Revolution Lullabye

June 23, 2015

Kinney, Fellowship for the Ring: A Defense of Critical Administration in the Corporate University

Kinney, Kelly. “Fellowship for the Ring: A Defense of Critical Administration in the Corporate University.” WPA: Writing Program Administration 32.3 (Spring 2009): 37-48. Print.

Kinney enters the debate about creating full-time non-tenure-track lines in composition and argues that in writing programs throughout the U.S., these full-time lines, though not on the “faculty ladder,” do result in less exploitation of composition faculty. She uses her own experience as an ABD fellow in the Grand Valley State University’s Department of Writing (an independent writing program) to argue that these kinds of positions can not only give composition instructors greater stability and better wages and benefits but also can help create institutional environments that support and value the teaching of writing.

Kinney resists arguments made by Sledd, Bousquet, and others, who saw WPAs who created non-tenure-track composition lines as either complacent with the larger corporate university structure or as eroding the possibility of more tenure-lines. Kinney is pragmatic in her analysis, arguing that WPAs have the power to negotiate for better models for employing composition faculty.

Notable Notes

Discusses the debate about creating full-time non-tenure-track lines in composition: is it creating “boss compositionists,” with just a few tenured WPAs overseeing large masses of teachers, or is it a way that WPAs are trying to rectify the poor wages and working conditions of part-time, adjunct contingent labor?

Cites the major debate between James Sledd and Joseph Harris in CCC (September 2001), uses it to frame the discussion around non-tenure-track composition appointments. In this essay Kinney is responding to Sledd, who saw WPAs as complacent in higher administration’s plans to exploit composition labor.

Her admin work as a doctoral student slowed down her progress toward degree, ran out of her stipend. At the end of her 4th year she became a fellow at GVSU

Discusses the problem of putting pressure on grad students to professionalize, diversify, which slows down their progress (and many never finish). She argues though that her fellowship helped her on the job market and gave her a decent wage as she finished her PhD.

Defines “situated leadership” (a term coined by Sullivan et al), “a concept which reinterprets the ethic of service and helps theorize active ways of applying institutional critique.” WPAs should be rhetorical in how they administrate (40) Kinney argues that he WPAs at GVSU practiced “situated leadership” – reflective, critical analysis of situations, understanding the local context and situatedness.

The Department of Writing at GVSU had 2 kinds of FT NTT positions that had good wages and benefits: “the real improvements in work life for composition instructors are not to be underestimated” (41). One kind was a fellow for ABDs, MFAs, and PhDs. Fellows had conference support and had schedules to allow for scholarship, no service obligations. The second line was Affiliate Faculty positions – again, good wages, renewable 3-year contracts

This Department of Writing is independent of the English Department, and so was able to hire instructors who wanted to teach writing.

Key concept to her argument: the commitment to writing and composition, both the teaching and the field

Argues that FT NTT lines are a step up for composition instructors, who historically have been some of the most marginalized and vulnerable contingent faculty, rejects the “preoccupation with tenure lines,” saying that this position does not help these faculty.

Quotable Quotes

“Although always influenced by institutional constraints, WPAs can be powerful advocates for traditionally exploited writing instructors” (38).

“I found administrative work politically empowering. It gave me a sneak peak into the mechanisms of university bureaucracy, allowed me to see how incremental change was possible, and taught me how I might become an agent in institutional reform” (39).

“Critique is slow to effect change, and often neglects institution-specific exigencies.” (40).

“Through their commitment to the teaching of writing as a legitimate academic pursuit—a commitment that necessitated creating quality working conditions for all writing instructors—Grand Valley’s WPAs were able to attract and maintain a stable, experienced, and well-credentialed staff of composition faculty, committed pedagogues eager to engage in innovative practices such as directed self-placement, multi-grader portfolio assessment, and the development of an undergraduate writing major” (43).

“When ladder faculty ignore their non-tenure-track colleagues by single-mindedly campaigning for tenure-track positions, exploitation ensues.” (44)

makes the point that negotiation is necessary, utopia is not possible with academic labor unions. Compromise is the name of the game:

“Although some equate all forms of administration with a dance with the devil—and of course there’s an undeniably romantic appeal to such an equation and dismissal—most people involved with the labor movement understand that negotiation is at the heart of collective struggle. As we move toward better working conditions for composition instructors, we must continue to negotiate with the corporate university” (45)

“Perhaps the biggest professional compensation I received at Grand Valley, then, was not the solid wages and scholarly status I earned as a Composition Fellow, but the administrative imagination to envision better working conditions for all writing instructors, but particularly adjunct workers. Because of the time I’ve spent in a department that fosters equitable working conditions, I have recognized the power of administrative agency, and the empowering potential of WPA work” (45) – the real gift of her position as fellow at GVSU

Wants to “work together to realize alternative labor possibilities” (46).

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August 27, 2014

Newton, Value-added Modeling of Teacher Effectiveness

Newton, Xiaoxia A, et al. “Value-added Modeling of Teacher Effectiveness: Exploration of Stability across Models and Contexts.” Educational Policy Analysis Archives, 18 (23). 2010. Print.

Newton et al investigate measures of teacher effectiveness based on VAM (value-added modeling) to show that these measures, based on in large part on measured student learning gains, are not stable and can vary significantly across years, classes, and contexts. The study focused on 250 mathematics and ELA teachers and approximately 3500 students they taught at six high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. The researchers argue that measures of teacher effectiveness based solely on student performance scores (those measures that don’t take into account student demographics and other differences) cannot be relied on to get a true understanding of a teacher’s effectiveness because so many other unstable variables impact those student test scores. Models of teacher evaluation that rely heavily on student performance scores can negatively impact teachers who teach in high-need areas. This is especially true with teachers who teach disadvantaged students or students with limited English proficiency.

Quotable Quotes

“Growing interest in tying student learning to educational accountability has stimulated unprecedented efforts to use high-stakes tests in the evaluation of individual teachers and schools. In the current policy climate, pupil learning is increasingly conceptualized as standardized test score gains, and methods to assess teacher effectiveness are increasingly grounded in what is broadly called value-added analysis. The inferences about individual teacher effects many policymakers would like to draw from such value-added analyses rely on very strong and often untestable statistical assumptions about the roles of schools, multiple teachers, student aptitudes and efforts, homes and families in producing measured student learning gains. These inferences also depend on sometimes problematic conceptualizations of learning embodied in assessments used to evaluate gains. Despite the statistical and measurement challenges, value-added models for estimating teacher effects have gained increasing attention among policy makers due to their conceptual and methodological appeal” (3).

Differences in teacher effectiveness in different classes: “An implicit assumption in the value-added literature is that measured teacher effects are stable across courses and time. Previous studies have found that this assumption is not generally met for estimates across different years. There has been less attention to the question of teacher effects across courses. One might expect that teacher effects could vary across courses for any number of reasons. For instance, a mathematics teacher might be better at teaching algebra than geometry, or an English teacher might be better at teaching literature than composition. Teachers may also be differentially adept at teaching new English learners, for example, or 2nd graders rather than 5th graders. It is also possible that, since tracking practices are common, especially at the secondary level, different classes might imply different student compositions, which can impact a teacher’s value-added rankings, as we saw in the previous section.” (12)

“the analyses suggested that teachers’ rankings were higher for courses with “high-track” students than for untracked classes” (13).

“These examples and our general findings highlight the challenge inherent in developing a value-added model that adequately captures teacher effectiveness, when teacher effectiveness itself is a variable with high levels of instability across contexts (i.e., types of courses, types of students, and year) as well as statistical models that make different assumptions about what exogenous influences should be controlled. Further, the contexts associated with instability are themselves highly relevant to the notion of teacher effectiveness” (16).

“The default assumption in the value-added literature is that teacher effects are a fixed construct that is independent of the context of teaching (e.g., types of courses, student demographic compositions in a class, and so on) and stable across time. Our empirical exploration of teacher effectiveness rankings across different courses and years suggested that this assumption is not consistent with reality. In particular, the fact that an individual student’s learning gain is heavily dependent upon who else is in his or her class, apart from the teacher, raises questions about our ability to isolate a teacher’s effect on an individual student’s learning, no matter how sophisticated the statistical model might be” (18).

“Our correlations indicate that even in the most complex models, a substantial portion of the variation in teacher rankings is attributable to selected student characteristics, which is troubling given the momentum gathering around VAM as a policy proposal. Even more troubling is the possibility that policies that rely primarily on student test score gains to evaluate teachers – especially when student characteristics are not taken into account at all (as in some widely used models) — could create disincentives for teachers to want to work with those students with the greatest needs” (18).

“Our conclusion is NOT that teachers do not matter. Rather, our findings suggest that we simply cannot measure precisely how much individual teachers contribute to student learning, given the other factors involved in the learning process, the current limitations of tests and methods, and the current state of our educational system” (20). 

Notable Notes

The problem of variables impacting the calculation of teacher effectiveness: the students’ background (socioeconomic, cultural, disability, language diversity), the effects of the school environment, how teachers perform year-to-year, the curriculum

VAM makes assumptions that schools, teachers, students, parents, curriculum, class sizes, school resources, and communities are similar.

The variables the researchers collected and measured included CST math or ELA scaled test scores, students’ prior test scores for both average and accelerated students, students’ race/ethnicity, gender, and ELL status, students’ parents’ educational level and participation in free or reduced school lunch, and individual school differences. Tries to look at the issue longitudinally by looking at student prior achievement (7). They were able to link students to teachers (8).

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