A better way to evaluate teachers?

Well, I can tell you for sure that simply holding them responsible for student test scores is decidedly not what we should be doing.  It is not a coincidence that of all the nations that out-perform us in education, none of them take this approach (like the way that none of the nations that out-perform us in health care do it by leaving more to the marketplace).  Anyway, I know I read this excellent Paul Tough piece before on teaching resilience– and hopefully recommended it– but I just came across it again and was drawn to the portion on teacher evaluation:

A few years ago, a young economist at Northwestern University named C. Kirabo Jackson began investigating how to measure educators’ effectiveness. In many school systems these days, teachers are assessed based primarily on one data point: the standardized-test scores of their students. Jackson suspected that the true impact teachers had on their students was more complicated than a single test score could reveal. So he found and analyzed a detailed database in North Carolina that tracked the performance of every single ninth-grade student in the state from 2005 to 2011—a total of 464,502 students. His data followed their progress not only in ninth grade but throughout high school.

Jackson had access to students’ scores on the statewide standardized test, and he used that as a rough measure of their cognitive ability. This is the number that education officials generally look at when trying to assess teachers’ impact. But then Jackson did something new. He created a proxy measure for students’ noncognitive ability, using just four pieces of existing administrative data: attendance, suspensions, on-time grade progression, and overall GPA. Jackson’s new index measured, in a fairly crude way, how engaged students were in school—whether they showed up, whether they misbehaved, and how hard they worked in their classes. Jackson found that this simple noncognitive proxy was, remarkably, a better predictor than students’ test scores of whether the students would go on to attend college, a better predictor of adult wages, and a better predictor of future arrests.

Jackson’s proxy measure allowed him to do some intriguing analysis of teachers’ effectiveness. He subjected every ninth-grade English and algebra teacher in North Carolina to what economists call a value-added assessment. First he calculated whether and how being a student in a particular teacher’s class affected that student’s standardized-test score. Then, separately, he calculated the effect that teachers had on their students’ noncognitive proxy measure: on their attendance, suspensions, timely progression from one grade to the next, and overall GPA.

Jackson found that some teachers were reliably able to raise their students’ standardized-test scores year after year. These are the teachers, in every teacher-evaluation system in the country, who are the most valued and most rewarded. But he also found that there was another distinct cohort of teachers who were reliably able to raise their students’ performance on his noncognitive measure. If you were assigned to the class of a teacher in this cohort, you were more likely to show up to school, more likely to avoid suspension, more likely to move on to the next grade. And your overall GPA went up—not just your grades in that particular teacher’s class, but your grades in your other classes, too.

Jackson found that these two groups of successful teachers did not necessarily overlap much; in every school, it seemed, there were certain teachers who were especially good at developing cognitive skills in their students and other teachers who excelled at developing noncognitive skills. But the teachers in the second cohort were not being rewarded for their success with their students—indeed, it seemed likely that no one but Jackson even realized that they were successful. And yet those teachers, according to Jackson’s calculations, were doing more to get their students to college and raise their future wages than were the much-celebrated teachers who boosted students’ test scores. [emphasis mine]

I’m not particularly enthusiastic about rewarding teachers based on any particular measures of student performance as I think the evidence is fairly clear that there’s far better ways to improve the quality of teaching and education.  But, as long as we’re going to stick with it, it would be great to incorporate this kind of data, rather than just test scores.


How to unmotivated reason

Good enough column from Kathleen Parker on the impact of Comey.  What I really like is her nice extended “what if” metaphor that is a exemplar on how to practice thinking about politics to get past your own biases:

For the undecided (or the unpersuadable), let’s pose a hypothetical: What if Clinton had publicly asked Russia to hack Trump’s records and release his tax returns — and Russia did? And what if the FBI announced less than two weeks before Election Day that it was going to investigate fraudulent practices at Trump University? Let’s say that Trump’s number dipped dramatically and he lost.

Do you reckon Republicans would be a tad upset?

Yep.  It’s honestly not that hard.  Just substitute Republican for Democrat or Trump for Obama (or vice versa) in your mind and be honest with yourself, which hopefully, isn’t that hard, and it’s a lot easier to think and analyze politics without being a slave to motivated reasoning.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Would really like to see some rigorous studies of microdosing with LSD.  I think there is some real potential there.  Alas, all we are left with is lots of anecdotes– like Ayelet Waldman’s— thanks to good old schedule I.

2) Not all that surprisingly, if you want your kids to have safer sexual practices you should, you know, talk to them about sex.  Also, boys get left out of this a lot.

3) Farhad Manjoo on how Netflix is deepening our cultural divide:

Yet for a brief while, from the 1950s to the late 1980s, broadcast television served cultural, social and political roles far greater than the banality of its content would suggest. Because it featured little choice, TV offered something else: the raw material for a shared culture. Television was the thing just about everyone else was watching at the same time as you. In its enforced similitude, it became a kind of social glue, stitching together a new national identity across a vast, growing and otherwise diverse nation.

“What we gained was a shared identity and shared experience,” Mr. Strate said. “The famous example was Kennedy’s funeral, where the nation mourned together in a way that had never happened before. But it was also our experience watching ‘I Love Lucy’ and ‘All in the Family’ that created a shared set of references that everyone knew.”

As the broadcast era changed into one of cable and then streaming, TV was transformed from a wasteland into a bubbling sea of creativity. But it has become a sea in which everyone swims in smaller schools.

4) Republican legislators in two states looking to abolish tenure at public universities.  Presumably, only a matter of time before NC legislators get this idea.

5) I saw “Silence” with David yesterday and we both really, really liked it.  Powerful and thought-provoking.  It certainly took it’s time, but I was never bored.

6) The real problem for teacher in NC says an NC teacher?  Not enough time.  I will totally buy that.

7) It’s Girl Scout Cookie time.  Loved this feature in the LA Times that lays out the differences in the cookies between the two bakeries.  I grew up loving “Samoas” and my wife grew up loving “Carmel Delites.”  This graphic shows that, clearly, Samoas are superior.

8) On Ivanka Trump’s fake feminism.

9) Loved this James Kwak piece on “economism” as applied to the minimum wage:

The argument against increasing the minimum wage often relies on what I call “economism”—the misleading application of basic lessons from Economics 101 to real-world problems, creating the illusion of consensus and reducing a complex topic to a simple, open-and-shut case. According to economism, a pair of supply and demand curves proves that a minimum wage increases unemployment and hurts exactly the low-wage workers it is supposed to help…

The real impact of the minimum wage, however, is much less clear than these talking points might indicate. Looking at historical experience, there is no obvious relationship between the minimum wage and unemployment: adjusted for inflation, the federal minimum was highest from 1967 through 1969, when the unemployment rate was below 4 percent—a historically low level. When economists try to tackle this question, they come up with all sorts of results. In 1994, David Card and Alan Krueger evaluated an increase in New Jersey’s minimum wage by comparing fast-food restaurants on both sides of the New Jersey-Pennsylvania border. They concluded, “Contrary to the central prediction of the textbook model … we find no evidence that the rise in New Jersey’s minimum wage reduced employment at fast-food restaurants in the state.”

10) Seven hard questions about health care reform that Democrats need to hold Republicans feet to the fire on.

11) The areas where both experts and the public agrees on effective gun control.  Hey, maybe give these a try!  Oh, right, Republican politicians are not in these charts.

12) Neither GRE’s nor undergraduate GPA appear to be particularly good measures of graduate school success.  Well, that makes things difficult.

13) The latest PS research on Voter ID and vote suppression.  This is important:

The proliferation of increasingly strict voter identification laws around the country has raised concerns about voter suppression. Although there are many reasons to suspect that these laws could harm groups like racial minorities and the poor, existing studies have been limited, with most occurring before states enacted strict identification requirements, and they have uncovered few effects. By using validated voting data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study for several recent elections, we are able to offer a more definitive test. The analysis shows that strict identification laws have a differentially negative impact on the turnout of racial and ethnic minorities in primaries and general elections. We also find that voter ID laws skew democracy toward those on the political right.

14) Saw some pretty strong liberal pushback against this NYT piece, but I think it is worth having a reasonable discussion over whether we should be subsidizing the purchasing of sugar soda through food stamps.  Maybe that opens a Pandora’s box, but it seems that we could probably all agree this is not something the government should be subsidizing.

15) Quirks and Quarks just did a whole show on mindfulness meditation.  This segment was the best explanation I’ve yet heard.


16) Good stuff from Roger Cohen:

Trump’s psyche is no great riddle. He’s a study in neediness. Adulation is what he craves; admonishment he cannot abide. Trafficking in untruths and conspiracies, he calls the press that he secretly venerates dishonest for pointing this out. That’s called transference. Soon he will have at his disposal far more potent weapons than Twitter to assuage his irascibility and channel his cruelty. It is doubtful that he will resist them over time. There is rational cause for serious alarm. If the world was anchored by America, it is about to be unmoored.

17) Gender bias in health care is a real problem.  How checklists can fix it.

18) Evan Osnos on the Senate confirmation process:

Trump is making an astonishing bet that he will be the first President in a quarter century to manage not to have a single nominee disqualified. And he is betting that the American people, having just elected the first modern President to refuse to release his tax returns, are, in effect, done with ethics. He is betting that, like his oft-cited prediction that he could shoot someone and not lose votes, virtually nothing that could come out after a nominee is confirmed will undermine his Presidency. He is betting, in effect, that we’re too dumb or too demoralized to care.

19) These fake books are so hilarious.

20) I may have posted this before, but if so, I just re-came across it.  I’ve been saying for years that free, widespread, encouraged IUD use is the best anti-poverty program we could have.  Jordan Weissman explains.



%d bloggers like this: