Ex-principal: Adult cheating hurts students

Test scores were up sharply at Communications Technology High in Philadelphia. The new principal, Saliyah Cruz, wondered how so many students could score proficient on the state exam while also testing into remedial reading and math. Two years later, an investigation found evidence of cheating by adults, reports NewsWorks and Philadelphia Notebook. Students paid a high price, says Cruz, who quit in frustration.

In 2010, 75 percent of 11th graders at Comm Tech scored proficient or above in reading. That was a 22 percentage-point jump over the previous year. In math, 70 percent of Comm Tech 11th graders scored proficient or above, 40 points higher than the year before.

. . . In both 2009 and 2010, a high number of student response sheets at Comm Tech had suspicious patterns of “wrong-to-right” erasures – a telltale sign of adult cheating.

When Cruz asked the school’s staff why scores had soared, they credited “Study Island,” a computer-based test prep program used at many Philadelphia public schools. Cruz expanded use of Study Island.

Reports generated by Study Island suggested that students didn’t understand the material. Interim tests used to predict PSSA performance pointed to huge score drops. Cruz’s own eyes told her that students weren’t learning.

Her staff resisted her efforts to get teachers to “change their instruction or re-teach content.” After all, the test scores were great.

As a result, says Cruz, students at Comm Tech got a Band-Aid when what they really needed was surgery.

With Cruz as principal, there were no more suspicious erasures. The school’s scores dropped 38 points in reading and 45 points in math.

At the district level, principals were pushed to show rapid gains, Cruz says. Slow, steady improvement was not good enough. Principals under suspicion of cheating have been promoted, including Cruz’s predecessor at Comm Tech, reports NewsWorks and Notebook.

Why do teachers quit? Bad principals

Why Do So Many Teachers Quit Their Jobs? Because They Hate Their Bosses Writing in The Atlantic, John Tierney summarizes research on why new teachers quit.

. . . the most important factor influencing commitment was the beginning teacher’s perception of how well the school principal worked with the teaching staff as a whole. This was a stronger factor than the adequacy of resources, the extent of a teacher’s administrative duties, the manageability of his or her workload, or the frequency of professional-development opportunities.

A third of teachers in their first two years change schools or quit teaching altogether, Tierney writes.  Turnover is higher in urban schools with low-income, hard-to-teach students.

The new research affirms much of what earlier studies have found. For example, an earlier (2003) multiyear study of 50 teachers in Massachusetts found that teachers who left the profession often “described principals who were arbitrary, abusive, or neglectful.”

It’s not just new teachers, Tierney adds. Job satisfaction for all teachers depends on the principal’s managerial style.

The elephant in the integrated classroom

Clashing parenting styles, cultures and expectations undermine school integration, writes Jennifer Burns Stillman in The Elephant in the Classroom in Education Next. She interviewed white, upper-middle-class parents in gentrifying neighborhoods about their school choices.

. . . white, upper-middle-class families prefer a progressive and discursive style of interaction with their children, both at home and in school, and lower-income, nonwhite families prefer a traditional or authoritarian style of interaction with their children in these same venues.

White parents who try an urban school and then leave cite overly strict discipline and  “near-constant yelling—from principals, teachers, school aides, and nonwhite parents who come to drop off and pick up their kids,” Stillman writes.

White parents who wanted to volunteer said principals and non-white parents saw them as pushy interlopers.

One principal was angry when white parents gave each teacher a $100 book card donated by Barnes & Noble, seeing it as “bribing” teachers. Parents called various principals “not the brightest bulb in the box,” “insane,” “crazy,” “incompetent.”

White parents didn’t do enough “ego stroking,” one mother said.  When parents offered to help out, “it came across as, ‘You’re broken and you need fixing,’ rather than, ‘We’ve got extra hands, we’ve got extra energy, let’s build up what you already have.’ ”

“Creating a successful, truly diverse charter school is enormously difficult to pull off, ” writes Alexander Russo, also in Ed Next. Students come with a wide range of abilities and background knowledge. Parents have different cultures and expectations.

. . . the list of strategies applied is a long one: frequent online assessments to diagnose and direct students to the appropriate activity; open-ended assignments allowing kids of varying skill levels to engage at their own levels; coteaching in which two teachers share responsibility for a group of kids; and looping, in which teachers follow kids from one grade to the next.

In one Brooklyn Prospect classroom, the English teacher makes as many of her lessons open-ended as she can and coteaches half of her classes with a special education teacher. She also offers additional uncredited projects called “Seekers” so that kids who want to can go faster without disadvantaging kids still working on basic skills.

“You can’t just put a heterogeneous population together and think it’s going to work,” Summit cofounder Donna Tavares tells Russo.

Mike Petrilli’s book, The Diverse School Dilemma, offers three ways to create integrated schools in newly gentrified neighborhoods.

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.”

School comes to rescue of storm victims

A week after Hurricane Sandy devastated Belmar, New Jersey — with power still out — an elementary school principal and her teachers walked hard-hit neighborhoods to bring supplies to storm victims, reports Learning Matters. Families were invited to the school for hot meals — and books.

Principal guilty for not reporting teachers’ abuse

Craig Chandler, 35, is awaiting trial on charges of committing lewd and lascivious acts on five students at a San Jose elementary school where he taught second grade. His semen was found on a classroom chair.

Monday, a jury convicted the principal of failing to report suspected child abuse, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Principal Lyn Vijayendran listened to a second-grade girl’s story: The teacher had called her into an empty classroom, blindfolded her, told her to lie on the floor and open her legs, touched her feet with something that felt like a tongue, inserted something gooey in her mouth and then wiggled her head around until she tasted a salty liquid.

Instead of calling police, the principal called a district personnel administrator, who suggested questioning the teacher. Chandler said he was preparing for a “Helen Keller” lesson. Vijayendran believed him. The parent accepted the explanation.

Three months later, a parent told police Chandler had molested another second grader in the same fashion.

Juror Kathy Eriksen called the case “tragic,” but said the verdict was “absolutely necessary” to ensure educators, coaches and other mandated reporters don’t shirk their obligation.

. . . Juror Susan LaGaffa said the incident was obviously sexual and the teacher’s explanation ludicrous.

“I think she didn’t want this ugly thing to be true,” LaGaffa said. “But when you have responsibility for hundreds of children, you can’t afford to drop the ball.”

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Deborah Ryan immediately sentenced Vijayendran on the misdemeanor charge, giving her two years of probation and 100 hours of community service. The former principal, now working in the district office, can meet her service hours by training educators to comply with California’s mandated-reporter law.

The human resources director wasn’t charged because she’s not a mandatory reporter.

‘Strategic staffing’ is oversold

On the cover of School Administrator, heroic-looking educators parachute into a school.  “Landing your best forces in schools with greatest needs” promotes a story lauding Charlotte-Mecklenberg’s success in turning around troubled schools. “Strategic staffing” — sending strong principals and teachers to weak schools — has “exceeded expectations,” writes Deputy Superintendent Ann Clark.

In fall of 2008, Charlotte-Mecklenberg paid bonuses to lure star principals and teachers to seven low-performing schools. No strategic staffing school has met the campaign’s goal – 90 percent of students at grade level in three years –reports the Charlotte Observer.

In 2012, four of the seven pilot schools had pass rates of 50 percent or lower. Devonshire Elementary, the strongest of the seven, had 71 percent on grade level.

The strategic staffing schools have improved, but so have most low-performing schools in the state, reports the Observer.  A tough new test set scores plummeting in 2008, just before the new principals took over. The next year, the state started requiring students who failed exams to try again. Across the state, scores surged.
In 2012, scores fell in the seven original schools, though newly added “strategic” schools improved.

 Clark’s article, written before the 2012 test scores were released, concludes that strategic staffing will become obsolete because of its success.

“A school district’s courage has led to academic success for students in the lowest-performing schools,” she writes. “To think all it took was recognizing talented principals and teachers and inviting them to share their talents with our neediest children and schools.”

At four of the seven original schools, the principal brought in to transform the school has gone. Closing three middle schools and sending older students into low-performing elementary schools also has caused problems. bbbbbbbb

Your principles vs. your principal

New teachers should stay off the administrative radar, advises Roxanna Elden in Your Principles vs. Your Principal: How to Speak Up and When to Shut Up.

 School meetings tend to be top-down affairs: Administrators deliver information from the front of the cafeteria or auditorium, and teachers sit silently on the receiving end. Should you try to change this dynamic? Should you be the one to speak out? Should you lead the way in challenging high-level decisions, thus taking a stand for your educational beliefs and proving to administrators and colleagues alike that even new teachers deserve a place at the decision-making table?

Probably not.

New teachers should wait to speak up till they’ve built credibility with their colleagues, Elden suggests. Till then, stay quiet and look attentive.

 

A tale of two teacher evaluations

After one year at an elementary turnaround school in Chicago, the young, inexperienced principal told Marilyn Rhames she was one his best teachers who could improve only by being easier on herself.  After the second year, he fired her. She writes about the experience in A Tale of Two Teacher Evaluations on her Ed Week blog, Charting My Own Course.

One-third of the staff left –fired or quit — after the first year.  The principal and his two assistant principals lowered class size to 14 in second grade and raised it to 33 in third, Rhames’ grade.

A dozen of my students came in reading at or below the 1st grade level. I had six students with major behavior problems. One student threatened to kill himself and was briefly committed to a psychiatric ward. So when my reading assessments weren’t completed on time and the principal argued that 2nd grades’ assessments were in, I told him to do the math. Twice the number of students, twice the time needed. He did not appreciate my new-found frankness.

. . . When my principal came to observe my guided reading lesson, he criticized me for not using a whiteboard the way the expensive literacy consultants showed us to do in a PD.

In early March, the principal said her work was “unacceptable” and she would not be invited back. Another third of the staff left that year.

Within four years of the school’s opening, the principal and his “two wives” were gone. (One became his real wife after both divorced their spouses.)

Rhames almost quit teaching because of her experience, but is “now happily working at my charter school where teacher evaluations are fair, substantive, and self-reflective.”

Confessions of a bad teacher

In Confessions of a bad teacher in Salon, publishing executive John Owens recounts his foray into teaching English at a small New York City school.

Assign spelling words or read a short story in class, and it would take all of my wits to keep the texting, talking, sleeping and wrestling in check. But make it 80 words on “Would you give up your cellphone for one year for $500?” and every student — even those who never did any schoolwork — handed in a paper. When I read these essays to the class in dramatic, radio-announcer fashion, there was silence punctuated by hoots of laughter or roars of agreement or disagreement.

It was almost magic. It was really fun. And I often could squeeze in some spelling, even punctuation. But we weren’t always quiet.

And, according to my personnel file at the New York City Department of Education, I was “unprofessional,” “insubordinate” and “culturally insensitive.”

In other words, I was a bad teacher.

Told to control the class “with the force of your personality,” he told his eighth graders to quiet down or stay after school.  After less than 10 minutes standing in the doorway, the principal intervened. She “reported the incident to the police and the Department of Education as ‘corporal punishment’.”  He survived a disciplinary hearing, thanks to a union representative, but the principal put a letter in his file saying he’d “barricaded” the students in the room, endangering their safety.

Offered a job in publishing, Owens quit in mid-February.

He sees himself as a victim of “Crazy Boss Syndrome” in a system that gives principals the power to crush new teachers.