Song Of The Day: I'm Easy

Boz Scaggs. I know, you're thinking Jojo, or What Do You Want The Girl To Do, or something.

Yeah, Slim's. Don't forget Slim's. I saw Johnny Winter there. Love that place.

But Boz goes back to the 60s. He was in Steve Miller's band when they were youths (pronounced "yoots"), and spent time in London before coming back to hippieville. He could sing and play that guitar real good, and that got him signed.

He rocks.

In fact, on his first (sort of) album from 1969, he seems to have written a rocker for Newt Gingrich called, I'm Easy:


Thursday Cartoon Fun: Job Creator Edition

Thursday Bonus Cartoon Bonus Fun: 2 Party System Edition

Thursday Bonus Cartoon Fun: Don't Be Evil Edition

Thursday Cartoon Fun: Scrape By Edition


Teaching Is An Art (So Is Lawyering). VAM Can't Work: Updated

I came across a quote today from Sandra Day O'Connor:
"Attorney errors come in an infinite variety and are as likely to be
utterly harmless in a particular case as they are to be prejudicial. They
cannot be classified according to likelihood of causing prejudice. Nor can
they be defined with sufficient precision to inform defense attorneys
correctly just what conduct to avoid. Representation is an art, and an act
or omission that is unprofessional in one case may be sound or even
brilliant in another."
Yeah, teaching too. VAM can't work. It just can't.

Update: So I admit a friend and I are having an email exchange about this science vs. art thing. Here is why I say teaching --and lawyering and doctoring-- is more art than science:
Lawyers, doctors, teachers all have basic knowledge without which they
could not practice the art. These professions are art in the same way
jazz is art--it requires knowledge of music, but then you get to be

When 2 or 3 different people could perform the job differently and still
end up with a good expected outcome, that implies there is more than
science to it, there must be art.

My surgery required dumping my guts onto the table. I am sure there are
a few ways to do that and a few outcomes depending on the different
ways. I assume there is more than one good or bad way to do that.

Same with trying a case, or teaching a concept, or sewing up my gut.
Update II: Here is the rest of the email exchange. My friend, referred to below as "The Law" is a lawyer. I have summarized her emails to just the pertinent questions I am responding to.

The science part of teaching is understanding how kids learn, not the subject matter (though in upper grades the subject matter knowledge is clearly crucial, but still it's not the sole science part). And, how kids learn varies, and science has a hard time pinning much down in this domain, leaving it to art and situational awareness that comes with practice.

Aren't the best trial lawyers performance artists as well as highly knowledgeable about precedents, torts, and whatever else you lawyers have to know about that you learn in law school and then promptly realize it wasn't all that helpful and the only way to get good at trial lawyering is to do it? And we measure trial lawyers by wins and losses, right? Not by their actual performance in the courtroom. Right? And surgeons are rated on survival rates, not on procedure, unless the outcome was bad, then procedures are looked at, right? All this sounds like teaching--we look at outcomes. Except that for teaching, like the family doctor, much of what they do is dependent on things they don't control--diet, homework, and the rest.

You can't measure art, really, can you? I mean, perhaps in the most rudimentary way--painters should use paint and understand something about form, shadow, line, and all that stuff (the science of the art), but one person's art is another person's garbage, right?

Art certainly isn't VAMable, I don't think.

Can we measure my progress by looking at (name redacted) [a middle class, white, gifted student who loved my class and was challenged, and who was tender to the Hispanic student. Sweet.]? Or should we look at (name redacted) [a Hispanic student whose father was in jail and was homeless off and on during the year and scored poorly but whose attitude towards life seemed to improve in my class], whose life was basically devastated from birth? [Middle class student] would have advanced without me. [Hispanic student] didn't advance much, but his sense of self I think got better in my class. Can we measure [Hispanic student]'s sense of self? I don't think so.

I think teaching is a lot like the 1984 case you write about--it's a judgement call reserved for those in charge--professional judgement. There is no standard we can measure against, so we have to measure against what the professionals have gleaned over their years as professionals practicing their art.

Perhaps my use of Art and Science are too broad, but I don't know how else to separate the 2 domains. I also think that there are fewer rules for teachers than other professions. It's more like a therapist than a doctor or lawyer. There are standards of care, policies about privacy and pedagogy (therapy) but each patient (class) is different and will be taught (therapized) differently. In both cases the professional is steeped in the science underpinning their profession, but the actual doing of it seems more like art--the thing the science-knowledge frees you to do.

How's that?
The Law:
Your first sentence answers one of my original questions, I wanted to know whether there was a science to the teaching, as opposed to the subject matter.
VAM can't control for family attributes (SES). Of factors that impact a child's ability to learn (do well on a test, more accurately, which is NOT an accurate measure of the child's true ability), most knowledgeable folks say that between 10 and 30% of factors come from school, the rest come from home, as [made obvious] by [Hsp student] and [MC student], among others.

The test--the high stakes test at the end of the year--is what VAM uses. That fact alone makes VAM useless, as one test on one day does not accurately reflect much of anything about the teacher or the student. I suppose that if the whole class did incredibly well, or badly, one could generalize about the teacher. But that's obvious. It's when VAM is used to differentiate between teachers who, on the whole, are relatively similar. VAM does not have the power to do it--it's too prone to error. It is not a measure that can be used, as the variables can't be controlled like they can in industry by controlling inputs (materials/students).

Reformers would have you believe that there is a science to teaching (pedagogy) and charters have figured it out. And that's bullshit. Charters have figured out how to control inputs. There is no science of pedagogy, really. That's my argument--pedagogy is an art. Teaching is an art. Sure, it has some science behind it--brain development, motor development, some stable psychological concepts, but for the most part, it's art.

So, the reformers abuse science's power by giving it more than it deserves in this domain, and they belittle the art of teaching by scripting teachers with curricula that claim to be research based (science) when they aren't cuz there ain't no science they can actually point to, and the research is usually not actual research but a working paper from the publisher or a CMO funded meta-review. Remember, Everyday Math is "research based" but most mathematicians pillory it for its stupidity. It was pushed through after packing the board of the What Works Clearinghouse.

The actual research performed over the past 70 years shows, unequivocally, that home factors make or break a kid. Not teachers. Not schools. Not curricula. Home is where the issues are. And that is where poverty lives.

The reform movement uses bullshit disguised as science (the NYT article on that latest "study" being a perfect example). They can't acknowledge poverty because that would undercut their scheme that claims they know how to save kids with their new pedagogy that is in evidence in their charters that do well. Except few of them do, and the ones that do well control their inputs. Ask KIPP, Aspire, HCZ, HSA and the rest. They've all been in trouble for scheming the inputs.

How's that?
The Law:
Or is good teaching like pornography -- I know it when I see it?
Yes. It's exactly like pornography--you know it when you see it. Seriously. Like your lawyer scenario. Porn, teaching, lawyering--non-VAMable.

Activists, educators and academics you should be aware of include:

Dr. Diane Ravitch
Dr. Deborah Meier
Dr. Stephen Krashen
Dr. Shaun Johnson
Anthony Cody
Leoni Haimson
Matt Damon
Jon Stewart
P.L. Thomas

Here are some links to experts. Some are a bit long, but you can and should do it!

--Richard Rothstein looks at An overemphasis on teachers

--and Rothstein again, with others:
Narrowing the Achievement Gap for Low-Income Children: A 19-Year Life Cycle Approach

By Richard Rothstein, Tamara Wilder and Whitney C. Allgood | 2008

--One and another by Jim Horn (of Cambridge College) on VAM.


Monday Cartoon Fun: OSHA Edition


We Are An ARMY of Teachers

By Dave Russell
I just got finished reading a post on United Opt Out National’s blog titled: “A Teacher Story: Why I’m Leaving Public Education.” It is a real story about one teacher’s experiences with abusive policies surrounding testing mania that lead to the hard decision to leave education. If you haven’t read it, do so. It is raw, brutally honest, and exposes the realities of “reform.” After reading it, I was compelled to leave the following remark:

“God Damn-it! This pisses me off so much, I am seeing red. I so understand your feelings of defeat and fully support your decision, as will so many of us who are facing or have faced this Gauntlet of emotional, professional, and spiritual beatings. Understand, I wish you nothing but the best in whatever the future may hold for you - may you land on your feet and once again find your bliss.

What has me so pissed off is that this scenario is EXACTLY what the Oligarch's are gunning for. Here is an experienced, caring teacher with SO much to give to the kids and her fellow teachers who is being so systematically scrutinized, criticized, demoralized, demonized, and a whole lot of "ized's," I haven't thought of that he/she has finally tossed in the towel and is walking away from a lifetime of service and a career born of a deeply rooted passion for kids.

This is nothing less than "teacher cleansing" where teachers are systemically targeted for professional scrutiny and punishment based on salary, political reasons, or some other arbitrary or capricious reason. As the "business model" continues to invade schools like the tentacles of a corrosive cancer, we will see more and more of this type of decimation happen among our ranks.

And don't kid yourself, as Michelle Rhee continues to successfully lobby for the removal of LIFO and tenure, we will see our most experiences (read expensive) teachers get bloodied by the very tactics our author experienced. The outcome is predictable. Toss the expensive teachers on the curb like so much trash, gather all that salary and hire short-term contract scabs and pay them gobs of bonus money for successfully teaching to the test and raising scores.

We are an ARMY of teachers fed up with this! We are a sleeping giant ready to roar, claw back the oppression and RESTORE education to a colorful world where kids are free to explore the world around them in a safe and encouraging way. Fear has us paralyzed. Tradition has us waiting. The machine is counting on our passivity. And if we don't coalesce and act NOW, before long we too will be walking the gauntlet, getting bloodied, and being tossed out on our own ear.”

This Is My Last Straw - Is It Yours Too?

By Dave Russell
As a teacher, I have sat and watched our children increasingly suffer needlessly as the life of the of the school day has been systematically suffocated to the pallor of a deathly grey. The gauntlet of NCLB has morphed into the scourge of the corporate take-over model which spawned a full on attack warrior in the form of Michelle Rhee and her "resistance is futile" lobby group, StudentsFirst. My blood boils every time she rolls out a new Madison Avenue savvy propaganda smear or full court press media blitz designed to further the Oligarch's planned agenda for education takeover, uh...I mean "reform."

As my anger and frustration has grown, nothing has enraged me to the boiling point more than the recent publicity buzz flying around the paper authored by Economists Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia. In this 92 page report, these economic experts claim to have tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years concluding that the kids with improving test scores had lower teen-pregnancy rates and higher college-enrollment rates than their peers. They also had higher earnings, lived in better neighborhoods, and even saved more for retirement. In a front page article about the paper, The New York Times concludes “test scores help you get more education, and that more education has an earnings effect" (how's that again...test sores do what now?).

It's not too surprising that nobody was quicker to pick up on this paper and trumpet the message from this cherry bit of propaganda than Michelle Rhee and the merry Jesters at StudentsFirst! The ballyhoo from StudentsFirst is as predictable as clockwork! Some kluged report jukes the data to develop erroneous conclusions that dance right into the laps of the Rhee/Duncan/Gates Cabal of reformists and BAM! it happens; you place the stick in their hand, they will bang the drum.

This report is hogwash and StudentsFirst should be ashamed for publicizing it. The authors admit that their conclusions are extrapolated from stale data that was gathered in bulk (not for individuals as the summary leaves readers to believe), run through an analysis tool that is so fraught with statistical noise (individual and often conflicting point-source influence on outcome) that their only conclusion --there is far too much noise to disaggregate (take apart) the most reasonable conclusion-- is that teacher quality HAS to be the driving force for the very gains that they couldn't actually track because it was stale and gathered, after all, in bulk. WTF?

But honesty and integrity are not the norm, nor are they qualities valued by this Reformers' Cabal. Instead, truth is denied, facts are skewed, research (real research - not this 5 and dime tinker-toy variety) is overlooked, and professionals at all levels across the nation are ignored and besmirched.

The agenda of StudentsFirst is to use well crafted rhetoric, propaganda and deceptive practices to create false hysteria, create mythic villains in teachers and unions, project horrific consequences should the fabricated travesty be allowed to continue unchecked, and then (wait for it!) charge in like the Knights in Shining Armor they believe themselves to be, carrying their Shield of Righteous Purpose, picture perfect, jiffy-tailored solution that not only sounds good and gives that ever so needed cozy-snugly feel of good satisfaction, but is hawked and carnival barked as the only effective, critical, and urgent fix, and to not support it dooms he world as we know it to inevitable implosion. By God! reading their agenda you would think StudentsFirst is single-handedly saving every child in every classroom every day from a hideous ordeal in the slash & burn world of the indifferent, self-important, selfish, ineffective teacher!

All StudentsFirst is interested in is changing the game so the new power brokers can continue to coerce states and districts into adopting unproven agendas such that expensive teachers can be arbitrarily, capriciously, and summarily tossed onto the curb like so much rubbish only to be replaced by unproven, untrained, two-year commit-me-not ivy-league Slam-Bam-Thank You Ma'amers.

And all this hinges on some snake oil smoke & mirrors algorithm called Value Added Analysis, which in and of itself hinges on students passing a test nobody has ever seen, nobody has ever ensured is aligned to the hundreds of varied curricula and texts, and not fact checked for accuracy or cognitive appropriateness. It is taken on faith by StudentsFirst and the rest of the Rhee/Duncan/Gates Cabal of reformists that the ENTIRE machine that sets the standards, writes the curriculum, formulates the textbooks, writes the tests, scores the tests is SO seamlessly perfect that all children, regardless of socioeconomic status, family (dis)function, language abilities, learning difficulties, or desire to participate, will excel if it weren't for the incredible prevalence of those damned ineffective teachers.

The most aggravating aspect of the agenda water-boarding perpetrated by the whole Rhee/Duncan/Gates Cabal of reformists is that the American public is either too drunk on their cool-aid, too stupid to understand the realities, or too apathetic to do anything but allow their children to be willingly led to the intellectual slaughter.

Too harsh you say? Ask any child in Florida or anywhere else in America how excited they are to come to school. Ask them how relevant the curriculum is to their lives. Ask them when the last time it was that they engaged in test prep - and for how long. Ask them why they even take the test. Ask them if they feel like the institution is encouraging them to live, learn, and grow according to their (student centric) needs as 21st century learners. You want harsh? Listen to these kids rail on the Bull Shit that is the result of decade of reforms designed by a Cabal of reformists who think that the best way to solve our problems is to use a white-hot blowtorch approach to intensifying the same thinking that created the problems in the first place.

To all the members of the Rhee/Duncan/Gates Cabal of reformists and to Race to the Top as well, you can kiss my ass and the collective asses of kids all across America!

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