Tag Archives: teaching

Slash and burn teacher evaluation in D.C.

Late last week, D.C.’s tough-as-nails Superintendent Michelle Rhee announced that her district would fire 241 teachers, including 165 who received poor ratings under a new evaluation system put in place this year. The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog has an interesting analysis of this new evaluation system (known as IMPACT), and finds it comes up way short — doing a disservice to all teachers in the system:

Under IMPACT, all teachers are supposed to receive five 30-minute classroom observations during the school year, three by a school administrator and two by an outside “master educator” with a background in the instructor’s subject.

They are scored against a “teaching and learning framework” with 22 different measures in nine categories. Among the criteria are classroom presence, time management, clarity in presenting the objectives of a lesson and ensuring that students across all levels of learning ability understand the material.

A number of teachers never got the full five evaluations, apparently because a number of master teachers hired to do the jobs quit, according to sources in the school system.

But even if they all were, let’s look closely at this: In 30 minutes, a teacher is supposed to demonstrate all 22 different teaching elements. What teacher demonstrates 22 teaching elements — some of which are not particularly related — in 30 minutes? Suppose a teacher takes 30 minutes to introduce new material and doesn’t have time to show. … Oh well. Bad evaluation.

There’s clearly room for improving teacher evaluations (how about doing them regularly, for starters!) so that school districts can have a better idea of which teachers are effective and which are not; so that ineffective teachers can be coached to improve their practice or counseled out of the profession; and so that institutions that train new teachers have some feedback of where they need to focus more effort. But IMPACT doesn’t seem to be the answer.


Two days late but no less grateful

Tuesday was National Teacher Day; I meant to post this then but got busy and so now it’s two days late. It’s a tribute to all teachers, but especially the hardworking, dedicated and no-nonsense Marilyn Laidlaw, a P.E. teacher at James Denman Middle School. I got to know Marilyn in the wake of the JROTC controversy, after she reached out to me to take issue with some of my notions concerning P.E.

Since then, I’ve visited her class at Denman several times. When her 8th graders were learning gymnastics, she brooked no protest when I wanted to sit and watch and instead insisted I learn how to do a handstand (I did – wouldn’t you have?) More recently, I’ve visited her dance classes, which are a combination of typical 6th grade students and mainstreamed students with disabilities who are enrolled in a self-contained classroom at Denman.  I could say a lot more about the lovely interactions and mutual learning I’ve observed on these occasions, but I’d rather let the videos below speak for themselves. Watch all three — it’s a total time investment of maybe six minutes and well worth it – are these joyful learners or what?

Thanks, Marilyn, for everything you do. And thanks to all teachers who continue to believe in what they are doing and in the students they are teaching. I am so grateful.

Why test scores aren’t valid for teacher evaluation

From Diane Ravitch’s Bridging Differences blog on Education Week — the best explanation I’ve read yet for why it’s not valid to use student test scores in teacher evaluation:

I received an email from Dr. Harry Frank, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Michigan who has written textbooks about testing and measurement. Dr. Frank wrote that the first principle for valid assessment is that “no assessment can be used at the same time for both counseling and for administrative decisions (retention, increment, tenure, promotion). … All this does is promote cheating and teaching to the exam. … This principle is so basic that it’s often covered in the very first chapter of introductory texts on workplace performance evaluation.” [The full text of Dr. Frank’s email is posted on my Web site, www.dianeravitch.com, in a section called “comments.”] I asked Dr. Frank to explain the word “counseling,” and he said that this meant “feedback on performance for purposes of skills development,” what we might think of as the diagnostic use of an assessment. Dr. Frank also added: “Assessments should be a counseling resource, not a source of extrinsic motivation, i.e., rewards and punishments for teachers, administrators, and school districts.”

Put simply, tests and assessments should inform teachers about student progress and their own teaching, i.e., what can be learned from the test results. But it is inappropriate to use the same test results to hand out bonuses and punishments, promotions and tenure.

The Atlantic: What makes a great teacher

I haven’t yet read this article on teaching in The Atlantic, but reading the intro sent shivers down my spine (the signal to slow down and really absorb every word):

For years, the secrets to great teaching have seemed more like alchemy than science, a mix of motivational mumbo jumbo and misty-eyed tales of inspiration and dedication. But for more than a decade, one organization has been tracking hundreds of thousands of kids, and looking at why some teachers can move them three grade levels ahead in a year and others can’t. Now, as the Obama administration offers states more than $4 billion to identify and cultivate effective teachers, Teach for America is ready to release its data.

Once I’ve had a chance to read the piece and think through my reactions, I’ll post more.

Lincoln High history teacher named ‘Teacher of the Year’

vziegler Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell was on hand today to announce that Valerie Ziegler, a history teacher at Lincoln High School, was one of five teachers across the state to be named “Teacher of the Year.” .

KTVU did a nice piece on Ms. Ziegler, including some very complimentary comments from her students.

The press release on all five Teachers of the Year is here.

NY Times: Teach your teachers well

This morning’s New York Times features a provocative Op-Ed on teacher training programs. If you were a teacher, how would reading this make you feel?

Our best universities have, paradoxically, typically looked down their noses at education, as if it were intellectually inferior. The result is that the strongest students are often in colleges that have no interest in education, while the most inspiring professors aren’t working with students who want to teach. This means that comparatively weaker students in less intellectually rigorous programs are the ones preparing to become teachers.

I am not sure that bashing the rigor of teacher training programs does anything to advance the author’s suggestion that the profession should attract students with better academic records. Instead, we should create policies, programs and compensation schemes that will convince the best and the brightest that we will give them respect and a decent standard of living if they choose teaching as a career. The piece does, however, go on to make some great suggestions, such as:

  • Spend “less time studying specific instructional programs and learning how to handle mechanics like making lesson plans,” and instead encourage prospective teachers to continue studying the disciplines they want to teach – “It makes no sense at all to stop studying the thing you want to teach at the very moment you begin to learn how.”
  • Take a page from programs that train therapists, which encourage students to videotape their sessions and go over their work with mentors and peers. Similarly, “young teachers need to record their daily encounters with their classrooms and then, with mentors and peers, have serious, open-minded conversations about what’s working and what isn’t.”
  • Help prospective teachers learn “how to watch children, using research and theory to understand what they are seeing,” because disregarding “the developmental needs of our students  it’s unlikely we’ll succeed in teaching them.”
  • Finally, hire new teachers in groups of seven or more. “This way, talented eager young teachers won’t languish or leave teaching because they felt bored, inept, isolated or marginalized. Instead, they will feel part of a robust community of promising professionals. They will struggle and learn together.”

Forty percent of teachers are “disheartened,” study finds

Forty percent of teachers are disheartened and disappointed with their jobs, says a new study published this week. The study, conducted by nonprofits Public Agenda and Learning Point Associates and funded by the Gates Foundation and the Joyce Foundation, surveyed 900 teachers across the country.

Teachers surveyed fall into three broad categories which researchers designated the “Disheartened,” the “Contented,” and the “Idealists.”

  • Disheartened teachers account for 40 percent of those surveyed and are twice as likely as other teachers to strongly agree with the view that teaching is “so demanding, it’s a wonder that more people don’t burn out.” More than half teach in low-income schools and 61 percent cite lack of support from administrators as a major drawback to teaching.
  • Contented teachers make up 37 percent of teachers and are more likely to say that their schools are “orderly, safe, and respectful.” About two-thirds of this group teaches in middle-income or affluent schools, and the majority holds a graduate degree. Sixty-three percent strongly agree with the statement that “teaching is exactly what I wanted,” which is supported by the fact that 82 percent have been teaching for more than 10 years.
  • Idealist teachers make up 23 percent of teachers surveyed and are more likely to believe that “good teachers can lead all students to learn, even those from poor families or who have uninvolved parents.” More than half are 32 years old or younger and teach in elementary schools, and 36 percent say that, although they intend to stay in education, they plan to leave classroom teaching in the future for other jobs in education.

These insights into how teachers see their profession particularly resonate with me this week, a week in which I had a very raw and honest meeting with the entire staff of one of our hard-to-fill elementary schools. I am not sure I have ever seen a staff as dedicated and cohesive as this one — they support each other and they are entirely committed to the district’s goals and the ideal of social justice. When you walk through the school, you can feel that you are in a place where all children are loved and challenged. But disillusionment is creeping in, because even though this staff is doing everything we ask of them (often more), it’s not enough. They don’t have what they need to do their jobs and the school doesn’t have the resources to offer its students what they need.

Because this school is “hard to fill,” most of the teachers are newer to the profession — and therefore low on the seniority list. Eighty-five percent of the teachers at this school got pink slips last year, and I couldn’t promise them that it wouldn’t happen again this year. This spring, many will get pink slips and the way it looks now, at least some of them will lose their jobs at the end of the year.

Their question for me was: What are you going to do about it?

Mainly what I can do is continue to remind the central office of the importance of bending over backwards to support sites, like this one, that are struggling under the weight of educating a high concentration of children who are low-income, disadvantaged and often traumatized by witnessing violence. There were a few specific “asks” we identified that I can agitate for at the district level, but I can’t solve the pink slip problem and I can’t solve the budget reality. Every site in San Francisco Unified feels underfunded, and we are continually prodding our budget mechanisms to ensure that funds are distributed equitably. Are there times equitable distribution doesn’t happen? Yes, but in large part curbing abuse is like adding a few drops to a very big bucket.

Part of the long-term answer is contained in the work we are doing to redesign the assignment system, since we’ve seen clearly in our data that schools with large concentrations of low-income children of color  are often low-performing schools. Some studies seem to indicate a “tipping point,” a threshold where the concentration of low-income children of color begins to affect the achievement of every student at the school. It’s easy to see how such a “tipping point” could arise: in the school I visited this week, a large number of the students have untreated post traumatic stress disorder. These students are unable to focus, are often disruptive, and eat up the lion’s share of their teacher’s time. They need specialized treatment to help them be available for learning; treatment that even the most skilled and caring teacher isn’t trained to provide.  If too many of these students are in the same school, our fragile support systems are quickly overwhelmed, and every student’s learning suffers.

But at the core is the same old truth “everybody” except 33 percent of the Legislature knows — California doesn’t fund its schools at a level that is realistic for what we expect them to accomplish. And until we do that, too many of our well-trained, dedicated teachers are going to  feel “disheartened.”