Carnival of Errors

Shortly after the hasty departure of Professor Snape from Harry Potter’s school, a student asks what has happened to him. Professor McGonagall, the acting headmistress, replies, ‘He has, to use the common phrase, done a bunk.’ [Cheers] Like Snape, Bunkin’ Duncan has suddenly left the Department of Education. Unlike Snape, who was on a secret mission for the good, Duncan and his promoters seem to have done nothing but harm either in secret or in public.

A lurid but not extraordinary example exists in the unfortunate state of Tennessee. In their haste to be first in RAT[1], Tennesseans have built themselves a sinking ship of testing and teacher evaluation whose details have to be read to be believed. (Read them here.) I will choose only two to relate in this posting. (1) Teachers of ‘untested’ subjects like P.E. or music are to be evaluated by students’ math and English test scores, including students they don’t even have for P.E. or music. (2) Tenure is granted after five years only following excellent ratings for the prior two years.

The first item is so manifestly absurd and contemptible that nothing needs to be said except ‘Read your Mencken’ and ‘Where are the tar and feathers?’ but the second sounds at first like a reasonable proposal. Look more closely, though, and you will see it is just as bad, and perhaps more sinister. A Stanford professor has done research[2] determining that the measuring system is so volatile that teachers have only a 20% chance of getting excellent ratings two years in a row. That is roughly the odds of throwing a 7 in craps. Care to bet your career on a throw of the dice? Step right up! But thank Arne and DoE before you throw.

[1] RAce to the Top, the ironically named program of the Department of Education to replace one set of bad guidelines (NCLB) with another

[2] You have to pay $5 to read it, but I have saved you the time and expense by paying to read it and reporting it in this posting.

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