Teaching the quantified student

 “I am a bad teacher” wrote Sujata G. Bhatt in Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post blog in the school test-taking season of 2011.  Education reformers want to use data to drive instruction, reform and accountability, wrote Bhatt. “At what cost? Does this data really represent learning and knowledge?”

Since then, she’s embraced data, Bhatt writes in The Quantified Student.

She teaches in a high-poverty Los Angeles school. Many of her students aren’t fluent in English. In the fall of 2010, her fourth graders were particularly unprepared.

Since California’s standardized test for fourth graders measured skills almost all my students needed, I analyzed its requirements, broke them down into core concepts, and then worked and reworked these concepts with the students until they felt a sense of mastery over them. My daily job consisted of finding different, creative ways of approaching, teaching, and reteaching the same core skills so that most all students could incorporate them into their cognitive toolkits.

It worked. The students succeeded wildly. They returned to me for fifth grade with heightened confidence. They saw something new in themselves: the reward of effort and the joy of success.

They also came back with questions about “how many more points it would take to get to the next level, how many more problems they’d need to get right to get those points.”  They saw the test as a game they wanted to win.

Teaching the same cohort in fifth grade, she looked for ways for her students to explore their interest in data. 

We used math websites like TenMarks that enable students to learn about their own learning even as they practice new skills. We analyzed information graphics and dove into ways of presenting numerical information. We explored how numbers shape our understanding of ourselves and the world. And much of their enthusiasm and curiosity for these tasks came out of their interest in numbers from standardized testing.

She now believes standardized testing can help teachers understand how well they’ve taught and help students become “agents in their own learning.”

Testing — and evaluation systems built on test scores — need to get a lot better, Bhatt writes. But it makes more sense “to work to create better data than to fight data.”

Data analysis is an increasingly significant and empowering way of making sense of the world. All sorts of professions use data to interpret their work and decide upon courses of action. Why shouldn’t we in education?

In the high tech world there’s a growing movement called “The Quantified Self.” With quantified self models, adults use data to change habits and behaviors–to lose weight, exercise more, to calm themselves.

“Why not help our students become makers and masters of their own data, and help them use it to propel their own learning forward?” Bhatt asks.

The Measured Man is a fascinating — and somewhat alarming — Atlantic profile of Larry Smarr, an astrophysicist, computer scientist and highly quantified human.

Chicago teachers end strike

After more than a week on picket lines, Chicago teachers’ union delegates have voted to end the strike. Schools will reopen Wednesday.

Saying it marked “a new day and a new direction “ for Chicago schools, Mayor Rahm Emanuel hailed the contract — with its teacher evaluations, longer school day provision and plans for five new science and technology high schools.

A union statement bragged about stopping “corporate ‘school reform’.”

“Now we have stopped the board from imposing merit pay! We preserved our lanes and steps when the politicians and press predicted they were history. We held the line on health care costs.”

The district will use students’ “growth” scores as only 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, the minimum set by state law. A committee will discuss how to evaluate teachers.

I still think it looks like a victory for the union — and for union chief Karen Lewis, who’s rumored to be thinking about challenging Randi Weingarten for leadership of the American Federation of Teachers. Whether a more militant AFT is good for teachers in the long run is another question.

Rahmbo got rolled by the union, writes Rick Hess.

Chicago deal looks like union victory

The “framework” for a new teachers’ contract in Chicago looks like a victory for the teachers’ union, if early reports are accurate. The deal includes an average 16 percent pay hike over four years (that’s not new) with no change in how raises are calculated, reports CBS News.

The latest proposal includes retaining STEP wage increases — which are based on teacher experience — with larger increases for tenured teachers. Those increases will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but both sides differ on the exact cost.

It also calls for an annual 2 percent cost-of-living increase for the four years of the deal, retaining current contractual class size language, and establishing a joint committee to craft a new teacher evaluation plan.

Kicking teacher evaluation to a committee could mean another fight in the future — after the election.

The details haven’t been finalized, but it’s likely Chicago schools will be open on Monday.

Compromise in Chicago: Strike may be over

Chicago teachers have reached a tentative deal with Mayor Rahm Emanuel to end the weeklong strike. While details aren’t yet clear, it appears the mayor has compromised on a plan to tie 40 percent of teacher evaluations to growth in student test scores. Student performance will account for a smaller percentage of a teacher’s rating.

. . . the union won assurances that if a teacher is laid off because of a school closing, that teacher gets preference in hiring decisions in other schools as long as he or she has positive teacher evaluations.

It’s also believed teachers who receive poor evaluations will have more protections before being fired.

Teachers will vote on the deal over the weekend. It’s likely schools will reopen on Monday.

“Some Chicago teachers seem to think that they shouldn’t be held accountable until poverty is solved,” writes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Instead of asking for higher pay to attract better teachers, “the Chicago union seems to be using its political capital primarily to protect weak performers,” he writes. “There’s now solid evidence that there are huge differences in the effectiveness of teachers, even within high-poverty schools.”

How schools can keep their best teachers

Rated “highly effective” as a Washington D.C. special-ed teacher, Allison Frieze received a $15,000 bonus, but she quit her low-performing, high-poverty school to teach similar students at a charter school. Here’s how schools can keep their best teachers, she writes in the Washington Post.

“To retain our irreplaceable teachers, we need irreplaceable leaders,” she writes.When she was rated “highly effective,” her school cut off the coaching that had helped her improve.

For the evaluations that followed, I was videotaped, rather than observed in person, and I received my scores in writing, rather than during a feedback-driven conference. As far as my school leadership was concerned, I was a great teacher, but I still felt that I had plenty to learn — and I was no longer receiving opportunities to do so. Instead of feeling valued, I ended up feeling neglected.

. . . superb leaders demonstrate the elusive character trait of grit. That’s a commitment and determination to achieve a goal, no matter what it takes. A principal with grit knows that he or she can’t succeed without a team of great teachers and sets clear retention goals for high-performers. This principal is honest with teachers who are struggling, even when it’s uncomfortable, and does not consider inaction, failure or silence as acceptable responses to ineffective teaching. This principal pushes every teacher to his or her full potential. Finally, this principal asks the best teachers, “What is it going to take to keep you here?”

Can an average principal motivate a high-performing teacher?

And, yes, I’m already getting tired of “grit.”

Chicago teachers go on strike

Chicago teachers are on strike,reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Chicago Public Schools administrators are staffing some elementary schools to offer half-day child care; some churches and community centers also are open to children.

The city’s charter schools are open as usual. About one third have room for more students.

Key disputed issues in the talks were teacher cost of living raises, additional pay for experience, job security in the face of annual school closures and staff shakeups, and a new teacher evaluation process that ties teacher ratings in part to student test score growth.

. . . CTU officials contend that CPS’ offer of raises over the next four years does not fairly compensate them for the 4 percent raise they lost this past school year and the longer and “harder” school year they will face this school year, with the introduction of a tougher new curriculum.

The union also wants “smaller class sizes, more libraries, air-conditioned schools, and more social workers and counselors to address the increasing needs of students surrounded by violence,” reports the Sun-Times. Chicago has been hit by a wave of homicides this year. Many of the victims are children, teens and young adults.

CPS officials say teachers average $76,000 a year and would earn 16 percent more over four years in the proposed contract. The district could face a $1 billion deficit by the end of the school year.

Pay isn’t the big issue, argues a Reuters analysis. The teachers’ union is fighting education reforms that make it easier to fire teachers and close schools if test scores don’t improve.

In Chicago, last-minute contract talks broke down not over pay, but over the reform agenda, both sides said Sunday. The union would not agree to (Mayor Rahm) Emanuel’s proposal that teacher evaluations be based in large measure on student test scores.

Nor would the union accept his push to give principals more autonomy over hiring, weakening the seniority system that has long protected veteran teachers.

“This is fight for the soul of public education,” said Brandon Johnson, an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union.

Did both sides want a strike? asks Alexander Russo.

“It’s a strike of choice,” says Emanuel.

What’s the principal’s job?

These days, principals are supposed to be “innovative and tough-minded instructional leaders, on-top-of-everything CEOs, and smooth political tacticians,” writes Larry Cuban. He includes a graphic.

“Managing, instructing, and politicking–are essential to the daily work of principals,” Cuban writes.

Researchers have observed elementary and secondary principals over the past century and documented time and again that most of their daily activities (at least half) are spent in administrative tasks. Managing a building, staff, children and youth, parents, central office officials, external agencies and companies doing business with the school consumes big chunks of time. And that is just to keep the place working and on course for teachers to teach and students to learn.

Reformers want principals to be instruction leaders, designing instruction, coaching teachers, visiting classrooms daily, teaching occasionally and evaluating teachers, Cuban writes. But when researchers shadowed 65 principals in Miami-Dade County, they found managerial tasks took most of the school day.  ”What’s more, those principals who spend the most time on organizing and managing the instructional program have test scores and teacher and parental satisfaction results  that are higher than those principals who spend time coaching teachers and popping into classroom lessons.”

While many teachers are Trending Toward Reform, their lack of faith in principals’ ability to remove ineffective teachers hasn’t changed since 2007, writes Ed Sector’s Sarah Rosenberg in Same Old, Same Old: Principal (In)action.

Depending on the circumstance, an effective and proactive principal may initiate formal proceedings or quietly encourage the teacher to leave. But according to teachers, only 33% of principals will take one of these steps to dismiss an ineffective teacher.

. . . Teachers believe that principals often do nothing (16%), or transfer the teacher to another school in the “Dance of the Lemons” (13%.)

Principals need training to become effective evaluators, Rosenberg writes. And then they need the authority to recruit and retain the most effective teachers.

D.C. fires 3% of teachers

Washington D.C. schools fired 98 teachers for low performance on the district’s evaluation system.  That represents less than 3 percent of teachers in D.C. schools.

By contrast, 988 teachers — about a quarter of the teaching corps — were rated highly effective, making them eligible for bonuses of up to $25,000.

Educating good teachers

Rejecting Michigan’s teacher licensing rules, Hillsdale College reinvented teacher education, writes Daniel Coupland. Since the program is now unaccredited, Hillsdale-trained teachers can work only at charter or private schools.

Future teachers “need a broad liberal arts education” and “deep understanding” of an academic discipline, Coupland writes. All would-be teachers, including elementary teachers, major in an academic field. All learn how to teach by working in “a real classroom with real students under the tutelage of a master teacher.”

We decided to eliminate methods classes and courses in educational psychology and technology. Because the state had such a heavy hand in dictating these classes (enforcing their “standards”), much of the content was irrelevant or antithetical to the mission of both the college and the department.

Philosophy of Education, Explicit Phonics Reading Instruction and Children’s Literature were made “much more content-driven and more demanding in terms of reading, discussion, and writing” to match the rigor of the college’s other courses.

The Education Department worked with the English Department to design an English grammar course for future teachers. “Language is the most important tool of the teacher’s trade.”

Instead of passing a paper-and-pencil test, would-be teachers are submitting lesson plans, homework assignments and videos of their teaching to earn a license, reports the New York Times.

New York and up to 25 other states are moving to the Stanford-designed Teacher Performance Assessment model.

“It is very analogous to authentic assessments in other professions, in nursing, in medical residencies, in architecture,” said Raymond L. Pecheone, a professor of practice at Stanford who leads the center that developed the new assessment.

. . . a teacher’s daily lesson plans, handouts and assignments will be reviewed, in addition to their logs about what works, what does not and why. Videos of student teachers will be scrutinized for moments when critical topics — ratios and proportions in math, for instance — are discussed. Teachers will also be judged on their ability to deepen reasoning and problem-solving skills, to gauge how students are learning and to coax their class to cooperate in tackling learning challenges.

In New York, prospective teachers’ work will be graded by “trained evaluators who have been recruited by the education company Pearson.” That’s spurred resistance from education professors, who complain their role is being undermined and “outsourced.”

At the University of Massachusetts, 67 of 68 students training to be secondary school teachers refused to submit videos of their teaching and a take-home test to Pearson evaluators.

Tennessee: Observers inflate teachers’ scores

Principals are giving high scores to low-performing teachers, concludes a Tennessee Education Department report on the state’s new evaluation system, reports the Tennessean. Principals need more training in how to evaluate teachers, the report recommends.

. . . instructors who got failing grades when measured by their students’ test scores tended to get much higher marks from principals who watched them in classrooms. State officials expected to see similar scores from both methods.

“Evaluators are telling teachers they exceed expectations in their observation feedback when in fact student outcomes paint a very different picture,” the report states.

More than 75 percent of teachers received top scores of 4 or 5 in classroom observations, but only 50 percent earned high value-added scores based on their students’ academic progress. By contrast, fewer than 2.5 percent received a 1 or 2 observation score; 16 percent were rated that low based on student progress. Teachers with a learning gains score of 1 averaged an observational score of 3.6.

Teachers can be denied tenure, or lose it, if they score score 1s or 2s for two consecutive years.

. . . Half of each evaluation is based on observations. The other half comes from standardized tests and other measures of student performance.

But almost two-thirds of instructors don’t teach subjects that show up on state standardized tests, so for those teachers — including in kindergarten through second grade, and in subjects like art and foreign languages — a score is applied based on the entire school’s learning gains, which the state calls its “value-added score.”

Rather than using schoolwide scores, the state should develop other ways to measure these teachers, the report recommends. It also calls for principals to “spend less time evaluating teachers who scored well and more time with teachers who need more training,” reports the Tennessean.  ”High-scoring teachers may get the chance to undergo fewer observations and to choose to use their value-added scores for 100 percent of their overall scores.”