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Hullabaloo


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

 
Education: Testing the testers
by Tom Sullivan
As someone pointed out the other day, in some circles increased oversight of the police and the military is deemed improper and/or unpatriotic, yet other public employees are fair game. Public school teachers, for instance. Even as tests required under No Child Left Behind come under fire, teachers themselves face increased screening tests using "Big Data, 'Moneyball'-style" tools. As Politico reports, "Prices vary widely, from $5,000 for a small district to $500,000 for a large district, depending on the product."
Are they useful, or just another opportunity for investors to turn kids into cash?
The new screening tools slice and dice aspiring teachers into dozens of data points, from their SAT scores to their appreciation for art to their ability to complete geometric patterns. All that data is then fed into an algorithm that spits out a score predicting the likelihood that each candidate will become an effective teacher — or, at least, will be able to raise students’ math and reading scores.
The tools seek to cut through hiring biases that favor "geographic proximity" or "teachers with last names starting with the letters A through G" because résumés get alphabetized. But critics contend there is no magic formula for revealing who makes the best teacher.
“The search for a formula ... just isn’t realistic, at least not at the present time,” said Gerardo González, dean of the School of Education at Indiana University.
González said he fears that the formula approach, which he calls “reductionist,” will scare bright young people away from the teaching profession at a time when many education colleges already report declining enrollments.
Plus, from what I hear on the ground, teachers fed up with increased bureaucratic micromanagement are leaving the profession, or considering it. With educational versions of Omni Consumer Products flexing their political muscles, that may be the goal. Politico continues:
Another screening tool, Paragon K12, which is sold by Hanover Research, produces an overall score for each applicant, known as the Student Achievement Index. It aims to quantify how likely it is that the candidate will boost student test scores.
Districts using the tool also get a breakdown of each applicant’s performance on measures of general intelligence, extrovertedness, agreeableness, conscientiousness and emotional stability, among others.
You wonder how the NYC Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association would respond to the increased scrutiny.


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