Archives for category: Humor

When Arne Duncan was Secretary of Education, he touted the idea that every student should be college ready. There has been considerable debate about which was Arne’s most memorable utterance. Some say it was his claim that Hurricane Katrina “was the best thing that ever happened to the schools of New Orleans,” despite the deaths of over 1,000 people. Others think it was his crack that the reason suburban moms hated Common Core was because it showed that their child was “not as brilliant” as they thought. The Common Core, he believed, was the key to “College and Career” readiness, and it was never to soon to start.

My favorite line is his statement when he visited a New York City public elementary school and said, “I want to be able to look into the eyes of a second-grader and know that he was on track to go to college.” It seemed to me that the typical second grader would have more immediate concerns and dreams (a cowboy? A fireman? An astronaut? A doctor?  A prince or princess?).

Our blog poet, SomeDAM Poet, wrote here:

College Ready in Kindergarten

College Ready in Kindergarten
Bachelor’s in First
PhD in Second grade
A life that’s well rehearsed

Today I did something I had never done before.

I went to Coney Island, the fabled beach on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in Brooklyn, to watch the Polar Bears Club take their annual New Year’s Day plunge. The Polar Bears have been doing this since 1903.

The weather was pretty good. About 40 degrees, but a strong wind was occasionally gusting, making it seem colder. Thousands of people were there like me as spectators. At least a thousand people were there in bathing suits and zany costumes to take the plunge. There were Vikings, old and young women in bikinis, a group of four people dressed in French costumes like a Marcel Marceau troupe of mimes with painted faces.

I managed to get to the front of the line, so I could get a good view and take pictures. I posted many on Twitter.

It was a riotous, hilarious, joyous experience. People of every race, religion, ethnicity, dressed in funny costumes, having the time of their lives as they prepared to take a plunge into frigid waters. They were accompanied by cheering crowds, smiles, laughter, and a dozen or so drummers beaming out a thump, thump, thump on big steel drums, as waves of scantily clad bathers headed for the Atlantic.

It’s moments like this when I love America, love living in New York City, and feel that all of us are truly brothers and sisters.

A group of scholars collaborated to write a paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research that studies how teachers affect student height. It is a wonderful and humorous takedown of the Raj Chetty et al thesis that the effects of a single teacher in the early grades may determine a student’s future lifetime earnings, her likelihood graduating from college, live in higher SES neighborhoods, as well as avoid teen pregnancy.

When the Chetty study was announced in 2011, a front-page article in the New York Times said:

WASHINGTON — Elementary- and middle-school teachers who help raise their students’ standardized-test scores seem to have a wide-ranging, lasting positive effect on those students’ lives beyond academics, including lower teenage-pregnancy rates and greater college matriculation and adult earnings, according to a new study that tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years.

The paper, by Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, all economists, examines a larger number of students over a longer period of time with more in-depth data than many earlier studies, allowing for a deeper look at how much the quality of individual teachers matters over the long term.

“That test scores help you get more education, and that more education has an earnings effect — that makes sense to a lot of people,” said Robert H. Meyer, director of the Value-Added Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which studies teacher measurement but was not involved in this study. “This study skips the stages, and shows differences in teachers mean differences in earnings.”

The study, which the economics professors have presented to colleagues in more than a dozen seminars over the past year and plan to submit to a journal, is the largest look yet at the controversial “value-added ratings,” which measure the impact individual teachers have on student test scores. It is likely to influence the roiling national debates about the importance of quality teachers and how best to measure that quality.

Many school districts, including those in Washington and Houston, have begun to use value-added metrics to influence decisions on hiring, pay and even firing….

Replacing a poor teacher with an average one would raise a single classroom’s lifetime earnings by about $266,000, the economists estimate. Multiply that by a career’s worth of classrooms.

“If you leave a low value-added teacher in your school for 10 years, rather than replacing him with an average teacher, you are hypothetically talking about $2.5 million in lost income,” said Professor Friedman, one of the coauthors…

The authors argue that school districts should use value-added measures in evaluations, and to remove the lowest performers, despite the disruption and uncertainty involved.

“The message is to fire people sooner rather than later,” Professor Friedman said.

Professor Chetty acknowledged, “Of course there are going to be mistakes — teachers who get fired who do not deserve to get fired.” But he said that using value-added scores would lead to fewer mistakes, not more.

President Obama hailed the  Chetty study in his 2012 State of the Union address.

Value-added teacher evaluation, that is, basing the evaluation of teachers on the rise or fall of their students’ test scores, was a central feature of Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top when it was unveiled in 2010. States had to agree to adopt it if they wanted to be eligible for Race to the Top funding.

When the Los Angeles Times published a value-added ranking of thousands of teachers, teachers said the rankings were filled with error, but Duncan said those who complained were afraid to learn the truth. In Florida, teacher evaluations may be based on the rise or fall of the scores of students that the teachers had never taught, in subjects they had never taught. (About 70% of teachers do not teach subjects that are tested annually to provide fodder for these ratings.) When this nutty process was challenged inn court by Florida teachers, the judge ruled that the practice might be unfair but it was not unconstitutional.

The fundamental claim of VAM (value-added modeling or measurement) has been repeatedly challenged, most notably by economist Moshe Adler. When put into law, as it was in most states, it was found to be useless, because only tiny percentages of teachers were identified as ineffective, and even the validity of the ratings of that 1-3% was dubious. The use of VAM was frozen by a judge in New Mexico, then tossed out earlier this year by a new Democratic governor. It was banned by a judge in Houston.  A large experiment funded by the Gates Foundation intended to demonstrate the value of VAM produced negative results.

Now comes economic research to test the validity of linking teacher evaluation and student height.


Marianne Bitler, Sean  Corcoran, Thurston Domina, and Emily Penner wrote:

NBER Working Paper No. 26480
Issued in November 2019
NBER Program(s):Program on Children, Economics of Education Program

Estimates of teacher “value-added” suggest teachers vary substantially in their ability to promote student learning. Prompted by this finding, many states and school districts have adopted value-added measures as indicators of teacher job performance. In this paper, we conduct a new test of the validity of value-added models. Using administrative student data from New York City, we apply commonly estimated value-added models to an outcome teachers cannot plausibly affect: student height. We find the standard deviation of teacher effects on height is nearly as large as that for math and reading achievement, raising obvious questions about validity. Subsequent analysis finds these “effects” are largely spurious variation (noise), rather than bias resulting from sorting on unobserved factors related to achievement. Given the difficulty of differentiating signal from noise in real-world teacher effect estimates, this paper serves as a cautionary tale for their use in practice.


From the Onion.

One of our readers asserted that it was unfair to raise taxes on billionaires and alluded to the famous saying by Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller. Only he put it this way:

First they came for the billionaires. Then they came for the millionaires. Then they came for those with $100,000 a year. Then they came for you. And private property was no longer permitted. That’s what socialists want. No private property for anyone. That used to be called slavery, to the state this time.

Thus, we must object to taxing the billionaires, because taxation inevitably leads to socialism! Never mind that taxation pays for the military, the police, highways, bridges, tunnels, parks, schools, medical and scientific research, and other public functions.


This is what Pastor Niemöller actually wrote:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

The reader, a contrarian, is neither a socialist, nor a trade unionist, nor a Jew. He typically defends Trump and all his actions.

Our blog poet, SomeDAM Poet, responded with this poem:

First they came for Gates

First they came for Gates
And I did not speak out
About the taxing rates
Cuz Gates was just a lout

Then they came for those
Who have a hundred mill
And I did not oppose
Cuz they were simply swill

Then they came for those
Who have 100k
And I did not impose
No chance, no how, no way

Then they came for me
Who hasn’t got a cent
And I was glad, you see
Cuz jail means food and rent



My Favorite morning news summary is Fast Forward, written by Teresa Hanafin of the Boston Globe.

I skip the local sports report, but love her tips from the Old Farmers’ Almanac, and her commentaries on national politics.

I often quote her column. You can sign up here. 

Peter Greene recognizes the RAND Institution’s adroit use of the Reformy vocabulary in its latest report. 

Almost all your favorite jargon and buzzwords are found there, he says.

Check it out and see if they overlooked any of your favorite buzzwords.

RAND Corporation, with its vision to be “the world’s most trusted source for policy ideas and analysis.” regularly contributes to the total thinky tank output of material that wants to be viewed as “a report” or “research” or “a study” or “a paper,” but is more like an op-ed or blog post that has put on a tie and juiced up its vocabulary.

This week they cranked out a new one entitled “Reimagining the Workforce Development and Employment System for the 21st Century and Beyond.” Its scope is fuzzy and wide, like a wooly mammoth that has overindulged in pizza and beer, and while it doesn’t lay all the blame there, it does take some shots at K-12 education, and in doing so manages to tick off plenty of the boxes on the Reformster Talking Points Bingo Card.

Authors with no actual background in education? Check, check, and check. (For bonus points, two of the three are economists.)

Bloodless gobbledeegook? By the truckload. For instance, the authors note that during childhood “people make decisions about schooling and other aspects of human capital acquisition.” Yes, I often think back fondly to when I sat down with my children to discuss their human capital acquisition. Them was the days.

21st century skills? Yep. Employers are “struggling to find workers with 21st century skills that go beyond routine cognitive skills and stock academic knowledge to capture competencies in such areas as information synthesis, creativity, problem-solving, communication and teamwork.” Wait– those are 21st century skills? Really? Communication?? Because it makes me wonder how humanity survived all the previous centuries. On the other hand, I know feel like my colleagues, my college teacher program, and I were all forward-looking savants, given the fact that we were talking about all these things well before Y2K was a bug in a shortsighted programmer’s eye.

Schools haven’t changed in the last [fill in your favorite time frame here]? Yep. What the reportish thing calls “the current approach” is characterized as “a linear pipeline from kindergarten through 12th grade education to possibly college and then a job” and it hasn’t changed, despite “technological change, globalization, and important demographic changes.”

Half-baked ideas they read about somewhere? Sure. Hey, isn’t gamification a thing? Wouldn’t schools better if they did that?

Pitch for personalized learning that goes on forever? Yep. The need to keep training throughout “lifecourse” is necessary because employers need workers to acquire new skills, though not necessarily through any fancy college-type stuff. Quick micro-credentials (yes, check that box off, too) that you can shop for yourself online– that’s the ticket.

Peter concludes:

It’s a discouraging read, but since it advocates for vouchers and choice, it will be lapped up by Certain People. There really isn’t anything new here, but an outfit like RAND can put the old wine in fancy new skins. Well, maybe not wine. More like koolaid.

How about a really innovative idea? Like, for instance, starting babies in college, then moving them into kindergarten at puberty.


Jennifer Berkshire presents here a podcast in which she interviews Quinn Strassel, the Ann Arbor high school teacher who wrote the musical “Betsy DeVos: The Musical.”

The podcast includes both an interview and some of the songs.

The DeVos-funded Mackinac Center, funded by DeVos, did not like the musical! 

Suffice it to say that DeVos has been a one-woman wrecking crew in Michigan who is now doing her best to dumb down the entire nation with her wacky, failed ideas about vouchers and charters.

I can’t wait until the show reaches Broadway or off-Broadway or off-off-Broadway.

Quinn, save a pair of tickets for me!

Teresa Hanafin writes “Fast Forward” for the Boston Globe, where this appeared. I love her writing.


Trump has no public events on his schedule today, probably clearing the decks so he and his toadies can figure out how to explain away a troubling revelation by The Washington Post: This summer, during communications with a foreign leader — one US official said it was a phone call — Trump made a promise to that foreign leader that was so disturbing that an official in the US intelligence community filed a formal whistleblower report with the community’s inspector general.

That inspector general, Michael Atkinson, concluded that the report was credible and Trump’s conversation was a matter of “urgent concern,” a level of threat that requires intelligence officials to notify Congress — specifically, the oversight committees — within seven days.

Atkinson turned the complaint over to his boss, the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, who read the details and then refused to turn them over to Congress — apparently deciding that breaking the law to protect Dear Leader was far more important than protecting the country.

Atkinson, the IG, is testifying this morning before the House Intelligence Committee in a classified session closed to the public.

This is hardly the first time that the largemouth bass in the Oval Office has endangered national security. As recently as last October, he was using an unsecured iPhone to chit-chat with Lord knows who, calls that the Chinese and Russians eavesdropped on, freaking out intelligence officials who kept telling Trump to please knock it off.

And you may recall when the blunderbuss told two top Russian officials in the Oval Office about a top-secret intelligence operation in Syria, compromising the Israeli spy involved. And CNN reported that US intelligence officials were so worried about Trump’s loose lips that they yanked a valuable, high-level US spy out of Moscow.

And just yesterday, he screwed up again, revealing that the replacement steel fence being erected at the Mexican border is wired with sensors to detect climbers. That prompted Lieutenant General Todd Semonite, acting head of the Army Corps, to basically tell Trump to zip it: “Sir, there could be some merit in not discussing that.”

Trump also claimed that the wall was so hot, making it impossible to climb, that you could “fry an egg” on it. He then went over and touched the wall, signing it with a Sharpie. Nothing went up in smoke.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo is a true believer in corporate reform.  She wants to fixlow test scores by opening charter schools and hiring TFA teachers to staff them and the public schools.

Governor Raimondo was previously an investment banker.

Bob Shepherd, expert teacher, curriculum writer, assessment developer, and author, has an offer for Governor Raimondo:

Dear Governor Raimondo: I can do TFA one better and supply teachers from among the Florida redneck community with only 3 hours’ training and no education whatsoever. Only $10,000 apiece finder’s fee. Call me. –Bob Shepherd, CEO of Bob’s Real Good Florida Schools

I bet he is willing to negotiate the finders’ fee.