Saturday, March 6, 2010

Elizabeth Green's Front Page Sunday Mag Article on Teachers - I'll Hold My Congratulations

I've only read a third of the article, Building a Better Teacher, but I'm heading for the treadmill at the gym to finish it. So far I am not happy based on who is quoted - Klein, Rhee, Gates and Hanushek. It's all about the teacher. All other factors disappear in a sea of data. I saw so many things in the first 2 pages to criticize I could not go on.

This quote should get some people riled:

"A new generation of economists devised statistical methods to measure 'value-added' to a student's performance by almost every factor imaginable: class size versus per-pupil funding versus curriculum. When researchers ran the numbers in dozens of different studies, every factor under a school's control produced just a tiny impact, except fro one: which teacher the student had been assigned to."

Elizabeth's homework is to read the first week of posts from Eduwonkette, which dealt with the issue of teacher quality in depth. After I finish reading Elizabeth's article we'll decide if we should add Elizabeth the kick line.

EDUWONKETTE (JENNIFER JENNINGS)
Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Teacher Effectiveness Kickline

From Eli Broad and Michael Bloomberg to George Miller and Checker Finn, we’re awash in chatter about measuring and rewarding teacher effectiveness. This week I’ll consider some of the problems with these proposals. What’s missing from this discussion, I argue, is a full exploration of their potential consequences for students, teachers, and schools.

Let me note that I am not opposed to measuring and rewarding teacher effectiveness in principle. But it’s more complicated than most commentators would like to acknowledge, and I hope this week’s postings will help us think about that complexity.

Monday: Tunnel vision syndrome - The teacher effectiveness debate focuses only on a narrow set of the goals of public education, which may endanger other important goals we have for our schools.

Tuesday: No teacher is an island - The teacher effectiveness debate ignores that teachers play many roles in a school. Experienced teachers often serve as anchoring forces in addition to teaching students in their own classrooms. If we don’t acknowledge this interdependence, we may destabilize schools altogether.

Wednesday: Ignoring the great sorting machine - If students were randomly assigned to classrooms and schools, measuring teacher effects would be a much more straightforward enterprise. But when Mrs. Jones is assigned the lowest achievers, and Mrs. Scott’s kids are in the gifted and talented program, matters are complicated immeasurably.

Thursday: Overlooking the oops factor - Everything in the world is measured with error, and the best research on teacher effectiveness takes this very seriously. Yet many of those hailing teacher effectiveness proposals missed out on Statistics 101.

Friday: Disregarding labor market effects - The nature of evaluation affects not only current teachers, but who chooses to join the profession in the future and where they are willing to teach. If we don’t acknowledge that kids that are further behind are harder to pull up, we risk creating yet another incentive for teachers to avoid the toughest schools.

Here we are at mile 26 of the teacher effectiveness marathon - the previous posts are all archived here.

One of the summer’s highlights was a talk at AEI by Chicago labor economist Derek Neal. (Footnote: AEI talks generally make me want to impale myself on a Powerpoint projector, but this one was exceptional.) For those who weren’t there, you can watch the video here.

Neal found that low-performing kids in Chicago got shafted when the Chicago accountability system went into place, and again after NCLB was implemented. His talk wasn’t about teacher labor markets, but he made a critical point in this area. If the measurement of teacher effectiveness doesn’t take into account that some kids start off further behind that others and I am labeled a bad teacher as a result, why would I teach in a low-performing school? We have a hard enough time staffing these schools to begin with, in part because of salary differentials but also because of working conditions. If these teachers feel disrespected as professionals because the measurement system doesn’t acknowledge that they have a tougher job, I predict that we’re going to have a harder time recruiting and retaining teachers in these schools. This is conjecture, I know – we really have very little evidence about such a system because no one has implemented a comprehensive teacher effectiveness plan yet. (If you know of any studies on this issue, please email them to me.)

The best part, I thought, was towards the end of the discussion, where Doug Mesecar (Asst. Secretary at Ed) and Neal go back and forth in response to Mesecar’s question, “Are you saying our teachers are not professionals?”, i.e. that they're not good enough to get everyone to proficiency no matter how far behind they start. Most folks back down when challenged with the “soft bigotry of low expectations” rhetoric, but Neal was having none of it.

That’s it for teacher effectiveness, folks – I hope that this week has made you think through some of the issues we don’t hear much about in this debate.

(Kickline roster (from left to right): Eli Broad (Broad Foundation), Kati Haycock (Ed Trust), Michael Bloomberg (NYC), Michael Petrilli and Checker Finn (Fordham).)


That's it for my blast from Eduwonkette past. Elizabeth Green is assigned to write each post 20 times on the blackboard. Or in Powerpoint.



11 comments:

  1. Whitney Tilson just came out and praised Elizabeth Green's article in tomorrow's Times. Enough said.

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  2. In fact I am starting to question the objectivity of Gotham Schools.

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  3. Student success is indeed a complex issue.

    The problem is that when you start to mix in a billion other factors (like home life, parents, discipline, etc) it starts to take the focus away from where it should be: on the teaching.

    It may be true that teachers can't control a student's personal life or make sure that he/she does homework....fine.

    BUT if we're going to get anywhere in solving the problems of our education system, schools and teachers should focus on the things they CAN control (i.e.- the quality of the teaching).

    Putting so much emphasis on outside factors is simply a way of absolving teachers of responsibility.

    Instead of throwing our hands up and saying "these kids can't learn" or "life's too hard for these kids"....why don't we focus our energy on figuring out the best way to teach??

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  4. In ANY job, you don't get to control who you work with, who your clients are.....or even how you are evaluated. Sure, teachers don't control who their students are (or the students' home lives)....we should get over it and focus on doing our job as best we can without excuses.

    I don't see why it's a problem for teachers to be treated the same as those who work in other professions.

    We all agree that teaching is truly a profession.....so why the pushback against accountability?. Lack of accountability cheapens the profession and makes it so that anyone with a pulse can get hired to do it.

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  5. To misguided Blake, who says "we should get over it and focus on doing our job as best we can . . ."
    Most of us do, but we could do it better if they lowered class size, and stopped wasting everyone's time with testing, paperwork, hall duty, and data analyses.

    ". . . without excuses."
    These are not excuses. They are the roadblocks we have to maneuver around to do the job we set out to do in the first place. Not one of these things makes it any easier for us.

    And by the way, please figure out how to define "accountability" in a meaningful way before you accuse anyone of pushing back against it. It's obvious you're still green at this.

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  6. Also, let's set up a system where the administrations of schools are good enough and given enough support to set up their schools so that teachers only need to concentrate on working with the kids, academically. We talk about home life, then we talk about teachers, but, administrations of schools seem to get a pass on setting up the best learning environment for students AND teachers. Forget top down and let's go bottom up here...If teachers are bad then it's because of their administrators, if administrators are bad, then it's because of politicians/education managers who are in charge of hiring/training, and giving them support. It seems the buck always stops with teachers and no one else. Well, I'm bucking sick of it.

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  7. "We all agree that teaching is truly a profession....."

    We don't all agree. Professionals control their professions. Teachers have no say.

    Thus to "I don't see why it's a problem for teachers to be treated the same as those who work in other professions"

    tell us how doctors and lawyers are rated in any manner like you are asking teachers to be held accountable. By outcomes?

    Want to compare rates for death row lawyers getting people off? Spend your time doing that so someone on death row can make an informed choice.

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  8. EdNotes-- I think it's certainly fair game to discuss *how* teachers should be evaluated. There are many ways to do it....and I don't think test scores should be the sole component. But it's not unfair to evaluate a teacher for her/his teaching.

    And, no, all professions don't get to control how they are evaluated. Doctors and lawyers all get rated on a variety of criteria by a variety of groups (industry groups, insurance companies, magazines, etc)....not all of those ratings are good or fair....but I'd bet money that doctors don't get to control it. Every major profession also engages in internal evaluations...how else do you think hospitals decide which doctors get to work there?

    In my view, teaching should not be evaluated by how nice your bulletin boards are, how many clubs you sponsor, etc etc....the majority of it should be based on one's effectiveness in the classroom (however you choose to measure it).

    Look at it from a student/parent perspective. If I send my child to a school, I have a reasonable right to expect that my child is going to learn. Why should a teacher who is not able to teach be allowed to return to a classroom year after year?

    Maybe there should be a provision for mandatory "time outs" to allow struggling teachers to get better training or to partner with an excellent teacher. But whether you fire them or not, bad teachers shouldnt be allowed to keep failing the students.

    What happens if your mechanic routinely fails to fix your car? You find a new mechanic.

    What happens if you go to a restaurant that serves bad food? You go somewhere else.

    Testing and accountability are not the problem. They are symptoms of a much larger disease, which is that increasing numbers of parents don't feel that the schools meet their kids' needs.

    Let the conversation start there.

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  9. Testing and accountability are not the real issue. They are being intentionally misused as tools to break public schools apart. A defeatist attitude reigns regarding the inability to fix the public school system and/or work with unions and communities without winding up in stalemates, and the resulting actions are not really reform. Chopping schools up and micromanaging is just shoddy business management. It's not the worst idea in the world if carefully and intelligently implemented (small schools, small class sizes and meaningful themes sounds pretty good), however to do so with such recklessness, defiant autocracy and upheaval for so many students, parents and excellent staff is truly abhorrent and unnecessarily destructive.

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  10. "No other profession -- not medicine, not finance, not engineering, not anything -- is inherently more complex than teaching."

    Susan Ohanian

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