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Thursday, April 5, 2012

Those Jesus Christ moments and phony data

I had a couple of those moments Tuesday.  Not of the "Jesus wants me for a sunbeam" type, however.  They were of the "Jesus Christ, WTF!" variety.

What inspired these invocations was some data presented by Cory Heidelberger at Madville Times.  Cory has been challenging the false information and denigrations used in the assault on teachers.  Tuesday he presented some information from an outfit called Teachers Unions Exposed to illustrate how the anti-teacher corps is damaging brain cells by huffing its own petards.  Pursuing the links he supplied is what prompted me to call out for a deity.  

As an old news editor and professor of English, I habitually check the sources of factual information I encounter.  One of the most difficult but essential tasks faced by teachers of composition courses is guiding students through the research papers.  It is difficult because students find the matters of documentation and producing valid conclusions from reasoning with facts onerous.  It is essential because it demonstrates to students the necessity of verifying the integrity and reliability of sources of information and of incorporating the standards of integrity and reliability into their own thinking and work.  Both news editors and teachers of composition spend a great deal of time and energy verifying the integrity and reliability of information sources as a routine part of their work.  `

What motivated me to go to the Teachers Union Exposed website was a chart that Cory presented from its data.  Teachers Union Exposed purported to demonstrate how teachers unions protect and promote bad teaches by comparing firing rates with the number of teachers in the various states.  There are, apparent to anyone familiar with personnel matters in education, a number of fallacious assumptions in that notion.  There is public data compiled by the U.S Dept. of Education's National Center for Education Statistics in a yearly report called the Schools and Staffing Survey.  From that report is derived a Staffing and Mobility Survey which tracks the rate of attrition of teachers from the profession.

There are problems with such statistics.  Not the least of which is that the firing rate is used by the uninformed as an indicator of the quality of teaching in the systems.  Most teachers who are fired outright are done so because of gross misconduct, such as having sex with students.  In many, many cases the teachers who like to get naked and otherwise chummy with students are rated as very effective at teaching.  There is no correlation between effective teaching and fucking students, so that the firing rate is a false indicator of whether young minds or young genitalia are being stimulated.  

However, school boards are under great restraint about releasing data on dismissals, other than those when teachers are arrested and tried for diddling students.  The Staffing and Mobility Survey lumps all dismissals under the heading of "contract was not renewed."  There are many reasons for not renewing contracts, including program cuts, budget shortfalls, misconduct, incompetence, and disability.  

Most teachers who are considered for dismissal because of ineffectiveness resign voluntarily.  So, their leaving teaching is voluntary and is registered under the general category of resignation, not firing.  Most systems subject teachers who are determined to have deficiencies to a constructive plan to work out the problems.  Many improve and eliminate their deficiencies.  Those who don't are advised by mentors and administrators and generally choose to voluntarily make a career change when they realize their contracts will not be renewed.  A voluntary transition benefits both the teacher the school system.  It gives the teacher opportunity to prepare and find other employment.  And school systems do not want to suddenly fire a person during the school year and disrupt the students and staff by suddenly having to find a replacement.  Plus, teachers do work under contracts, and the school system has to honor the terms of the contract, which usually provides for procedures to be followed when contracts are not renewed.  So, the idea that the rate of firings in any way is an indicator of the standard of instruction is absurd.  

Beyond that false premise advanced by Teachers Union Exposed is the false information and errors on its website.  For some of the information, it listed a Students and Staffing Survey as the source.  There is no such survey, so we assumed that there was an error in the title, and they meant the Schools and Staffing Survey.  However, for South Dakota, for example, the data they presented differs drastically with the data reported by the Schools and Staffing Survey.  Teachers Union Exposed either made a grossly incompetent report of the data or they made it up.  

Then there is the matter of the rate of firings they purported.  For that, the site cited as the source IRS tables.  But the IRS has no tables which cover teachers being fired.  The citation is a fraud.

When teaching students the research paper, the major objective is to coach them in the necessity for accurate citations of information, accurate reporting of data, and the requirement that any information they present be verifiable.  Teachers Union Exposed violated all those principles of academic honesty.  Students fear plagiarism as the cause for being failed on a research paper, but mishandling and falsifying information is actually a much more prevalent cause for failure.  

An organization which purports to attack and defame teachers in the name of academic excellence violates the most basic principles of honesty and competence in its attacks.  

This says much about who and what is motivating the war on teachers.   And it is profane. 


caheidelberger said...

Your statement that "There is no correlation between effective teaching and f***ing students" is smartly hialrious and hilariously smart.

Douglas said...

And I expected a sermon.

As for conclusions, a joke told on NPR Science Friday seems appropriate in regard to conclusions from "data".

Sherlock Holmes and Watson were camping. Sherlock says, "Watson, what can you deduce from the stars?" Watson thinks a bit and says, "There are millions of stars and I deduce we are insignificant in comparison." Sherlock says, "Watson, No, you can deduce that somebody stole our tent."

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States