Arne Duncan is Just Plain Clueless. . .

I'm pretty certain that there has never been a bigger political disappointment than Arne Duncan—and that's a position that he continues to reaffirm almost every time he speaks.  Check out his recent comments on the recent LA Times decision to publish "teacher effectiveness scores" in their paper:

U.S. Secretary of Education
Arne Duncan said Monday that parents have a right to know if their
children's teachers are effective, endorsing the public release of
information about how well individual teachers fare at raising their
students' test scores.

"What's there to hide?" Duncan said in an interview one day after The Times published an
analysis of teacher effectiveness in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation's second largest school system. "In education, we've been scared to talk about success."

There's nothing to hide, Arne.  But there's plenty to misinterpret anytime you start trying to tie individual scores to individual teachers.  And there's also plenty of collateral damage that is likely to destroy schools. 

Here's a few hiccups you might want to consider before you start praising plans to tie teachers to test scores:

Not every teacher works in a tested subject:  What are your plans, Arne, for measuring the effectiveness of the 60% of education professionals—including the fellas working in your own department—who don't teach tested subjects? 

If you're so @#&!-ing determined to have quantitative measures of the performance of teachers, shouldn't you be just as determined to use quantitative measures to evaluate the effectiveness of everyone taking taxpayer dollars to educate kids?

Holding some—but not all—teachers accountable in a such a public, transparent way destroys morale:  Have you even considered the consequences that publicly scorning teachers who work in tested subjects might have on relationships within a schoolhouse, Arne? 

I mean, why would anyone want to teach a tested subject where the risk of ridicule is very real when 6 out of 10 positions in their building don't carry the same risks?  Won't they just walk away from tested subjects instead?

And how likely is it that a school can work towards a shared mission and vision when some teachers are bearing the brunt of accountability pressures and others are measured against fluffy standards and by imprecise measures?

Tying test scores to one teacher ignores the complex nature of student learning:  So I work in a middle school, Arne, and I'm teaching science—which isn't tested in my state.  The hitch is that I've taught language arts for 15 years, so integrating content area reading lessons into my classroom will be a breeze. 

Won't those efforts have an impact on the test scores you want to tie to the teacher who is teaching language arts to my students? How sure are you that the teachers you hold up as effective are going to be just as effective on their own? 

What if we put tons of energy into studying the practices of teachers who have high test scores only because their students happen to work with teachers in other subjects that are integrating tested skills effectively?

Ain't that going to be just another horrible waste of time and energy?

Parents have different definitions of "effectiveness:"  You know, Arne, when I was teaching language arts, I had the lowest test scores on our hallway for 6 consecutive years.  In fact, I was regularly outperformed by teachers new to the classroom and the profession.  One year, a student teacher had better scores that I did. 

But parents were always thankful to have their sons and daughters in my room because they knew that their children would be challenged in ways that just weren't tested.  Where's that play into your theories about measuring and reporting on teacher effectiveness?

Competition doesn't encourage collaboration:  Arne, you argue that public ratings will "empower teachers to strengthen their craft and find out who are the great teachers around them."  Not only is your argument grammatically incorrect, it shows a complete lack of understanding of what motivates knowledge-based workers to improve

If you were pushing for pairing teachers into vertical, interdisciplinary teams that included employees beyond the tested classroom and that could be held accountable for measurable results, I'd jump on your bandwagon. 

Until then, I'll doubt whether you've ever really listened to a classroom teacher's concerns about standardized testing as a measure of individual performance.

I could go on and on, Arne, but you won't listen anyway.  Heck, if Brad Jopp, who crafted one of the most responsible teacher evaluation programs in the nation, is working for you and you're still churning out crazy ideas disconnected from classroom realities, we're all screwed

My prediction:  You'll keep cooking up policies that will have little positive impact on students and schools and we'll end up calling on Rod Paige to cook up another Houston Miracle.

It'll be epic. 

6 comments

  1. Bill Ferriter

    The crazy part, David, is that if I actually thought Arne would invite teachers to the table and listen to them in a meaningful way, maybe I would have worked harder to temper my thoughts.
    But he’s proven again and again that he’s not interested in teacher voice. He’s a blather-box with power and poor ideas.
    At this point, I’m not even interested in trying to influence his thinking—I want to influence the thinking of others, convincing them that Arne’s ideas are worth resisting.
    Any of this make sense?
    Bill

  2. David B. Cohen

    Wow, Bill. I think you’re not going to be invited to the table anymore.
    But maybe a symbolic gesture could help. Maybe DOE employees would be willing to accept some accountability measures. They are there to provide useful and accurate information, right? Therefore, the measure of DOE employee effectiveness is the number of pages of writing they produce each year (whether or not it’s accurate or useful is too complex to measure, so we’ll accept volume as a proxy for quality). But that’s a data collection nightmare, so we’ll check how many pages of information they produce the second week of even numbered months. The employees who produce the most material should also be paid more, and the ones who produce the least should know that they will be named publicly, so that we know who’s underperforming.
    This method is not supported by any recognized leaders in governance, education, or communications, but it’s okay for me to proceed because I assume that the cognitive production function is linear in the inputs and in the unobserved endowment and that input effects do not depend on the employee’s experience level but may depend on the time at which they were applied relative to the current time. Then, a general cognitive production function will be given by: Tit = μi0 + α1Xi t+ α2Xit-1 + …+ ρ1νI t+ ρ2νit-1 +…+ εit where productivity in a given year is a function of current and past observed and unobserved inputs as well as of the initial competence of the employee.

  3. Mike Hasley

    Agree 100%. I’m seeing more and more in schools a split between teachers in tested classrooms and those who aren’t. This will only make it worse.

  4. Michael Doyle

    He’s not clueless–he’s fronting for some very powerful people with a lot of money.
    I can no longer give him the benefit of the doubt. A Harvard grad working under the POTUS has every tool he needs at his disposal.
    Follow the money. Follow the power. Mr. Duncan is a dangerous man.