Teacher Evaluation As Practiced

While I’m very skeptical of teacher evaluation methods, since they are incredibly imprecise, it still blows my mind how stupidly implemented they are. Consider D.C.’s IMPACT system (boldface mine):

Under DCPS’s teacher evaluation system, called IMPACT, teachers in affluent Ward 3 get ratings that are significantly above those in lower-income Wards 7 and 8, according to a study based on data from 2010 to 2013. Another study shows that 41% of teachers in Ward 3 received IMPACT’s top rating of “highly effective” in 2011-12, as compared to only 9% in Ward 8.

DCPS bases IMPACT scores on a number of factors, including classroom observations and growth in students’ test scores for teachers of tested grades and subjects. Charter schools have their own methods of evaluating teachers….

It [IMPACT] also may explain why there are so many fewer highly rated teachers at high-poverty schools in the first place.

For one thing, part of the IMPACT score for some teachers depends on how much the teacher has increased her students’ test scores in a given year. But the tests are geared to a student’s grade level, and many students at high-needs schools are several grade levels behind.

If a 10th-grader comes into a teacher’s class at a 5th-grade level and the teacher succeeds in bringing the student’s skills up to a 6th- or 7th-grade level, the test isn’t geared to capture that improvement. Neither the teacher nor the school gets credit. And there’s virtually no way to bring a student up five grade levels in a single year.

No teacher wants to go into a school where you can only be told you’ve failed,” says David Tansey, a math teacher at Dunbar High School.

Teachers at high-needs schools, where behavior problems are more common, are also more likely to get low ratings on the classroom observation component of their IMPACT scores. Tansey recalls getting a low rating from one observer because a student cursed in class.

Tansey pointed out that the student had corrected himself, something that reflected Tansey’s efforts and was a vast improvement over the student’s behavior at the beginning of the year. But, he says, that made no difference to the observer.

Essentially, there’s no incentive whatsoever to teach poorly performing–which is strongly correlated with being poor–students.

It boggles the mind that a bunch of people at DDOE presumably strapped on their thinkin’ caps, had lots of meetings, wrote reports, and then devised a system… that gives powerful incentives to avoid the neediest students. Leaving aside technical issues (which aren’t trivial), this is the reality of education ‘reform’, and it’s not helping at all.

Posted in DC, Education, Fucking Morons | Leave a comment

Links 2/25/15

Links for you. Science:

HPV Cancers in Men Take Off
New Species, the ‘Ruby Seadragon,’ Discovered by Scripps Researchers
What 23andMe’s FDA Approval Means For The Future Of Genomics
New weapon in war against flu pandemics and pneumonia
Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for Soon


Why We’re All Becoming Independent Contractors
Chicago School Reform: Myths, Realities, and New Visions (comprehensive, but very good)
For Asian Americans, a changing landscape on college admissions
Charter groups top unions in lobbying, campaign spending
Never have online attacks on women been more visible, more denounced, or more effective
The Wind Comes Sweeping Down The Plaintiffs
Homeless Residents Share What It’s Like To Live Outdoors In D.C. In February
Yellen’s problem with US felons
Anti-homeless spikes: ‘Sleeping rough opened my eyes to the city’s barbed cruelty’
I, Audiophile: I appreciate high-quality phono-cartridges. I recognize a good digital-to-analog converter. I care about the capacitors in my amplifier. I will not apologize for this. (I’m guessing most people don’t have the hearing to note these differences, but some do)
The Academy’s Dirty Secret: An astonishingly small number of elite universities produce an overwhelming number of America’s professors.
Factlet of the Day: Office Workers Will Soon Have Less Space Than Supermax Prisoners

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Low-Cost Bed Bug Removal?

Observed on 12th Street, between N and O, Logan Circle, D.C.:

Bed bug

Posted in DC | 2 Comments

When Culture Becomes a Structural Force

When a certain vein of the culture wars opens up–the one where people discuss what is wrong with Black America (usually while excluding Black America from said discussion)–the discussion inevitably falls back to the battle between culturalist and structuralist positions. To caricature, the culturalist position blames cultural phenomena within the Black community, while the structuralist position focuses on economic and legal impediments to equality.

But what if culture is, in fact, a structural phenomenon? Kelefa Sanneh (boldface mine):

In our political debates, as in cultural sociology, it can take some time for the stories to catch up to the statistics, especially because it takes a while to decipher what the statistics are saying… In the aftermath, as some other commentators talked about America’s legacy of racism, Patterson dissented. In a Slate interview, he said, “I am not in favor of a national conversation on race.” He said that most white people in America had come to accept racial equality, but added that “there’s a hard core of about twenty per cent which still remains thoroughly racist.” The startling implication is that, even now, blacks in America live alongside an equal number of “thoroughly racist” whites. If this is true, it may explain the tragic sensibility that haunts Patterson’s avowedly optimistic approach to race in America. He contends that black culture can and must change while conceding, less loudly, that “thoroughly racist” whites are likely to remain stubbornly the same.

There is a paradox at the heart of cultural sociology, which both seeks to explain behavior in broad, categorical terms and promises to respect its subjects’ autonomy and intelligence. The results can be deflating, as the researchers find that their subjects are not stupid or crazy or heroic or transcendent—their cultural traditions just don’t seem peculiar enough to answer the questions that motivate the research. Black cultural sociology has always been a project of comparison: the idea is not simply to understand black culture but to understand how it differs from white culture, as part of the broader push to reduce racial disparities that have changed surprisingly little since Du Bois’s time. Fifty years after Moynihan’s report, it’s easy to understand why he was concerned. Even so, it’s getting easier, too, to sympathize with his detractors, who couldn’t understand why he thought new trends might explain old problems. If we want to learn more about black culture, we should study it. But, if we seek to answer the question of racial inequality in America, black culture won’t tell us what we want to know.

I think once you include prejudiced people (i.e., not stone cold bigots) that number is greater than twenty percent. Regardless, when there is at least one white bigot for every African-American, this must be viewed as a structural problem. In this (which is to say, our current) regime, it is difficult, if not impossible, for an African-American to be treated equally before the law. It is difficult, if not impossible, for an African-American to have the same economic opportunities, from jobs to housing. It is difficult, if not impossible, for an African-American to have access to equal healthcare, clean air and water.

White culture–or at least a pathological section of it–becomes, for Black America, an immovable object that must be circumnavigated, a structural force as powerful as any statistical inequality.

To put this another way, we never seem to get around to discussing the pathologies in white culture that lead to racial inequality.

Odd, that.

Posted in Racism | 2 Comments

Links 2/24/15

Links for you. Science:

Jerry Lawson, a self-taught engineer, gave us video game cartridges
Countries Wary Of Drug-Resistant Staph Moving From Pigs To People
Science is hard: culturing problems edition
Why Do Luna Moths Have Such Absurdly Long Tails?
A Taxonomic Signature of Obesity in the Microbiome? Getting to the Guts of the Matter


Families for Excellent Schools Totally Bogus Analysis of NYC Schools
Massachusetts: Business Group Endorses Common Core Testing
Walmart Is Giving Raises. Walmart Is Feeling the Pressure.
Snowden praised for fighting government surveillance… by group that LOVES corporate surveillance
Big tech companies cause income inequality — but not in the ways you think
What Americans Keep Ignoring About Finland’s School Success
Your HR Department Hates You: How Corporate Overseers Exploit Workers
More than 1,000 Muslims form ‘peace ring’ around Oslo synagogue
If You Don’t Want Civil Disobedience, Stop Politicizing Our Schools
First Look Inside The Boston Library’s Astonishing, Colorful Renovation
Why Do Americans Feel Entitled to Tell Poor People What to Eat?
Senator Markey questions climate studies: Calls for review of links to energy companies
Is Welfare Reform Causing Earlier Deaths? (related post here)
Did Bill O’Reilly Cover Up a War Crime in El Salvador?
Does Money Matter in Education?
We Need Syriza in Illinois

Posted in Lotsa Links | 1 Comment

Is Soon a Shill Or a Useful Idiot?

Admittedly, this is from someone who lies about climate change for a living, but, as I remarked yesterday, Dr. Willie Soon doesn’t seem to be getting rich from being a professional global warming denialist (boldface mine):

But the maverick researcher claims he would have been better off working for a burger chain and is walking on his uppers…

I am very poor”, he said during an interview at the Heartland Institute conference in Las Vegas last summer. “I would say, if you consider the last three years or four years, I’d say I’m on minimum wage. I could work in McDonald’s and make more money.”

That’s as simple as that. Even my wife doesn’t know this. I don’t discuss money. She supports me in every way she can about science.” He went on: “I’m doing the science I dream of doing … I am a true scientist. In that rigorous sense. I pursue this happiness.”

ExxonMobil cut research grants to Soon at the Harvard-Smithsonian in 2010 after Greenpeace exposed their support – apparently without even thanking him for his years of dedication.

…“Please – everyone should know this thing is on the public record. I don’t think I get ever more than $50,000 to $60,000 a year … if you know how much time I spend working. I am embarrassed to tell people.”

All this professional disgrace, and he’s not even raking in the dough. Kinda sad.

Meanwhile, I still think there’s a hell of a story to be had about why the Smithsonian remained associated him for all these years, apart from the grant money.

Posted in Bidness, Global Warming | 2 Comments

Misunderstanding Giuliani

Last week, former New York City Republican Mayor Rudy “Subject, Verb, 9/11″ Giuliani uttered this at what was supposed to be a private meeting:

“I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say, but I do not believe that the president loves America,” Giuliani said during the dinner at the 21 Club, a former Prohibition-era speakeasy in midtown Manhattan. “He doesn’t love you. And he doesn’t love me. He wasn’t brought up the way you were brought up and I was brought up through love of this country.”

With Walker sitting just a few seats away, Giuliani continued by saying that “with all our flaws we’re the most exceptional country in the world. I’m looking for a presidential candidate who can express that, do that and carry it out.”

Most of the punditocracy, especially the technobrat wing, has completely missed what Giuliani was getting at. Instead, they have quantified Obama’s public service, and concluded that, in fact, Obama does love his country (one wonders if this is how they examine their own personal relationships, but I digress). Surprisingly, over at Vox, they sort of realize that a lot of Americans don’t think Obama is a ‘real’ American, but, even that doesn’t hit the mark.

Before we continue, you’re going to have to suspend a whole lotta disbelief, since it doesn’t matter what you think, but what Giuliani et alia think.

Part of this statement is simply an angrier version of the line in that Michael Douglas president movie (or is it Kevin Kline) where he says something like, “I’m tired of all the people who claim to love America, but hate Americans.” Politically active conservatives truly believe Obama doesn’t care about a large swath of Americans.

So that’s one reason for Giuliani’s utterances. But this also ties into a belief about the ‘Left’, or more accurately, the imaginary version invented by conservatives. Admittedly, the notion that Obama is part of the ‘Left’ is laughable (keeping suspending that disbelief!), but there is a widely held conservative view that the Left does not love America, because the Left criticizes our nation’s policies. So that’s another piece.

But the real sin is when the Left criticizes American history. Consider this about the Republican National Party:

In August last year, the Republican National Committee blasted the Advanced Placement U.S. History test, claiming it “deliberately distorts and/or edits out important historical events.” The RNC said a new framework for the exam “reflects a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.” The College Board countered that the framework had not been changed since 2012.

In Oklahoma, where they have voted to ban AP History courses, one pro-ban legislator said the AP U.S. history course framework emphasizes “what is bad about America.” The assault on conservative historical myths is what makes Obama so disliked, more than the rest of the Left. His very existence as president reminds everyone of what our nation has done to African-Americans–not the myth, but the reality. And every time Obama, or any other ‘leftist’ for that matter, challenges the myth, it challenges the central myth of the Republican Party, which at this point is a white nationalist party (boldface mine):

While people have described Palin as engaging in identity politics, that sells identity politics short. Palin along with the proto-movement surrounding her–Palinism–practices what could be call ‘politics of the blood.’ It’s derived from Giovanni Gentile’s description of fascism: “We think with our blood.” …In Palin’s case, it’s an emotional appeal to a romanticized, mythical past of “real America.” And that’s why I think the fixation people have on Palin’s complete policy incoherence and ignorance is missing the point.

Her policy ignorance isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Palin is conceptually and intellectually poor because her politics are not about policies, but a romantic restoration of the ‘real’ America to its rightful place. The primary purpose of politics is not to govern, not to provide services, and not to solve mundane, although often important, problems. For the Palinist, politics first and foremost exists to enable the social restoration of ‘real’ Americans (think about the phrase “red blooded American”) and the emotional and social advantages that restoration would provide to its followers (obviously, if you’re not a ‘real’ American, you might view this as a bad thing…).

Much of what passes for conservative politics is a romantic restoration of an America Past that never existed. Despite the radical nature of their policies, the underlying impetus is a classically conservative, romantic (and Romantic) restoration. It can’t and won’t happen, but every time someone points out that the past had real flaws, especially if you weren’t a white man, this is an assault on their emotional core.

Obama is a daily, living reminder of that less than perfect past. Which is why he evokes such dismay and despair among conservatives. That’s what this is about.

Posted in A Message to You, Conservatives, Rudy | 3 Comments