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November 03, 2011


Don't worry, Dana. I don't know if anyone takes Mr. Biddle very seriously - I hope they don't. He's a serial "inventor" - he'll invent your position for you in order to lodge his complaints about an issue. Off the top of my head, I can tell you he's done it to me, to Larry Ferlazzo, and to Robert Pondiscio. (I'm not going to bother citing the specific blog posts - they should be rather easy to find if you search Dropout Nation with such specific search terms).

He not only invents your position but from my observation he'll also invent what motivates you to state your position! Why? I don't know because I don't get into speculations. That's just what I've observed in the past 18 months.

I enjoyed this article and learned from it. I like fact vs fiction.

The parsing out of what causes student achievement seems very dubious. What if part of the way that socioeconomic status leads to higher achievement is that parents use it to buy houses in school zones with . . . better teachers? Seems very likely, but there's no way to tell with the usual models.

One way we could figure out how to divvy up responsibility would be to get 500 rich kids and randomly assign half to attend a school with teachers identified as horrible (but otherwise keeping everything else about the school the same, such as peers or school spending), and then compare them to the other rich kids who got to attend their regular school. Then you'd really be able to see how much rich kids were benefiting from being able to buy access to good teachers.

But you'd never be able to do such a study -- no one would sign up.

Stuart, yes I agree it's very difficult to determine what factors affect student achievement and how much. Nevertheless, these estimates and studies are the best work that's been done on the subject. It's also important to point out that all these studies measure student achievement according to test scores, but of course there are other possible measures: high school graduation rates, college attendance, college completion, employment status, etc.

I'll second Mr. Cohen's comments on Biddle, who is a bloviating buffoon, and is not worth efforts such as this. But, I want to thank you because even though doing this for your detractor is truly casting pearls before a swine, this is a gem of information on teacher effects, and I for one find it very informative and useful. I was recently in a discussion about teacher effects with colleagues, and I'm going to copy it to share with them since many were quoting higher effect levels provided by...consultants urging us onto greater academic achievement (that would be...test scores).
As a teacher who has been around for over a decade (and most of that in "failing" schools) I would say the point that studies like these can't express is that they are talking about averages, and aggregated numbers. When you are teaching, no matter how poor the school, you will have some outstanding students (you'll also have some kids struggling at schools in the best neighborhoods too). You can't write off a whole school or a whole class. Also, some kids will have a good year, and some will have a bad year. Sometimes things click and you will overcome whatever is happening in the rest of their life. I admit, I can't predict who will bloom, and who will wilt, so what I try to do is have the humility not to write a kid off, and to ask myself what I can and could do better. But I also have to have the humility to realize that sometimes I'm not going to overcome what's happening outside my classroom for every kid. There is an overwhelming arrogance in saying you can work miracles. I can be pretty arrogant myself, but even I don't have those kind of huevos.

Thank you, Alice, I'm glad you found these sources helpful. Your perspective is so important to hear.

Did you really need to respond to a highly discredited right wing libertarian so self-colonized that he was once fired for racism?


The only folks that take Biddle's blather seriously are the hard core privatizers at places like the astroturf Parent Revolution. They actually quote Biddle's "work" as if it's something from the NEPC, when it's nothing more than rehashed Rand/Freidman fantasies.

Glad you posted such an impressive array of sources. May I suggest Helen F. Ladd recent paper from Duke Sanford School of Public Policy entitled "Education and Poverty: Confronting the Evidence" which pretty much puts Biddle's specious arguments to rest.


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