Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Measure Outputs Not Inputs

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

In today’s Washington Post, the editorial page includes An Education Stimulus? It describes some benefits that education is slated to receive under President Obama’s stimulus plan. Many of these are sure to drive conservatives a little bit crazy.

  • …it seems that much of the billions of dollars of new federal spending is aimed at continuing programs and policies that largely have failed to improve student achievement.
  • The plan … proposes to more than double the current budget of the Education Department, with $150 billion of new federal spending over two years.
  • States facing budget shortfalls would be able to tap into $79 billion to avoid layoffs and other education cuts.
  • For the first time, the federal government would play a significant role in the repair and construction of schools.

And then I read this

Nonetheless, Congress will not be getting its money’s worth unless it insists on real reforms in what students are expected to learn and how teachers are compensated. Instead of offering extra money to states for doing what they should be doing under current law, why not put in place tough new national standards and demand that states meet them to get money?

Except for the concept of national standards, this reminds me of No Child Left Behind, a bi-partisan piece of legislation that liberals progressives bashed Bush with over and over. NCLB left it to states to develop their own standards; the reason for this is the 10th Amendment.

Interestingly, FairTest.org’s Joint Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act has this to say about NCLB

Overall, the law’s emphasis needs to shift from applying sanctions for failing to raise test scores to holding states and localities accountable for making the systemic changes that improve student achievement.

Now, unless I’m reading things totally wrong, the Post is proposing something that is at odds with the FairTest.org. I’m with the Post on this one. What the Joint Statement is saying, in so many words, is

Don’t Measure Outputs. Measure Inputs (or Intentions or Changes) Instead

This is a classical problem with trying to develop performance goals for non-profit entities such as governments. One reason why these non-profit entities gravitate toward an “unbalanced scorecard” (i.e., unbalanced in the sense that it is dominated by inputs) is that obtaining the measures for inputs is frequently much easier than obtaining the measures for outputs. Who wants to do all that testing?

Here’s what we know. If the stimulus plan floods big education with twice as much money, and if inputs only are measured, you can be sure that the winners will be teachers and bureaucrats, and the losers, unfortunately, will be our children.

Highbeams in Hawaii

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

This past Sunday’s Washington Post had an article with the title Despite Agreement, Hawaii Teachers Resist Drug Testing. The article had this lead-in

Hawaii public school teachers signed off on first-in-the-nation statewide random drug testing in exchange for pay raises, but now the state claims the educators are trying to take the money and run.

The teachers approved the pact nearly two years ago, and so far have received about 11 percent in raises. But not a single teacher has been tested. It is claimed that such testing is an invasion of privacy.

The teacher’s union would like to limit random testing to only a subset of teachers: those that accompany students on field trips, those that work with special education students, those with frequent absences, and those with criminal records. The union says it would agree with drug testing where there is a reason to suspect drug use. According to the Executive Director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association

Random testing isn’t going to suddenly increase test scores. This is a huge distraction from how to make our schools better.

I agree. However, the same could be said about teacher pay increases, or an increase in the administrator/teacher ratio, but I don’t hear the teacher’s unions saying this. Random testing is not about improving education; it’s about the public interest, just like it is for Honolulu’s trash collectors, treatment plant workers, and grounds keepers, all of which are subject to random testing.

The article says that only a few districts nationwide have random testing. Kentucky seems to have a high concentration of these programs. One district in Kentucky wanted to test students that participated in extracurricular activities. Someone suggested that teachers should be held to the same standard. Sounds reasonable to me.

West Virginia’s Kanawha County (Charleston) recently voted to institute random testing, but this is being challenged in the courts. The same is true of New York’s Patchogue-Medford School District. The Court of Appeals in the Patchogue-Medford case, in invalidating the district’s plans, stated

…by restricting the government to reasonable searches, the state and federal constitutions recognize that there comes a point at which searches intended to serve the public interest, however effective, may themselves undermine the public’s interest in maintaining the privacy, dignity and security of its members.

But, I wonder, why have the testing programs for Honolulu’s trash collectors, treatment plant workers, and grounds keepers not been invalidated? Is it possible that these workers are in lower socio-economic groups than the teachers, with fewer resources to launch lawsuits? Are their unions less powerful?  Are the trash, water, and grass more precious than our school children? Are trash collectors, treatment plant workers, and grounds keepers simply “suspected” of more frequent drug use than, say, teachers, simply because of their vocation? Does this last suggestion sound unfair or unfounded? It is simply the converse of an argument against testing of teachers, offered by an assistant general counsel for the National Education Association

Few if any teachers test positive, because it’s not something that people who go into teaching do. It’s not part of the teaching culture. It’s an expensive program, and the money can be better spent reducing class sizes or providing needed resources.

Oh, really? The fact that Hawaii had experience to the contrary was the motivation for the random testing program in the first place. According to the article

The showdown over teacher drug testing arose from the highly publicized arrests of six state Education Department employees in unrelated drug cases over a six-month period. One, Leilehua High School special education teacher … pleaded guilty to selling more than $40,000 worth of crystal methamphetamine to an undercover agent.

So, in Hawaii’s experience, at least some teachers were on the bomb squad. For at least some teachers, the first period of the day was wake ‘n’ bake. At least some teachers had a preference for Methlies Quik.

A Teacher Would Never Sell Meth, Right?

A Teacher Would Never Sell Meth, Right?

If trash collectors, treatment plant workers, and grounds keepers are subject to random testing, why not teachers? The union’s arguments don’t convince me. If one, why not the other?