Getting classroom observations right

For all the talk of “value-added” performance measures, most teachers can’t be evaluated by gains in their students’ test scores because they don’t teach tested subjects or no prior test scores are available, write Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, Matthew M. Chingos and Katharine M. Lindquist in Education Next. That makes it important to get classroom observations right.

“Teacher evaluations should include two to three annual classroom observations, with at least one of those observations being conducted by a trained observer from outside the teacher’s school,” they recommend.

In addition, classroom observations “should carry at least as much weight as test-score gains in determining a teacher’s overall evaluation score when both are available.”

ednext_XV_1_whitehurst_fig03-smallTeachers with lots of low-performing students complain they’re rated ineffective unfairly.

That’s true, say the researchers. “Districts should adjust teachers’ classroom-observation scores for the background characteristics of their students, a factor that can have a substantial and unfair influence on a teacher’s evaluation rating.”

Scores can be adjusted for “the percentages of students who are white, black, Hispanic, special education, eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, English language learners, and male,” they write.

Poll: Parents are cooler on college

Americans are less likely to say a college education is very important and less confident they can pay for it, according to the 2014 PDK/Gallup Poll.

Four years ago, 75 percent said college is very important. That’s down to 50 percent.

Only 13 percent believe a high school graduate is ready to start a career. But only 37 percent say college graduates are ready for the workforce.

In order of importance, Americans believe the most important factor in helping a high school student get a good job one day is: learning skills like dependability, persistence, and teamwork; having a mentor or adviser; earning a B or higher grade point average; and working on a real-world project that takes at least six months to complete. Performing well on standardized tests, such as the ACT and SAT, was rated lowest in importance for getting a good job.

“We were genuinely surprised by the divided response on the importance of college,” said William Bushaw, CEO of PDK. “Americans seem to be rethinking the idea that a college education is essential.”

By strong margins, those polled higher entrance requirements to education schools, more practice time for new teachers and board certification.

College is the new high school

A college degree is becoming the new high school diploma, the minimum credential required to get even the most basic, entry-level job. Thanks to “upcredentialing,” it takes a BA to get a job as a file clerk.

NY charter parents sue for equal funding

New York underfunds charter schools, discriminating against low-income, black and Latino students and denying them an equal education, charges a lawsuit filed today by Buffalo and Rochester parents.

Buffalo’s district-run schools get $23,524 per student, while charter schools receive $13,700, according to the suit, filed with the help of the Northeast Charter Schools Network. That’s about 60 percent of district funding. In Rochester and New York City, charters get 68 percent of the per-student funding allotted to district schools.

“New York’s charter students receive a fraction of what their friends in district schools receive—that’s unfair, unconstitutional, and discriminatory,” said NESCN Interim President Kyle Rosenkrans. “And because the formula provides no money for buildings, charters must divert their already shortchanged classroom dollars to pay the rent.”

Some 107,000 New York students attend charters and more than 50,000 are on charter school waiting lists. Ninety percent of charter school students are black and Hispanic compared to 41 percent in district schools. Some 80 percent are considered economically disadvantaged vs. 52 percent in regular district schools.

For the Core — with doubts

“I think the Common Core State Standards are our best shot at creating an education system that meets the challenges of the 21st century,” writes Dylan Wiliam, an emeritus professor of educational assessment, who served on the Validation Committee. But he refused to “validate” the standards.

On Rick Hess’ blog, Wiliam explains why.

Committee members were asked to agree that the standards are:

1) Reflective of the core knowledge and skills in ELA and mathematics that students need to be college- and career-ready
2) Appropriate in terms of their level of clarity and specificity
3) Comparable to the expectations of other leading nations
4) Informed by available research or evidence
5) The result of processes that reflect best practices for standards development
6) A solid starting point for adoption of cross state common core standards
7) A sound basis for eventual development of standards-based assessments

In a letter to the CCSSO, Wiliam said he agreed with statements 1, 6 and 7 and “can persuade myself that statements 4 and 5 are just about OK (although it’s a stretch).”

However, I cannot in all conscience, endorse statements 2 and 3. The standards are, in my view, much more detailed, and, as Jim Milgram has pointed out, are in important respects less demanding, than the standards of the leading nations.

. . . I think there is also a real tension between pitching the standards at college-readiness (which is fine) and saying that they are comparable to the world’s leading nations in mathematics when many countries are much more demanding at college entry, because they recruit a smaller proportion of the population.

It’s “silly to claim the standards are evidence-based,” adds Wiliam. “They are choices about curriculum, and no amount of evidence can shed any light on whether we should study Shakespeare or Dickens.”

The conservative case for the Core

William J. Bennett, Reagan’s education secretary, makes The Conservative Case for Common Core in the Wall Street Journal.

. . . public schools should have high standards based on a core curriculum that is aligned with tests that are comparable across state lines. The U.S. has several types of national exams that assume at least some common basis of knowledge and understanding. These exams—NAEP, AP, SAT and ACT—work and most of the country agrees that they are useful.

“The standards do not prescribe what is taught in our classrooms or how it’s taught,” argues Bennett.

“The Common Core was meant from the get-go to replace state and local autonomy with national control,” responds Peter Wood on Minding the Campus. “Of course, if you like the federal educrats running the curriculum with the aid of a couple of privately held testing consortia and the enthusiastic support of some textbook mega-publishers, the Common Core may be your thing.” But don’t call it “conservative.”

Poor kids need homework

Too much homework may be a problem for the children of educated, affluent parents, writes Robert Pondiscio in The Atlantic. These kids start out ahead — enrichment starts in pregnancy — and attend excellent schools. Poor Students Need Homework, writes Pondiscio.

“For the low-income kids of color that I have worked with, thoughtful, well-crafted homework, especially in reading, remains an essential gap-closing tool,” he writes. And it’s not as if homework is competing for time with violin, ballet, karate or Mandarin lessons.

The proper debate about homework – now and always – should not be “how much” but “what kind” and “what for?”  Using homework merely to cover material there was no time for in class is less helpful, for example, than “distributed practice”: reinforcing and reviewing essential skills and knowledge teachers want students to perfect or keep in long-term memory.

Independent reading is also important. here are many more rare and unique words even in relatively simple texts than in the conversation of college graduates. Reading widely and with stamina is an important way to build verbal proficiency and background knowledge, important keys to mature reading comprehension.

Karl Taro Greenfield’s attack on excess homework — My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me — is very, very popular on Atlantic‘s site.

Greenfeld’s children, who attend a school for “gifted and talented” students, are “already big winners in the Cognitive Dream House Sweepstakes,” writes Pondiscio. They would do fine with 30 to 60 minutes of homework per night. But what’s right for his kids may be wrong for other people’s children.

A Chicago elementary school in a middle-class neighborhood has eliminated homework for children in kindergarten through second grade, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Children are supposed to “read for fun” at home.

Colleges go after aid-stealing ‘Pell runners”

Online classes make it easy for “Pell runners” to collect federal aid and vanish. Often scammers recruit fake students who share their Social Security numbers for a cut of the proceeds.

Good-bye to brownies, hello kale

Shutterstock imagesVermont public schools have banned brownies, reports Vermont Watchdog. Instead, children will be encouraged to eat fruit shish kebab, kale smoothies and “gluten-free paleo lemon bars.”

(Fewer than 1 percent of people need to avoid gluten, according to my nutritionist stepdaughter, who was a school lunch designer until recently. She enjoys snacking on brownies.)

Vermont is trying to comply with nutrition mandates in the Smart-Snacks-in-Schools program. The rules apply to cafeteria items, vending machines and school fundraisers. However, mothers will be allowed to send brownies or cupcakes to celebrate a child’s birthday in class.

Never diet without a scale and a mirror

Never Diet Without a Bathroom Scale and Mirror, writes Thomas J. Kane, who directed the Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching Project, on Brookings’ blog. And don’t give up on measuring teachers’ effectiveness just because it’s difficult to do well.

“We can change textbooks, shrink class sizes, publish test scores, and build new buildings, but unless we change what adults do every day inside their classrooms, we cannot expect student outcomes to improve,” Kane writes. That won’t happen without feedback.

Does anyone believe that simply describing new standards, providing new textbooks and showing videos of successful instruction will be sufficient to change teaching?  Would anyone expect that an analogous strategy—e.g. showing videos of healthy people exercising and smiling over their salads—would be enough to reduce smoking or shrink waistlines?

. . . Investing in professional development without an evaluation system in place is like launching a Weight Watchers group without any bathroom scales or mirrors.  It wouldn’t work.  And, perhaps not surprisingly, professional development hasn’t worked in the past.

The transition to Common Core is a good time to reinvent teacher evaluation, argues Kane.  It’s “safest for teachers to ask for help” in a time of transition.

Kane hopes to change the U.S. “norm of autonomous, self-made, self-directed instruction — with no outside feedback or intervention.” In most high-performing countries, teachers “expect standards, they expect feedback from peers and supervisors and they expect to be held accountable — for the quality of their delivery as well as for student results.”

On the Shanker Blog, Matthew DiCarlo analyzes New York’s teacher evaluation system. What’s most important is how teachers and principals respond, he writes. “For example, do teachers change their classroom practice based on the scores or feedback from observations?”

My husband has lost 70 pounds and 3 1/2 sizes this year by measuring calories, carbs, protein, weight, body fat, muscle mass, etc., analyzing results and modifying his eating plan. “What you measure, you improve” is his mantra. I eat the low-carb meals he cooks — “vegetti” instead of pasta — and monitor my exercise via FitBit. I’m down 23 pounds and two sizes. And that doesn’t count my size 4 jeans. (Women’s clothing is prone to “vanity sizing.”)