Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Teacher Tea Leaf Reports on SchoolCrock: An Explanation

SchoolCrock has published the teacher tea leaf reports using a new tool that was created by interactive journalists at The New Hack Times and WNLIC. The goal of the tool: to make the tea leaves easier to understand and put the prophecies into context.

The tool can be found on Web pages created for every school whose teachers’ prophecies were released on Friday by the city’s Department of Testucation. You can find those pages by typing in a school name in the box on the left.
You will find a wealth of tea leaf reports on that page, starting with an overall snapshot of the school, as told by the percentage of teachers at that school whose leaves from herbal or black tea were “above average” or high — two of the city’s five prophecy categories. You’ll also be able to see how that compares to schools across the city.
Below those school tea leaf reports are the names of individual teachers, grouped by grade. The complete tea leaf report listed with the teachers’ names are the prophecies, meaning that teacher’s place when compared to other teachers like her or him, on a scale of 0 to 99.
A teacher can have up to four rankings for each grade taught: for black teas during the 2009-10 school year, black tea career, herbal teas in 2009-10 and herbal tea career. Career prophecies are based on one to five years of tea leaves.
The leaves are situated along a black line. That line indicates the margin of error for that teacher’s prophecy. A fuller divination, and an example, can be found on each school’s page.
Clicking on a teacher’s name brings up additional foretellings: the amount of coffee grounds in the cup the prophesy is based on; an “expected” divination based on images manifest in the clouds; and the actual average tarot card readings of those students. Tarot card readings are reported as standard deviations above/below the citywide mean.
The difference between the expected divination and the actual divination is considered the “value added” by the teacher.
One more piece of foretelling can be included with a teacher’s listing: his or her response or explanation of the ranking, as submitted to SchoolCrock. We encourage teachers to add their responses.
A module that allows you to search by teacher name is also on that page.
For more information, see our FAQ (Frequently Avoided Questions).
In creating this tool, SchoolCrock decided to showcase only the most recent and career prophecies, since we agree with many critics that the older tea leaves are less useful. We wanted to make clear the margin of error, since one of the weaknesses of these prophecies is the large margins. And we wanted to put every collection of tea leaves in the context of the school and expected divinations.
All of the leaves were provided by the city’s Department of Testucation (prophecies for teachers in charter schools and District 75 are expected to be released on Tuesday). A team of journalists spent several hours verifying the tea leaves, dealing with anomalies, searching for missing tea cups and making sure everything foretold as planned before posting it on our site.
We are interested in your feedback. You can add your thoughts in the comment section below or e-mail us at

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Rather than Choosing "Best" Teacher, Parents Should Seek Best Match

I have another guest post up, this one over at Nacy Flanagan's Education Week blog, Teacher in a Strange Land. In it, I respond to the matter of letting parents choose their children's teachers.

Check it out.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Legislating to the Test

Recently, the Virginia Senate passed a bill that would eliminate the 3rd grade SOL (Standards of Learning) Tests in Science and Social Studies. That means less standardized testing! As a Virginia public school parent, I should be thrilled, right? Not necessarily.

See my post on this over at The Core Knowledge Blog.

Charter or Traditional: Making Kids Play Musical Schools Is Wrong

Here's a composite of conversations I've had with other education folks (and myself) about charter schools:

Q: Are you in favor of or against charter schools?

A: Well, I'd rather we didn't feel the need to have them in the first place. I have what I think are valid concerns about segregation, isolation, inequity, and denying appropriate and accessible education to special needs and ELL students.

Q: Okay, but they're here. Would you rather have them all closed and go back to the structure we had?

A: No, no. I acknowledge they're here to stay, for the foreseeable future at least. But if their existence is a reality, I'd rather they be community and educator-initiated, under the umbrella of and accountable to the districts and communities where they're located with no profit motive (as Chad Sansing describes here).

Q: Well, charters sometimes form because the home district is too rigid and too dysfunctional. Look at DC. Charters formed their own system entirely apart from DCPS precisely because they were fleeing the dysfunction of DCPS. Then charters grew in part because people got even more turned off by Rhee-form.

A: Yes, yes, I understand that. And I understand it's much easier to say, well, make the traditional district better, more responsive, than it is for that to actually happen any time soon. How long must families wait for that to occur? Now I get to ask a question: What happens when charter schools are largely unsuccessful according to the current accountability schemes with the same population the traditional, home district seemed to fail with?

I'll answer my own question. If we're just going to judge schools' success or necessity according to (in many cases poorly conceived) standardized test scores then it doesn't matter, if they're charter or traditional, we're not going to know how successful or unsuccessful any school is in improving the quality and meaning of the education for the students they are supposed to serve.

This is why I am against closing charter schools based on test scores, just as I am against closing neighborhood based on test scores. There is so much else to consider. The IDEA Public Charter School in DC serves students at-risk for dropping out. It faces closure. The school has been around for ten years. I've never stepped foot in the school, so I don't know what or how much those students are learning. I don't know if they're getting the best and most appropriate and meaningful education possible under the circumstances. Maybe they are, maybe they aren't. Maybe it should be closed, maybe it shouldn't. But test scores alone most certainly don't tell me that either.

Just as when a neighborhood school closes, when a charter school that has become a fixture in a community, that the community is largely satisfied with, that fills a need that other schools don't, is closed, it will have a very negative effect on the student population and the community it serves. And what will then replace it?

Disruption as a goal is not a positive one for education. I don't care what kind of school they're in, kids and their families, especially those with enough disruption, crisis, and loss in their lives already, shouldn't be forced to play musical schools to the tune of "Get Those Test Scores Up." If that's our idea of reforming education, we're in big trouble.