Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Does NY Times' Leonhardt Distort Tennessee Class Size Study?

Why did the article downplay the Project Star Study impact of class size and emphasize the teacher quality issue?

“We don’t really care about test scores. We care about adult outcomes.” - Raj Chetty, Harvard, in today's NY Times, "The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers."

Don' need no stinkin' research
Hmmm. Since I started connecting up former students from over 25 years ago, I've been thinking along the same lines as Chetty. The Ed Deformers constantly say it is all about outcomes - test scores - and we should not bring up inputs - student background, poverty, etc. because they are just excuses.

So the ultimate outcomes are how their adult lives turn out. Will BloomKlein take the blame for students who go through 12 years of their ed deforms and end up in prison? Nahhh, that would be due to their ineffective teachers.

There is some irony in that tonight and over the next few days I am going to see my former student Ernie Silva perform his one man show  (come on down) and expect to run into other former students, all of whom are almost 40 years old. I've been learning lots of things from these recent contacts– things I never got to know as their teacher. (And therein lies a follow-up to this - how much do teachers have a right to know about deep private matters and how much do they need to know to be more effective. But another time.)

One thing I learned - even though some of these students tell me I did have an impact on their lives - the reality is that I had very little impact - certainly when it comes to academics. What some do say is that I may have inspired an interest or they had a wonderful experience (one told me she took her own children on all the trips I took them in the 6th grade), but not anything that would affect outcomes as the ed deformers define it.

Back to Leonhardt.

Did the article distort the case for lower class sizes?

Leonhardt talks about a research project that followed up on the famous Tennessee Star study.

Are children who do well on kindergarten tests destined to do better in life, based on who they are? Or are their teacher and classmates changing them?

The Tennessee experiment, known as Project Star, offered a chance to answer these questions because it randomly assigned students to a kindergarten class. As a result, the classes had fairly similar socioeconomic mixes of students and could be expected to perform similarly on the tests given at the end of kindergarten.

Yet they didn’t. Some classes did far better than others. The differences were too big to be explained by randomness. (Similarly, when the researchers looked at entering and exiting test scores in first, second and third grades, they found that some classes made much more progress than others.)

Since my brain can't bear looking at these studies, I have to rely on people whose brains can (see one Leonie Haimson) and I am told that the Star Study found that the effectiveness of the teachers was very much influenced by the size of the classes. So, here comes the fun part as Leonhardt continues:

Class size — which was the impetus of Project Star — evidently played some role. Classes with 13 to 17 students did better than classes with 22 to 25. 

 Duhhh. Evidently - why so begrudgingly, Dave? Leonhardt just tosses away the class size issue, which is what ed deformers always do.

He goes on:
Peers also seem to matter. In classes with a somewhat higher average socioeconomic status, all the students tended to do a little better. 

 Double DUHHHHH!

Now here comes the whammy!
But neither of these factors came close to explaining the variation in class performance. So another cause seemed to be the explanation: teachers.

Leonhardt leaps tall buildings in a single bound. 
WHAT? The Starr study showed that class size had an impact on teacher effectivness which in turn had an impact on students. Leonhardt turns the outcome (better teaching) into the effect (it was the teachers themselves). And that is the whole point of the ed deformers: put the onus in teachers.

So, here comes the ed deform mantra – hook, line and sinker:
Mr. Chetty and his colleagues .... estimate that a standout kindergarten teacher is worth about $320,000 a year. That’s the present value of the additional money that a full class of students can expect to earn over their careers. This estimate doesn’t take into account social gains, like better health and less crime.

Wow! What a good guy, saying that a teacher could be worth that much. But only some teachers. Here is the fun part:
They can pay their best teachers more, as Pittsburgh soon will, and give them the support they deserve. Administrators can fire more of their worst teachers, as Michelle Rhee, the Washington schools chancellor, did last week.
Ah, yes. good ole Michelle, their hero. It has nothing to do with the higher salaries of senior teachers. Shame on Leonhardt, an economics writer.

Leonhardt tries to throw this bone so he looks to be fair and  balanced:
Schools can also make sure standardized tests are measuring real student skills and teacher quality, as teachers’ unions have urged.
Sure, "teachers unions" - meaning ed deformer Randi Weinngarten. Does Leonhardt not know about this? Important new study about huge error rates in value-added teacher evaluation

Let Chetty and his colleagues start a study of adult outcomes over the next 20 years in Washington DC, Chicago and NYC and measure Rhee, Duncan and BloomKlein's effectiveness.

1 comment:

  1. Here's the part that burns my butt. What are the successful Kindergarten teachers doing in order to achieve these results?--surely that's the important question.

    It's easy to figure, Leonhardt acknowledges: "Good early education imparts skills that last a lifetime--patience, discipline, manners, perseverance."

    Okay, so you get that, Mr. Leonhardt. Then how do you figure that the solution is to revise the tests and fire more teachers?

    Wouldn't the solution be to focus our efforts on teaching basic learning skills in the earliest grades?


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