Here’s an email I just received. Think about the messages contained in this PR pitch…
As the Vergara case continues to steal headlines and spark debate, I wanted to offer up an alternative angle. Although it’s a complicated issue, the tenure controversy seems to boil down to one real problem: that “grossly ineffective teachers” are entrenched and protected. But that raises the question: Why are we hiring grossly ineffective teachers in the first place – and how do we change that?
If you’d like to dive into this overlooked aspect of the issue for a blog post, I’d be happy to set up a call with Joel Sackett of Paragon K12. Paragon is a teacher selection tool that uses decades of research and large quantities of historical data to actually correlate individual teacher attributes (both quantitative and qualitative ones) to student achievement. Joel would be happy to engage in a high-level discussion about the hiring process, including current challenges many districts face – whether a lack of funding, efficiency or effectiveness – and also explain some skepticism and strategies surrounding next-gen hiring technology.
To round out the story, you could also talk to Katie Shortsleeve for an actual use case. She works in Human Resources at Douglas County School District – a district that actually using Paragon K12.
Would you be interested in chatting with Joel and/or Katie sometime next week? Let me know. Happy to set something up and I look forward to hearing from you! Have a nice weekend, Scott!
Here’s my response:
Alyssa, with due respect to you, Joel, and Katie, this PR pitch that you just sent me is a crock. Numerous peer-reviewed research studies and our best statisticians tell us that teachers only account for about 1% to 14% of the overall variability in student test scores. Nor is there any real evidence – other than a few anecdotes, made-up education ‘reformer’ sound bites, and, apparently, messages from corporations and publicists who are willing to ignore the truth and use scare tactics in order to make a buck – that we have a large, systemic problem with ‘grossly ineffective’ teachers.
I’m sure that Paragon K12 probably has some value it can lend to the educator hiring process. But I believe that this marketing message is overhyped, irresponsible fear-mongering that not only contributes to an escalating climate of disrespect and disenfranchisement of educators but also distracts from some of the very real factors that significantly impact student learning outcomes. What would the numerous wonderful teachers that you, Joel, and Katie had as P-12 students think of this PR pitch? Or the hardworking educators in Douglas County, Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, Chula Vista, and other districts that are Paragon K12 clients? Do you think that they’d agree with and be proud of you?
Here’s Alyssa’s response:
My point was simply that everyone seems to be focusing on the protection of the “ineffective teachers” being cited in the Vergara case, but not asking about how they may have gotten hired in the first place. And while no one factor obviously determines learnings outcomes, similarly respected research has shown time and time again that teacher quality is the most important school-based factor when it comes to improving student achievement – so it is far from insignificant.
Anyways, thank you for the feedback.
And here’s mine:
Actually, it might be better to say school-controlled. And, at 1% to 14%, it’s less significant than many other, more important factors such as peer-to-peer effects (which could be considered ‘school-based’) or non-school factors…
The subject of your message was ‘Why are we hiring grossly ineffective teachers?’ My point is simply that your messaging is untrue. With very rare exceptions, schools are NOT hiring ‘grossly ineffective’ teachers. Should school districts care about and try to improve whom they hire? Absolutely. Can companies try to create systems that will help schools with this task? Sure. Should companies and their publicists engage in fear-mongering scare tactics and grossly inaccurate overgeneralizations in order to try and capitalize (literally) on the latest education story du jour? I don’t think so, but apparently that’s ‘marketing’ in the eyes of your firm and your client, regardless of the harm and disrespect to our school systems and the dedicated people who work in them.
Another message from Alyssa:
I am sorry you found the subject line so offensive. I agree – it is over-the-top, but that is unfortunately par for the course. The double-edged sword of a “clicky” subject line that may be fear-mongering but will result in getting someone to open an email and then consider a nuanced conversation on said topic vs. a muted one that no one reads. Again, appreciate the feedback.
And my response:
You admit to over-the-top fear-mongering, yet somehow are so easily able to disclaim culpability… As an educator, why wouldn’t I be offended by intentional, inaccurate insults to and acts against the profession?