Turnaround in Cincinnati

It’s possible to turn an urban school district around without cheating, writes Greg Anrig in The Atlantic. Cincinnati schools have improved thanks to a “data-driven collaborative strategy to promote good teaching and learning,” rejecting school reform fads, he writes.

In 2009, newly promoted Superintendent Mary Ronan launched an elementary initiative aimed at revitalizing the district’s 16 worst-performing elementary schools.

 . . . a wide variety of instructional approaches (Montessori, Success for All, Direct Instruction, etc.) were not being followed as designed in classrooms. (Auditors) also saw that many of the schools taught English for less than 45 minutes a day, that teachers were partial to whole-group instruction instead of breaking the class into smaller groups, and that testing data was not being used for any practical purpose.

Administrators and “lead teachers” adopted changes including “90-minute blocks of literature-rich units, small-group activities with teachers rotating among students, and reorienting teachers’ and administrators’ approach to test results, so that they could be used as diagnostic tools for identifying particular areas in which students need greater support.”

Data-driven instruction is not a reform idea?

In addition, principals and lead teachers from the targeted schools were trained in solving problems as a team with “minimal confrontation or defensiveness.”

Four years later, all 16 targeted schools have emerged from “academic emergency” with 12 rising to the mid-level  ”continuous improvement” ranking or higher.

“Deep collaboration between administrators and teachers” is the first step, writes Anrig. “Also required are effective approaches for developing coherent instructional systems with active teacher input; close attentiveness to testing data to identify problems students are having so they can be provided with extra support; and strong connections between the schools, parents, and community groups.” Tests are OK as a tool to improve instruction, but not to “punish or reward teachers,” he concludes.

Study: Teacher evaluation lifts scores

Evaluation can improve mid-career teachers’ effectiveness in math, but not reading, according to a study of Cincinnati’s Teacher Evaluation System (TES), reports Education Next.

 . .  . teachers are more effective at raising student achievement during the school year when they are being evaluated than they were previously, and even more effective in the years after evaluation. A student instructed by a teacher after that teacher has been through the Cincinnati evaluation will score about 11 percent of a standard deviation (4.5 percentile points for a median student) higher in math than a similar student taught by the same teacher before the teacher was evaluated.

Well-designed performance evaluation “can be an effective form of teacher professional development,” conclude researchers Eric S. Taylor and John H. Tyler.

During the yearlong TES process, teachers are observed in the classroom four times, once by the principal or another administrator and three times by a “high-performing, experienced teacher who previously taught in a different school.”

The evaluation measures classroom management, instruction, content knowledge, and planning, among other topics.

After each classroom observation, peer evaluators and administrators provide written feedback to the teacher and meet with the teacher at least once to discuss the results. At the end of the evaluation school year, a final summative score in each of four domains of practice is calculated and presented to the evaluated teacher.

. . . For beginning teachers (those evaluated in their first and fourth years), a poor evaluation could result in nonrenewal of their contract, while a successful evaluation is required before receiving tenure. For tenured teachers, evaluation scores determine eligibility for some promotions or additional tenure protection, or, in the case of very low scores, placement in a peer assistance program with a small risk of termination.

Teachers who were the least effective in raising student scores before the evaluation and those who earned relatively low TES scores showed the greatest improvement. Despite the high cost — $7,500 per teacher — TES is a cost-effective way to improve student performance, the study found.

Also on Ed Next, Thomas Kane, who led the Gates Foundation’s project on measuring teaching, writes on Capturing the Dimensions of Effective Teaching.

Observation matches value-added data

Elementary teachers rated well by observers also were rated as high-performing by a value-added analysis of their students’ progress, concludes a Consortium for Chicago School Research report on Chicago’s teacher evaluation pilot. Low observation ratings also matched poor value-added data.

A similar correlation was found in several studies on Cincinnati’s teacher-evaluation system, notes Teacher Beat.

Both principals and external evaluators observed and assessed teachers’ classroom performance.

• Principals and observers gave similar numbers of lower scores, but principals gave the top rating more often than the other observers did, across all 10 of the evaluations standards. Interestingly, much of this variation disappeared when researchers controlled for the teachers’ prior evaluation scores, suggesting that principals may be drawing on background knowledge in assigning scores. While this doesn’t exactly fit the narrative of vindictive principals, it does show that who you get as an observer potentially matters.

• Most of the principals were close to the external observers in terms of how strictly they applied the evaluation standards, but there were a few outliers on both ends. Eleven percent of principals regularly rated teachers lower than the observers while 17 percent tended to rate them higher. Another reason to consider more than one observer in a teacher-evaluation system.

Teachers and principals said observations lead to more meaningful discussions of how to improve teaching, but principals said they needed more training on how to help teachers analyze their evaluation.

Study: Observers can spot best teachers

Cincinnati teachers who receive high ratings from trained observers also have high value-added scores, concludes a study by Harvard, Stanford and Brown researchers reported in Education Next.

The 10-year-old Teacher Evaluation System (TES) includes three observations by a an experienced teacher from outside the school and one by a school administrator. Evaluators and administrators must complete an intensive training course and accurately score videotaped teaching examples.

Teachers’ scores on the classroom observation components of Cincinnati’s evaluation system reliably predict the achievement gains made by their students in both math and reading. These findings support the idea that teacher evaluation systems need not be based on test scores alone in order to provide useful information about which teachers are most effective in raising student achievement.

TES evaluate all first-year teachers and fourth-year teachers up for tenure. After that, teachers are evaluated every fifth year. Teachers may volunteer for TES to earn the high scores needed to qualify as a lead teacher or TES evaluator.

Teacher Beat looks at the push to devise teacher evaluation systems.

Students aren’t citizenship-ready

Preparation for active citizenship — an understanding of the nation’s founding principles and documents, the structure of government, and the ability to analyze and think critically about politics and power — isn’t on the education agenda, complains Diana Jean Schemo on Remapping Debate. Education advocates want students to be “college- and career-ready,” but not necessarily “citizenship-ready.”

Broadly speaking, preparation for active citizenship really connotes two related areas: civics and citizenship education. Civics, said Mary McFarland, past president of the National Council for the Social Studies . . . teaches (students) about the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and the Federalist papers, among other key documents. Civics explores the relationship between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, and the role of a free press. It explains the tension between state and federal law, the role of judicial precedent and what kinds of issues might turn up at the ballot box.

. . . (Citizen education teaches students)  to distinguish between fact and opinion and between fact and fictions masquerading as facts. Citizen education teaches students to evaluate the strength of arguments on a given issue, to separate reason from emotion, and to challenge assumptions.

But civics remains a stepchild, Schemo writes. In the U.S. Department of Education,  “civics falls not under the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, but under the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools.” It’s seen as a way to “build character” and improve the school climate, not as training for citizens of a democracy.

Citizen education went awry in Cincinnati when Hughes High School students of voting age were bused to a polling place and handed Democratic sample ballots only.

Mark Stepaniak, an attorney representing CPS, admits students were taken on school time in donated church vans to vote last week and were given sample ballots listing only Democrat candidates. But the ballots weren’t handed out by a school employee. They were handed out, Stepaniak said, by Gwen Robinson, a former CPS principal.

A Republican candidate and an anti-tax coalition filed suit but appear ready to settle for an agreement to ban electioneering at school-related events.