kitchen table math, the sequel: LA Times Teacher Rankings

Friday, August 20, 2010

LA Times Teacher Rankings

Marginal Revolution has a post about the recent LA Times teacher rankings here.

I'm interested to see what the fallout of this will be. Will other towns crunch the same data?

From Alex Tabarraok's commentary from the link:

I don't blame the unions for being up in arms and I feel for the teachers, for some of them this is going to be a shock and an embarrassment. We cannot simultaneously claim, however, that teachers are vitally important for the future of our children and also that their effectiveness should not be measured. As systems like this become more common students will benefit enormously and so will teachers.

They are already finding a few "Beloved Teacher Mrs. X"s who are ending up in the bottom 10%. But, we're told, that's okay, because they teach valuable "critical thinking" skills that are not measured on the tests.


Catherine Johnson said...

Terrific quote from Tabarrok - thanks!

I haven't read the earlier post yet (just back in town) so maybe you've all discussed this.

I was surprised to see an enormously popular teacher came in so low --

Catherine Johnson said...

I left this comment at Marginal Revolution:

There is a great deal of research on effective teaching - and on the importance of ***curriculum*** - that is simply ignored by the education world.

See, e.g., research by Barak Rosenshine.

Or the work of Siegfried Engelmann.

Or the work of Morningside Academy in Seattle, which guarantees parents that their child will make two years of progress in his weakest area in 1 year or tuition is refunded.

The techniques Doug Lemov describes in Teach Like a Champion - an incredible book - are not new. They are simply not taught by education schools.

Lemov's champion teachers had to reinvent the wheel.

Anonymous said...

There has been some interesting discussion and extra pointers to information in the comments on my blog post

TerriW said...

Hey, look, I'm an idiot, this was already posted about. Of course it was -- but how did I miss it? Heh.

Anywhoo, I do like AT's commentary on it, so I'm glad I got that up.

Anonymous said...

"I was surprised to see an enormously popular teacher came in so low"

Well, let me suggest a possibility (by analogy). I don't think that this is what is happening, but still ...

So ... I am becoming convinced that one of the big problems (maybe *the* big problem) that kids have when taking calculus is that it is the very first time they *really* need to understand how real numbers work. The obvious thing to do is to spend more time earlier on working through the weirdness that is the real numbers.

Since I'm homeschooling, we can do this, and I'm not going to freak out if the standard curriculum gets held up (and don't read too much into this ... right now the primary effort is spending time on number systems in a kinda formal way ... kinda).

But, if this is/was a normal school, the time spent on non-standard-curriculum stuff only counts against the measured progress.

Maybe this is happening here. A bit less time spent memorizing vocabulary, a bit more time actually writing.

I don't know, and my guess is, "not", but if a teacher with this good a reputation scores poorly, I'd want to investigate further. It may well be the test.

-Mark Roulo

Allison said...

I had a totally different take on why a beloved teacher would score poorly. I'm not at all surprised that parents can't tell a teacher who raises test scores because by and large, they use happy children as a proxy for a good teacher.

So, a happy child is one that isn't made to feel terrible, isn't having trouble dealing with school or tests or homework, isn't having trouble socially. They feel good. But feelings don't equate to feeling good about accomplishing something academically difficult.

And nearly all children, like nearly all adults, would rather get out of something than be forced out of their comfort zone.

Eating intellectual twinkies and watching movies fits that bill. But it's terrible for the child. However, how would the child know that? If they receive lots of praise and lots of encouragement, but the bar is outrageously low, how would a person not in the classroom day-in-day-out notice?

Allison said...


The world of real numbers is made more weird by teachers never telling students that they've been dealing only with rational numbers. That's a big problem: school math doesn't separate the reals from the rationals at all explicitly, even though they make use of rational numbers to make proofs work. Wu calls it the Fundamental Assumption of School Mathematics, and it's really terrible that high schools don't do more to explicitly clarify the assumption.

I think you're right, that we need to slow down. I'm more and more convinced that acceleration is a dangerous method of trying to improve mathematics ed. But it's an understandable one. Again, parents can't see what a good math program is, so they take as proxy that a child getting to more sophisticated math earlier is a better program. Schools are happy to encourage this notion. We'd be better off teaching a real year of trigonometry, and year of analytic geometry, some number theory, etc. so kids were more familiar with functions, with numbers, with mathematical arguments and giving more time to students to get ready for calc.

Anonymous said...

"The world of real numbers is made more weird by teachers never telling students that they've been dealing only with rational numbers."

At the risk of hijacking this thread, I don't think the kids even *really* understand rationals. I'll risk getting things wrong, but rationals have continuity and that is just *weird*. Rationals aren't just "very small integers", which is how I think most kids think of them.

I'm obsessing about this right now (and didn't learn *any* if it in school). I was so happy to figure out why you can't diagonalize reals (and why you *can* diagonalize a subset of them)! It isn't hard to understand or explain, but no one every *did* explain it to me!

-Mark R.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not at all surprised that parents can't tell a teacher who raises test scores because by and large, they use happy children as a proxy for a good teacher."

Could be. Growing up, my parents (and my friend's parents) tended to not use "happy child" as a proxy. If we were complaining about how hard the teachers were, this was usually considered a good sign by the parents.

But that demographic could easily be a minority. Or old fashioned.

-Mark Roulo

Allison said...

I didn't learn about continuity until AP calculus (I assume that's common.) So I never had time to even think about whether or not it was weird. by then, continuity was only about "does differentiability imply continuity? does continuity imply continuity?" I had to know the answer to that--but I didn't have to think about it.

That was a problem when I became a college student trying to handle my first analysis course. I hated it,
because it just seemed that every question was just asking whether you'd thought of some weird enough example to prove or disprove some bizarre property of some bizarre set of numbers. I had no idea that there were *reasons* to be forced to think about these properties, and that I actually needed to rethink everything I'd learned to really understand division, exponentiation, polynomial division, etc.

Anonymous said...

"I didn't learn about continuity until AP calculus (I assume that's common.)"

I was *taught* about continuity in calculus. I'm pretty confident that I didn't *learn* it. And I'm also quite confident that this is common. I learned how to grind the symbols, but didn't really understand the machinery underneath. I also stalled out on my math education at calculus. I don't think this is a coincidence.

Question: Are the computable reals complete? It seems that they should be.

[You can see my obsession manifesting itself]

-Mark Roulo

BJCefola said...

Could be a coincidence but the Oregon Department of Education web site appears swamped...

ChemProf said...

I think the "happy kids = good teacher" logic is common. Her students were well above average at the beginning of the year (80th percentile) and were still above average at the end of the year, so presumably this is one of the "better" elementary schools in the district.

When I was in fourth grade, there were two fourth grade teachers. One was very sweet and beloved, but didn't push her students. The other was tough and strict, but did tons of science and really pushed her class. My mother asked for the tougher teacher for me and for my sister, but she was definitely in the minority. The other teacher was by far more popular with parents.

Cranberry said...

I think the teacher effectiveness data should be studied in depth. The third grade teacher cited as particularly ineffective was teaching future teachers. The more effective teacher down the hall was not perceived as a superstar--and had even felt like a pariah because her expectations were "too demanding."

Is it too much to ask for education schools to try to determine what makes an effective teacher?

California Teacher said...

Here are a couple of blog posts over at scienceblogs (Mike the Mad Biologist) that discuss the math used in the model. Fair warning: he takes strong issue with it!

first post:

Then he read Buddin's report and followed up with this:

Incidentally, I noticed someone referred to the paper as a RAND paper. While Richard Buddin is a RAND economist, he was hired to do the research independently. So RAND itself is not credited with the report.

Lsquared said...

Sorry, more hijacking, it's the inner mathematician that made me do it.

Marc said:
rationals have continuity

Functions are usually described as continuous. It makes sense to ask whether a function from rationals to rationals is continuous; it doesn't make sense to ask whether a function from integers to integers is continuous. Yes. Cool.

Sets aren't usually called continuous, they are either connected or not connected. The rationals are not connected. (This is related to the classifications that the rationals are not closed--for instance there is a sequence of rationals that converges to pi, but pi isn't rational.)

Marc later said something about completeness. Complete means that any polynomial you can write with coefficients in the set (rational numbers, for instance) has it's roots in the set. That means you have to include some complex numbers in order to get completeness (x^2+1=0 has roots i and -i). If you're looking for a complete set of numbers that's smaller than the complex numbers, you're probably looking for the set called "algebraic numbers". It doesn't include pi (so it doesn't include all of the reals), but it does include i (for example).

OK--end of random math blurb.