206 D.C. teachers fired for poor performance

Washington, D.C. public schools have fired 206 teachers — 5 percent of the total staff — for poor performance, reports the Washington Post.

They were dismissed for poor scores on the evaluation system known as IMPACT, which grades teachers on five 30-minute classroom observations and their compliance with nine broad standards. These include ability to express course content clearly, teach students with differing skill levels and manage time effectively. For some teachers, half of their appraisal is contingent on whether students meet predicted growth targets on standardized tests.

Sixty-five were rated ineffective, the lowest category. Another 141 were judged minimally effective for the second consecutive year.

Four teachers rated minimally effective for two years kept their jobs based on their principals’ recommendations.

Another 663 teachers (16 percent) were rated highly effective, making them eligible for bonuses of up to $25,000.

IMPACT rated most teachers as effective.


Washington D.C.’s “rigid, numerically based” IMPACT rates teachers based on classroom observations and student performance, notes Inside IMPACT, a new Education Sector report.  The old system rated 95 percent of D.C. teachers “satisfactory” or above.

“In the two years since this high-stakes report card was launched, it has led to the firing of scores of educators, put hundreds more on notice, and left the rest either encouraged and re-energized, or frustrated and scared,” writes author Susan Headden.

Multiple-measures teacher evaluation is the future of K–12 education, the report concludes. In D.C., the future is now.

Figure 1 from "Inside IMPACT," What Teachers Are Graded On

Here’s the New York Times story on IMPACT, which notes that “last year 35 percent of the teachers in the city’s wealthiest area, Ward 3, were rated highly effective, compared with 5 percent in Ward 8, the poorest.”

Transplanting Singapore math

Singapore Math works great in Singapore. But a Washington, D.C. school is struggling to .transplant a “math miracle,” reports the Washington Post.

Most D.C. elementary schools use Everyday Math, which left students with a poor grasp of number operations, says Nuhad Jamal, Bruce-Monroe’s instructional coach.  The “emphasis on games and conceptual understanding” was “a good fit for kids with strong fundamental skills, Jamal believed, but not for those with weak foundations.” So the school switched to Singapore Math, which teaches fewer concepts to mastery.

The District’s student population is highly mobile, but the Singapore curriculum builds carefully from year to year, making it more difficult for new arrivals in the upper elementary grades or at mid-year.

The school, where nearly 60 percent of the 400 students are Hispanic, uses a dual-language program. Classrooms have a mix of English- and Spanish-dominant students who split time between the two languages. But without Spanish versions of the Singapore textbooks, teachers had difficulty getting ideas across. . . .

Even in English, Singapore math does not come easily to many American teachers. Experts say it takes one to two years to really learn the system. The no-frills textbooks lack teacher editions and other aids that are part of U.S. math packages such as “Everyday Mathematics.” Singapore’s elementary instructors receive significantly more math than their U.S. counterparts, who are often generalists.

So far, Bruce-Monroe’s math scores are down.

Some 2,000 U.S. schools have tried Singapore Math, but no large district has adopted the curriculum, the Post reports. The fact that it requires elementary teachers to understand math well has to be a serious obstacle.

Update: A math teacher talks about learning how to teach Singapore Math on the Daily Riff.

D.C. vouchers advance, despite Obama

Washington, D.C.’s voucher program could be back: On a 225-195 vote, mostly along party lines, the House passed Speaker John Boehner’s bill reauthorizing and expanding vouchers for low-income students in the District. Under SOAR, students would get $8,000 to attend a private K-8 school, $12,000 for high school tuition.

SOAR will have a tougher time in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

President Obama is “strongly opposed” to SOAR, but he hasn’t threatened a veto.  In a statement yesterday, the administration claimed, “Rigorous evaluation over several years demonstrates that the D.C. program has not yielded improved student achievement by its scholarship recipients compared to other students in D.C.”

That’s not what the rigorous evaluator said in congressional testimony, notes the Washington Post in a pro-voucher editorial. Patrick J. Wolf, the principal investigator who studied the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program for the U.S. Education Department, said on Feb. 16:

“In my opinion, by demonstrating statistically significant experimental impacts on boosting high school graduation rates and generating a wealth of evidence suggesting that students also benefited in reading achievement, the DC OSP has accomplished what few educational interventions can claim: It markedly improved important education outcomes for low-income inner-city students.”

In addition, writes the Post, parents say the program lets their children “attend safer schools or ones that strongly promote achievement.”

The D.C. Opportunity Scholarships also raised graduation rates, Jay Greene adds. Wolf’s study (pdf) concluded: Some 82 percent of students offered a voucher completed high school, compared to 70 percent for the control group.

Obama’s anti-voucher move will make it hard to get bipartisan agreement on rewriting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, writes Mike Petrilli on Education Next. “Many Republicans will refuse to play ball with an Administration not willing to compromise on a top GOP priority.”

Yesterday, I linked to a study concluding that Milwaukee voucher students don’t outperform similar students in the city’s public schools.

But Milwaukee voucher students are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to a four-year college than similar public school students, writes Jay Greene, citing a study (pdf) released today by University of Kentucky researchers.

Attending a private school with a voucher resulted in about a 7 percentage point improvement in the probability of attending a four year college.  Considering that is a move from about 32% to 39% attending 4 year college, it is a big effect.

Compared to similar public school students, voucher students do worse in the early grades but perform better in the older grades. After three years, “rates of achievement growth are statistically similar.”

Indiana’s House has passed a voucher bill that would provide tuition aid to children from low- and middle-income families earning up to $60,000 a year.

‘Star’ school shows signs of cheating

When test scores soared at a low-performing District of Columbia school, the principal and teachers collected bonuses. Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus was called one of D.C.’s “shining stars” and was named a National Blue Ribbon School. But cheating may explain Noyes’ apparent turnaround, reports USA Today.

In 2006, only 10% of Noyes’ students scored “proficient” or “advanced” in math on the standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Two years later, 58% achieved that level. The school showed similar gains in reading.

. . . Michelle Rhee, then chancellor of D.C. schools, took a special interest in Noyes. She touted the school, which now serves preschoolers through eighth-graders, as an example of how the sweeping changes she championed could transform even the lowest-performing Washington schools. Twice in three years, she rewarded Noyes’ staff for boosting scores: In 2008 and again in 2010, each teacher won an $8,000 bonus, and the principal won $10,000.

Noyes’ proficiency rates fell significantly in 2010.

“For the past three school years most of Noyes’ classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests,” reports USA Today. “The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.”

On the 2009 reading test, the average erasure rate for D.C. seventh graders was less than one. At Noyes, seventh graders averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures. “The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance,” according to statisticians consulted by the newspaper.

What’s the value of value-added?

Who’s right about the value of value-added? A University of Colorado analysis challenges the validity of the Los Angeles Times’ value-added analysis of teachers’ effectiveness. The Colorado “critique is more cautionary than damning,” argues Rick Hess.

. . . this is a case where I think the results mostly highlight the import of moving carefully and thoughtfully on value-added. That said, the standard in crafting value-added systems ought not be perfection, because nobody anywhere in the private or public sector has got a system that can meet the standard. The question is whether a given system is better than the alternative. And the truth is that today’s personnel systems are so insensitive to performance, so protective of mediocrity, and so dismissive of excellence, that value-added systems need not be flawless to be good and useful tools.

Washington D.C.’s teacher evaluation data will be used to assess principals, teaching coaches and education schools, reports the Washington Post.

Now in its second year, IMPACT uses five classroom observations to rate how effective a teacher is in nine standards — including explaining content clearly and engaging students — deemed essential to good teaching. Certain teachers are also judged on whether their students’ test scores sufficiently improve — a metric known as “value-added.” All of the numbers are crunched into a teacher’s annual rating, ranging from ineffective to highly effective.

Last year, former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee fired 75 teachers with poor IMPACT evaluations and gave bonuses to more than 600 top scorers.

In the future, D.C. will use the data to determine which education schools are producing high- or low-scoring teachers, said Jason Kamras, the district’s personnel chief.  “We’ll just stop taking graduates from institutions that aren’t producing effective teachers.”

Just as teachers are being held accountable for students’ performance on tests, Kamras said, administrators will be held accountable for teachers’ performance on IMPACT evaluations. Teacher ratings from one cluster of schools might be compared with those from another cluster to assess how a particular instructional superintendent is faring. Principals will be judged in part by the number of “highly effective” teachers they are able to retain from year to year. Instructional coaches will be held accountable for the ratings of the teachers they coach.

IMPACT also will help the district target teacher training to areas of high need, Kamras said.

IMPACT is too flawed to be reliable, said Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union.  He worries that use of IMPACT scores will lead D.C. to stop hiring teachers from historically black colleges and universities.

School choice programs grow

Twenty private-school choice programs now serve nearly 200,000 children in 12 states and the District of Columbia, reports Alliance For School Choice’s new yearbook.

Nearly all choice programs target children in low- to middle-income families or children with disabilities.

Choice programs that enable students to attend private schools are boosting achievement, the yearbook concludes.

Specific studies conducted in Milwaukee, Washington, D.C. and Florida last year also showed as much as a 68 percent improvement in standardized test scores for school choice participants, graduation rates more than 20 percent higher than traditional public school students, and almost universal parent satisfaction in some programs.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman has scheduled hearings Wednesday on “Saving the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program” (vouchers).

Obama: Money alone won’t fix schools

As part of NBC’s week-long Education Nation series, President Obama talked to Matt Lauer on the Today Show, saying that money won’t fix schools without reforms.

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“We can’t spend our way out of it. I think that when you look at the statistics, the fact is that our per-pupil spending has gone up during the last couple of decades even as results have gone down,” said Obama.

Obama said his administration’s “reform agenda” includes increasing standards, finding and encouraging the best teachers, decreasing bureaucracy and deploying financial resources effectively. Teachers who fail to live up to expectations need to be given a chance to improve, he said, while those who do not should move on.

In answer to a question from Cincinnati sixth graders, Obama said lengthening the school year would be “money well spent.”

The president said he wants to work with teachers’ unions, and he embraced the role of defending their members. But he said unions cannot and should not defend a status quo in which one-third of children are dropping out. He urged them not to be resistant to change, particularly in schools which he said have become “dropout factories.”

“The vast majority of teachers want to do a good job … We have to be able to identify teachers who are doing well,” the president said. “Teachers who are not doing well, we have to give them the support and the training to do well. And ultimately, if some teachers are not doing a good job, they’ve gotta go.”

Training 10,000 new math and science teachers will be a priority for the administration, the president said.

Asked whether any D.C. public schools measure up to his children’s private school, Obama replied, “I’ll be blunt with you: The answer is no right now.”

There are a few D.C. public schools just as good as Sidwell, where the Obama girls are enrolled, writes Jay Mathews. Outvoted by his family, Mathews sent his own daughter to Sidwell.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan will be interviewed on Friday. Post your questions for Duncan here.

Rhee fires 6% of D.C. teachers

Now able to dismiss ineffective teachers, Washington, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee fired 6 percent of the district’s teachers.  Of 241 teachers fired, 165 were judged to be low performers; the rest did not have proper credentials. Another 17 percent, judged “minimally effective,” did not get a raise this year and could be fired next year if they don’t improve, reports the Wall Street Journal.

 In the past, 95 percent of teachers were rated excellent; none were fired.

The Washington Teacher’s Union will challenge the firings, saying the evaluation system is unfair.

The teacher evaluation system developed under Ms. Rhee is one of the most rigorous in the nation. It requires numerous classroom observations of teacher performance and measures teachers against student achievement. It also allows Ms. Rhee to quickly get rid of of poorly performing teachers.

. . . Under the Washington, D.C., system, teachers are evaluated five times a year by school administrators and master teachers on such things as creating coherent lesson plans and engaging students. After an initial observation, teachers receive a plan detailing weaknesses and are offered coaching for improvement, district officials said.

Students’ improvement on reading and math tests counts for half the evaluation only for the 20 percent of teachers who teach reading and math in fourth through eighth grade. Rhee plans to expand the achievement component to high school teachers in future years.

Teachers are ranked into four categories. This year, 16% reached the highest ranking, compared with 45% in past years. Some 20% landed in the bottom rating, compared with 4% in years past.

The union has a point about the new IMPACT evaluation system, writes the Post’s Valerie Strauss on Answer Sheet.  There are a lot of bugs in the system.

Teacher buy-in

Teacher evaluation and professional development won’t work without teacher buy-in, writes Wookie Kim, who blogs at ABCDE, in his analysis of Education Sector’s Finding the Link conference.  As a high school English teacher in Washington, D.C., Kim has seen the new IMPACT teacher evaluation system make a shaky start.

(1) On the teacher evaluation side, how do you get teachers to buy in to the idea of performance evaluation, especially if and when the system is so unfamiliar, filled with inherent risks, and tied to very high stakes?

. . . At my school, when the master educators enter the building, teachers go around alerting the entire building. Some teachers proceed as usual; others, however, pull out there one-off, let’s-follow-everything-on-the-IMPACT-rubric lesson plan. What I have seen is an “us versus them” (read: “teachers versus IMPACT”) mentality that defeats entirely the purpose of IMPACT. What should we do to increase buy-in here?

(2) On the professional development side, how do you get teachers who are already so busy—gah!—to carve out time for professional development, and to see PD as something more — much more! — than a mandatory requirement to earn a few professional learning units?

IMPACT’s master educators gave Kim “actionable next steps” to improve his teaching; they “followed up with me over email and provided invaluable resources in areas where I needed help.”

But many administrators aren’t prepared to evaluate teachers and many teachers feel there’s been little ongoing support.

I feel like I was given a torn set of instructions before being paradropped behind enemy lines where – in radio silence and without any updated directives – I’m tasked with assaulting the fortress of Effective Teaching.

Rated “effective” by IMPACT, Kim has been “excessed” and will have to find a new job at another school.