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UPDATED: AFT Slams 'Top Down' Report on Effective Teachers

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The Strategic Management of Human Capital initiative released a report today outlining new strategies for attracting, developing, and maintaining an effective teacher workforce, and in doing so, has managed to really tick off Randi Weingarten and the American Federation of Teachers. She calls the report "top down" and "disrespectful" of teachers and unions. UPDATED: Here is the link to the report.

Among the recommendations, the report says states and districts should raise entry requirements for teacher preparation; institute a tiered licensure system requiring teachers to complete an induction program and demonstrate teaching effectiveness before receiving tenure; and overhaul professional development and evaluations to be standards-based and to provide pathways for teacher improvement.

AFT has both substantive beefs with the proposals at hand, and feels that feedback from its representatives to the task force wasn't adequately taken into account in the report's drafting. A letter that Weingarten sent off to the task force chairs, Allan Odden and James Kelly, says that the report "relies too much on untested ideas for finding excellent teachers, and not enough on supporting and developing teachers to make them great."

She says the proposals don't pay enough attention to the context in which teachers teach, and that accountability for student outcomes is focused too heavily on teachers, and not on the administrators and other environmental factors that affect working conditions. And finally, there is not enough focus on developing reforms in collaboration, with unions, she asserts.

"The work of the task force so far, however, has focused almost exclusively on how teachers need to change rather than how the system and all its actors need to change and work collaboratively to support effective teaching and student learning," Weingarten writes in the letter.

Let's take all of this in turn.

On the "untested" piece: It's true that there are only a handful of experiments to reward teachers on anything other the basis of longevity and credentials. But most of these examples are bonus programs rather than true-blue overhauls of teacher compensation and some of them were done with unions. The general idea is hardly revolutionary, and there are some interesting new studies in the works to help flesh out the research literature on this topic.

As for some of the other ideas, New Mexico and a handful of other states already have a version of tiered licensure. Rhode Island and Indiana are contemplating raising the entry point on teacher-licensing examinations. Unions and administrators alike think professional development and evaluations are lousy and need to be more closely tailored to professional standards to offer quality feedback for improvement. I've never heard anyone from the AFT knock teacher induction. And one of AFT's own locals, Minneapolis, has a rather elaborate process for tenure-granting that includes the submission of a portfolio. (Read more about it in this report.)

I don't know whether all of these examples have really great scientifically based evaluation procedures in place so that we can learn from them. (One hopes so, because otherwise it will be hard to figure out if they're superior to current systems.)

On Weingarten's criticism that this report focuses too heavily on teachers: It's not invalid to say that things like community organizations and parents and wraparound services should be part of the conversation, but can you fault a task force on teachers and principals for focusing, you know, on teachers and principals?

On the other hand, she does make a good point with the environmental-issues factor. She notes that the report says principal evaluations should include consideration of school context, but doesn't mention context with respect to teacher evaluations. (It would be very interesting and enlightening to see whether SHMC, in subsequent work, specifically addresses school context within an improved system of human capital management.)

I am not privy to how the SHMC folks worked to craft this report. But If the drafters had fixed that language on environmental factors (an additional sentence would've done it) and liberally sprinkled the phrase "in collaboration with unions" in the report, would AFT would have had a different reaction?

9 Comments

Thanks for this good informative write up. I think that teachers should not focus upon the need of changing the administration policy, but instead they should attend more programs to improve their teaching skill for better professional development and evaluations.

Gace,
A perfect response from a memory testing company, since that is where learning is heading if people like the "Strategic Management of Human Capital" have their way (they won't(.

And Sawchuk,
You still don't get that this is so much more than a matter of sprinkling in the phrase "in collaboration with unions." Maybe you should change your column's title from Teacher Beat to Beat Teachers.

I am a laid off technical writer with a Master's Degree in English, and two successful children in college. I decided to make a career change into teaching and am almost finished with my credentialing program.

Most of the teachers I have met, via subbing and student teaching are burned out. They have not lost enthusiasm from the students, but from the ever-changing hoops they must jump through. I learned to put the standard we are coverin up on the board in my training program. No big deal, right? I have not seen one teacher in action who does this.

Teachers are demoralized because they are the scapegoats of a broken system. In high tech, every minute we worked went into the product. In teaching, I have hours of work that are piled up in the garage. I have a whole 8th grade year-long curriculum that I created with blood, sweat, and tears. Will it ever be used again? Not unless I happen to get a job as an 8th grade teacher. And, after all the effort I put in to that, I don't know if I want to recreate lessons that may never be used again.

I worked at a district where hr hired me and then said they made a mistake in my qualifications. After that, the principal and other administrators abused me. However, I stuck it out.

It's not the teachers. Most attempt to keep their vision on their love of teaching evening with all of the neglect, futile work and expectations, and even abuse.

- Elly

I'm a member of AFT (my union is jointly affiliated with both AFT and NEA, a rarity) and though I often disagree with the leadership, they're right here. The point is not "collaboration with teacher unions" as so much boilerplate -- the point is collaboration WITH TEACHERS in school governance, in curriculum development, in designment appropriate assessment instruments to measure student achievement (including self-assessments) -- and applying the same principles to teacher education and staff development as well. Here in LA Unified, administrators are the highest paid, and teachers the lowest paid, in the county. This is the result of the application of the top-down "business model" to the schools, exemplified in the very title of the report in question: neither I nor my students are "human capital" -- an atrocious, Orwellian piece of dehumanization. The application of 'management principles' to the process of education assumes we are all cogs in the great machine, turning out widgets to install.

Following the link you provided I was struck that that report was contradicted by the reports you could find by scrolling down to "Measuring Teaching Performance Papers." Neither do I know how those SHMC folks who drafted their paper were ignoring the research of other SHMC folks, but I do know this. An "on the other hand" comment on the second to the last paragraph does not inspire confidence that the importance of environmental factors are being fully considered. If we are going down such a dangerous path, details are hugely important, second only to a deep spirit of collaboration.

My better judgement tells me that we may be making a terrible mistake by going along with any test scores for evaluations, but I don't see any alternative. So we must proceed but very diligently.

Michael from L.A., Susan Ohanian posted that "Teachers as Human Capital" lengthy piece & I, a teacher of 36 years, read it. Wants to turn
teaching into a business production, just as your last sentence states. Teaching is the art of collaboration of grade-level peers and classroom experience to craft techniques for effective delivery of material to learn.
I 100% agree with you. To you, John Thompson, yes, using test scores for evals IS a terrible mistake! STATUS QUO is the alternative. Read Merryman's piece in Newsweek Nurture Shock blog(11/2), which extols the success of U.S. education. No need for major reform, as it isn't majorly broken!

John is correct about proceeding down this path diligently. I would have recommended cautiously, but that's merely semantics.

What some districts/states are doing is getting their feet wet incrementally. That is, they are using student test scores for twenty-five percent of the teacher's evaluation this year and as time goes on and they're able to work out the wrinkles, increasing that percent. Seems like a reasonable approach and one that could work.

I do not believe a system should ever get to one hundred percent reliance on student tests to determine a teacher's worth. However, to deny they have the potential to be very informative in judging a teacher's value added to students is simply untenable, especially in light of what we know about the existing teacher evaluation system and the development of VAMs.

Even though I love teaching and my ELD students beat nearly all California state averages on their standardized tests year after year, I still fled, demoralized, into retirement after 35 years. Why? I could see that unquestioning conformity and compliance to directives from above were way more important than excellence. And I could foresee that the numbers game mandated by NCLB's raise-the-bar-every-year rules combined with California's very high proficiency standards was not one I could go on winning without being forced into cheating.
For the past few years, I have been subbing and have noticed some consistencies: The only teachers and principals that don't have serious morale problems are those teaching in upper income schools where parents serve as unpaid tutors. Tutoring in lower income schools is totally inadequate due to ill educated parents and insufficient funding for paid tutors. Private tutoring companies have not been effective due to lack of cooperation from and coordination with school districts who resent the loss of funding.
Then there are the restrooms. If you want to know if a school has a morale problem, there's no need to ask the teachers. Just take a look at the restrooms they have to use.
On the other hand, it looks like about 5 percent of the teaching force should get into another line of work once the economy improves. They are not doing themselves or their students any favors by inflicting their misery and incompetence to their young charges. Unions are in denial about this. Their excuse is that by protecting the minority they are protecting the majority from incompetent administrators, vindictive parents, etc. They have a good point, but there must be a better middle ground.
I think there is fear from the unions that test scores could so easily become the sole way to evaluate teachers' and students' performance. They have a good point there, too. Numbers are such a siren song in a bureaucracy even though they can provide incomplete and misleading data.
And then there is the curriculum itself. Has anyone recently sat down and wondered why we teach all that we teach and leave out other things? Why is it in California that students need to "learn" personal responses to literature but don't know much about learning from or critically evaluating non fiction text? What's the point of all the gyrations with complex fractions and algebraic equations, but practical consumer economics is given only a wink and a nod? Why aren't basic Roman Numerals on the standards even though they appear in the titles of movie sequels? Why can't kids sign their names any more? If kids saw more relevance to what they're being taught, they might stick around more.
So I do agree that our education system is in big need of improvement. But one thing that we never notice, we should celebrate: For over 100 years, our public schools have consistently turned the children of immigrants into Americans. European educators envy our success.

I was once a superb teacher. Students loved me, parents loved me, and occasionally principals loved me. I wish I could still say the same. Now, I feel batter and bruised by a stem that is completely dismissive of teachers and the valuable input they can offer. Now, it's the day of blame the teacher, scapegoat the teacher, but never, ever, take a close look at the deteriorated quality of administrators.

In my district we routinely have "the parade of the principals. Instead of firing the incompetent ones, the district moves them from school to school. The schools most in need of excellent principals get the worst ones. Nevertheless, any performance failures are blamed on the teachers. By contrast, successes are credited to the new principals for their superb leadership; it's amazing how scores can leap within a few months of a change in principalship! Not.

There is no easy way to evaluate a teacher's performance. There are many variable to consider, including favoritism.

I feel sad when I remember how I used to be able to teach and compare to how I am now forced to compromise.

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