School Finance, Testing, Evaluations and Funding

School Finance 101 is a blog by Bruce Baker, a Rutgers’ Graduate School of Education professor. The blog’s focus is exactly what the name suggests: analysis of policy surrounding, and the impact of, school finance. 

Some students and their collective school’s academic performance is tied to wether a school gets more funding, a teacher gets a raise, bonus or gets removed from her current school. Compound this with the fact that there’s no thoroughly accurate way to calculate this link, and you have a door that opens itself to so serious flaws.

VAM, or the value added method, is said to be the closest algorithm that can determine how much impact a teacher has on her students. Some districts, states and the Department of Education (under programs, such as Obama’s Race to the Top initiatives), place heavy weight on this factor. But this is flawed for the obvious reason that there are far too qualitative factors that challenge students that can’t possibly be effectively quantified.

Some of these qualitative factors, such as a student’s personal, social, behavioral and mental issues, are different from student to student. Some of these issues can be so granular, I find it hard to believe that the data accurately can tell us something about how good or bad the teacher is.

But Bruce Baker takes this view to the next level by spelling out why high-stakes testing evaluations are untelling, troubling and ineffective.
In summaring a previous post, Baker writes:

The gist of the post was to explain that when we have estimates of student achievement growth linked to teachers, and when those estimates show that average growth is lower in schools serving more low income children, or schools with more children with disabilities, we really can’t tell the extent to which these patterns indicate that weaker teachers are sorting into higher need settings, or that teachers are receiving lower growth ratings because they are in high need settings. The reformy line of argument is that it’s 100% the former. That bad teachers are in high poverty schools, and that it’s because of bad teachers that these schools underperform. Fire those bad teachers. Hire all of the average ones waiting in line. 

There are teachers being labeled “weak” when they really aren’t weak but they’re in a weak system. Why is it so easy for people to believe that in order for a teacher to be “great” she must trascend her students issues? Why can’t people who have this view not see that we are far more complicated than that, and, our systems are far more complicated than that. A “great” teacher can be working with very troubled students, or even a small group of troubled students who interrupt the education and learning process of a larger group of students. These distractions take a way from the acquisition of knowledge (or rote memorization) time of the class as a whole. This in turn very well can make the classes average score lower than the score could have been if academically or behaviorally challenged students, who are young, inexperienced and fragile, didn’t sucumb to negative factors outside of the classroom.

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