Sometimes, A is for alike

The Teacher's Pet
LA Johnson/NPR

Teachers overestimate the abilities of students who resemble them in personality, according to a newly published paper. They downgrade students who are different.

Teacher bias could hold students back, writes Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

This study looked at a group of 93 teachers and 294 students in eighth grade in Germany. Everyone took a short test to establish basic features of their personalities: extraversion, agreeableness and the like.

They gave the students reading and math tests too, sharing the test items with the teachers. Then they asked the teachers two questions: How good is this student compared to an average eighth grader? How well will this student do on this test?

Teachers’ judgment was linked to their personality match on the first question. However, they were more accurate in estimating the results of a specific test.

“A recent study from Israel showed that teachers gave girls lower grades on math tests when they knew their gender,” writes Kamenetz.

If teachers give students who are similar to them better grades, or even just maintain higher expectations of those students, what does that do for the students who don’t look or act like their teachers?

It’s important to balance teachers’ “holistic” evaluations with assessments that aren’t graded by a student’s own teacher, says Tobias Rausch, one of the researchers. He also thinks teachers should be trained to notice their biases.

Accountability comes to Head Start

Head Start, Meet Accountability, writes Sophie Quinton in The Atlantic. After years of debate about Head Start’s value — are there any lasting benefits? — federal lawmakers want proof the program prepares children for kindergarten. For the first time, providers will have to meet quality and effectiveness measures to retain funding.

Many Head Start and state-run prekindergarten programs aren’t high quality, writes Quinton.

National studies of public pre-K programs have found that children spend most of their time playing, eating, and waiting around, and that instructional quality is generally low. A federal impact study, released in 2012, found that while Head Start children experience initial gains in health, language, and reading skills, those gains usually disappear by third grade. House Republicans use that study to argue that Head Start is a failure and not worth the $8.6 billion taxpayers will spend on the program this year.

Head Start providers that perform poorly on federal audits will have to compete for funding against other preschool providers.

“Providers must abide by some 2,400 federal standards that dictate everything from how toilets are cleaned to the size of facilities,” writes Quinton. But few programs have lost funding, no matter how poorly they perform.

In the future Head Start providers will have to set goals for preparing children for kindergarten and show they’re taking steps to achieve them.

. . . Programs(must) meet minimum thresholds on the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, a privately developed tool that assesses how teachers and staff interact with children. CLASS doesn’t measure learning outcomes, per se, but high scores are correlated with better learning.

. . . Monitors use the CLASS tool to rate emotional support, classroom organization, and instructional support. Teachers get high scores for instruction if they seize on teachable moments all day long: asking children questions, responding with more than one-word answers, and introducing new vocabulary words even in casual conversation.

Evaluating preschool quality isn’t easy, reports Education Week. A commonly used preschool evaluation tool doesn’t correlate with better outcomes, according to a study published in the spring 2014 edition of  Education Finance and Quality. The Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale-Revised, which is used by many states to evaluate quality has little connection to the academic, language, and social functioning of children evaluated at age 5, researchers found.

Teacher Quality 2.0

The American Enterprise Institute’s Teacher Quality 2.0 includes nine research papers on how to improve teacher preparation, evaluation and support and rethink staffing.

Parents: Set goals, measure, fix

Parents strongly support standards, assessment and evaluation writes Suzanne Tacheny Kuback in an e-mail discussion on Mike Petrilli’s “problem with proficiency” post. She describes parent focus groups conducted by PIE Network.

Standards, assessment, and evaluation don’t make sense to parents as separate concepts:  to the extent they think about these things at all, it’s just stuff that they assume you do to manage sensibly. (Set goals, measure them, talk about how well you did, and then fix stuff that didn’t work.) Not only would it not make sense to parents to suggest not doing these things, parents are incredulous when they think that any of it isn’t already common practice.

Most intriguing, “standards” don’t even make sense to parents as an idea unless you measure them. I wished we’d videoed those moments in the conversations: if you suggested having standards but no common tests, parents got mad. They literally pushed chairs back from the table or threw pens down to make their point: “You can’t say you have a standard if you don’t also measure it.”

Parents are concerned about excessive testing, but they want the information, Kubach wrotes.  It’s not that they don’t trust teachers.  “They just want to know how their kids are doing and value the objective information they get from tests.”

In Shanghai, all teachers have mentors

In high-scoring Shanghai, all teachers have mentors — not just novices — and teachers collaborate in lesson and research groups, writes Marc Tucker in an interview with Ben Jensen, of Australia’s Grattan Institute, in Ed Week‘s Top Performers blog. (A longer version is here.)

Every teacher has a mentor and new teachers have two, one for subject matter and one for teaching, says Jensen. The mentors observe and provide feedback.

Only .2 percent of teachers reach the “master teacher” level and then they don’t have mentors, but they will still work together and have their work evaluated and appraised.

In Shanghai, you will struggle to get promoted if you receive poor feedback from the people you mentored. That means the people who get promoted are collaborative and committed to helping teachers, and they have a proven track record in this area.

In most schools in Shanghai, teachers form lesson groups that discuss students’ progress and research groups that explore new strategies, says Jensen.

In Shanghai, you don’t get promoted as a teacher unless you are also a researcher. You have to have published articles, not in academic journals but in professional journals or even school journals. In fact, one of the first stages in a promotion evaluation is to have one of your articles peer reviewed. Every teacher will work in a research group with about half a dozen other teachers, often of the same subject area but not always. If there is a young teacher, that teacher’s mentor will often be in that group as well. They will meet for about 2 hours every 2 weeks.

At the start of the year, the group choses a topic—a new curriculum or pedagogical technique or determining how to help out a particular student—and the principal will approve that topic. The first third of the year is spent on a literature review. The second third of the year is spent trying out strategies in the classroom that the group identified as promising during the literature review. As they try these strategies in the classroom, other members of the research group will observe.

Senior teachers with strong research experience serve as leaders.

About 30 percent of Shanghai teachers’ salary is performance pay, reports the New York Times. “Teacher salaries are modest, about $750 a month before bonuses and allowances — far less than what accountants, lawyers or other professionals earn.”

San Jose teachers agree to ‘quality panel’

San Jose teachers have agreed to a contract that links pay increases to teaching skill rather than college credits and creates a career ladder for outstanding teachers, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Ineffective teachers could be denied a raise.

Instead of analyzing student test scores, the contract creates a teacher quality panel to evaluate teachers’ effectiveness. A proposal to pay teachers more to work at high-poverty, low-achieving schools was dropped.

While student performance will be part of the discussion on evaluations, teachers won’t be penalized if students don’t meet expectations.

“What will drive this is the belief that teachers can be trusted to self-assess,” San Jose Teachers Association president Jennifer Thomas said.

If the district finds outside sources of revenue, the contract will create new categories of teachers who will mentor, advise and evaluate their peers. With 30 years of experience, a “model” teacher could earn as much as $97,228 and a “master” teacher up to $112,278.

Across the state, teachers move up the salary schedule based on both longevity and college credits. Currently, a beginning San Jose Unified teacher with 44 credits beyond a bachelor’s degree earns $47,716 for working 186 days a year. Completing 16 more units adds more than $5,000; a master’s degree adds $2,576.

The new schedule will keep the longevity steps and degree stipends but replace the credits with categories based on skills and expertise.

Evaluations will be more detailed and will be done by both administrators and a team of teachers.

The contract lets the district add a third year to new teachers’ probationary status, rather than making a tenure-or-fire decision after two years. But that will require a state waiver.

Student performance must be part of teacher evaluations by California law, writes Chris Reed in Cal Watchdog.

Thanks to a 2012 Los Angeles Superior Court ruling, school districts in California are on notice that the 1971 Stull Act is still a binding state law. And among the law’s many provisions is a specific requirement that student performance be part of teacher evaluations.

Yet the way the Merc-News story reads, student performance can only be considered if it is positive — not if it is poor. Huh?

If the teacher quality panel decides that a tenured teacher isn’t doing a good job, does the teacher stay on, but without a raise?

According to Thomas, the teachers’ union president, a tenured teacher deemed ineffective by the panel can be moved to Peer Assistance and Review. Till now, that decision was made by the principal. “Now, the evaluations will be validated by a panel, not the single purview of an administrative evaluator. Additionally, if a teacher needs support or needs to improve, there will be another person to bring that to light if the administrator doesn’t. It’s a two-way system meant to make everyone better.”

99% satisfactory = ‘widget effect’

Nearly everyone who works in Washington state’s schools is rated satisfactory, reports Education Sector’s new Chart You Can Trust. Only 0.92 percent of teachers, 1.42 percent of principals, 1.02 percent of superintendents, and 2.1 percent of school support staff such as janitors and librarians were rated unsatisfactory, writes Chad Aldeman.

The vast majority of schools failed to identify a single low-performing teacher, and 239 out of 261 districts did not identify a single low-performing principal.

Ed Sector calls it the New Widget Effect. That is, all school staff are rated the same, just like interchangeable widgets. There are no low performers and no high performers.

Even in states that have revamped teacher evaluations, nearly all teachers are rated satisfactory or better, reports the New York Times. 

What percentage of school staffers “should” be unsatisfactory? That’s up to local communities to decide, writes Aldeman.

If student performance was low and flat in certain schools, especially compared to similar students in other schools, that community might want to hold more adults accountable. If students at a particular school achieve at high levels and show strong growth, that school probably doesn’t have the same urgency around identifying poor performers.

Stories from School, a blog for board-certified teachers, posted critiques of Aldeman’s paper by Maren Johnson and Tom White. Here’s Aldeman’s response.

Don’t be stupid about implementing teacher evaluations, advises Bill Gates in the Washington Post. (I’m summarizing, but that’s the gist of it.)

Move teacher evaluation outside the school entirely, with standardized tests administered by an independent agency.” writes Edward Glaeser, a Harvard economics professor. “This would be supplemented by classroom assessments based on unobtrusive videotaping, also judged by outsiders, including teachers’ representatives.”

Principals, teachers report more stress

Three-fourths of principals say the job has become “too complex,” reports MetLife’s new  Survey of the American Teacher.  And the number of “very satisfied” teachers has hit a new low.

Most principals say their responsibilities have expanded; nearly half say they “feel under great stress several days a week.”

Teachers also report more stress and less job satisfaction, notes the Educated Reporter.

Factors contributing to lower job satisfaction included working in schools where the budgets, opportunities for professional development, and time for collaboration with colleagues have all been sent to the chopping block.

At high-poverty schools, about half of teachers were rated excellent by principals and colleagues compared to three-fourths of teachers at low-poverty schools.

More than 90 percent of principals and teachers say they’re knowledgeable about Common Core State Standards and have the “academic skills and abilities to implement” the new standards. However, only 20 percent of teachers and principals are very confident the Common Core will improve achievement or college and career readiness.

School leaders need better training, writes RiShawn Biddle, who notes that 82 percent of teachers are “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with their jobs. “Far too many principals see themselves more as colleagues of teachers with higher job titles than as school leaders” charged with evaluating their staffs, Biddle writes.  Fifty-three percent said they find it challenging to evaluate teachers.

Union asks teachers to evaluate principals

Scranton teachers are evaluating their principals at two elementary schools, reports the Times-Tribune. The Scranton Federation of Teachers, which voted “no confidence” in district administrators in November, plans to expand the effort to all principals and administrators, up to the superintendent.

The evaluation forms include a ranking scale with questions ranging from the visibility of a principal to whether the principal collaborates with teachers. Comments can also be made, and the surveys are anonymous.

If this is not just a gotcha, it could prove useful.

Pennsylvania plans to implement a principal evaluation system in the 2014-15 school year.

NYC erases low ratings — if teacher quits

New York City public schools have a “secret weapon to rub out incompetent teachers — an eraser,” reports the New York Post. If a teacher rated “unsatisfactory” agrees to quit or retire, all ratings will be changed to “satisfactory,” helping the teacher find a job in a new district.