People often talk about—even debate—whether teaching is
art or science. After reading magician Teller’s recent article “Teller
Reveals His Secrets
” in Smithsonian magazine, I’m now fully
convinced that great teaching is neither art nor science. It’s magic. And, as
we talk about and debate how best to select, evaluate, and reward great
teachers, we should consider taking some of Teller’s advice.

17/365: i could be your magician
Great teaching is neither art nor science. It's magic.
Photo by jin.thai.

It turns out that his most basic secret—the “magic” of
Penn & Teller’s work—doesn’t involve a clever slight of hand or carefully
developed prop. Instead, it takes hard work, or grit. In simple terms, Teller

You will be fooled by a trick if it
involves more time, money and practice than you (or any other sane onlooker)
would be willing to invest.

It underscores a simple but all-too-often overlooked life
lesson: The...

Save the podcast!

Mike and Janie make the case for keeping the Education Gadfly Show going with witty analysis of Common Core critics, student discipline follies, and the GOP’s education conundrum. Amber delves into teacher dissatisfaction and Chris asks “What’s up with that?” one last time.

Amber's Research Minute

 The MetLife survey of The American Teacher - Download the PDF

What's Up With That?

Teacher's health insurance policy includes free plastic surgery.

The Education Department fired up civil rights advocates this week
with the release of new data showing that schools subject black and Latino
students to discipline at higher rates than their white peers. "The sad
fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than
non-minorities, even within the same school,”
lamented Education Secretary Arne Duncan. The statistics are indeed troubling—black students made up 18 percent of students in ED’s sample, but were 35 percent of students suspended once, and 39
percent of students expelled—but so is Duncan’s spin, which was echoed even more starkly by sundry civil rights
groups and commentators. What we know: Minority students are disciplined more
often than non-minorities. This may be, as Duncan implies, because schools
punish them unfairly and undeservedly, perhaps the result of institutional
racism, inexperienced teachers who struggle with classroom management, or
countless other explanations. But that doesn’t mean
U.S. schools are run by racists. It may also be because black and Latino
students commit infractions more often than white students and are therefore
disciplined at a higher rate. It may be because teachers and principals...

For the better part of
three decades, MetLife has taken the pulse of American teachers. (We at Fordham
have offered summaries of  recent iterations of this work.) This latest check-up—which
diagnosed how the economic downturn has affected teachers and schools—yielded
some disturbing news. Since 2009, teacher satisfaction has dropped more than
fifteen percentage points; at 44 percent, it’s now at its lowest in two decades.
Though MetLife doesn’t look for causation, a few correlated (and
common-sensical) data points offer possible explanations: Low job satisfaction
is linked to feelings of job insecurity and experienced most commonly by
teachers in financially strapped schools. Moreover, teachers with low job
satisfaction are 21 percentage points less likely to feel that they are treated
as professionals by the community. (These trends persist regardless of
teachers’ demographic characteristics.) Worse still, teachers in schools that
have experienced budget cuts are less likely to be optimistic about improved
student achievement: Forty-six percent of those in schools experiencing cuts
don’t believe that student achievement will increase over the next five years,
compared to 35...

Kathleen Porter-Magee is half right,
maybe two thirds
Principals should indeed be responsible for evaluating the teachers in their
schools—and should have the authority to engage, retain, deploy, and
dismiss individual instructors (and other school staff) according to their best

That does not, however, mean "education reformers [should]
get out of the business of trying to improve the civil service rules of our
broken education bureaucracies...." Surely she doesn't want the system's
present HR rules and practices to endure intact. And surely they're not going
to be wiped away altogether. So they need to be reformulated. And one crucial
area of reform (among many) does involve teacher evaluations and the
appropriate use of student achievement information—test scores and more—within such evaluations.

No, teacher evaluations should not be based entirely on student
test scores. No, I don't think such evaluations should be made public (though
significant portions of them should be accessible to parents, especially the
parts linked to student achievement within teachers' classrooms). But chaos
will reign if there are no district or statewide practices, templates, model
programs, and suchlike...

In part
of my New York City
teacher evaluation commentary, I explained the judicial decision which
determined that the public had a right to know how individual teachers were
doing. Most tellingly, perhaps, was Judge Kern’s dismissal of the argument that
flaws in the data mattered to her decision. Referring to a previous ruling by the
state’s highest court, Kern said, “there is no requirement that data be
reliable for it to be disclosed.”

We have to do this in public, a welcome window-opening
in a system of baroque halls and closets.

This means that we have to do this in public, a welcome window-opening
in a system of baroque halls and closets. The New York Times, one of
the media outlets that had sued to gain access to the Teacher Data Reportshan
(TDR), made
the data available
and issued an
to teachers to “respond to your data report.”

In fact, surprising many, Michael
, the On Education
columnist for the Times and normally
no friend to education reform, had it about right:

At first, when I

Everyone predicted that Justice
Cynthia Kern’s ruling
last January to allow the release of the value-added
scores for New York City teachers—with the teachers’ names—would set off a
firestorm when the names were released (which is what
when Los Angeles did the same thing in 2010). And it did.

“Teachers will be right in feeling assaulted and compromised,” declared
Merryl Tisch
, chancellor of New York
State’s Board of Regents, just after New York City released
some 18,000 teacher evaluations to the public last week.

“The arrogance of some people to say that the parents don't
have the ability to look at numbers and put them in context and to make
decisions is just astounding to me,”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg shot back
. “This is about our kids' lives. This is
not about anything else.”

It is possible that in a different era, a court might very well have
concluded that releasing teachers’ names was quite insane.

That pretty much set the tone for the debate: another assault on
teachers versus the public’s right to know. And it turns out that the best

This is a guest post from Eric Hanushek, the Paul and
Jean Hanna senior fellow 
at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, in response to Mike
Petrilli’s essay, “The
‘teacher effectiveness gap’ was just a myth: 3 implications.

Let me try to put some of the issues raised by Erik Hanushek Mike Petrilli’s recent post in perspective. Much of the research has found substantial
variation in teacher quality within all schools. It is difficult to
ascertain how much variation there is between schools, but I don't think
answering that question is key to policy.

  • We want to improve the quality of teachers
    everywhere—which in my opinion calls for weeding out the ineffective teachers
  • Even if little of the variation in teacher
    quality is between schools, it does not eliminate concerns about what is
    happening in disadvantaged schools.
  • A recent EdTrust
    West paper
    —which is great and which tried to analyze the issues in a
    serious way—finds some substantial differences in average quality (biased
    against disadvantaged students) in Los Angeles—so if
  • ...

Sounding off on "snobs" and Santorum

Mike and Rick break down the week’s news, from the prospects of John Kline’s ESEA reauthorization proposals to the college-for-all controversy. Amber analyzes the latest report on Milwaukee’s voucher program Chris wonders whether robbing a bank is enough to get a school bus driver fired.

Amber's Research Minute

The Comprehensive Longitudinal Evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program

Amber's Weekly Poll

Tune in next week to find out the answer!

What's Up With That?

School bus dispatcher was bank robbery getaway driver - WFTV.com

As everyone in the education world already
knows, several news media organizations won a lawsuit that forced the New
York City Department of Education to release many of the teacher-level
value-added scores it has been collecting as part of its accountability system.
The result? The public unveiling of confusing, unreliable, and—apparently—error-riddled

Before we go further down the teacher
evaluation path, now is a good time for education reformers to pause and ask
themselves whether this kind of top down effort is really what will lead our
schools to excellence?

The question is not whether student
achievement data should be used as one of several measures of teacher
effectiveness, but rather how those data should be used and who is
ultimately in the driver’s seat.

Critics of using test data argue that it’s
unfair; that standardized tests are imperfect and therefore cannot be used to
determine whether students have learned what they should have, and certainly
not whether teachers have taught what they were supposed to.

Teachers ultimately should be held accountable for how well
they are able to drive achievement in...