Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Latino students impacted by ineffective teachers

Latino students impacted by ineffective teachers
By Adrian Perez, Publisher 

LOS ANGELES, CA - The Los Angeles Times ran a story on August 15, 2010, discussing an analysis they conducted together with the Rand Corporation about teacher effectiveness in the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD).  Using a controversial method of assessing the data, their analysis found a correlation between student individual achievement scores and the effectiveness of teachers.  However, what was most disturbing is that the data they looked at is collected by the LAUSD, but not used.

School administrators are in fact “managers” who need to look at their bottom line to assess if their strategies are creating a good return on the investment.  In this case, the investment is the tens of billions of dollars collected annually from taxpayers to educate California’s children.  The return is for those students to become future productive and tax-paying residents of California.  The bottom line is the successful completion of the minimum educational requirements to graduate from high school by all students. 

To assess if the strategies being implemented by the educational system work, the managers are required to collect data, analyze the data, and fix deficiencies upon their discovery.  Apparently, this basic step of managing an education system is failing since the data is not being analyzed.  Why?  These administrators are afraid to create conflicts with the teacher’s union.  The result: a poor education system.

The Times analysis looked at math and English test scores of fifth graders in the LAUSD, which totaled more than 6,000 teachers. It found that students who scored high in math and English, were being taught by teachers who ranked in the top 10 percent of effectiveness.  In fact, student scores were 17 percent higher in English and 25 percent higher in math than those students in classrooms with ineffective teachers.  Isn’t this an important piece of data for an effective administrator to look at?

Another important finding is that 8,000 students landed with ineffective teachers two years in a row, creating a major setback for those students.  Knowing this, the district did nothing about it.

Latinos comprise one out of every two students in the LAUSD, and nearly 40 percent of the state’s population with predictions it will be the state’s majority group in less than 10 years.  What this population shift means is that California’s economic future is dependent on the educational development of Latinos.  Studies by the Public Policy Institute of California agree with this assessment and recommend the state take dramatic action to fix the growing wedge in this segment of the population.  However, inaction of data findings by school districts, like that of the LAUSD, is shortsighted and very harmful to the state.

Perhaps what should be frustrating to state officials and parents alike is the reaction by the LA teacher’s union, which immediately called for a boycott of the Times for running the article.

"You're leading people in a dangerous direction, making it seem like you can judge the quality of a teacher by … a test," A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, which has more than 40,000 members, told the Times.  Tests are designed to assess individual readiness for a diploma or a job.  What other methods can be used, on the job training?

The analysis used by the Times and the Rand Corporation is a “value added” statistical method that compared each student's prior performance to project his or her future test scores, with the difference between the projection and the student's actual performances being the "value" the teacher added or subtracted. They averaged the results over at least 60 students per teacher to ensure statistical reliability.  The Obama administration and numerous education leaders have adopted this statistical method to assess teacher effectiveness and promote education programs and policy changes. 

"Our attorneys are looking into the legalities of this database," Duffy said in the recorded message and as the Times reported. "This is part of the continuing attack on our profession, and we must continue to fight back on all fronts."

Although the State Department of Education recently announced that student test scores have gone up, the state’s national ranking is still in the bottom percentile.  So, instead of worrying if these methodologies for assessing teacher effectiveness are legal, the teachers’ unions should worry about meeting the people’s bottom line of getting the educational system out of the cellar.  It should work toward ensuring its teachers are giving Californians its expected return on the investment.

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