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Duncan Disses Golden State's Data 'Fire Wall'


Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has added more tough talk to his stump speech.

Just yesterday, he urged states to strike down laws that prohibit them from using data systems to link individual teachers to student outcomes.

Today he hit that theme again, singling out California's law, which he said makes it impossible to figure out which of the state's educators and practices are effective.

At a breakfast with reporters in Washington, he called the Golden State law a "fire wall. ... This thing is a huge, huge barrier. ... We've got to tear down this fire wall."

Not being able to link student and teacher data, Duncan said, makes it tough to pinpoint which of California's educators are the top performers and which "should find another line of work."

And about half an hour later, he used very similar language to, yet again, rail against California's law at an event surrounding the release of a Carnegie report on math and science education. My colleague Sean Cavanagh already has blogged about this over at Curriculum Matters.

(If you're looking for some good background, my colleague, Steve Sawchuk of Teacher Beat fame, sketched out the political dynamics around the data system issue in this story.)

My guess is that the first thing California has to do if it wants a piece of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund is scrap that data law. It sounds like the state could sure use the money. And, California Democrat and Education Committee Chairman Rep. George Miller is with Duncan on this one.

Other odds and ends from the events:

*After giving a speech at Carnegie, Duncan said he will consider ways to urge districts to make science an important part of the school day. He's worried about how the subject fits into the "narrowing of curriculum" issue.

*At the reporters' breakfast, Duncan mentioned that, in his "listening tour" on the No Child Left Behind Act, he's heard teachers, particularly young teachers, complain about the quality of the training they've received at their colleges of education.

*Also, at the reporters' round table, Duncan answered the million-dollar question: Yes, he's played basketball with President Barack Obama since the new administration has come into office. And no, he won't tell us where they've played.


If he wants to tie data to how effective teachers are in the classroom, then he better also take a look at the funding issue. We are under state takeover due to fiscal mismanagement (we were given a 60 million dollar loan, which the District needs to pay back). Due to the fiscal difficulties the state is currently facing, we will be losing millions. This is going to mean larger class sizes, less resources, and potential cuts in pay and benefits. (We are currently one of the lowest paid Districts in the state as well.)

Compare the fiscal reality of my District with that of Novato, one of several cities that recently passed a parcel tax in order to save programs and teaching positions.

In the 8 years that I have worked in my District, I have seen the loss of counselors at middle schools, loss of programs, such as Drama and other art programs at high schools and a virtual elimination of history and science at the elementary level.

When people want to tie test scores to teacher effectiveness, they often are comparing apples to oranges.

Okay, so Duncan thinks individual teacher-student record linkage is robust enough to evaluate teachers. What does the head of IES (John Easton) think?

Can we all get along if the footnote to this "Mr. Sanchez, tear down this data (fire)wall" speech is using multiple measures of teacher effectiveness?

Tying students to teachers in order to "find" good or bad students is an idea that only works in a lab. Teachers and students are human beings, not parts in a factory.

There'll be more reporting, more explaining, more bureaucracy, more money spent on non-teaching and (in the end), more "teaching to the tests", more apathy and waste as the control of the classroom gets further and further from teachers.

... it's human nature.

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