Snobs and other education news

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A big week for education news included Rick Santorum denouncing President Obama as a “snob” for suggesting that all kids should have the opportunity to go to college, and warning that “The indoctrination that is going on at the university level is a harm to our country.” 

And so, my fellow snobs … on to the news. 

Teacher evaluation and teacher lay-offs top this week’s MN legislative agenda for education, and figure prominently in the week’s news coverage, too. In New York, which has charged to the front of the teacher evaluation parade, an estimated 18,000 teacher names and rankings were publicly posted this week. Both Bill Gates and Diane Ravitch denounced the practice, with Ravitch noting:

  • … the Times story revealed the statistical inadequacy of the measures: “… the margin of error is so wide that the average confidence interval around each rating spanned 35 percentiles in math and 53 in English, the city said. Some teachers were judged on as few as 10 students.” With such a large margin of error, it’s hard to know how anyone could take these ratings seriously. The precise numbers attached to each teacher’s name are nothing more than junk science.

Gates agreed that:

  • … student test scores alone aren’t a sensitive enough measure to gauge effective teaching, nor are they diagnostic enough to identify areas of improvement. Teaching is multifaceted, complex work. A reliable evaluation system must incorporate other measures of effectiveness, like students’ feedback about their teachers and classroom observations by highly trained peer evaluators and principals.

Besides inadequacy and inaccuracy, standardized student test scores do not even exist for many teachers — those teaching art, music, history, or most science subjects, to give just a few examples. Nonetheless, the Star Tribune editorialized today about the need for legislation to end a “seniority-only” policy on lay-offs. In its news columns, the Strib noted that the seniority-only policy is not actually the law now: “According to Education Minnesota, 40 percent of Minnesota’s school districts_ accounting for 60 percent of teachers — have negotiated local arrangements that are not based solely on seniority.” Can anyone clarify what the law actually says?