Duncan tells schools how to assign teachers

Uncle Sam shouldn’t try to manage school staffing, writes Rick Hess.

The Obama administration has used its Race to the Top program and unprecedented, far-reaching conditions for states seeking “waivers” from the No Child Left Behind Act’s most destructive requirements as excuses to micromanage what states are doing on teacher evaluation, school turnarounds, and much else. In a new, particularly troubling twist, the administration has announced that states will henceforth have to ensure that “effective” teachers are distributed in a manner Uncle Sam deems equitable.

Arne Duncan, who’s not the school superintendent for the U.S., wants to staff high-poverty schools with more effective teachers, writes Hess. That’s a worthy goal, but it shouldn’t be dictated from Washington.

 Ill-conceived policies might move teachers from schools and classrooms where they are effective to situations when they are less effective. Heavy-handed efforts to reallocate teachers could drive good teachers from the profession. And we are far less able to identify “effective” teachers in any cookie-cutter fashion than federal officials might think.

Some teachers who are effective with easy-to-teach students aren’t effective with hard-to-teach students, Hess points out.

Parents make the best teachers

Parents make the best teachers, writes Sara Mosle in Slate Magazine.

Some charter schools hire young teachers who are willing to work long, grueling hours for low pay, reports the New York Times. Most leave after two or three years to be replaced by a new crop of young idealists.

Inexperience in the classroom isn’t the only problem with this model, writes Mosle. Young teachers lack experience as parents.

A Teach for America teacher in the program’s first year, Mosle taught for three years in New York City schools. “I was single, childless, and clueless about even the most basic aspects of child-rearing,” she recalls. “My students’ parents seemed like creatures from another planet.”

Nearly 20 years later, now a mother, she returned to the classroom to teach writing at Philip’s Academy Charter School in Newark.

. . . being a parent has made me a better teacher. While I still have a reformer’s high expectations for my students, I am more flexible about discipline, in part because I’d never want my daughter to be so docile she wouldn’t rock the boat. Now when parents approach me with worries or high hopes for the future, I have greater respect for their commingled love and fears. I also have a far stronger sense than I did at 25 that children’s lives . . . flow in waves of achievements and setbacks.

In 2002, Ryan Hill started TEAM Academy, the first KIPP charter school in Newark. He worked more than 100 hours a week “in a profession he regarded as less of a vocation than a crusade.”

At the time, he thought of his school like a Silicon Valley startup, which like all new ventures demanded insane hours. “We were a bunch of 25-year-olds,” he recalled in a conversation this spring. “We’d be there every day, including on Saturdays and Sundays. We’d have students at the school until 10 o’clock each night—kids who needed a place to do homework or whatever.” It was part of the school’s ethos and formula for success: longer days and a longer school year. Hill loved the job. “It was hard work, but it was also good work,” he said.

It was also unsustainable as teachers got older, married and started families just as “they were blossoming into full flower as educators.” Unwilling to lose his veteran teachers, Hill began to offer flexible hours to top teachers who’d become parents.

In Our School, I write about attending a staff meeting at a start-up charter school and realizing I was old enough to be the mother of every person in the room — and not the teen mother either. I was 49. I was the only parent in the room too, though the principal’s wife was pregnant.

Best, worst teachers can be spotted early

The best and worst teachers can be identified in their first two years in the classroom by value-added analysis, according to a working paper by University of Virginia and Stanford researchers. Teachers improve as they gain experience, however early effectiveness ratings predict how teachers will be evaluated after five years in the classroom, the study concluded.

Researchers tracked new fourth- and fifth-grade teachers in New York City, analyzing their students’ achievement-test results in math and English/language arts, as well as gender, ethnicity, home language, poverty, special education status, and absences and suspensions. Teachers’ value-added ratings — their ability to improve students’ achievement — in the first two years were compared with the next three years.

Overall, the teachers improved significantly in their first two years in their value-added score. While more than 36 percent of teachers were rated in the lowest of five levels of effectiveness at the start of their careers, only 12 percent were still rated in that same quintile by their third year of teaching.

However, when teachers at each initial level of effectiveness were tracked individually over time, their growth was much less significant. Compared with other teachers who started at the same time they did, teachers in the lowest 20 percent were still likely to be in the lowest 20 percent three to five years later.

Firing teachers in the lowest 10 percent in value-added effectiveness after two years would eliminate 30 percent of the least-effective group in five years, pointed out Tim R. Sass, an economics and public-policy research professor at Georgia State. Principals wouldn’t lose any teachers who’d eventually be rated in the top 10 percent.

Adults get credit for what they already know

A new tool is helping adults get college credit for what they’ve learned on the job, in the military or through independent study.

Credit where it’s due

Soon, more college students will be able to earn credits for competency, whether they learned through a free online course, on-the-job training, military experience or independent study.

Can we get a real teacher for once?

Working as a volunteer teacher for underprivileged children was fulfilling, writes “Megan Richmond” in The Onion.

Was it always easy? Of course not. But with my spirit and determination, we were all able to move forward.

Can We Please, Just Once, Have A Real Teacher, fourth-grader “Brandon Mendez’ responds. |

Just once, it would be nice to walk into a classroom and see a teacher who has a real, honest-to-God degree in education and not a twentysomething English graduate trying to bolster a middling GPA and a sparse law school application. I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a qualified educator who has experience standing up in front of a classroom and isn’t desperately trying to prove to herself that she’s a good person.

I’m not some sort of stepping stone to a larger career, okay? I’m an actual child with a single working mother, and I need to be educated by someone who actually wants to be a teacher, actually comprehends the mechanics of teaching, and won’t get completely eaten alive by a classroom full of 10-year-olds within the first two months on the job.

How about a person who can actually teach me math for a change? Boy, wouldn’t that be a novel concept!

“We’re not adopted puppies you can show off to your friends” on Tumblir, Mendez writes.

I can’t afford to spend these vital few years of my cognitive development becoming a small thread in someone’s inspirational narrative.

Via Teach for America’s new blog, Pass the Chalk.

 

Time to retool Teach For America

Teach For America should seek a four- or five-year commitment from recruits, writes teacher Jared Billings in Education Sector. Two years is not enough, even if some ex-TFAers go on to do other work in education.

Being a great teacher has to be one of the hardest jobs in the world. I knew I had found my passion the first time I stood at the front of a classroom at Jordan High School in South Los Angeles during my TFA summer training five years ago. But it took me several years of teaching psychology, government and world history to feel truly competent. Those first couple of years in the classroom are a huge learning curve for any teacher, and it seems arrogant to think that just because the TFA kids went to good schools and got good grades, they’ll instantly be able to teach. It’s no wonder the longtime teachers at some schools resent these upstarts.

In a survey of the 2000-’02 cohorts, 60.5 percent of TFA teachers said they continued teaching after their two-year commitment. But after five years, only about 28 percent remained in teaching. Only 22 percent stayed in the classroom after two years in a more recent study of TFA teachers in Jacksonville, Florida.

Wendy Kopp, CEO and founder of TFA, addressed this issue last month in an interview with NY1 news: “Our applicant pool fell in half when we asked for a three-year commitment. It doubled if we asked for one year. The reason this plays out is that 22-year-olds think that two years is the rest of their life.”

. . . Rather than bend to the student’s perception that teaching is not prestigious enough to do long term, TFA should instead use its vast resources to encourage students to see teaching as the end goal, and TFA as a viable means to that end.

TFA is now the top employer of graduates from elite universities. However, “the achievement gap that TFA says it is committed to closing will require new, gifted teachers to join the profession and stick with it for far more than two years,” writes Billings.

Teachers need to lead

Speak up, teachers! urges Nancy Flanagan on Teacher in a Strange Land.  And, if you’ve got the makings of a leader, don’t let the profession’s egalitarianism hold you back.

My friend Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach–a compelling speaker and insightful author–wrote this in a wonderful piece on “unselfish self-promotion: “We are taught that arrogance is associated with pride and that we should err on the side of humility. But is marketing our own ideas and work prideful if we really believe what we have to offer is useful, transformational, or helpful?

We need educators who will step up and say:  “My 20 years’ experience in the classroom–and the quality of my ideas and practice–make me an expert. Listen to me. I have confidence. I am a valuable resource.”

Women, especially, need to be more assertive, Flanagan writes.

Good teachers are not self-effacing. A timid, self-effacing person meeting 35 8th graders at 7:20 every morning is in trouble. So why aren’t accomplished teachers at the forefront of the discourse on their own issues?

When teachers do speak up, do they have the opportunity to lead? Are accomplished teachers held back by administrators, colleagues — or their own anxieties?

The uses (and misuses) of value-added research

Value-added research, which uses “sophisticated statistical techniques to attempt to isolate a teacher’s effect on student test score growth,”  makes sense, writes Matt DiCarlo in a thoughtful analysis on Shanker Blog. What’s troubling is how the models are used.

For example, the most prominent conclusion of this body of evidence is that teachers are very important, that there’s a big difference between effective and ineffective teachers, and that whatever is responsible for all this variation is very difficult to measure (see hereherehere and here). These analyses use test scores not as judge and jury, but as a reasonable substitute for “real learning,” with which one might draw inferences about the overall distribution of “real teacher effects.”

And then there are all the peripheral contributions to understanding that this line of work has made, including (but not limited to):

The “research does not show is that it’s a good idea to use value-added and other growth model estimates as heavily-weighted components in teacher evaluations or other personnel-related systems.,” DiCarlo concludes.

As has been discussed before, there is a big difference between demonstrating that teachers matter overall – that their test-based effects vary widely, and in a manner that is not just random –and being able to accurately identify the “good” and “bad” performers at the level of individual teachers.

Most districts and states use value-added models poorly, concludes DiCarlo

Teach for America grows, but . . .

Teach for America‘s expansion is raising questions, reports AP. With experienced teachers facing layoffs, do high-poverty schools need inexperienced teachers, however bright, who commit for only two years in the classroom?

“There’s no question that they’ve brought a huge number of really talented people in to the education profession,” said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, which advocates on behalf of low-income and minority children, and a longtime supporter of TFA.

But, she said, “Nobody should teach in a high poverty school without having already demonstrated that they are a fabulous teacher. For poor kids, education has to work every single year.”

High-poverty,  high-minority schools employ nearly twice as many teachers with fewer than three years’ experience, AP reports.

One third of TFA graduates are still teaching, according to the organization. Sixty percent work in education, including administration, starting new schools or developing policy.

In Why I did TFA and you shouldn’t, Gary Rubinstein explains why he no longer recruits for TFA. Twenty years ago, TFA recruits took “jobs that nobody else wanted,” he writes. The alternative to a “barely trained” TFA teacher was “a different substitute every day.”

The 2011 corps is nearly 6,000, twelve times as big as the cohorts from the early ’90s. Unfortunately, the landscape in education has changed a lot in the past twenty years. Instead of facing teacher shortages, we have teacher surpluses. There are regions where experienced teachers are being laid off to make room for incoming TFA corps members because the district has signed a contract with TFA, promising to hire their new people.

TFA has spawned arrogant education reformers who are “assisting in the destruction of public education,” Rubinstein charges.

In a follow-up post, he writes about how he’d fix TFA.

So here’s my plan: TFA becomes a three year program with the first year composed of training, student teaching, substitute teaching, and being paired up as an assistant to a corps member who is in her second year of the program, which is her first (of two) years of teaching.

First-year recruits would train at a university while grading papers, calling parents and subbing for a second-year TFA teacher, he proposes.

You will tutor kids after school. If necessary, you will cook dinner for the teacher you assist. First year teaching is a two-person job and you will be the behind the scenes person who does a lot of the dirty work so that the second year corps member can succeed. You will also be subbing throughout your city. Perhaps you have to sub twice a week. Do that for a year and you will have no trouble facing your actual classes in your second year.

With a year of preparation — and an assistant — the first year of teaching wouldn’t be so traumatic, he writes. Perhaps more people would want to remain as teachers, building on their first two years of experience.