Teacher evaluation and moral hazard

Following New York’s recent release of teacher rankings, the chatter in the education community has once again focused upon an old question: is it wise to evaluate teachers based on student performance on standardized tests?

For us, the answer seems quite obvious. No!

Simplistic political demagoguery aside, teacher accountability is actually a complex issue. Children in different areas and of different backgrounds are subject to different circumstances, capabilities, and opportunities. Mandating one-size-fits-all standards to an endlessly diverse body of students and educators is great at making politicians seem tough, but very bad at improving the quality of education.

The entrenched standardized evaluation system also creates the phenomenon of “teaching to the test” – that is, educators focusing all their efforts on ensuring that students are able to answer formulaic test questions rather than learn in a meaningful and permanent way. The incentives created by standardized testing are all wrong: teaching students how to fill in circles with a number 2 pencil is rewarded (a la Monday’s comic), while showing them how to think critically, be creative, and learn with real depth is discouraged. This is, by the way, to say nothing of the rampant teacher cheating that the system invites.

Sadly, the stories of the machine’s latest victims – New York City’s teachers and students – seem unlikely to meaningfully diminish the bureaucrats’ heavy-handed influence on education.

The fact that local school boards and the DOE continue to defend rigid educator evaluation based on standardized testing shows that today’s educational bureaucracies are totally out of touch with reality (at best).

For years, it has been plainly obvious that standardized tests are a dreadfully inadequate way of measuring how much students have actually learned. It should follow, then, that using them to measure teacher performance is downright stupid.

Why on earth are we still doing this?


So, Rukuku readers: winter break is long over and we’re back in the grind. For many of us, that means battling a familiar, but destructive, temptation.

You have a major paper due this week. Are you writing it?

Admit it. You’re on the 50th page of Reddit watching a video of kittens dancing flamenco. The Facebook profile on the next tab is that of an individual related to you so loosely that it might legally be considered stalking. Meanwhile, your phone is causing enough desk vibration to register on the Richter scale.

But the Word icon on your taskbar, if clicked, would reveal a solitary cursor flickering away cheerlessly into the whiteness of its space.

In short, you’re procrastinating. And who can blame you? Kicking the can down the road is way more fun than doing work. It’s a cruel paradox of life that a thing so damaging to productivity is just so darn satisfying in the short term. In the long term, though, it’s a cruel and fleeting mistress.

We all know about setting goals, making deadlines, and sticking to schedules. To supplement those, here are a few innovative tips for warding off the habit in the modern age:

1. Your phone is a major distraction. Keep the call ringer on to be reached in case of emergency; turn all other notifications off. That’s right – no more Twitter updates from Justin Bieber.

2. Close all unrelated social media. Unless it’s directly related to what you’re studying, it’s a major distraction. If you really lack discipline, you can even adjust your browser settings to prevent yourself from accessing certain sites for a set period of time. Remember: your Facebook’s news feed is not the most important thing in the world. In fact (and this is the real shocker) it’s not very important at all.

3. Use a procrastination clock. This is an interesting new way to nudge oneself to better time management skills. It tells you when to work and when to play based on your own pre-selected settings. An example can be found here.

4. Reward yourself. As with dessert after a hearty meal, give yourself a little break every now and then. Just make sure the break isn’t the main course.

What are some strategies you use to combat procrastination? Please leave us your input in the comment section.

Nah, who are we kidding? You’re probably just going to put it off.

Exams, Cramming and Stress…Oh My!

With upcoming exams, inevitably comes upcoming stress.  That’s right Rukuku readers, it’s that time of the year again…not only is it time for the Holidays but time for end-of-term exams!

During the week of exams, students, teachers, and administrators nationwide are experiencing the phenomena of extreme hair loss, breakouts, and studying-induced migraines.  Here at Rukuku we’ve concluded that those are all effects of late-night cramming, ineffective “study” group sessions, and endless staring at the computer screen.

Tis the season for nail biting, carpal tunnel syndrome and flashcards, and the only thing that’s maintaining the sanity of test takers and givers alike is the glimmer of hope on the horizon called “winter break”.

Take away these wise words from Ru:

  1. Stress does not have to get you down.  Learn to recognize when you are stressed out and remember to take deep breaths.
  2. Avoid comparing your abilities with your classmates.
  3. Eat right and get plenty of sleep and take breaks.
  4. Exercise is just as good for the mind as it is for the body.
  5. There is life after exams—the intensity will come to an end soon!
  6. Remain positive.

Over the years, many strategies have been used in an attempt to ease the pressure of exams.  Examples of these include pretesting, re-writing notes and even putting the material to music or using acronyms. But if procrastination is more your style, what better excuse is there than spreading holiday cheer by downloading and making a festively themed origami fractal snowflake Rukuku Owl (hey, fractals are math… that’s learning!)

This year George Mason University School of Law helped their student distress by bringing in cuddly puppies for them to play with before exams!

Ru and all of the owls are a curious bunch, we would like to know: what is your most effective way of studying for the big test? Also, what tips can you provide our readers to cope with the stress of exams more effectively? The stranger the better! Let the search for the most bizarre study skills commence. And good luck on your exams!