Arnold Kling  

I Don't Get This

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Billy Beane Arbitrage... From National Affairs...

Nancy Folbre writes,


Indeed, research by the economists Eric Hanushek and Steven Rifkin -- both advocates of school reform -- indicates that neither teachers' own test scores when they were students nor their educational credentials explain much of the variation in their students' outcomes. Why judge teachers narrowly on a set of outcomes that are not even predictive of their own success?

Pointer from Mark Thoma.

What I don't get is the last sentence. Imagine we were talking about doctors and the question was whether to evaluate them based on patient outcomes. Suppose that the success of doctors was unrelated to their own health. Would you then say, "Why judge doctors narrowly on the health of their patients, when doctors' own health is not predictive of their own success?"

Are student test scores a noisy indicator of teacher quality? Absolutely.

Should the evaluation of teachers be undertaken by remote technocrats? Absolutely not.

Would getting rid of the worst teachers improve student outcomes? Possibly. I believe that is Hanushek's big idea. Again, I am skeptical that any intervention has provable, long-term consequences that can be widely replicated.

I think that the best way to get rid of the worst teachers(short of full-on vouchers with no government-run schools) would be to de-consolidate school districts, which would shift the balance of power toward parents and away from school administrators and teachers' unions.

In my opinion, the large school district is one of the most anti-libertarian institutions in the United States today.


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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Becky Hargrove writes:

Schools have caused us to devalue our own knowledge when it cannot be applied monetarily. Because no one believes skills count if no job is in the offing, the only incentive to learn is when a love of learning has not been broken. Independent bookstores close down, while textbooks cannot even get to the classrooms in time for the new semester.

If we dismissed with the idea of schools and made virtual local universities of individual skills, people would once again learn to value, and validate, what the individual has to offer. And bookstores might even have a chance or returning to the south.

Arnie writes:

Union teachers are too protected. Private schools just dismiss teachers, even after many years trying to work with them. This is no perfect solution, since the replacement might be weak as well. However, in a unionized setting, that first weak teacher harms an entire generation or two.

JoshInHb writes:

Why judge teachers narrowly on a set of outcomes that are not even predictive of their own success?...What I don't get is the last sentence. Imagine we were talking about doctors and the question was whether to evaluate them based on patient outcomes.

The obvious, yet disturbing, implication is that teachers just don't matter that much to educational outcomes.

Which, if you consider it, is exactly what teachers say indirectly by opposing any form of merit pay and insisting on union representation best suited to mindless assembly line work.

Further, poor educational outcomes are explained by teachers as being caused by the students family, social group, geographical area and poor school management. But never because of teacher performance.

jsalvatier writes:

I haven't read the rest of the article, but it seems to me that sentence can easily be interpreted as saying "teacher scores and credentials don't predict student scores, so we shouldn't judge teachers on their scores when they were students or their credentials since they don't seem to influence what we care about".

Aaron writes:

Only problem I can think of with the small school districts is rampant nepotism. Most of the hires around here are either relatives or very close friends with the person doing the hiring. Not that it doesn't happen to some extent in the larger school districts, but the person doing the hiring only has so many friends and relatives looking to teach. In a small enough school district (like mine), all open positions might end up in a certain family.

Bill Hocter writes:

I think the writer is trying to say that perhaps test scores aren't very important as a judge of life time success. The reasoning is circular- identify successful teachers because their students have good test scores. Then notice that the test scores of the teachers don't predict their success as teachers based on the test scores of their students.

It would be possible to infer several possible conclusions from this:

1. Test scores don't matter in general for predicting lifetime success.

2. Teaching is different from other endeavors in such a way that test scores don't matter for future teachers.

3. Good test scores are an artifact of something else (e.g., IQ)that actually predict success. Thus teachers don't matter.Test scores don't matter either except as markers of already existing facts.

I don't necessarily believe any of these conclusions, but think it may add clarity to what the writer was trying to say.

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