Everyone’s ‘highly effective’ — but the students

In Michigan’s Hazel Park School District, every principal and teacher is “highly effective,” but  student achievement earns an F in 10 of 16 categories, reports Michigan Capitol Confidential. Four elementary schools and the high school earned D’s and F’s. The junior high got the top grade, a C in reading.

The district’s proficiency numbers nosedived when Michigan raised cut scores on state exams. The district is 60 percent white, 36 percent black; 59 percent of students qualify for a subsidized lunch.

A state law in 2011 ordered schools to rate teachers and administrators by using one of four ratings: highly effective, effective, minimally effective and ineffective. Statewide, 97 percent of teachers were rated in the top two categories.

 Michael Van Beek, education policy director at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said the district would hurt morale among truly highly effective teachers.

“It does a disservice to the teachers themselves if the district is not going to differentiate and define what good teaching is,” Van Beek said. “It doesn’t help anyone. Think how insulting it is for a good teacher in that district. They know they are putting in the extra time but are getting the exact same rating as one who may not be good at all. That’s not treating teachers as professionals.”

It’s possible for a highly effective teacher to be unable to raise students to proficiency, especially if they’re years behind at the start of the school year. But when everyone’s highly effective, except for the students, there may be a problem defining “highly effective.”

More states link teacher evaluation to test scores

Most states have strengthened oversight of teachers in the last two years and nearly half now tie teacher evaluations to student performance, according to a report from the National Council on Teacher Quality.

“We’ve seen a major policy shift away from [teacher] evaluations that tell us little about whether kids in a particular teacher’s classroom are learning, to evaluations designed to actually identify our most outstanding teachers and those who consistently underperform,” said Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the council, which advocates judging teachers based on performance.

The administration’s $4.35 billion Race to the Top competition awarded grants to states that linked teacher evaluations to student test scores. “This year, Republican governors in Idaho, Indiana, Nevada and Michigan ushered in overhauls to teacher rating, compensation, bargaining rights and tenure,” adds the Wall Street Journal.

In Florida, tenure was eliminated. In Colorado, teachers now must get three positive ratings to earn tenure and can lose it after two bad ones. Several states, including Indiana and Michigan, did away with “last in, first out” union rules that resulted in districts laying off effective new teachers instead of ineffective tenured ones. Indiana and Tennessee passed merit-pay laws that base teacher pay primarily on classroom performance.

However, teachers’ unions are fighting the new policies, the report said.

States and school districts are contracting with both non-profit and for-profit groups to “design evaluations, train teachers and principals in how to use them, and set up online platforms to help sort all of the new data that schools will be collecting,” notes the Hechinger Report. Foundation money and the Obama administration’s $4.3 billion Race to the Top initiative is funding millions of dollars in contracts.


The value-added bubble

The rush to evaluate teachers by value-added models reminds Rick Hess of the collateralized mortgage bubble.

Edu-econometricians are eagerly building intricate models stacked atop value-added scores. Yet, today’s value-added measures are, at best, a pale measure of teacher quality. There are legitimate concerns about test quality; the noisiness and variability of calculations; the fact that metrics don’t account for the impact of specialists, support staff, or shared instruction; and the degree to which value-added calculations rest upon a narrow, truncated conception of good teaching. Value-added does tell us something useful and I’m in favor of integrating it into evaluation and pay decisions, accordingly, but I worry when it becomes the foundation upon which everything else is constructed.

Even the best model is only as good as the data, Hess writes. If test scores are ” flawed, biased, or incomplete measures of learning or teacher effectiveness, the models won’t pick that up.”

Principals need to evaluate honestly

Principals need to get serious about evaluating teachers, writes Justin Baeder in On Performance.  Many principals rate all teachers as satisfactory, convinced that it doesn’t matter:  Teachers can’t be fired for teaching poorly.  Insteady, principals try make undesired teachers so miserable they’ll want to quit.

Baeder cites an op-ed by Colin Hitt of the Illinois Public Policy Institute, who quotes Dr. Timothy Knowles of the University of Chicago:

In interviews with 40 principals, 37 admitted to using some type of harassing supervision—cajoling, pressuring or threatening—to get teachers to leave in order to circumvent the byzantine removal process mandated by the union contract… This pathological status quo feeds upon itself: The more difficult it is for principals to address underperformance, the more likely they are to use informal methods to do so. This fuels labor’s argument that management is capricious, strengthening their case for increased employment protection.

Principals must break this cycle “by conducting meaningful evaluations, even if it takes a few years for policymakers to create a stronger link between evaluations and dismissal,” writes Baeder.

 If Chicago Public Schools principals turned in five hundred or a thousand unsatisfactory ratings next year instead of just a handful, what kind of attention would that garner? Imagine if lawmakers could see the litigation costs districts face in dismissal proceedings—would they not immediately intervene? Right now, though, all they see is a giant stack of “satisfactory” ratings, with no way to tell which teachers deserve them and which don’t.

Teacher evaluation reforms are being designed to work around principals by using value-added analyses of test scores rather than relying on principals’  judgment, Baeder warns. Principals need to start doing their jobs as teacher evaluators or they’ll be out of the job.

Most Chicago schools get a D or F

Most Chicago public schools earned a D or F grade on the district’s own evaluation, reveals the Chicago Tribune, which has printed the grades.  The district didn’t release the information, saying it lacks nuance. Someone leaked the info to the Trib.

As the graph shows, only 10 percent of elementary  and middle schools and 4 percent of high schools received an A. Half of K-8 schools and two thirds of high schools were given a D or F.

The grades are based on attendance, dropout rates and test scores, with no attempt to measure students’ progress. Not surprisingly, most of the A and B schools serve fewer low-income students than the district average. However, some high-poverty schools, such as Burnham Elementary, a nearly all-black magnet school, did well.  Overall, charters schools were more likely to earn a passing grade.

Some fear the K-8 schools look better because the tests are too easy.  The failure rate is high on the 11th-grade exam, which is partly based on the college entrance ACT exam, the Tribune reports.

“At the elementary level, state assessment standards have been so weakened that most of the 8th-graders who ‘meet’ these standards have little chance to succeed in high school or to be ready for college,” wrote the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago in a 2009 report.

My mother’s alma mater, Sullivan High, is an F school with an 88.5 percent poverty rate.