All This Useless Brutality, Continued

Here’s more on the “value added teachers help students succeed” study by Friedman, Chetty and Rockoff of Harvard referenced in my blog post “All This Useless Brutality”, below. Basically, using a lot of math which appears hard but which is easy as long as you have a computer programmer handy who knows his ass from a hole in the ground, they “prove” that “high value-added” teachers (teachers whose students do well on tests) have students who become high earners and live in fancy zip codes.

At significant points they simply refuse to consider things that might invalidate their thesis. For example, their high VA teachers were so by accident: they predate teachers’ being told to get high test scores, a consequence of No Child Left Behind. A teacher of high “VA prime”, or VA’, who was told to get high test scores and abused his students or cheated, might not produce the same results, but…who cares?

This is the “methodology” that drove Adorno batshit on the Princeton Radio Research project: a lot of genuine mumbo-jumbo which isn’t based on an honest theoretical basis. For my fat pal, Adorno, job one would be an investigation of the effect of a teacher who’s been told that high test scores are a condition of her job.

There might be a radical difference. As it happens, students taught by compassionate and liberal teachers who do anything but “teach to the test” since they live in districts where they are respected and not under threat, may have the same high test scores as students taught by cheap thugs, or perhaps not.

Ethics alone, for my guy Adorno, would demand that the study not proceed until this is resolved. Mathematically, he’d demand that we quantify the expense of spirit in a waste of shame represented by sitting in a “teach to the test” school and subtract that quantity from the quantification of living in a fancy zip code.

“Intelligence is a moral category” – TW Adorno

Additional Notes

I read the complete paper on the ferry. It’s basically just computer programming code-monkey stuff.

You know, my sociology majoring friends in the 1960s took it as a given that (somewhat on the analogy of medicine’s “not to knowingly do harm”) sociology would ALWAYS do good as part of studying a social phenomenon. For example, to study the positive effects of a Jobs Corps program on a community, it would create the program.

Bill Ayers and Kathy Boudin “studied” education by designing practical alternatives to the meaningless curriculum being pounded into students in Chicago of the 1960s and showing how these worked better than “English” classes where the homeboys zoned out in the back or didn’t attend.

[Hi Bill!]

What’s interesting is that business does this all the time. As software engineers in silicon valley we were loaded up with fabulous benefits.

But Friedman, Chetty et al. take society as a given. They assume that it’s “better” to attend a “good” school, pay into a 401K and have a conventional job inside the USA. It’s “bad” to attend Roosevelt University (because you’re fed up with racism at the tender age of 17), buy and hold gold, and flee to China to teach English, or (as ersatz for bad) “something we don’t have to worry about because it is statistically marginal”.

They define a “good” teacher as a “value added” teacher, and a VA teacher is one whose students get good test scores. They then prove the (quite possibly false) semi-tautology that such a teacher will continue to produce students who get good test scores and not blow her brains out, take to the bottle, or flee to Bora Bora.

Using a match of Social Security data and school records and a well-documented, well-designed matching algorithm that they probably got from some hard-working programmer at Harvard’s information center, they then prove that VA teachers produce nice little students who contribute to 401Ks.

This reminds me of a very disturbing photo in wikimedia of a Nazi medical officer sitting next to a Jew in freezing water. It fills me with rage and sorrow.

What would be the effect if all teachers were given a raise and office space in which to grade papers?

Isn’t the pressure on teachers a direct result of over-indulgence of children who aren’t expected to work hard anymore?

Why would a “bad” teacher enter the profession? Maybe she thinks she’s a good teacher.

Is “bad teaching” the controlling factor of poor outcomes, however defined? How about bullying? Perhaps a really bad teacher could have a dialectical effect. I had the worst French teacher in the world. But as a result of the fact that he pissed me off, I now speak French seulement in Paris.

Wouldn’t the best metric be whether or not homework assignments are complete?


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