Who Stole Michael Winerip’s Brain?

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And what to make of his column today in the New York Times, which begins by complaining that there’s consensus among Democrats and Republicans regarding the need for public education reform? He follows with a whine about how we’re moving in the direction of using statistical models to measure teacher effectiveness and student growth and then the rest of the column comprises a list of education reform advocates who happened to go to private secondary schools. Huh? Aha – got it. If you went to private school then you’re a clandestine Hedge Fund Manager, the scourge of pure-of-heart-ed-reactionaries who deride the use of value-added models to evaluate anything.

(Isn’t this dismissal of VAM’s a sort of Luddistic innumeracy? It’s like the 1920’s skeptics of automobiles standing on the curb and shouting, “get a horse!” Value-added models are in their infancy – the Tin Lizzies of the car industry – but we’ll get to Honda Civics eventually.)

Anyway, back to Mr. Winerip’s catalogue. He asks his readers, “Do [ed reformers’ attendance at private schools] make them distrust public schools — or even worse — poison their perception of them? Your call.” His list includes the high schools attended by Bill Gates, President Obama, and Steven Brill (writer of the brilliant Rubber Room piece in the New Yorker, which exposed NYC’s practice of paying teachers to sit around all day because tenure laws made them impossible to fire).

How about private college? Does attendance at, say, Princeton instead of Rutgers poison one’s perception of public higher education? Better ask Diane Ravitch, graduate of Wellsley, or the New York Times auteur himself, Mr. Winerip, who went to Harvard. That disqualification is as silly as his.

Correction: I spelled “Wellesley” incorrectly. Oops! (I went to public el-hi and college.)

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2 Comments

  • kallikak, April 19, 2011 @ 2:38 am Reply

    Temper, temper.

    Isn't the real beef against current VAM models that they don't address the key statistical issues of false positives and negatives with the acuity necessary when peoples' jobs are on the line?

    P.S. Diane Ravitch is a Wellesley Woman? I should have known.

  • A. Gad Fly, April 19, 2011 @ 4:54 pm Reply

    No Luddite here.

    Aren't schools like industrial age factories where productivity can be conveniently quantified?

    Just add some statistical adjustments – pretty simple, really. We'll have that Toyota Prius humming right-quick, so long as we are not innumerate. There are consultants that can do this.

    Then we'll know whom to fire, and the stellar remaining staff will happily compensate for all the damage done by conditions outside the classroom.

    If anyone thinks that's unfair, hey, life's tough all over. Get with the program. It's the new social order in the 21st century.

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