Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Posted at 6:00 AM ET, 09/30/2010

The strange media coverage of Obama's education policies

By Valerie Strauss

NBC News president Steve Capus said that his network’s Education Nation summit this week -- a multi-day affair that included interviews with President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan -- would be a fair, serious look at public education today.

It wasn’t even close.

The events, panels and discussions were sharply tilted toward Obama's school reform agenda -- focused in part on closing failing schools, expanding charter schools and using standardized test scores to evaluate teachers. It gave short shrift to the enormous backlash against the plan from educators and parents around the country who say that Obama's education priorities won't improve schools but will narrow curriculum and drive good teachers out of the profession.

NBC seemed to take for granted that Obama’s education policies are sound and will be effective. Seasoned journalists failed to ask hard questions and fell all over their subjects to be sympathetic. It was a forum for people to repeatedly misstate the positions of their opponents.

The one school district that was the subject of a panel was New Orleans, which was remade after Hurricane Katrina with public charter schools. (Never mind that charter schools educate less than five percent of the schoolchildren in the country and can never be a systemic solution to the troubles that ail urban districts.)

A panel on innovation was packed with charter school folks, sending a message that only charter schools are innovative, which they, by and large, are not.

Before Education Nation's televised panels, some participants in New York were treated to a screening of the movie "Waiting for Superman," a documentary that significantly skews the reality of public education. It, for example, blames teachers unions for failing schools, without noting that the problems remain the same in non-unionized states. On a panel that followed, the only person defending teachers was American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who could have used some help.

Matt Lauer interviewed Obama; Tom Brokaw interviewed Duncan; Andrea Mitchell interviewed D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. (“Michelle, you’ve been through so much, and you’ve been so plainspoken,” Mitchell said sympathetically, ignoring the fact that Rhee has, in fact, not been as plainspoken as all that.)

Other journalists interviewed other school reformers with little journalistic pushback. Sometimes credit was given where credit wasn't due. David Gregory said to Duncan:

“President Bush isn’t often given credit for driving accountability because No Child Left Behind became unpopular, and yet, indeed, that accountability is what the Obama administration has built on.”

Actually, No Child Left Behind became unpopular because it didn’t create real accountability and subverted teachers by putting standardized tests at the center of the learning experience.

The Obama administration is taking that obsession with standardized tests to a new level, funding programs that pay teachers by the test scores of their students. It doesn't seem to matter that such merit pay plans have been used off and on since the 1920s with less than stellar results, as education historian Diane Ravitch explained in this piece.

NBC is not the only media outlet to seemingly take for granted that Obama’s education initiative is the answer to fixing failing schools.

The recent project by the Los Angeles Times, in which some 6,000 teachers were evaluated solely on the basis of student test scores, was another example of a news organization promoting a highly controversial way to assess teachers as effective. The largest study to date on the “value-added” method of teacher evaluation, released earlier this month, found that linking test scores to teachers’ pay was not effective. That didn’t stop the Obama administration from handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to states to develop such programs. The study and earlier ones like it were not a big topic at Education Nation.

The New York Times' film critic reviewed “Waiting for Superman” and seemed to take as gospel the tendentious narrative in the film. Meanwhile, CBS anchor Katie Couric wrote about her Waiting for Superman impressions on her Couric & Co. blog:

“I was so inspired by how this documentary shines a light on so many issues -- the heartbreak of kids who don’t get into charter schools, the controversy over teachers’ unions and the failure factories that churn out kids who are unprepared or drop out in terrifying numbers. I admire the revolutionaries who are out there shaking up a broken system. So I became obsessed with covering with this story from multiple angles, and we’ve decided to spend a great deal of time this fall and throughout the school year looking at education.”

Capus and Lisa Gersh, NBC's president of strategic initiatives, told journalists at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. last week that the televised Education Nation Summit was not designed to support Obama's agenda and was intended to be the start of the network's focused look at education. Couric announced that CBS, like NBC, was launching a series of reports on education.

Education, the subject that people have long said was super-important but that never got much coverage, is suddenly huge news. The question is why it is not being examined with the same skeptical view that, say, Obama’s health care proposal was.

Obama-style school reform also became the focus of not one but two episodes of the Oprah Winfrey Show last week, though one would not expect a journalistic objectivity from an entertainment show.

On one episode, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg used the occasion to announce to the world that he was donating $100 million to the ailing Newark, N.J., public school system for Obama-style business-driven reforms.

The money comes with strings, the most important that he, a man with no background in education reform, gets to decide what schools are working, according to this story in New Jersey's Star-Ledger.

Billionaires picking out school districts they want to help: What a great way to fund public education.

All this cheerleading for the administration can’t take away from this: There are excellent reasons, as well as evidence, to show that many of its education policies won’t work, and some may be counterproductive.

The biggest study of charter schools yet shows that only 17 percent of them are more effective than their neighborhood traditional public schools, and that more than double are worse. The tough prescription that Obama and Duncan have written for failing schools has proved to be more punitive than helpful, and has not worked in improving a majority of the schools that have undergone the process.

There will come a time when this current wave of “reform” proves as unsuccessful as past fads -- and journalists may look back on their fawning coverage and be very, very sorry that they gave their objectivity on this subject.

The problem is that the schools will likely be in worse shape then than they are today.


Follow my blog every day by bookmarking And for admissions advice, college news and links to campus papers, please check out our Higher Education page at Bookmark it!

By Valerie Strauss  | September 30, 2010; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  School turnarounds/reform  | Tags:  $100 million newark, education nation, journalism, nbc, school reform, waiting for superman, zuckerberg  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: How Zuckerberg should have spent $100 million
Next: Why kids shouldn't take SAT, ACT too early


OMG major brands giving out samples on their favorite products check at tell others

Posted by: brayden29 | September 30, 2010 6:16 AM | Report abuse

I believe it was Noam Chomsky who called this Manufacturing Consent.
Why has this happened?
Is there a cabal of journalists who decided the party line on a topic and the rest of the journalists fall into line?
No, that's too simplistic.
But there is narrative on "education reform" that journalists have adopted for some reason. Bob Somersby, over at the Daily Howler, has written about this particularly as it has played out with the uncritical coverage Wendy Kopp and Teach For America.

It's as though someone who disagrees with this is that party guest who has had a little too much to drink.

Posted by: edlharris | September 30, 2010 6:31 AM | Report abuse

brayden29, your point is very important. However teachers/unions must look in a mirror and ask what has made us such fodder for this attack. Is it the perception that we are arrogant and resistant to change? The pro-public education leadership has got to spread the word to the general public (PSA's?) that our schools are a national treasure and that fighting for them is patriotic. Teachers must be seen for who they truly are: defenders of the American Dream.

Posted by: vprecht | September 30, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

First, there have been many of us out there fighting for school reform (although not this kind of reform) for years and years...but no one listened. We were blown-off as misfits and trouble-makers. We were in those classrooms, saw what was happening, and taught in those schools where no adult, other than a teacher, would even walk into...much less work in.

We even tried to approach our "union's" to say you're focusing on the wrong issues...stick to education. Again no one listened and we were blocked at every attempt by leadership with eyes rolling.

Like Ms Strauss says, the demise of many, not all, public schools has been occurring for decades with disingenuous politicians using public schools as a priority only as an election sound bite.

I watched Education was an abyssmal representation of public schools and if that is where the discussion is moving...our schools will not be fixed. It was a single area in a collage where the rest of the image was left blank...or worse, painted over.

One of the problems with these kind of program's is these people send their kids to private schools and don't know squat about teaching or what REALLY happens in classrooms all across America. They wouldn't have anyone reporting and conducting restaurant reviews that knew nothing about cooking and food. Same with why do all these so-called journalists think they are experts?

Where was the NEA? And Randi Weingarten...was chewed up and spit out...the panels were packed against any meaningful discussion. This is just not a union problem...this is an issue where everyone needs to be held accountable. Where will Obama, Duncan, et al, be in 10 years when it is determined that their reform hasn't worked? And many of this new brand of teachers have long departed? What then?

Posted by: ilcn | September 30, 2010 10:05 AM | Report abuse

I seriously hope NBC reports on the enormous obstacles being faced by innovators trying to modernize k-12 content to keep pace with our rapidly changing economy. I'm talking about k12 educators in Computer Science, Digital Electronics, Biosafe and nano-materials, Energy Systems, modern business formation, marketing & IP law, etc.

The "mindset" we heard over and over during Education Nation is that progress has to be quantitative in terms of raising scores on standard assessments. I teach something called Algorithmic Geometry in high school, a course that brings math students an up-to-date version of how spatial problem-solving is done in the software industry. The standardized test makers (NAEP, SAT, ACT) don't have a clue about how math has changed in the real world the last 20 years (all they would have to do is ask their IT Dept. staff!!).

NAEP and SAT are still testing 20th century standard math and have no plans to update to 21st century math-CS. Do you see the bind educators like me are put in? The Dept. of Ed. grants are only given to researchers who can show improvements on standard tests. Our esteemed leaders have made the strategic blunder of assuming "what is worth knowing" is constant over time, and what defines progress is getting better at teaching it.

Perhaps the biggest "story" missed by Education Nation is that the current policies in Washington are squandering the U.S.'s ability to lead industries that were created almost single-handed in the US, such as computers and software. By failing to aggressively adopt these subjects in k12, too few students are showing up at college interested in pursuing high-tech.

I encourage NBC to bring together a town meeting of educators who are working to bring 21st century subjects into the mainstream of K-12, what could be called the "emerging core".
The organizations impeding their progress should be at the meeting to hear firsthand how slowly things are moving...Dept. of Ed. leaders, standard test companies, Common Core developers, and textbook publishers.

If we had had today's dangerous policy of "freezing" standardized content back when Sputnik was launched, the STEM innovations that followed simply would not have been possible, and the Russians would have easily won the space race. If we don't challenge the system to be accountable for content freshness and relevance, other nations who do so will overtake us economically within a decade or two. The stakes couldn't be higher.

Posted by: pbinCA | September 30, 2010 11:01 AM | Report abuse

It is foolish to argue that since one doesn't have in-the-classroom experience with teaching, one cannot be an effective administrator or education reformer. By way of example, a military general doesn't have to have experience being a foot soldier. Instead, he needs to know how to manage supply lines, how to formulate military strategy, how to interact with the civil political establishment. Similarly, administrators do not need to necessarily know what it is like to be a teacher - they do need political, organization, and financial skills.

Please don't suggest that most parents are against standardized testing and education reform. The vast majority of parents I know are solidly for testing and reform.

Education reform is moving ahead precisely because of the responses of teachers and their unions. Randi Weingarten has become Public Enemy #1 in many parent's eyes, especially after dropping $1 million in the DC *Mayoral* race.

While AFT and UTLA pound the table against value-added modeling, the OECD (you know, the people who told us how bad our health care system was) has published a paper on Value-Added modeling "Best Practices to Assess the Value-Added of Schools". Value-added modeling is being used around the world.

I work in a heavily government-regulated industry (it is, in fact, the most regulated industry in the US). Fortunately, my industry knows that the best way to minimize disruption with change is to embrace and direct change. Teachers and their unions have not yet discovered this fact.

Posted by: cypherp | September 30, 2010 11:08 AM | Report abuse

We are witnessing the corporate take-over of the dialogue surrounding public education and any reforms associated with it. Given the corporate control of the American media, why would we expect NBC or any other mainstream news outlet to actually tell the truth? The vilification of teacher unions and teachers themselves, without any real analysis of what has plagued the American schooling system is part and parcel of the propaganda campaign. The media continue to conveniently ignore the damage that NCLB and Reading First have done in public schools the past 8 years e.g. straight-jacketing teachers into lock-step, scripted curricula that focuses on what is easy to measure rather than what is important to learn, the use of "curricula police" in schools who roam the halls ensuring every teacher is on the exact same page at the same time, regardless of the composition of students in a given class,etc. Instead, the media fawn over proposed educational reforms a la Race to the Top that research has clearly shown do not work and call teachers out who dare to challenge them. Why? These pseudo-reforms have nothing to do with students and their academic success, and everything to do with the dumbing down of American education because it is highly profitable for the corporations who have highjacked education in this country...

Posted by: PGutierrez1 | September 30, 2010 11:39 AM | Report abuse

"The question is why it is not being examined with the same skeptical view that, say, Obama’s health care proposal was."

Easy to answer: Healthcare is functional but needs tweaking,...the public education system is a 100% failure, does not work, is a haven for ineffective teachers who have no sense of urgency to change. All of the backlash (and I would categorize this article as backlash), is because the individuals who reap the benfits from perpetuating this culture of low expectations are scared, afraid and upset that their golden goose is no more. They can cry all they want, the folks who are paying the bills (the taxpayers), are completely fed up and are not going to bend or back down one iota.

Posted by: IgnorantPeopleofDC | September 30, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

cypherp: A military General probably does have some form of field service...whether it was at a military academy and/or during their career. In order to reach the rank of "general," that officer spent many month's, years, and a career studying and working toward that rank....not so of education journalists and many career politicians.

But, even more importantly, the media doesn't blame the foot soldiers for losing the war.

Posted by: ilcn | September 30, 2010 12:34 PM | Report abuse

I have to give Obama credit where credit is due. He is an absolutely brilliant spin doctor! He can take any issue he wants and spin it in a way to make it look like he is doing something to help, all the while achieving his goal to redistribute American wealth to the rest of the world. Most importantly, he seems to be able to make Americans (especially congress) believe his rhetoric and follow his goals. If America doesn’t wake up to the lies, we will soon find ourselves in a situation far worse than anything we have seen so far. WAKE UP AMERICA!

Posted by: jblow50 | September 30, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

The answer IS simple, but not for the reason that the “Ignorant Person,” above, states. (In fact, Ameircan schools are in much better shape than American healthcare.) Back when the Washington Post was a real newspaper, they uncovered a political scandal that brought down a President. Early in the investigation, the reporters were told to "follow the money." That sage advice still applies. Healthcare reform was questioned and criticized because those opposing reform were large, wealthy corporate interests, just like the media, so their criticisms, however illegitimate, irrational, demonstrably false, and self-serving, were given weight. In the case of "school reform," the wealthy corporate interests, like the media, favor the administration’s agenda and are able to silence critical views, even though they are based on peer-reviewed research and direct experience. “Follow the Money.” The corporate media no longer has the independence or will to do it anymore.

Posted by: mcstowy | September 30, 2010 12:55 PM | Report abuse

What is very strange to me is that teachers who work in city schools, the ones who have put up with poor working conditions for all these years are now the being scapegoated by politicians and the national press, with the possible exception of the New York Times. Some papers just consistently omit parts of the story, others just repeat articles from other newspapers. Some run anti-teacher headlines when the story is actually positive. Some radio/tv programs pick "experts" on education who have never taught.

Logically, I could see it, if the scapegoats were the specialists, experts or supervisors, or anyone whose job is in an office instead of a classroom. Instead, those are the people (testing writers, administrative specialist teams, data crunchers, etc.,)who seem to be writing the plan. The problem for me is that they are on sidelines and have no clue about students and learning. In fact, some will even go so far as to say that what concerns them most are the numbers, not the kids!

Contrast this media message with actual schools. When I visit schools I see that very positive learning is going on. I know from teaching myself that most schools have tougher standards today than they did thirty years ago and that there is more for students to learn.

Posted by: celestun100 | September 30, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

"The largest study to date on the “value-added” method of teacher evaluation, released earlier this month, found that linking test scores to teachers’ pay was not effective."
What is the source of this statement? I have read numerous reports on the study of teacher effectiveness and all seem to agree that value-add should be a part of, but not the only component, of teacher evaluations. See, for example, the American Educational Research Association's fair and balanced assessment:

Though she slams NBC, Valerie Strauss is guilty of cherry picking her "facts" too. I think Diane Ravitch gets a shout out in 5/5 of her past columns and she continuously quotes the bigger bolder reform scholars as if they speak for some sort of consensus in the research community. Give me a break. You can't credibly attack the balanced reporting of one network when you yourself are one of the guiltiest parties in presenting one-side of an argument in the most egregiously biased manner. The Washington Post can do better to encourage its staff -- from editorial board to blog columns -- to maintain journalistic integrity by trying to dissect and understand a contentious public issue like education reform, rather than jump on the bandwagon and spout ideology for one side of it.

Posted by: DCdatanerd | September 30, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

I once met with a group of test writers. I was surprised at how little time they had spent with students and how important they thought their tests were to education.

They kept insisting that they were providing needed documentation about whether or not students were learning.

When I suggested that by reading a student's paragraph I could pretty much tell what that child needed in reading and writing instruction, they looked at me as if I had two heads. They looked embarrassed for me, as if I were really quaint.

Now, this bothered me because one of my strengths as a teacher is the ability to evaluate student writing in either English or Spanish. I'm kind of proud of this ability, because it is a result of my own hard work, dedication and expertise that I have developed over the years.

I wish I could say that I convinced them to include more writing on tests.

But, I didn't tell them anything. I was shocked that they had jobs in education.
I'm still dismayed at the way things are going.

I don't really mind giving the tests. I think they have a lot of good potential. But, right now, teachers, students and taxpayers are spending an incredible amount of time and/or money on number crunching.

Posted by: celestun100 | September 30, 2010 1:47 PM | Report abuse

Another thing that fits in the strange category:

The current definition of "innovative"

as "back to the basics".

Posted by: celestun100 | September 30, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Oh, thank God! I have been in despair of the degree to which the media - and journalists who are usually skeptical people have been buying this whole "reform" program without any serious inquiry. Three cheers for you, Valerie.

Posted by: Mike_Rose | September 30, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

DC Datanerd: Jesse Rothstein, an economist at Princeton University did the study that Valerie is referring to. It will be published in the February edition of Quarterly Journal of Economics. Two other studies confirm Rothstein's findings. Read more here:

Posted by: PGutierrez1 | September 30, 2010 2:04 PM | Report abuse

Rothstein's findings are against a backdrop of many other studies that say that value-add, along with observations, is an appropriate measure of teacher effectiveness. Plus the major bias that Rothstein finds - sorting at the classroom level that places a disproportionate number of high-needs students in some classrooms - can easily be overcome by statistical controls so the value-add measure is accurate. In fact, there is already a strong rebuttal against his findings, which Valerie Strauss seems to not have bothered to look into. See

The question we should be asking is whether the proposed teacher evaluation systems in Race to the Top address this classroom sorting bias, rather than jump to the conclusion that they all are inherently no good.

Posted by: DCdatanerd | September 30, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

I am surprised that Valerie Strauss does not understand that this is part of the plan of the President to divert attention from his failures.

The President is declaring that public education is totally important for the American economy. In other words the President can do nothing since our poor economy was caused by public education.

The usual where there should be no blame attached to political leaders and their policies since they are addressing the problem which is caused by ___________. Fill in the blank. This time it is public education.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 30, 2010 3:09 PM | Report abuse

For Valerie Strauss and others who do not understand.

Obama Says the Future of U.S. Economy Depends on a Better Education System
By Roger Runningen - Sep 27, 2010

President Barack Obama said U.S. public education systems should extend the school year and weed out the worst-performing teachers because the future of the nation’s economy depends on a more educated workforce.
In other words, the economy is in a nose dive but we are working on it.

Great to know that the teachers in public schools have created our economic nightmare.

Perhaps we can start public parades of public school teachers in dunce caps.

Change we can believe in.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 30, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

Maybe these folks all send/sent their children to private school, so they have no idea what they're talking about. Some don't have kids, period, which makes the whole issue theoretical.

Posted by: wilsonmom | September 30, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

I am a teacher with dual teaching license in Mathematics and Physical Sciences (Physics, Chemistry). I have a PhD in Biophysics, and years of experience in private and public research.

Mr President, I voted and wanted you to be elected. I support and agree with almost everything you did since you became president.

However, with all due respect I have to say this: You do not understand what K12 Education really means. Taking ONLY into account your initiatives with respect to k12 education, your presidency appear like a George Bush 3rd Term !

The outcome of the education process depends on 3 things:
1. The Student;
2. The Parents (the socio-economical environment of the student);
3. The School System (of which the teacher is just a part).

Because nobody knows how to handle 1. and 2., and even 3., because nobody wants to hold accountable 1. and 2., as they should, everybody these days blames The Teacher !

As a result of this attack, and, because we teachers feel treated most disrespectfully, many of us (highly qualified), including myself seriously consider abandoning this profession !
This is not about trade unions !
It is about about the fact we are put down, we mean nothing !

Posted by: dreyfuss1 | September 30, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

The NBER study does not rebut the Rothstein study, but merely identifies ways that the VM data can be made better, but not universally accurate, under a best-case scenario. It does not, however address the broader questions of whether the tests, themselves are valid, a reasonable question considering the recent review of NY state Regents exams by Koretz, and the Regents exams are one of the better testing schemes in the states. It also does not address the unintended consequences of high-stakes testing, such as the narrowing of curriculum, scripted education and lack of collaboration by faculty. In fact their prescription to eliminate sorting bias results in students being denied the best teacher for their needs, so that the teacher has a fair test sample. So in order to ensure a somewhat fairer teacher evaluation model, we should sacrifice the best interests of the student in the teacher most effective for him?

(This can give you a headache: In order to ensure effective teachers, we test the students, but to ensure the test results are fair to the teacher, we deny the student the most effective teacher, because if the student (and others like him/her) gets the most effective teacher for his/her needs, the teacher's test scores will show him/her to be less effective and he/she may be fired, thus denying other, similar students an effective teacher, because he/she tested ineffective, etc. etc. tec.)

Finally, the all studies agree that the VM model is of little or no use for 1st and 2nd year teachers, yet the "reformers" pushing VM testing are the same ones who dismiss experienced teachers as unmotivated in favor of TFA's who leave after 2 years. The NBER study also indicates that VM cannot compare teacher effectiveness across schools, yet that is exactly what RTTT and the "reform" advocates propose. DCdatanerd's defense of VM is in direct contrast to the uses its proponents seek. So who's cherry-picking data points?

Posted by: mcstowy | September 30, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

if I ran a for-profit charter school who knew my big bucks government funding solely rested on rising/high test scores, then I would give myself a B plus for changing all my students' grades to an A.

Posted by: Helen1005 | September 30, 2010 3:55 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: DCdatanerd
Why do we continuously get into this retarded argument about test scores to supposedly correctly indicate effective teacher?

If there was actually such things as highly effective teachers or effective teachers that were indicated by test scores than we could simply stop wasting money on educating any students that have failed to learn with these highly effective teachers or effective teachers.

Remember the whole premise of this nonsense is that these teachers can make any student learn so it follows that if there are students that can not learn from an effective teachers, than we have students that can not learn from teachers.

Billions could be saved in public education by no spending money further on the students that have been shown to be unable to learn.

The reality is that these studies of multiple year test results can only indicate whether tests have been watered down or there is cheating.

DC data nerd need to change his computer name since so this individual knows nothing about data or logic.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 30, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

if I ran a for-profit charter school who knew my big bucks government funding solely rested on rising/high test scores, then I would give myself a B plus for changing all my students' grades to an A.

Posted by: Helen1005
Read my comments on Jay Mathews, American schools lax on cheating.

My comments give methods for teachers to raise scores on high stake tests.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 30, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Privates, corporals, and sargeants are the reason we have not succeeded in Iraq and Afghanistan. They fight the front line battles, so they are to blame for the lack of success.
Now, take that illogic to eduction. Teachers are on the front lines of education, so they are at fault for all of the problems in schools, the same as front line soldiers should be blamed for lost battles and failing wars.

Posted by: fishman2 | September 30, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Let me see, teachers are supposed to help students gain subject knowledge. An effective teacher enhances their students gains of subject knowledge. Subject knowledge is evaluated by testing. But heaven forbid we judge a teacher's effectiveness by how well their students perform on tests!

Most studies do *not* agree that VM models are of little or no use in 1st or 2nd year teachers. The do seem to indicate that teachers improve significantly in the first 3-5 years of teaching. At that point, teachers stop improving, as judged by the test scores of their students. VM studies do note that their techniques cannot be applied to those grades which are not usually tested - kindergarten and 1st grade.

Rothstein's critique is that there are non-zero correlations between a 4th grade student's score and his 5th grade teacher. Since the universe operates on causality, this suggests that there is non-random sorting of students occurring between the 4th and 5th grade. Koedel and Betts show that these correlations drop to zero if 3 years of student data are used. No one knows if the differing analysis actually changes any per teacher results.

The protests by teachers that they should not be judged by the test scores of their students, but should be evaluated by their application of teaching methods as judged by their peers, reminds me of the cargo cults of the South Pacific after WW II. These native islanders saw westerners arrive, build runways and air traffic control towers, and unload fantastic riches from the planes that landed. So, the cargo cultists cleared off brush to make dirt runways, built air traffic control towers of bamboo and thatch, imitated talking on a coconut "radio" handset, and waited for the planes to arrive. They were disappointed.

It is similar with so many teachers. See us go through the motions, see us use approved teaching techniques, "I am teaching". And yet, the "cargo" of improved test scores has not arrived. We must do something differently.

(And please, do not hold your noses at tests. In AD 605 the Chinese recognized they could select better candidates for government service through testing. Even organized teaching promotes certified teachers as being of higher quality. How are teachers certified? Through testing!)

Posted by: cypherp | September 30, 2010 4:40 PM | Report abuse

(And please, do not hold your noses at tests. In AD 605 the Chinese recognized they could select better candidates for government service through testing. Even organized teaching promotes certified teachers as being of higher quality. How are teachers certified? Through testing!)

Posted by: cypherp
One tires of these tests maniacs that believe tests are the answer.

We spend billions a year on public education.

Why not develop tests for children that enter school to indicate which ones should be warehoused and not educated when test results indicate that they can not learn?

You supposedly think it makes sense to use a test for a teacher's certificate so why not a test whether it makes sense to spend money to educate a child.

You have no reluctance in using test scores to fire teachers and make it impossible to find another position in teaching so why not use the tests to save billions in public funds by not spending on those that can not be educated.

Your methods of using test results are supposedly so scientifically correct it should be a no brainier to develop tests to determine which children should just be warehoused and not educated.

Posted by: bsallamack | September 30, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

"And please, do not hold your noses at tests. In AD 605 the Chinese recognized they could select better candidates for government service through testing. Even organized teaching promotes certified teachers as being of higher quality. How are teachers certified? Through testing!)"

I've read several books on Chinese history and I don't of any author who would agree with that statement.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 30, 2010 7:11 PM | Report abuse

I'm going to say this over and over again, those who are attacking teachers need to become teachers.

Teachers should leave the teaching field to those who love to attack teachers, Obama, Duncan, Gates, Rhee, Guggenheim, Newsweek magazine and their friends.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 30, 2010 7:19 PM | Report abuse

The other night my wife and were sitting at the kitchen table going through our son's schoolwork. There, amid the pile of papers organized as only a very active 11 year old boy can organize them, was a form for magazine subscriptions, another fund raiser for his middle school. Meanwhile, some NBC reporter was blathering on TV to brian williams about "education nation and how education needs to be our top priority. My wife is filling out magazine subscriptions so that our school can scratch together a few desperately needed dollars and were supposed to believe that education is our nations top priority?

I am glad that news organizations are paying attention to education, but lets not make matters worse by hyping stories and ideas that are meaningless. And they might start with that old journalistic adage - follow the money....Thanks for a great piece. John

Posted by: johnmcdonald1 | September 30, 2010 7:30 PM | Report abuse

President Obama demonstrates a firm grasp of the complexity of education in his books, speeches and interviews (See the article in the March edition of Essence). Even in his remarks about his daughters, he appears to understand that it takes hard work to educate a child, and it ALWAYS requires cooperation among the parents, the student, the school and the community. There are no shortcuts and teachers cannot do it alone.

With that in mind I was perplexed about his simplistic policy on education, which is surely doomed to one more expensive failure. But why would he go against his own common sense?

Well, the answer is in Diane Ravitch's book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System. Basically, the coalition of billionaires is pushing the ideas behind Race to the Top, and, as we all know, money talks. Their idea is to privatize education and possibly to siphon off school tax money for "venture capitalists."

On the other hand, the District of Columbia has given us a good advance view of how all of this might end. Despite enormous backing from philanthropists, Adrian Fenty and his arrogant "chancellor" were thrown out by The People. Once this "reform" goes national, I think we'll see the same thing across the country.

My advice to President Obama: Please replace Duncan with someone who better reflects your personal views on education. You've got a lot of common sense and should not allow rich people to dictate policy. Many of these people are generous and well-meaning, but they should not make decisions for all of us. Schools are too important for that.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | September 30, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

Celestun100: You are so right about evaluating a child's growth by looking at his compositions during the year. But then, who asks us?

ilcn: Yes, Randi Weingarten is seriously outmatched by the opposition. She is a brilliant woman, but her gifts are not in public speaking. Surely the NEA and AFT can come up with a better spokesperson. There are many talented teachers out there. They are badly needed RIGHT NOW.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | September 30, 2010 8:54 PM | Report abuse


Just want to give a shout out to ALL you bloomin' smart and sane folks on board here and on other savvy blogs.


In solidarityyyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!


I speak to those folks (some whose names I recognize from times past) who are speaking sanity, the other side, the one we never hear on TV or from the government these days, when it comes to education.

God, I treasure your voices.

Keep on keepin on, you smart + soulful people, you.

PS - My fantasy? A NATIONWIDE SICK-OUT of TEACHERS! Oh, how I would love for it to happen. Oh how I would love to see Obama and all the sell out Dems on THAT day!

Posted by: NYCee | September 30, 2010 9:23 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher, I've always tried to keep up with the news about education. These days, it feels like getting beat up every day and it's downright depressing. I feel we, as educators, have to keep abreast of what is going on, but doing so in this political climate is counter productive to one's mental health. Not doing so might ultimately be even more dangerous. Talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place!

Posted by: musiclady | September 30, 2010 11:20 PM | Report abuse

bsallamack, you seem to think that schools are doing something besides warehousing all kids as it is.

from the public's real (not stated) perspective, job #1 for education is to provide cost-free daycare.

Posted by: someguy100 | October 1, 2010 8:48 AM | Report abuse

A couple of days ago I saw an article on Texas Tribune about Harmony Public Schools, a group of successful charter schools in Texas. As a nation, we need to increase the number of those high-achieving schools. You can read the full article in the link below:

Posted by: williampack | October 1, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

DCdatanerd is spot on with his/her observations about Valerie Strauss and Diane Ravitch. Both are experts at telling their version of issues but both fail to tell...the REST of the story.

The inconvenient truth these two spew on a regular basis goes beyond borderline embarrassing; much of what they espouse is a joke, laughable to anyone who has followed education reform over the past two decades.

EXAMPLE: Valerie and Diane will rail against the notion of NCLB testing but never address why these tests became a necessity in our public schools nationwide. Parents, taxpayers, politicians, etc., got fed up with the ubiquity of social promotions in our schools which were a direct result (obviously) of educators pushing kids through the system with no regard for (lack of) motivation or effort. The same became common practice for "graduating" students who were unable to make change in a simple retail transaction and were reading at a second or third grade level. The public became tired of these practices and Bush enacted NCLB with bipartisan support in Congress. Our schools were a joke and something had to be done. So why have Strauss and Ravitch avoided the REST of this story? Because it would destroy their ideologies, whatever they are.

EXAMPLE: Linking student test scores to teacher evaluations. People like Ravitch and Strauss will argue against the unfairness of such a notion citing the statistical unreliability of this measure as well as its history of failure since the 1920s. However, neither of them will ever discuss the absurdity and the failure of what schools are using to evaluate teachers today - phony, subjective administrative evaluations which often are not worth the paper they're printed on or the "time" the administrator puts into these evaluations. These observations are often announced to the teacher beforehand so they become dog and pony shows with no value to anyone. What Strauss and Ravitch are reluctant to mention is using these test scores to help improve instruction while employing them as part of a "mixed measures" approach to evaluate teachers in conjunction with honest administrative evaluations. Ravitch is also notorious for claiming test scores linked to teacher evaluations have been tried and have failed since the 1920s. What she then blatantly fails to tell her readers about are the technological improvements that have transpired over the past century which now makes such a practice feasible.

Posted by: phoss1 | October 2, 2010 7:58 AM | Report abuse

To johnmcdonald1: I agree, let us follow the money:

Top lobbying expenditures in New York State, 2009:

$3,559,550: United Teachers (NYS)
$3,048,531: Mayoral Accountability for Student Success
$2,316,419: 1199/SEIU & GNYHA Healthcare Education
$1,799,999: Healthcare Association of NYS
$1,759,372: Greater NY Hospital Association
$1,451,579: Medical Society of the State of NY

Lobbying expenditures in California over the past 11 years (selected organizations):

$40.6 million: California Teachers Association
$14.5 million: California Medical Association
$ 2.4 million: Pearson Education, Inc.
$ 0.436 million: Educational Testing Services (ETS)

Notice how the "poor" teachers are outspending the "rich" doctors 2.5 to 1.

Posted by: cypherp | October 2, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

I no longer expect the media to report objectively on any subject as I believe they all have biases in one direction or another all leading to their bottom line. I wish I could say that something like the NBC program Ms. Strauss reviewed here is a worthwile contribution to the discussion about public educatin in America today, but there is so much bias, exaggeration, hurry to be the first, etc. that I think it just makes matters worse. So, I read her (and other media members) observations from that perspective.
As for the actual problem with our public education system--there has been a revolutionary change in our economy and in our knowledge base and the schools have not adapted. The poster who talked about the advances in math said it very well.
NCLB mis-diagnosed the problem and mis-dagnosed the solution which is to retool what is taught K-12 so that it aligns with,as best as possible, the economy children will be functioning in as young adults. That means, it seems to me, first and foremost, that teachers colleges need to retool so teachers are properly prepared for the new education we need them to provide. The new 21st century education that's needed is about content, not form in the sense of fashioning different kinds of school organizations like charter schools or taking a sledge hammer to teacher's or other school personnel unions.
To me, that's the issue that all this testing and evaluation and disgusting scapegoating of teachers is missing.

Posted by: 1citizen | October 2, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

Charter schools per se are not the answer, but excellent charter schools can and should be a breeding ground for new, innovative and effective approaches

We have spent hours trying to get public schools to innovate -- and most often hear, "we are doing very well" - -even when a huge number of kids are failing

We spent a day a charter school last week and it was a delight to see parents, kids, teachers and administrators excited, involved in learning, and producing excellent results

Let's find the excellent public, charter and private schools and learn from them, rather than bashing them. The system is broken and we need to learn from our successes.

Posted by: 3dlearner | October 3, 2010 9:13 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company