Video of the day

I semi-randomly came across this very cool youtube channel of optical illusions, etc.  I totally fell for this card trick:

Evaluating Teachers

Had a great lunch with a History teacher friend (and former student) today.  We talked a lot about education policy and were very much in accord that we need a related cultural and policy shift that values teachers as professionals and compensates them accordingly, thereby drawing from a more ambitious and competent pool of college graduates.

Also reminded me that one of my students asked me the other day how are we supposed to evaluate teachers if not by their student’s test scores.  Well, a few minutes on the google and it turns out the NEA (sure, they’ve got their bias, but they are summarizing independent research) has a nice summary of how high-performing nations evaluate their teachers:

n most nations, teacher evaluation systems are essentially a “work in progress,” says Andreas Schleicher of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development  (OECD).   Schleicher, who attended the ISTP, is the principal author of the study that was presented at the summitt. The report,Teachers for the 21st Century: Using Evaluations to Improve Teachingtakes a look at how different nations are tackling this thorny issue (or not tackling it) and identifying specific models that appear to work – that is, have buy-in from key stakeholders and can point to demonstrable results in student achievement. Because consensus is so frustratingly elusive, most nations are treading carefully, although there is widespread acknowledgement that improved evaluation systems have to be on the menu of education policy reforms.

Of the 28 countries surveyed in the OECD report, 22 have formal policy frameworks in place at the national level to regulate teacher evaluations. The six education systems that do not have such frameworks include Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, but teachers in the countries still received professional feedback. In Denmark, for example, teachers receive feedback from their school administrators once a year. In Norway, teacher-appraisal policies are designed and implemented at the local or school level. In Iceland, evaluation is left to the discretion of individual schools and school boards.

In high-ranking Finland, the national ministry of education plays no role in teacher evaluation. Instead, broad policies are defined in the contract with the teachers’ union. Teachers are then typically appraised against the national core curriculum and the school development plan. Finland, of course, is known for having no standardized testing, obviously then making it impossible for it to be used as a tool for teacher evaluation. (Finland’s education system does just fine without it) [emphases in original] …

Wariness over the misuse of test scores runs throughout the school systems in most nations – an acknowledgment that they cannot provide a complete picture of teaching quality and that multiple sources of evidence are required (many countries include parent and student surveys as well as classroom observations, and peer and principal assessment). In addition, representatives at the ISTP agreed that teacher-appraisal systems must include high-quality professional development, good working conditions, support from administrators, and a prominent role for teachers in designing new policies.

So, no easy answers here.  But what is clear is that test-based evaluation is only a modest portion in the countries that out-perform us and not a factor at all in top-performing Finland.  And surely we are falling short on professional feedback and development.

Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s Animal Photos of the Week:

A dolphin approaches a pregnant woman in the waters of Ixtapa, Mexico
A dolphin approaches a pregnant woman in the waters of Ixtapa, MexicoPicture: CATERS

US Health Care: worse than you think

Nice post from Aaron Carroll yesterday on a study pointing out just how sorry US health care is.  Here’s the nickel summary:

I’m a health services researcher, and I’m obsessed with outcomes. One of the first major projects of this blog was a two-week series on quality in the US health care system. I’ve written numerous times about what kills us. This study specifically looked at the burden of disease, injuries, and risk factors in the US versus other countries. The methods are amazingly detailed.

So how did we do compared to other countries? Not well. Between 1990 and 2010, among the 34 countries in the OECD, the US dropped from 18th to 27th in age-standardized death rate. The US dropped from 23rd to 28th for age-standardized years of life lost. It dropped from 20th to 27th in life expectancy at birth. It dropped from 14th to 26th for healthy life expectancy. The only bit of good news was that the US only dropped from 5th to 6th in years lived with disability.

Anybody who says we have the best health care in the world is absolutely, shamelessly, clueless on the matter.  Anyway, I found his take at the end quite interesting:

What we have here is a prioritization issue. We spend a lot of time worrying about colon cancer. It’s ranked 11th in 2010. We spend a lot of time worrying about breast cancer. We have walks, and ribbons, and whole months dedicated to it. It’s ranked 13th. Prostate Cancer? Men are obsessed with it. It’s ranked 27th. But more years of life are lost to lung cancer than to prostate cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer combined. Ischemic heart disease causes four times as many years of life to be lost each year as prostate cancer, colon cancer, and breast cancer combined. Stroke is 3rd. COPD is 4th. Traffic accidents are 5th. Suicide is 6th. None of these things get the national attention, or resources, that they deserve.

We could have the best health care system in the world. We’ve got the money and the necessary pieces to get really, really good outcomes. But we need to be much smarter about it if we’re going to do so.

Indeed.  Our health care “system” is just massively, massively inefficient.  And there’s no evidence whatsoever that greater reliance on the marketplace will make it more so.

Americans like poor people, dislike people on welfare

When I teach public opinion in my Intro course I do a fun experiment where I give each half of the room a very similar survey, but for minor variations in question wording.  Among those that always gets the biggest result is how we should help “poor people” versus “people on welfare.”  Here’s the 2012 NES data on the matter:



Whereas 46% would like to see spending on “welfare” decreased, only 20% would like to see “aid to poor people” decreased.


Republican nihilism

Greg Sargent had an excellent post this week about the “sabotage governing” of the GOP:

It’s not unusual to hear dirty hippie liberal blogger types (and the occasional lefty Nobel Prize winner) point out that today’s GOP has effectively abdicated the role of functional opposition party, instead opting for a kind of post-policy nihilism in which sabotaging the Obama agenda has become its only guiding governing light.

But when you hear this sort of argument coming from Chuck Todd, the mild-mannered, well respected Beltway insider, it should prompt folks to take notice.

[I cut out the Todd quote, it’s not that great]

But I’d take it further; it goes well beyond Obamacare implementation and the relentless blockading of Obama nominees for the explicit purpose of preventing democratically-created agencies from functioning. We’ve slowly crossed over into something a bit different. It’s now become accepted as normal that Republicans will threaten explicitly to allow harm to the country to get what they want, and will allow untold numbers of Americans to be hurt rather than even enter into negotiations over the sort of compromises that lie at the heart of basic governing.  [emphasis mine]

Meanwhile, in an unrelated post, Chait makes the point that Republicans not only don’t care about policy, they simply don’t care about governing, period:

The distrust for lawmaking is the main argument — wait, “argument” is too strong; maybe premise? — of a rare joint op-ed by Rich Lowry and William Kristol, editors of the National Review and the Weekly Standard. Lowry and Kristol urge House Republicans to kill immigration reform, because passing it would involve legislating, and legislating is bad.

They don’t put it exactly like that, of course. What they say is that the Senate immigration bill is “a stew of deals, payoffs, waivers, and special-interest breaks.” And, yes, that’s true, in the sense that every piece of major legislation is a stew of deals, payoffs, waivers, and special-interest breaks. The 1964 Civil Rights Act certainly was. So were the Reagan tax cuts. So was the Constitution! It’s a big country with lots of people and organizations with different points of view, and cobbling together major support for any far-reaching change is going to involve some wheeling and dealing…

A rational legislative strategy would consider the relative benefits of a law to maintaining the status quo, and weigh the possibilities of a better bill emerging over time. But tea-party logic simply regards the existence of compromise as disqualifying. The moral purity of opposition has become untethered from any political or policy objective, and appears to have sprouted into an actual freestanding principle.

It’s not such a strongly held principle that it would survive if and when Republicans regain control of government. Lowry, Kristol, and the entire tea party will surely forget their hatred of side deals when they are needed to pass the next tax cuts. But the hatred for legislating has gained a strong enough hold over the conservative mind as to render them unable to consider the merits of any bill at all.

Yep.  If we had a true parliamentary system where the Republicans were simply a power-less majority, this wouldn’t really matter.  But in our system of government which truly requires participation and compromise from the minority party, this is a governing disaster.

Of course parties often put their own interests ahead of the interests of the American people.  But I’ve had to say, never before (at least in modern times) has it been done so extensively and so shamelessly.  And indeed, very much to the detriment of the American people.

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