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updates for 09.27.2011

6 new posts today

Indisputable proof that NYC school closings based on statistically invalid metrics

I knew that if I had enough patience the corporate reformers would eventually let slip some data which would prove, once and for all, how unscientific are the metrics they've been using to shut down schools. That day came earlier this week. I'll encourage anyone to recheck my calculations, just in case, but if I've found what I think I've found, it will be the 'death blow' to the New York City 'value-added' model they use to rate and close down schools. Schools are shut down for getting multiple years of poor progress reports. The progress reports are what give schools their letter grades, A, B, C, D, and F. The way the progress reports are calculated are as follows: 15% is based on school environment, 25% is based on student performance, and the majority 60% is based on something called student progress. This is defined by the DOE in the guidebook as

I. Student Progress (60 points): measures how individual students’ proficiency on state ELA and math exams has changed in the past year, as they move from one grade to the next. The Progress Report measures individual students’ growth on state English and Math tests using growth percentiles, which compare a student’s growth to the growth of all students in the City who started at the same level of proficiency the year before. A student's growth percentile is a number between 0 and 100, which represents the percentage of students with the same score on last year's test who scored the same or lower than the student on this year's test. To evaluate the school, the Progress Report uses the median adjusted growth percentile. The metric is calculated for all students and for students in each school’s lowest third, in both ELA and mathematics. Each of these four metrics counts for 15 points.
The premise is that since it is unfair to blame a school for getting kids with low starting scores, they want to measure the 'growth' or how the school 'moves' students. So what they do for each student is take his starting score and ending score. Then they check all the other students in the state who had the same starting score and calculate out what percent of those students this student did better than on the test a year later. Then they take the median of all the students and that becomes the schools student progress score (they do it with math and English and then also with math and English for lowest third of students) and this becomes the student progress score which makes up 60% of the progress report which determines if the school gets an A, B, C, D, or F, and which can lead to the school being shut down. New York City just released the progress report database for the 2010 to 2011 school year. To see how good of a statistic this 'progress' metric is, I though I'd compare how different elementary and middle schools did when they were scored in the 2009 to 2010 school year. Both files, if you want to re-check my calculations, are available here. Now, I always suspected that this number didn't really measure much. When I got the two databases, I sorted the 1,100 schools by this progress score from lowest to highest for both years. Then I combined the databases to see how the schools had changed relative position in a one year time. If this metric was at all reliable, there would be some kind of correlation between the two numbers. So a school that was 100th from the bottom in 2009-2010 would probably be pretty close to that number in 2010-2011. After all, they've got mostly the same students and mostly the same teachers so there shouldn't be a major difference. So after I got all my data sorted out, I made my scatter plot and instead of getting the linear correlation that one would expect, I got this: As anyone can see, there is absolutely no correlation between the two years. A summary of some of the main results: Out of 1,100 schools 266 moved under 100 spots. 218 moved between 100 and 200 spots. 164 moved between 200 and 300 spots. 127 moved between 300 and 400 spots. 96 moved between 400 and 500 spots. 84 moved between 500 and 600 spots. 75 moved between 600 and 700 spots. 40 moved between 700 and 800 spots. 24 moved between 800 and 900 spots. 8 moved between 900 and 1000 spots. 6 moved between 1000 and 1100 spots. So over 60% of the schools moved over 200 spots in one year! To me, this is the most rock-solid proof that this metric is completely unreliable. Schools just don't get that much better or that much worse in one school year. My hope is that some people will independently confirm my calculations. I checked the individual school progress reports for some of the outliers, just to make sure that I hadn't made some horrible error that you can only make with a computer. All the data is right there on their website. If I'm correct in all my calculations, this would mean that the entire progress report system is a farce and many schools have been unnecessarily shut down and communities have had to suffer the unnecessary shame that goes with a school being shut down.

Give them chores

Let's talk about the number of times I've had this exact talk with a parent: Me: "Your child needs to improve something. She/he is not turning in homework/getting good grades/staying for tutoring/whatever." Parent: "What?! That is ridiculous. Child, you know you don't have to do anything else at home. You don't have to cook. You don't have to do dishes. You don't have to clean. You don't have to take care of siblings. You don't have to make your bed. I do all of that for you so that all you have to do is study. What could possibly be going wrong?" Without fail, the child is sitting there silently, head slightly bowed, with nothing to do but wait until they finish getting berated. I've watched this go down about six million times, and never once has it resulted in even the slightest bit of change. No child has ever responded, "Oh, Mommy, I'm so terribly sorry! You're right, I am blessed with no chores and can't believe I've wasted my free time with anything but studying!" I'm not sure the parents' purpose in saying this. Do you really think your child was unclear of the chore situation and is now about to appreciate it? Or are you just trying to prove to me that you're a great parent? If you want to accomplish either of those goals, I actually have some advice: start making your kids do chores. Stop yelling at them to appreciate you, because I've watched it over and over and I promise it never works.  Stop spoiling them with free time, since they'll actually get better at managing their time if you give them more to do. Teach them some responsibility and teach them some time management. It'll be awesome for everyone. In the mean time, please don't mind me rolling my eyes while you put on this ridiculous show for the teacher.


"But I do love the kids."

Normally when I hear people say the phrase "but I do love the kids" it is following a whole lot of complaining about the school, the job, the administration, TFA, and whatever else you can imagine. I am guilty of doing that myself. But putting everything else aside, I LOVE the kids. Love them. Today, right before 3rd period, one of my 5th period kiddies wandered into my room. He told me "I got switched into 3rd period." Kids at our school get switched around classes a lot for reasons both known and unknown to me, so I had no problem believing him. Turns out, he didn't get switched into 3rd period, he was just avoiding going to English class. I asked him why he didn't want to go to English, and he told me he is failing. His English teacher is another TFAer at our school, so I figured I would pry a little bit deeper. He told me some little tale about how he had lost his book, and he was losing points for not having it every day blah blah. I figured that wasn't REALLY why he was failing, but I offered to talk to his teacher for him to try to figure out what he could do. And talk to his teacher I did, and I think we are going to find a way to get him on track to pass. So what does this have to do with loving my kids? What I realized today was that I don't spend enough time telling them how much I care about them and love them and would do anything for them. And I would. It makes my day every single time a kid calls me "OG Kaplan" (short for original gangster) or walks into my room in between classes just to say hi or yells at me in the hallway. I love them, and they have no idea. I am not warm and fuzzy at all. At ALL. But the kids need to know that I not only want them to do well because I want them to do well in school, but I also want them to do well because I care about them as people. And I want to help them have more reasons every single day to be proud of themselves. Amidst the pacing guides, chunk tests, released items, tutoring, grading, exit tickets, checking homework, bellringers, and everything else that happens in a day, I often forget to stop and think about each kid and what I love about them. I am lucky enough to get to spend all day with these GREAT kids, and I need to find a way to let them know that I feel that way. So here's to stopping and remembering that we are teaching kids, not scores, and that it is worth weeks or months of struggle just to see the look on my kid's face who studied so hard this unit after doing really poorly on unit 1 when he gets a 102 on his unit 2 test. And hopefully the note I sent home to his parents telling them how great he is doing made those weeks of hard work worth it for him too.


Check out this inspirational story of a corps member who wouldn't give up

I know we featured this post in our sliders on the homepage and sent it out through our social media on Twitter and Facebook, but it really is a great story.  If you haven't read it yet, this post is a must read from a Delta CM on why he stayed in TFA, even though everything seemed to be going wrong.

For first years who are struggling and on the verge of leaving their position as I was this time last year, find someone with whom you can relate to and share your hopes and dreams- both in-progress and realized, dashed or otherwise. This person could be your PD/MTLD (officially or unofficially), your current roommate or institute buddy, a colleague from school or even someone who doesn’t teach and is indifferent towards TFA, but cares about you and your well-being. Whoever it may be, just don’t suffer in silence alone. Take the time to talk it out, so you can work it out.

New Blog

Friends, I can't tell you how much I appreciate you following my story over the past two years as a teacher at Todd County High School in Mission, South Dakota. Many days, it was this space that helped me move forward. I'm no longer a teacher at TCHS, but I'm continuing The Work back in Texas with the Stelos Alliance. I'd be honored if you kept up with my new story over at my new blog: Running Through Fire - the name was inspired by the Sicangu Lakota. I'll be telling my Story there from now on - so subscribe via RSS or email (the upper right-hand side of the Running Through Fire page) and let's continue on together. I'd also very much appreciate you looking into the work I'm doing with the Stelos Alliance. You can also follow us on Twitter and Facebook. Onward, Reagan


six weeks

6 weeks down.  Where to even start?!  I think I'll do bullets again:

  • I've realized that I'm VERY reflective and solutions-oriented.  Annoyingly so.  I can't state a problem without immediately going into "I just need to do _____" or "I should start ______".
  • constant teacher-parent communication is a good thing, but it can really backfire. I have a few helicopter parents who are constantly asking why their child didn't do well on this or that, and it almost makes me feel guilty for giving a student a grade they deserve. I can't let them bully me or ruin my mood, though.
  • my elbow is double-jointed, and sometimes when I'm talking and gesturing, my students start to look at me funny, and I realize that my arm is bent at an unnatural angle.  It's kind of fun to freak them out, but it's distracting to them, so I'll have to stop :).
  • I don't really have a big goal, and I should get one.  right now my kids love me and want to do well to impress me, but I need to have something more substantial to keep their motivation afloat.
  • I want to decorate my classroom for fall.
  • I still don't have any money, and credit card debt isn't very fun.
  • I easily lose touch of the big picture and get caught up in the un-fun details of the day.  Talking to my mom on the phone snaps me out of it.
  • Some of the other teachers are going to start line-dancing after school.  I'm joining them this week.
  • I'm learning to avoid negative people and seek out positive people at school, and I'm starting to make friends with the other teachers!
  • I'm getting better at taking care of myself.  I'm gradually furnishing my bedroom like a grownup.
Here's to week 7!

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