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Archive for March, 2011

Michelle Rhee walks back her “enemies” comments

March 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Someone identifying herself as former DC schools boss Michelle Rhee called Washington Post education writer Jay Mathews to describe as “stupid” her response to the USA Today report on improbably high numbers of wrong-answer erasures and corrections on standardized tests during her tenure.

This seems very unlike Rhee and the education “reform” crowd, who often rely on smearing anyone who questions results they claim to have achieved in classrooms, schools and districts. Saying that “enemies of education reform” had to be behind the erasures scandal story — that sounded like the Michelle Rhee we know and … disagree with.

According to Mathews,

She said that she thinks cheating might have occurred in the District and that she is glad her successor, Acting Chancellor Kaya Henderson, ordered a new investigation. Rhee said she still believes that the vast majority of teachers and administrators would never falsify test results, but that there can be exceptions. She said we should improve test security procedures so such abuses could not recur.

Mathews allows that people as prominent as Rhee “almost never” walk back their own statements, and he praises her for doing it. “She would not comment on …what exactly led her to make the Monday statements, which I think were thoughtless, insulting and, as she said, stupid,” he writes.

I wonder what Rhee’s supporters/defenders have to say now — will they stand behind a statement she has repudiated?

Bill Sez: Credit where credit is due, I guess. Let’s wait to see if the DC schools’ inspector general really digs in to “find out what caused so many answers to be so mysteriously changed from wrong to right.” [Emphasis added.] And let’s not forget Campbell’s Law, the likelihood that incentives corrupt rather than encourage good teaching/learning or any other social endeavor.

Also worth noting: the USA Today series on education and testing was conceived and edited by Jay Mathews’ wife, a fact he discloses in the Post story.

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Fool me once, shame on me….

March 30, 2011 Leave a comment

In a just world, the career of ousted DC schools boss Michelle Rhee would be in tatters. She got the job running the DC schools based largely on claiming impressive results in her classroom — but it turns out the facts contradict her claims. Now she serves as queen of the education “reform” movement based on test-score gains during her DC tenure — but it turns out those gains may not be real, either.

Tatters? Not exactly. She’s been on the cover of Time, NBC features her, and newly elected right-wing governors seek her out, lapping up her anti-teacher, pro-standardized testing mantra. I guess we’re in Idiot America, where “truthiness” overpowers truth.

Rhee ruled the DC schools with a fist full of incentives, firing or threatening teachers and principals who failed to raise standardized test scores but throwing substantial bonuses and promotions to those who did. However, according to an exhaustive investigation by USA Today (!), more than half of DC schools showed abnormally high numbers of erasures on the annual tests, usually with wrong answers being erased and changed to correct answers.

On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one … classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.

The tendency of incentives to pervert rather than promote desired behaviors is well-known to social science, which calls it Campbell’s Law. When test scores become the goal of the teaching process, they both lose their value as indicators of educational status and distort the educational process in undesirable ways, psychologist Donald Campbell posited.

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NPR, Guy Raz strike (out) again

March 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Knight Science Journalism Tracker catches another softball interview by NPR’s Guy Raz. It turns out he’s just as credulous about scientific research as he is about disgraced former DC schools chief Michelle Rhee.

Last Saturday, Raz interviewed a Dutch researcher about the causes of ADHD and a possible new treatment option. He appeared to swallow the researcher’s claims that ADHD is usually caused by diet and that diet changes can usually cure it hook, line and sinker.

Nobody else was interviewed, and Raz made no effort to put the story in context–namely, to note that others are far more skeptical about the relationship between diet and ADHD. At the very least, NPR should have interviewed one or two others with different points of view.

Instead of being reeled in, Raz might have actually read the study; it says, “A strictly supervised restricted elimination diet is a valuable instrument to assess whether ADHD is induced by food.” In other words, a screening mechanism, not a cure.

Bill Sez: KSJ’s Paul Raeburn is on the mark: “NPR, you know better than this. Or you should. Was the science desk closed over the weekend? If so, you should have held this until Monday so the science folks could take a look.”

Not a reason to strip NPR of federal funds, but a reminder how sloppy their journalism can be sometimes.

Categories: Health care, Media fail

The “market” can’t fix US health care (2)

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

High-deductible health insurance doesn’t work — it reduces health-care spending on preventive care as well as unnecessary care.

Thanks to James Kwak at Baseline Scenario, we have additional evidence about the wrongness of “market-driven” solutions to our health-care dilemma: Dr. Atul Gawande discussing a company that pushed more health-care costs onto its employees year after year, only to see its own spending continue to increase, too.

Why didn’t it work? While most employees responded to higher copays and kept their costs more or less steady, the 5 percent of members who generated 60 percent of the costs behaved differently. Like the people with Hi-D plans, they also reduced spending on doctor’s visits and prescription medications, with bad — and costly — results. When people with heart disease stop taking cholesterol-lowering medications, they often end up in the hospital with heart attacks and then with congestive heart failure.

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Categories: Health care

The “market” can’t fix US health care

March 27, 2011 Leave a comment

High-deductible health plans are touted by those who favor “market-driven” improvements to the US health-care system. If people have to pay directly for health care, they’ll only buy what they really need, the theory goes. But a large-scale study of how Hi-D plans affect spending finds that people enrolled in these plans cut back on preventive care as well as on unnecessary care.

That’s not the only imperfection in the health-care “market,” of course; it’s also wickedly asymmetrical – with sellers in control, supply tends to drive demand. [More on this below the fold.]

Health spending did drop 14% for those whose health insurance had deductibles of at least $1,000 per person, compared to families with lower deductibles, the study found. But some of that money should have been spent — on childhood immunizations, cancer screenings, and routine tests for diabetes. Having “skin in the game” doesn’t always result in good decisions, no matter what the “free market” advocates claim.

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Categories: Health care, Truthiness

Hospital CEOs ride gravy train while states cut Medicaid

March 24, 2011 Leave a comment

It turns out New York isn’t the only state where proposed Medicaid cuts are triggering closer examination of $1 million-plus salaries for “non-profit” hospital executives.

Here’s an update, courtesy of Health Beat:

  • 15 Washington state hospital CEOs made more than $1 million in 2009
  • eight Baltimore area CEOs made more than $1 million
  • seven-figure salaries were common in Florida, Texas and North Carolina.

Says blogger Ray Poses, these compensation packages are “a product of the current management culture that has been infused into nearly every health care organization in the US. That culture holds that managers are different from you and me. …Because of their innate and self-evident brilliance, they are entitled to become rich. This entitlement exists even when the economy, or the financial performance of the specific organization prevents other people from making any economic progress.”

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Categories: Health care, Truthiness

Live by the test, die by the test

March 22, 2011 Leave a comment

The education “reform” crowd likes to put all its chips on teacher accountability, defined variously as linked to students’ scores on some standardized test. Except when an agreed-to evaluation process results in a low rating for the kind of person they seem to think must be a good teacher.

Journalists often fall for it, especially when the low-rated teacher is likely to attract sympathy from their readers/listeners/viewers.  For a recent example, we need only look back to a March 6 report in the NY Times, which suggested the evaluation process must be at fault.

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