When I was very young, three or four years old, I used to ride with my father as he drove his New Orleans city bus on its morning route. This was before the age of seat belts, and my father used to allow me to stand next to him and operate the money crank. Riders would put their fare in a glass-topped container; my father would verify the amount was correct, and then I was allowed to pull the handle so that the money would drop into a metal container below.
One day, a lady gave me some change, and I put it in the glass container and cranked it. The lady said, Oh, no! That money was for you to keep!” I remember feeling instant panic and loss at having cranked what was to be a gift to me.
My father immediately replied, “It’s okay. She would rather crank the money than keep it.” Suddenly all was well because I believed what my father had said about me. He said I had rather operate the crank, and his saying as much made it true.
That was over 40 years ago.
Last week, I read a press release by Randi Weingarten in which she stated that most teachers support the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The tenor of her report was such that she assumed the issue of retaining CCSS was settled.
Weingarten wants me to believe that I support CCSS.
This is not my father’s bus.
I did not buy it.
I have not met American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten in person, but from what I have read about her, I have learned that she has chosen to “play to the middle”– to appear to support both traditional public school teachers and corporate reform at the same time. And now, Weingarten has positioned herself to appear to stand against Common Core via her ‘moratorium” while simultaneously standing with it by reporting that “75% of teachers support the new standards.” Here are the exact words:
…A recent poll of AFT members reveals that 75 percent of teachers support the Common Core.
Seventy-five percent sounds overwhelmingly impressive.
In the case of Weingarten’s survey, that’s approximately 600 teachers– give or take 28 teachers– or maybe more.
Weingarten presents the results of her survey in suspiciously general terms in a 12-page Power Point-type pdf.
I would like to discuss some key points regarding why these results are suspect. It is important to consider what is really in this document– and what is absent– since Weingarten is using this “survey” as evidence that “most teachers” want the CCSS.
I should point out that Gates also wants the CCSS. Consider the content to this chummy article with the notation, “Sponsored content by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and American Federation of Teachers.”:
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study in 2009 to identify effective teaching using multiple measures of performance. The foundation also invested in a set of partnership sites that are redesigning how they evaluate and support teaching talent.
And the AFT has developed a continuous improvement model for teacher development and evaluation that is being adapted in scores of districts to help recruit, prepare, support, and retain a strong teaching force.
From our research, and the experiences of our state and district partners, we’ve learned what works in implementing high-quality teacher development and evaluation systems:
1. Match high expectations with high levels of support.
2. Include evidence of teaching and student learning from multiple sources.
3. Use information to provide constructive feedback to teachers, as befits a profession, not to shame them.
4. Create confidence in the quality of teacher development and evaluation systems and the school’s ability to implement them reliably.
5. Align teacher development and evaluation to the Common Core State Standards.
6. Adjust the system over time based on new evidence, innovations, and feedback. [Emphasis added.]
Thus, Weingarten’s survey result already evidences a conflict of interest. Gates wants the CCSS, and Weingarten is doing business with Gates.
However, the entire report is shaky because its sample is problematic. Consider frame 2, “Survey Methodology.” This study is a “telephone survey of 800 K-12 teachers who are members of the American Federation of Teachers.” According to this union facts sheet
updated October 2012, AFT membership numbered 873, 454 living in 31 states and 2 districts (one American embassy and Guam).
First of all, teachers in 19 states could not possibly participate in the survey, for AFT has no presence. That right there excludes scores of teachers potentially affected by Weingarten’s proclamation of CCSS acceptance by “teachers.” Second, in the states represented, AFT has units in a limited number of cities. For example, the AFT presence in Texas is limited to Houston alone. Third, most AFT units
are in a single state, New York (37 units totaling 833,093 members
, or 95% of AFT membership). This information should have been included as a limitation to interpreting survey results.
Given AFT’s predominant presence in New York, it seems that an AFT survey is a New York State survey.
That fact alone seriously limits the survey results.
But there are also other limiting factors.
Let us consider the 800 survey completers. The study does not include information on the number of AFT members who were called and who chose not to participate. Nonparticipation can be very telling. For example, it could indicate displeasure with either the organization conducting the survey or the subject of the survey (in this case, CCSS). Therefore, nonparticipants might be voicing a negative opinion by hanging up. Such goes unrecorded here, but in sound research studies, information on the total number of attempted calls is reported.
Did AFT (or Hart Research, on AFT’s behalf) have to make thousands of calls in order to finally reach the desired 800 participants? How did AFT/Hart select those to be called? What time of day did researchers call? Did they attempt to call back if no answer? How many times?
We really don’t know much about these 800 participants. They are AFT members. Most teach elementary school. Almost half teach high school. We aren’t provided with specific numeric breakdowns. We don’t know where these teachers live, or how many years they have been teaching, or whether they currently are employed. We don’t know their certification areas or educational levels. We don’t know exactly where they live, in what states, or specifics numbers teaching in urban, or suburban, or rural locales. We don’t know their ages, or gender, or ethnicity. We don’t know their incomes, or whether they have families.
I am not talking about reporting percentages. I am talking reporting actual numbers in the specific demographic categories noted above. And such should be presented summarily at the outset of the study.
And we don’t know why the number 800 was selected. Given that AFT has a verifiable teacher membership of 873,454, this means that AFT/Hart only surveyed nine one-hundredths of a percent of the AFT membership (.09%).
A membership that is only in 31 of 50 states and overwhelmingly in one state.
Randi Weingarten draws conclusions of the reception of CCSS for teachers in general (she has already concluded that CCSS is suitable for all teachers
) based upon the opinions of one fraction of one percent of AFT teacher opinions.
Weingarten notes that 75% of teachers surveyed are fine with the CCSS. The truth is the actual, very limited number is 650 out of 800 teachers.
That is seven one-hundredths of one percent of teachers who are AFT members (.07%).
Please don’t miss this. AFT did not survey even 10% of its membership before forming an opinion of teacher acceptance of CCSS. AFT didn’t even survey 1% of its membership. AFT didn’t even survey one tenth of one percent (.1%) of its membership. (See my subsequent post
on polling and the need for stratified sampling.)
Yet Weingarten proclaims that teachers are in support of CCSS.
This survey should already be an AFT embarrassment.
But there’s more.
Let’s consider the noted margin of error. Frame 2 includes a comment about a +3.5% margin of error. For 800 participants, this is in effect saying, “For general survey respondents, any result we report could be off give or take 28 people.” So, if 75% of teachers “favor” CCSS (600 teachers), the actual number could be anywhere between 572 and 628.
How is it that a research firm only handling 800 surveys cannot get a more precise reading of the data than this? Error is introduced in a lack of either question quality or precision in answering format, or both. Based upon the AFT report, these survey responses are dichotomous (only two choices). This is the crudest level of measurement an allows for the least precise measurement outcome.
The next level up is a Likert-type scale response. Allowing participants to select from five levels, assuming the questions are well-worded, would offer a more precise measurement and would, in turn, reduce measurement error.
(A word here regarding margin of error and measurement error: In a calculation of margin of error whereby the response is categorical [yes/no, for example], the proportion of respondent answers for the two categories is part of the margin of error formula.
Thus, measurement precision matters. If there are more than two categories and the question is suited to the number of categories (all categories are utilized by respondents), the margin of error will likely decrease.
If respondents do not understand the question, or if respondents do not have sufficient answer selection options, then the researcher is not measuring what he/she purports. Furthermore, since Hart offers no reliability data on their survey, one cannot know whether the survey measures anything at all consistently. If the survey is of low reliability, such measurement error will affect not only calculations of margin of error but also survey result usefulness in general.)
Notice also that frame 2 states that the error is “higher among subgroups.” In poor research form, the researchers offer no specifics on just how much “higher” this “subgroup” error is.
This AFT study is lousy research.
Weingarten could have just dropped the insulting, shoddy “research,” cut to the chase, and said, “Bill and I have already decided to endorse CCSS.”
Forget the moratorium.
Teachers never asked for this federally-imposed curriculum in the first place.