, or through grader judgement - if you allow too much on grader judgement then results aren't standardized. SO it ALWAYS skews to answer keys.

This results in all tests becoming predictable. You do not have that many degrees of freedom when standardizing.

> I have to disagree with you there. That NEVER happens in the real world.

Studying/testing is never about real life. IT can't be. No one knows what sort of life a student is going to lead, so you can only hope to give everyone a similar base of information which should help them find their own paths eventually.

As a result, data has to be produced in long form story format, and tested to see that key pieces of information were retained.

Real life doesn't come into it.

You are saying that if you have better teachers who know how to teach, then standardized testing doesn't matter - it doesn't have to be about drills.

That's essentially waving a magic wand. You are super privileging teacher training as some sort of silver bullet solution, but missing the larger system that works actively against the outcome. You are undervaluing the various pressures which get applied to education, one important one being parent desires to see their kid succeed.

It doesn't matter if the kid understands or not. It doesn't matter if he can answer more important questions but isn't able to perfectly prove a theorem.

No amount of teacher training can stand in the face of a single determined parent who wants their kid to ace that test.

Heck a more trivial point which is still important? - teacher empowerment must come hand in hand with training, because each student is vastly different even from him or herself depending on what time of the day/month or year it is. Teachers must be able to make graded and customized judgement constantly. Tests don't allow for that.

Moving the power for measurement into the hands of the test dis-empowers teachers. The test becomes/IS all that matters here, not the education.

And Tests only roughly measure learning. They MOST strongly measure whether you could answer that particular test.

The test is all that matters.

As a result, the kind of teaching you value, becomes deprecated. Its just not economically competitive. As the original article posits. You don't need teachers to pass the test. You need drill Sergeants.

Teachers who are good at that are the ones who will come to the fore, other teachers don't matter.

You could love your subject and instill it in students. But that doesn't guarantee a good grade. Loving a subject, being involved in it, and testing well in it are different. Especially if you don't "think the test".

This is the final pressure - loving a subject or enjoying it is irrelevant. Students care even less, they know that as long as that they get the test - its all good. "I'm getting good marks In a stupid subject like chemistry, who cares?".

Do you want those people becoming your computer science engineers?

The system you are setting up is concerning, and no amount of teacher training will solve it.


Further I think you are talking about standardized tests America had 30 or so years ago. Speaking on behalf of student body of India - we would have loved to have tests like that.

At least in America you had the option of making a life if you had some gumption even if you didn't ace those tests. You were a person as opposed to a Frankenstinian mental athlete.

Our tests were/are compulsory, for many people not in their first language, and they determined everything from your social standing to your marriage prospects. You started studying for your tenth standard exam 2 years before they started, you had no vacation and you had no spare time.

Then 2 years later you would do it for your ISC or IIT or CAT.

All I can say is that we've had standardized tests in the U.S. my entire life, and none of that has happened. I just looked up when the SAT was introduced: 1926. Over eighty years ago! It hasn't ruined American high school education. (If that requires magic, then magic is real.) Of course standardized tests can be misused. If we make standardized tests into tests of rote regurgitated knowledge, if we design tests that reward cramming and mindless drilling instead of learning, if we replace the college admissions process with a single do-or-die test, then the results will be unfavorable. But we haven't done that in the U.S., and we aren't going to.

> Speaking on behalf of student body of India - we would have loved to have tests like that.

Do note, as far as standardized tests go - the SATs were fun - I personally loved taking them and practicing them. They weren't compulsory either. And if you didn't take them, well you weren't going to be a loser in life. There were other things you could do.

Please understand, that without NCLB you could have all those "IFs". With NCLB the dynamic has changed very drastically, and those conditional flags are set.

SATs are very different from NCLB mandated tests to measure student performance mate. They are compulsory and everyone gets graded. (Remember the last time someone ran an experiment where they gave some kids fake good grades and some kids fake bad grades?)

Test structure and test making knowledge isn't static either - it evolves. One of the first thing it starts becoming aware of is people gaming the system - cheating, memmorizing and so on. It tries to adapt to this by making the test more complex or variable. But then to standardize it has to create a (publicly available) rubric for graders to follow. So the process just renews.

You've started down an evolutionary path. Your tests are moving down a particular road. What you see today isn't what you are going to have.

Further I don't need colleges to have a single do-or-die test. - I just need parents to start privileging the test. IT doesn't matter what colleges do unless they work actively against the test. All that matters is that parents start pushing their kids to do well in it. This is one of the engines of the self fulfilling prophecy.

Standardized tests aren't being misused. They are achieving the kind of goals they usually achieve.

Sure, if North Carolina had strong unions they might be able to help more. But even unions can only do so much to influence legislation, especially today where they don't have the resources to compete against rich individuals who can dump millions of dollars into a race without batting an eye.

North Carolina teachers have no union.

this article is mainly about some of the other problems

I just saw your reply. What would you suggest should be done about the problems you think are most prominently mentioned in the submitted letter?

I don't know the answers, but I tend to side with those that criticize the increased focus on tests. My experience as a programmer leads me to believe that the most effective work is done when you give passionate professionals the tools they need and then get out of the way.

I think this is true, but you also need the other side of that coin -- the ability to can the professionals pretty easily.

It's obvious that seniority rules increase the number of laid-off teachers. Teachers with seniority are more expensive than new teachers.

Teachers unions see seniority concessions as a way for school administrators to cut costs by shedding senior teachers and replacing them with underqualified junior teachers.

This, by the way, is a good example of how complex teacher labor issues are. Not every unionized teacher shares the objectives of the teachers union. Younger teachers might favor merit pay and looser seniority rules.

It's definitely tricky.

Junior teachers are often more easily pushed around, while senior teachers can have the experience and connections needed to push back against bad administration.

Letting administrators determine who the "best" teachers are can mean that administrators will pick the most obedient, not the most effective. A seniority system has obvious flaws, but I don't see increased bureaucratic power as much of an improvement.

This is going to be true for any group of professionals. Doctors, lawyers, software developers. Junior ones will do what they are told. Senior ones will push back and say "this is stupid" when management tries stupid rules.

Yet the senior professionals in those fields are valued. I suspect because their employer cares if the organization does a good job. I've seen school administrators range from mildly concerned to completely unconcerned. As long as the bosses' jobs aren't in danger, they don't care, and their jobs tend to only be in danger when something goes really really wrong, like a school shooting. So, like any other bureaucracy, they work hard to clamp down on anything out of the ordinary.

I think school choice is important for getting administrators to care. Of course, if parents pull their kids out of school A and into school B, and some higher power (like a district) simply moves administrators over from A to B, nothing has been accomplished.

Reading this comment from this teacher's blog article

"And if the choices have run out for my toddler when he’s ready for school, I will do it myself. Maybe I’ll do it for others, as well. Who knows."

questions about a potential education system hack popped into my head. Maybe many others have already had this idea...

What about uniting the home-schooling and frustrated-teachers movements?

I'm sure there are onerous restrictions on setting up a "school" in the U.S. But what about an intensive tutoring system catering to home schooled children? If you had a tutor (who happens to be a formerly disgruntled public school teacher) in a home, how many other children could be in that home, receiving personal tutoring, before no longer being considered a "home school" environment? What if the formerly disgruntled public school teacher drove to various homes during the day or the week? Can "home school" instruction happen in a place other than the child's residence and still be considered home schooling?

Obviously, this could be supplemented with online curricula.

If anything like this is legally feasible, seems like an online service allowing parents to personally select educators sharing their vision for how they want their children to be educated could be hugely disruptive to the current K12 educational establishment.

Does anything like this already exist?

This kind of tutoring is already very common among homeschoolers, though without involving frustrated teachers. Homeschooling law varies by state and local district, but I've never heard of requirements for teaching to physically take place at the home.

Charter schools. There are a wide range of approaches, but the charter school I attended provided an alternative for both teachers and parents looking for flexibility in their child's education.

Some charter schools are amazing, and some are awful ... just like public schools. Research has failed to find any evidence that charter schools perform better as a group -- which is surprising, since they can (by and large) select their students and have flexibility in hiring. Moreover, they undercut public schools in the same district.

Seems like a net-negative to me.

Thank you so much for pointing this out. For people who are so focused on "data-driven education" they always seem to ignore this. The fact of the matter is that collectively they perform no better than public schools, while undermining those very schools they are trying to 'fix.'

Perhaps part of the issue is that people are focusing on a 'silver bullet' for education. Standardized tests, charter schools, and even things like kahn academy have been offered, but it's all based on a false premise. There is no silver bullet. We know the strategies we need to take to improve education, but we always fail at tactics because of the assumption that there is one tactic that can be applied everywhere and it's just going to work.

That said, there might be one tactic that could work everywhere: teacher autonomy. Let the people in the classroom decide the tactics they need to use in order to teach the children they are charged with educating.

Why can't there be more than one school serving a particular area? Does the mere existence of charter/private/parochial in a community undermine that community's public school? Why would that be so?

Education is far from the only service industry for which there is no silver bullet. Other such industries function by fostering expertise at management levels in addition to the "work" level, but always leaving the final decision in the hands of the consumer. On the other hand, USA public education takes no consumer input at all, and it's crap. The reason we continue to attempt doomed one-size-fits-all strategies (and really, always using a single poor tactic is poor strategy, despite what we think we may know) is because we intentionally ignore the primary input that helps other industries regulate quality.

I actually don't think teachers as a whole are that bad (of course there are individual exceptions), but the management/administration of USA public education is abysmal. If most current administrators were actually responsible for firing underperformers while recruiting talented new teachers, they would fail miserably at those tasks.

I'm all in favor of teacher autonomy when we have sufficient public vouchers and other similar mechanisms in place to guarantee parental choice as well.

A few reasons:

* Charter schools would pull out the best students (or at least the ones with the most motivated parents). Research generally suggests weak students get lots of benefit from being in class with strong students.

* Public schools benefit greatly from economies of scale. If 10% of students (and thus money) is taken away, the public school still needs to pay for existing fixed infrastructure

* Charter schools frequently take the cheapest students — special ed students, for example, are still left to public schools.

Taken together, this makes charter schools a net negative.

Weak students may benefit, but strong students don't. Some of them are strong enough to work through a class of couple dozens of peers not interested in learning and disrupting the class out of boredom, but some of them just give up.

I'd like to see some data about this "net negative" claim. I think forcing bright kids that want to learn and advance to suffer through substandard school and disruptive environment that suppresses their will to learn and prevents them from achieving better results because the school needs their parents' money and they will be "good influence" on those bullies and delinquents - is plain wrong. A person - even a kid - should not be means to an end. It's just immoral - and judging from the results public school achieve statistically, being more expensive and less successful that private ones - also impractical.

If charter schools consistently out-performed public schools, you might be right. But they don't! It really seems to be a myth that charter schools provide a better education — if anything, it is worse, since they have a number of advantages.

Any data to back up that claim? I see the observable behavior that people pay money for private schools suggests private schools are usually providing better value - otherwise why pay the money? Charter schools are voluntary too, so there must be something that attracts consumers there.

However, I agree that people can be stupid and pay money for products that aren't nearly as good as they are advertised. So given some data I'd be inclined to update my opinion on private and charter schools quality. Where could I see the data that your opinion is based on?

Here's a good summary: http://www.centerforpubliceducation.org/Main-Menu/Organizing...

Their overview: "Some charters do better; the majority do the same or worse. CREDO also moved beyond individual student performance to examine the overall performance of charter schools across multiple subject areas. They found that while some charter schools do better than the traditional public schools that fed them, the majority do the same or worse. Almost one-fifth of charters (17 percent) performed significantly better (at the 95 percent confidence level) than the traditional public school. However, an even larger group of charters (37 percent) performed significantly worse in terms of reading and math. The remainder (46 percent) did not do significantly better or worse."

Education is very hard to judge, particularly for a new institution. I'm not at all surprised people pay for private schools or apply to charter schools — exclusivity might seem to provide additional value.

Also, charter schools != private schools. I don't know the data there, but if you have lots more money than a public school, different things are possible.

Students certainly benefit from interaction with slightly stronger students, regardless of absolute academic strength. The most able student in any class is unlikely to actually learn much, but let's stipulate that we don't care about her needs. I still don't agree that any student benefits from sharing a class with others who are far more advanced. It's not like they're somehow going to catch up (rare exceptions exist, but clearly the system isn't about rare exceptions). Not everyone should be groomed to go $10k in debt for 1.5 years of college, or worse, $50k in debt for a degree that will never pay for itself. We need alternatives to this path for those who are never going to write a convincing essay or calculate a derivative (here we shouldn't just criticize the education establishment; the business community should be creating better opportunities as well).

Public schools benefit much less from economies of scale than their administrators, architects, and accountants (who do so benefit) would have us believe. This is why one of the most effective public-only reforms is to break up large schools into smaller ones. The principals don't have any army of vice-principals behind whom to hide, and there is some accountability for what happens in class. Very few charter, private, or parochial schools ever become the behemoths that public schools are, and few of the parents and students who choose them would want them to.

I agree that students with special challenges should have commensurately larger vouchers they can take with them to whatever school their parents judge to be the best for them. It's hard to imagine that alternative schools would do worse for those with IEPs than most public schools do.

One way a charter school can undermine the normal public school is by draining away motivated students, since they do get to choose who is admitted, thereby skewing stats.

> Why can't there be more than one school serving a particular area? Does the mere existence of charter/private/parochial in a community undermine that community's public school? Why would that be so?

Tragedy of the anti-commons, basically.

> Does anything like this already exist?

Google "homeschool co-ops"

I was part of one when I was a kid. Science was taught by a teacher who used to teach in public schools and we were very fortunate to have him because my mother didn't want potentially dangerous chemicals or dissection animals in the house. I was home-schooled from 1st to 8th grade, then went to public high school and college.

How did you find the transition? That's an interesting pathway to have followed.

We do a hybrid model where we augment the public fare with a parent organized "auxiliary academic association" (once a week classes).

Also, any parent that wants to be involved with their kids education should check out Odyssey of the Mind (getting kids on teams to do creative problem solving. Fun!) -- http://www.odysseyofthemind.com/

> Identifying teachers with good "value-added" is not at all easy,

Coming up with a rule is very hard. But it's pretty easy to identify the good teachers - everyone at the school knows who they are. Just ask.

Imagine businesses before disruptions became commonplace; that's the state of K-12, maybe even worse.

> Actively identifying the most able teachers and encouraging the least effective teachers to find other employment, regardless of seniority, could do much to improve the efficiency of the public school system and free up resources to reward the best teachers better than they are rewarded now.

How do you think should they do this? If you use test scores, teachers will try to "teach the test", or even encourage students to cheat. Student surveys might work, unless the students just dislike certain teachers (who are effective, but strict). Performance reviews can be rubbish.

I'd bet properly designed teacher assessments (tests, student surveys) could find the worst 10% of teachers, though.

You cannot manage professionals by a set of numbers. (Sales might be the single exception.) Dilbert is full of tales of developers being graded on lines of code or number of bugs.

You need to have human judgment involved.

The problem is that the teachers' union does not trust the administrators (probably with good historical reason, but that's neither here nor there) to make those decisions using human judgment. They will only submit to clear rules, and, as with any organization, the rules will tend to benefit the members of the org that are in charge of bargaining.

That's why I think it might work for finding the bottom 10%. Those are the ones you want to fire. If a teacher is in the bottom 30% (and in danger of getting in to the bottom 10%), you probably want them behaving like robots (teaching the test, following set procedures). If they are competent (most teachers are) you want them to manage themselves, as heavy incentives will just screw up their behavior.

Your search for the bottom ten percent will put in place mechanisms that will affect the behavior of the remaining 90.

You underestimate the ability of people to use such systems to end up enforcing a stifling uniform and grey mediocrity.

Turn it on its head - if you switched the voting on HN to find the worst commentors, instead of bringing the best up top - what would happen.

"If you switched the voting on HN to find the worst commentors, instead of bringing the best up top - what would happen?"

It would become Reddit?

> Sales might be the single exception.

Except it's not: http://blog.fogcreek.com/why-do-we-pay-sales-commissions/

Of course, there's also the alternative of teaching the teachers how to teach. Teaching is an ability that can be taught, and learned.[0]

[0] "Building a Better Teacher" http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/07/magazine/07Teachers-t.html...


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