Week In Review

by by By Sophia Seawell, Elizabeth Koh & Oyinkan Osobamiro

illustration by by Robert Sandler

Grade Grubbing

On February 24, the New York City Education Department released “value-added” rankings of 18,000 public school teachers to the public, after various media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times sued for access under the Freedom of Information Act. Much to the chagrin of the United Federation of Teachers, who appealed the case, an appellate court upheld the decision.

The rankings were calculated with a mathematical formula that uses the standardized test scores of a teacher’s past classes to project future scores. The teachers are then rated by subject according to the relationship of their students’ actual scores to the projected scores. If a student’s score was projected to increase and it decreased, the teacher’s ranking would go down.

Opponents of releasing the scores have pointed to studies that show the correlation between standardized test scores and socioeconomic status; students from households with higher incomes tend to fare better. Other factors such as health issues and parental support can also affect a student’s scores. However, according to the Huffington Post, the method used to calculate the rankings controls for variables such as “race, gender, socioeconomic status, and even … the size of the class and how many students are new to the city.”

The rankings’ wide margins of error have been a main point of criticism from opponents. According to the New York Times, “on average, a teacher’s math score could be 35 percentage points off, or 53 points on the English exam. This likelihood for error is due to the methodology of the rankings, which compares teachers with similar student demographics and scores.” This makes it more difficult for teachers in schools with students who are already scoring highly on the test to receive favorable rankings.

Although the Education Department’s chief academic officer Shael Polakow-Suranksy promised that “no principal would ever make a decision on this score alone,” some principals have reportedly used the rankings to help make tenure decisions, give bonuses, and even influence terminations.

Others have voiced concerns that the release of the rankings may ultimately prove counterproductive to teacher performance. Citing findings from a Center for American Progress study that publicly naming teachers tied to the performance of their students undermines improvements to public school systems, Cynthia Brown, vice president of education policy at the CAP called the release of the value-added data “irresponsible,” adding that disclosure makes it “much harder to implement teacher evaluation systems that actually work.”



Live Free

The New Hampshire House of Representatives is considering a bill to repeal a 2009 state law allowing same-sex couples to wed. If the repeal passes, which seems unlikely, New Hampshire will be the first state to reverse its position on the issue of gay marriage.

The bill, introduced in January 2011 by Representative David Bates (R), would designate future marriages as civil unions, leaving intact the almost 2,000 marriages that have already taken place.

“What we’re talking about and what’s trying to be represented as a wonderful, beautiful thing...was illegal in almost every state a decade ago,” Bates told the New Hampshire Sunday News last month. “It’s astounding the degree to which the homosexuals have been able to shift the sentiments of our society.”

“The primary purpose of this bill is to return our statutes back to the true meaning of ‘marriage.’”

Although Governor John Lynch (D) has promised to veto the bill, the state currently has a veto-proof Republican majority in both the State House of Representatives and Senate. Republican Party loyalties are divided by some of the representatives’ libertarian policies.

Republicans are also concerned about public opinion, which has favored the same-sex marriage law. A University of New Hampshire poll of state residents last month found that 59 percent of respondents were somewhat or strongly opposed to repealing same-sex marriage.

But it remains to be seen if a veto override, which would require a two-thirds majority in both houses, would actually be possible.

“I know for a fact, based on people I’ve talked to, that if Governor Lynch vetoes it, that veto is not override-able,” Rep. Seth Cohn (R) told the Concord Monitor.

For example, Rep. Andrew Manuse (R), said in an email to the New York Times that he would oppose the repeal because it was “using its power to redefine a religious, social, and societal institution.”

The news that New Hampshire might reverse its previous legislation was followed by the recent legalization of same-sex marriage in Maryland, where Governor Martin O’Malley signed the bill into law March 1.

The New Hampshire law, which was passed in 2009, makes the state one of eight states — Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, Maryland, and the District of Columbia — that currently allow same-sex marriage. Over 30 other states have already enacted bans limiting marriage to heterosexual couples, and Minnesota and North Carolina are also considering bans this year.




We all know that money can’t buy love or happiness. Turns out there’s another thing money can’t buy: ethics. Studies conducted by Paul Piff et al. and published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences, found that the wealthy were more likely than the poor to engage in unethical behaviors. These studies defined the rich as those who either reported high social economic status on the MacArthur Scale of Socioeconomic Status, or possessed items characteristic of the wealthy, like nice cars. In the experiments, these rich folk proved their nastiness again and again. One such experiment had two “coders,” or participants who didn’t know the hypothesis of the studies, watch for cars at intersections and see if they stopped at the four-way stop. The coders then recorded both the type of car, as well as its condition, which were later used in the study to determine socioeconomic status. The coders found that the drivers of more expensive cars were more likely to ignore a stop sign at an intersection then drivers of less expensive cars.

Another experiment asked129 university students to assess their socioeconomic status and then offered them candy from a jar marked “For children.” The students who indicated a higher socioeconomic status were more likely to take greater amounts of candy.

These studies add to the growing pool of evidence that contradicts the stereotypical notion that poorer people tend to act unethically out of desperation.

Researchers at the Proceedings of National Academy of Science posit that these findings might be explained by the self-sufficiency and discretion of the wealthy. Since, they hypothesize, wealthier people don’t need to rely on the community for resources as much as the poor, they do not feel the need to act as ethically in their community. A study by Northwestern University and the University of Chicago’s Adam Waytz and Nicholas Epley expands upon this explanation. Since the wealthy often have more beneficial social links than the poor, they do not feel the need to conform to certain ethical standards to gain new contacts, but are more likely to act less empathetically towards others. Yet, the answer might be the even simpler explanation posited not only by Piff et al but in literature and religion as well: the wealthy are more likely to “view greed in a more positive light,” an attribute that can contribute both to their success and to their ethical shortcomings.

Not every researcher agrees with the results of Piff’s experiments. Bloomberg reports that researchers like Chatham University’s Meredith McGinley feel that the experiments were poorly designed, thereby leading to flawed data. Nevertheless, these experiments point to a growing interest in addressing greed and ethics in today’s society.