Finally. At long last. A group of serious analysts, commissioned by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, has concluded that NBPTS needs to include student learning gains in its evaluation of teacher quality! What's more, that conclusion is based not on ideology but on some very sophisticated analysis of which teachers do and do not actually turn out to be more effective in the classroom. I didn't have Tom Kane's study to lean on but have been making that argument for approximately twenty years. So have numerous Fordham studies, reports, and manifestos. (See, for example, ??pp. 213-215 of Troublemaker; Better Teachers for Better Schools, and this and this Gadfly item.) Find the study by Kane et al at

But will NBPTS take this sound advice? Education Week reporter Debra Viadero is far from confident. Read her excellent piece over at (subscription required)....

Liam Julian

The folks at Education Sector are really putting it all out there. First this and now this, from Andy Rotherham, who finds a host of problems with the NAACP convention speech and education platform of John McCain.

Then, at the bottom of his post, we learn:

In the interest of transparency as I start to write more about the campaign I should note that I'm supporting Senator Obama. And, although in my role at Education Sector, a non-partisan 501c3 organization I've had contact with both campaigns around our published work and theories of action, in my free (personal and non-compensated) time I have contact with the Obama campaign on policy issues.

Wait a minute. Isn't this just another way of saying: "In??my free time,??I actively work for Senator Obama, who I'm supporting, and in??my non-partisan 501c3 time,??I criticize Senator McCain and tell you I'm supporting Obama"???

The issue isn't transparency, as Rotherham writes. It's fairness. If Rotherham wanted to maintain even a patina of impartiality here,??he might have mentioned in his post something--anything--about how the deficiencies he identifies in McCain's education platform are filled by what Obama is offering....

Here we are, somewhat dubious, but still enthused that Maryland reported record gains in proficiency scores this year, when we learn that Maryland neglected to mention they made their test easier. By making the test time 1 hour shorter (which, they claim only prevented the students from getting fatigued but did not decrease the difficulty--isn't part of what makes tests difficult the time limit?), some questions were necessarily cut. These were not just any questions, however, these were the psychometrically approved questions.

Maryland had taken an off-the-shelf test, created by psychometric experts at Harcourt or similar, in 2002 and combined it with in-house questions. They argued that the off-the-shelf test lent validity to the assessment because it had been tested on millions of students across the nation, while the in-house questions were more relevant and aligned with the curriculum. In a cryptic Baltimore Sun article, we learn that Maryland elected to drop the vetted off-the-shelf questions for the following four reasons:

Although students had to answer about 40 questions on the standardized portion of the test, Maryland officials did not count most of them. Instead, they elected to count the questions that focused on


It's an absolutely beautiful, sunny day in downtown D.C. this Friday, but I can't seem to shake this article that I was reading this morning on the metro into work. It's not about Michelle Rhee's school reforms, or alternative certification, or pay for performance, or teacher quality, or school choice, or student achievement, or any of those very important things we pontificate about here at Fordham. It's about homeless kids. It was in a pile of articles on education that our interns gather for us each day and I started to breeze by it for something "meatier" on the aforementioned topics. But then I stopped and read.

The article centers upon homeless schoolchildren in Ohio and Michigan. We learn that Ohio had a 12 percent increase in student homelessness between 2005 and 2007, with over 13,000 kids experiencing homelessness at some point in that timeframe. Michigan had about 18,000 homeless children during the last school year, a 16 percent rise from 2006-2007. Toledo has seen a tripling of homeless kids in the last two years, Cleveland a 60 percent increase. Heavy foreclosures from our current housing crisis are apparently driving the increases. But poverty, breakdowns in families,...

Liam Julian

It occurs to me that we may need to start on this blog a "Quick and the Ed Watch" category. It's not that we want to, you see; it's that somebody needs to.

The reason is exemplified by Kevin Carey's latest post about John McCain, in which the blogger is upset by the following sentence, from McCain's speech to the NAACP, that laments that talented people without proper certification are barred from teaching in public schools: "They don't have all the proper credits in educational ???theory' or ???methodology'--all they have is learning and the desire and ability to share it."

Carey is exercised by the inclusion within quotation marks ("contemptuous quotes," he calls them) of theory and methodology. Such punctuative liberty is "ridiculous," Carey writes. Furthermore, he continues, it "is garden variety anti-intellectualism and doesn't speak well of Senator McCain's approach to policy or other matters."

But are we so sure that knowing about educational theory and methodology, be they quoted contemptuously or not, is a necessary condition for effectively running a classroom? Is it not true that much of this theory and methodology is a relatively...

Liam Julian

The new issue is out. Where to begin? Mike tells us why the U.S. educational system is so successful (yup, successful), Checker tells us why Randi Weingarten is no Al Shanker, and Amber tells us why there are problems with the latest study from Jay Greene et al. This week's edition tested positive for EPO, and we're not ashamed to admit it.

Liam Julian

Judging from several of the comments on my last post, the ideas that undergird merit pay for teachers are not lost only on NPR reporters. Corey, for example, writes:

Does LeBron play better when he's paid $20 million than if he, and everybody else, were paid $1 million? That's a legitimate question. And different from asking if it's fair to pay LeBron the same as everybody else when he's clearly better.

It's also a different question than asking whether the players currently earning $1 million will work harder to try and earn as much as LeBron than they would if they had no potential for salary increases.

What is missing here is an understanding of, inter alia, the job market. Merit pay is engineered not only to develop better teachers by encouraging those already in the field to work harder, but it's also--and maybe more so--designed to attract talented people to classrooms and keep the best teachers from leaving and pursuing other careers. So, yes, it is incredibly foolish to ask, as Larry Abramson did, "Is performance pay working if it just rewards teachers who are already doing a good job?"

Liam Julian

Candidates Obama and McCain have both spoken about their support??for merit pay for teachers. NPR's Morning Edition wondered if such pay plans actually work, so??reporter Larry Abramson went to Colorado to find out.??

After interviewing a teacher who has benefited financially from??merit pay, but who doesn't believe the bonuses have actually improved her teaching ability, Abramson asks:

This raises another question: Is performance pay working if it just rewards teachers who are already doing a good job?

Wow. Can we imagine such a question being applied to another professional field? Is performance pay working if it just rewards LeBron James when he's already doing a good job? If NPR's reporters??have handy??a dictionary, and they must, they might want to check out the definitional passage below the word??incentive.??

The Economist reports this week on Randi Weingarten's election to the AFT presidency.

Pure speculation or not, I find compelling Mike's lead editorial in this week's Gadfly, which argues that extra-curricular activities in U.S. K-12 education foster "creativity, leadership, and the other '21st Century skills' that employers crave."

But his closing line, light-hearted as it is, really disappoints, because it exemplifies the wrong-headed thinking that permeates ed policy and engenders so many ridiculous ideas for revamping K-12 to make us "more competitive." He says:

So the next time that foreigners come to investigate what accounts for America's economic success, don't show them the extra-curriculars. They're our secret weapons; we might want to keep it that way!

To all you K-12 ambassadors out there, please don't listen to Mike. If China dispatches a special envoy to come study our schools, show them everything we've got. Contrary to what Mike and many much more irrational fear-mongerers out there suggest, we want foreign economies to thrive, because trade is not a zero-sum game; improving circumstances in one country benefit us all.