Many moons ago, I defined the Mad Biologist’s Rule of Base Ten Numbers:
…the Mad Biologist’s Rule of Base Ten Numbers is a pithier way of describing how certain numerical estimates or quantities are chosen based on little or no evidence. For example, when asked what an appropriate sample size is, someone will often respond, “ten.” Of course, it might very well be that either nine or eleven are, in fact, the appropriate sample sizes, but we have a tendency when making shit up to focus on numbers divisible by five or ten, or, if we’re dealing with really large quantities, increasing the quantities ten-fold (i.e., moving from 100 to 1000).
With that introduction, we bring you some education reform insanity from the Great State of New York (boldface mine):
New York Chancellor Merryl Tisch has announced her New Years resolution—revise the teacher evaluation system so that Common Core 3-8 test scores can trump all. In a letter to Andrew Cuomo’s aide, Jim Malatras, she explains how she (speaking for herself, not necessarily the Board of Regents) wants APPR [Annual Professional Performance Review of teachers] to change.
The system she wants to change is one that she created several years ago with former education commissioner John King, which was put into law by the New York Legislature and that was rushed into place by Gov. Andrew Cuomo who denied districts state aid if they did not adopt it. It became mandatory for teachers and principals to be evaluated in part by student standardized test scores.
The short version of what she wants to do now is this—double down on test scores and strip away the power of local school boards to negotiate the majority of the evaluation plan. Tisch would get rid of the locally selected measures of achievement, which now comprise 20 percent of the evaluation, and double the state test score portion, to 40 percent. She also recommends that the score ranges for the observation process be taken out of the hands of local districts, and be determined by Albany instead. Dr. Lederman, start packing up. Merryl Tisch and Andrew Cuomo, whom you have never met, know your talents better than your local school board, your principal and the parents of the children you teach.
Why does Tisch want to change APPR?
To Tisch’s dismay, APPR which she helped design, has not produced the results that she and Cuomo wanted; only 1 percent of teachers in New York State were rated ineffective in the most recent evaluation. The plan, according to the state’s Race to the Top application, was for 10 percent of all teachers to be found ineffective, with small numbers designated as highly effective. The curve of the sorting bell was not achieved.
That Chancellor Tisch has decreed ten percent of teachers shall be declared ineffective tells you everything you need to know about education reform: it is built on a foundation of mendacity and lies. I’m sure there are teachers that need to be replaced, but how can anyone know what fraction of teachers should be replaced ahead of time–and without data? Dunno. How about ten percent? Just spitballing here.
Of course, there hasn’t been any consideration of what a ten percent replacement rate–on top of the already high attrition rate–would mean in the real world (boldface mine):
No questions asked about where new teachers will come from; no questions about why these new teachers will be better qualified than those who were fired using a dubious method; no questions about the VAM methodology, which is now being challenged in court in New York as arbitrary; no awareness of the extensive research and experience showing that the methodology is unstable and inaccurate. Just fire teachers, do it again and again, and the scores will go up. This is faith-based ideology, not an expression of thoughtfulness not a display of knowledge about teacher evaluation.
Diane Ravitch makes the funny.