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Teachers and the Race to the Top Fund

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If there was any doubt that the Obama administration was going to be aggressive on the teacher-quality front, it was put to rest by the Race to the Top application guidelines released today. Or, to put it another way, "highly qualified" teachers is, like, so 2001. The new federal push is clearly on ways to measure teachers' effectiveness and create systems to help them improve, all as defined by their performance with students.

You can find the finalized proposed application, along with the proposed applications for Phase II of the federal stimulus funds and the longitudinal-data-systems grants here.

Without further ado, here are what appear to be the key provisions that will affect teachers, unions, and all concerned with our nation's systems for preparing and deploying teachers.

1. The big news on the stimulus guidance, as colleague Michele "I eat embargoes for breakfast" McNeil writes, is that states like New York, California, and Wisconsin, may be ineligible because of their "data firewalls."When I wrote about this issue last October, I thought we were maybe a good two to three years away from seriously having to confront it. I was wrong.

There is now news trickling out that California is going to challenge ED's interpretation, its argument being that the state law only prohibits the state, not school districts, from using the student-achievement data. To that one must ask the question of whether most districts have the data capacity to do this. Wouldn't it make more sense economically and logistically to use a centralized system?

2. The stimulus application, for the first time, sets a federal definition of teacher effectiveness. Essentially, an effective teacher is one who moves his or her students forward at least one year or grade level's worth of academic growth. Rotherham thinks this is laying the groundwork for discussions about the No Child Left Behind law renewal.

The application also requires states to have a plan and targets for ensuring that these effective teachers are equitably distributed among high- and low-minority and high- and low-poverty schools. You may recall that all the states submitted equitable-distribution plans in 2006 and then promptly put them on the shelf and forgot about them. Back then, the distribution was concerned with "highly qualified" teachers. If the department is really serious about distributing effective, rather than qualified teachers, states receiving the RTTT funds are going to have to amp up their game. I only know of one state, Tennessee, that has even begun to conduct an analysis of where the most effective teachers are located.

In the meantime, Phase II of the stimulus guidance will apparently make good on the requirement that states report much more information about the state of their existing teacher- and principal-evaluation systems.

3. So you think it's all about performance-based pay? Nuh-uh. States receiving Race to the Top funds must commit to using their teacher-effectiveness data for everything from evaluating teachers to determining the type of professional development they get to making decisions about granting tenure and pursuing dismissals. And, they will also be expected to track graduates of their education schools into classrooms to help institutions figure out which pathways and courses produce the best teachers.

4. With all this teacher stuff tied to test scores, you may be wondering how the unions feel. The criteria ask applicants to provide evidence that union leaders have approved the application, by signing a memorandum of understanding. However, during a conference call this morning with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, I asked whether not having this endorsement is something that would make or break a state's chances. "I don't know if it would actually make you ineligible but [having that assurance] is something we would give a lot of attention to," Duncan said.

Not entirely sure where that leaves Randi Weingarten and the American Federation of Teachers, who have pledged to make good use of the comment period on these regulations. However, I do think all this raises some big questions for the National Education Association. In a recent interview, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel told me he wanted to seek clarification from Duncan on the use of the teacher data systems before staking out his position on them. Looks like he's got his clarification now, and it will be interesting to see the union's next steps.

We'll have more reaction for you shortly...

6 Comments

Wouldn't it make more sense economically and logistically to use a centralized system?

No! The issue is not technical. The models required for a state to us data as the preliminary cut as to who is effective do not exist. They'll never exist for the purpose of driving evaluations, although they could be used to complement or supplement human judgements or award bonuses. As you indicate, only Tennessee has started down that path for the imited purpose of evaluating whether effctive teachers are distributed fairly.

The point isn't the technology, it the question of whether you want to use the tecnology to bash teachers and unions or use it in some ill-considered way hoping to do good. If a district wants to set up a data system and then misuse it, then that should be a fight between that district and the union.

Most districts wouldn't use the power unleashed by Duncan's proposal to destroy, and some would use it well. Most would be somewhere in between.

This will get worked out, I bet. I've never met Randi or her advisors. But problem-solving, that's what we do.

Also, I know I sound like a broken record on this. But ask people who have been in the classroom and they'll understand. Or, you could read the Ernst and Young audit on NYC schools. Would you give power to Joel Klein shop that is so extreme in manipulating data to end your caeer? Think of all the tricks they use (rightly or wrongl) to graduate students. What would you think if they used those lies to drive them out of school? Can unions give power to system to manipulate data to drive teachers out?

So how do you measure a kid's progress of one grade level? By how they do on a standardized test? That seems so shallow and just leads to more teaching to the test.

Good question about how (when?) states will use effectiveness data to make sure teachers are equitably distributed. But in terms of "which teachers remain to be equitably distributed?", I'm in the middle of a research review that suggests that we've only created a minimal standard for teacher qualifications. The most "qualified" teachers continue to be inequitably distributed. Furthermore,unfortunately, the research suggests that as long as teachers vary significantly in "quality" or "effectiveness" (no matter how you define them) poor students and students of color are more likely to get a a greater share of the least qualified and least effective teachers...

Who thinks this stuff up? Standardized tests have been doing such a wonderful job of distorting our education system that we need to extend their dubious benefits to our teaching force? Only in the Cloud Cuckoo Land where education policy gets made could such an idea be one of the main pillars of a serious reform.

I won't even address the inherent unfairness of evaluating one human being's performance on the basis of the decisions and actions of other individuals. Let me just point to two resources for those who would like to get outside the fantasyland where policies our leaders might wish would be effective actually are effective. First, pick up a copy of Daniel Koretz' book, "Measuring Up", and turn to pages 115-16. "Everyone who studies edcational achievement knows that differences in scores arise in substantial part from noneducational factors." Continue reading for more enlightenment.

Then, if you're still not convinced the idea is both unworkable and likely to do far more harm than good, try Sharon Nichols and David Berliner's "Collateral Damage" for an idea of just what kind of impact Campbell's Law will have on the profession of teaching when salaries and continued employment are based on a quantitative indicator. The indicator will be corrupted, for sure, and unfortunately so will some of the people.

If you want to find effective teachers, go observe them teaching. Talk with their colleagues and with their students and their parents. Evaluate the full range of things their students can do, and then render a decision about which teacher is effective and which isn't. Too expensive? Sorry, I didn't know you weren't serious about finding effective teachers.

My disappointment with the depth of thought in the current administration continues to deepen.

YESSSS!! More hoops for teachers. And just in time, my gluteus maximus, quadriceps, and gastrocnemius were beginning to atrophy. I am really good at jumping through hoops. We all are. We do it all the time, every day, all year long. It does NOTHING, however, to increase student success. Mr. (or is it Dr.?) Duncan, all teachers know that the number one factor influencing student achievement is PARENTAL INVOLVEMENT!!!! Parents, send your children to school every day rested and fed without their cell phones and even the most minimally HQT will work miracles! I promise!

I teach science in an inner-city high school. Last year approximately one in four of my 68 chemistry and 71 anatomy & physiology students (11th and 12th grade) were absent at least one day every two weeks. About one in seven were out at least seven days per quarter. Around one in ten were absent once a week or more.

Of the students who do make it to school many are sleep-deprived (up until 2 am and up at 7 am); many are hungry and have no money for lunch; and many are mentally absent because they are surreptitiously reading a text message.

Oh, absolutely, these students' test scores should be used to evaluate my performance.

Absence rates increase as grade level decreases, so next year will be worse. I will be teaching two sections of 10th grade biology (22-26 students each) and four sections of 9R physical science (20-26 students each). 9R? That is a 9th grade student who failed the class and must repeat it. These 9R's represent about a third of our current freshman class of 300, a fourth of whom came on up from junior high with a GPA of 1.0 or below. Mr. Duncan, as a parent, would you send your child on up to high school with a 1.0 GPA? I would not.

But I should definitely be evaluated on THEIR test scores.

Some readers may be thinking that mine is a unique situation. Trust me, it is not.

School boards want their levies to pass. Politicians want to keep their seats. Parents are asked (encouraged, cajoled, coerced) to step up to the polls and vote, not to step up to the responsibility of getting involved in their children's education.

Go ahead and keep giving catchy names to all this top-down malarky. We can handle any flaming hoop thrown our way. Students will not be better served until service starts at home.

To comment on this proposal gives it more creditability then it deserves! Bruce Smith has really identified the underlying issues that are the basis assumptions of this policy. The history of this topic clearly demonstrates that it is impossible and impractical to hold one individual responsible for another individuals behavior. There is one thing to remember that only attendance is compulsory. Learning is voluntary. The use of standardized achievement test to judge teachers and principals is far beyond the scope and purpose of the tests. It would be good to ask Dr.Duncan if we can use the nations test scores to evaluate his work as well as the Presidents. I am sure he would think that this was an attempt to be humorous but I can assure him that I mention this in all seriousness. If this gets to the point of implementation then we need to evaluate our state as well as federal leadership on the basis of the achievement of the students.

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