Thursday, March 18, 2010
The Rambo Escalantes Model
Even despite heaps of evidence that the achievement gap in American schools has more to do with socioeconomics, plenty of so called reform-advocates continue to blame it all on poor teaching and the unions that supposedly stick up for it. To further illustrate that this problem is structural, specifically in so far as achievement gaps have more to do with socio-economics than anything else, take a look at the website School Performance Maps.
Basically, it asks you to pick a state, and then plots individual school API (Academic Performance Index) on a google map. Take your pick from any area of the country and you'll see the index line up perfectly with the socioeconomics of the region.
Part of it is that objectively more qualified teachers are not attracted to low-performing schools. But that in itself is complicated. For one, the job is just different. Some people thrive on the challenge of teaching tough schools, and seek them out. Others would fail miserably if given the chance, yet might excel in a higher SES school, possibly even outperforming those more comfortable in a low-SES setting.
Pay-for-performance models' main weakness - and this has been understood for decades - is that in an uneven system, it's very difficult to establish a reliable measure of true performance. I can guarantee you that getting 30 middle class 9th grade history students to move X # of points in a year is considerably easier than getting poor students to do the same.
Great teachers might do it. The Rambo Escalantes. But that's no way to set up a workable model. It's idiotic. There are over 3 million teachers in the US. That supposedly intelligent people looking at the issue aren't getting this is frightening. And while they fiddle, real kids lives are at risk.
We can insist on accountability, standards, and even find a way to do incentives properly. But to propose any of that as actual meaningful reform is absurd. We need to pull way back and examine broader economic and social issues that have been dogging us ever since enlightenment.