January 2011 Archives

@eduleadership Washington state Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Medina) has introduced a bill (full text PDF) to require school districts to conduct layoffs based on performance ratings over the previous two years. This would overturn the near-universal practice of laying off teachers with the least seniority in their specific job category, as required by most collective bargaining agreements in the state. In short, the bill would require districts facing layoffs to lay off the teachers with the lowest two-year average performance rating. The most recent evaluation (i.e. last year's) would carry 60% of the weight, and the previous evaluation would make ...


@eduleadership The Wyoming legislature has proposed a pilot project to video-record teachers without warning for their evaluations, with the teacher, the principal, a parent, and an instructional coach all watching the video and using it as the basis of the teacher's evaluation. Since teachers would not know when the 60-minute video would be taken, and since multiple evaluators would rate the lesson, the rationale is that evaluations would be more reliable and accurate. Lawmakers seem to be expressing a frustration in principals' current effectiveness in evaluating teachers: "The system we have now is not working," [Republican state senator and sponsor ...


@eduleadership This past week, Washington released its annual list of the lowest-performing 5% of schools, which are eligible for state School Improvement Grants. I'm not sure when or why 5% was chosen as the magic number of schools that are unacceptably low-performing, but that figure seems to reflect an emerging consensus on performance in public education. This NY Times/Bay Citizen article on "grade inflation" in teacher evaluations reports that only 2.7% of San Francisco teachers received below-satisfactory ratings in the past five years, and that not a single tenured teacher has been fired in the past three years. ...


@eduleadership Teacher quality seems to be the top issue in education improvement these days. If only we had better teachers, the reasoning goes, we'd get better results for students. Great teachers can help close the achievement gap, and poor teachers (particularly because they are disproportionately assigned to the neediest students) can widen it. A lot of noise is made about the fact that teachers vary in effectiveness. Of course they do. But we have to treat this as a fundamental property of measurements of populations; in any group, any particular performance characteristic we choose to measure will vary (often, but ...


@eduleadership Bill Turque at the Washington Post reports that new DC mayor Vincent Gray is aware of the limitations of former chancellor Michelle Rhee's IMPACT teacher evaluation system, noting concerns that it unfairly rates teachers in lower-income schools: So I guess I would say at this stage... it's a step in the right direction, but it's got a long way to go to be a fair evaluation of our teachers. And frankly any system that isn't sensitive to the differences in challenges of the kids in the schools only encourages teachers to teach in one part of the city and ...


@eduleadership I believe that teaching is a profession, but that it differs from other white-collar professions in several important respects, not the least of which is the employer-employee relationship between districts and individual educators. If there is any doubt that educators are employees, consider the case of Shelley Evans-Marshall, who was fired after teaching using books that parents found objectionable. The specifics of the case matter less than the Sixth Circuit Court's rationale in ruling for the district: Teachers' speech in the classroom is essentially purchased by school districts, and as such is not subject to First Amendment protections. Let ...


@eduleadership The only way to improve student learning in our schools is by implementing "reforms." Or so we're told by the preponderance of current rhetoric about education. But what is a reform? Logically, if something is to be reformed, it must be changed, so presumably we're talking about changing from old practices to new. For the logic of reform to hold, the new practices must be better than the old. But it isn't so simple when you consider how practitioners actually experience reforms. We're often told that the biggest problem is a lack of fidelity of implementation, but even if ...


@eduleadership Last-in, first-out policies have attracted enormous attention in recent years as economic conditions have necessitated teacher layoffs around the country. Should we let our newest teachers go, or should we use information about performance to decide who should be dismissed? Dan Goldhaber wrote a guest post last week on EdWeek's blog Rick Hess Straight Up that describes the results of his recent study on the economic and learning impact of seniority-based layoffs, in which he empirically investigates a few common-sense arguments against seniority-based layoffs: New teachers may not be the best, but they're hardly ever the worst teachers, and ...


@eduleadership Washington governor Christine Gregoire just announced her plan for creating a single agency responsible for P-20 education in the state. Ostensibly a cost-saving and strategy integration move, this reorganization would make the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction report to a governor-appointed Secretary of Education, who would oversee all state education agencies. From her policy brief: Our students deserve a world-class education at every step in the process -- in preschool, elementary through high school, an apprenticeship program or college. Their future and personal success rely on it. Our economy and way of life depend on it. But we do ...


@eduleadership Is teaching quality the same as teacher quality? Kim Marshall recently pointed me to this excellent article by Mary M. Kennedy of Michigan State University, which makes a strong case for focusing more on the conditions of teacher practice than on stable teacher characteristics. As studies such as MET have shown, teacher value-added scores are highly unstable from year to year, and even between different sections of the same class taught by the same teacher. I've argued that this is because value-added is a poor technique for measuring teacher quality, but Kennedy's article makes a more intriguing assertion: VAM ...


@eduleadership Why did Race to the Top scoring criteria mandate that teacher evaluations be based heavily (up to 50%) on student test scores? Why did states play along, passing scores of laws requiring just such a shift? Why are so many current education reform efforts focused on measuring teacher quality? The answer to all these question lies, in part, in policymakers' frustrations over how little control they have over what happens in the classroom. As any teacher knows, whatever storms swirl outside, it's always possible to "close the door and teach." Since No Child Left Behind, policymakers have been hard ...


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