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.”

Cheating is not a big deal

The Atlanta cheating indictments — from the former superintendent down to principals and teachers — have brought calls to eliminate test-based accountability measures. If there’s no incentive to cheat, there’ll be no cheating, the argument goes.  Minimizing cheating shouldn’t be the top priority, argues Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine.

Incentivizing any field increases the impetus to cheat.

. . . If Major League Baseball instituted tenure, and maybe used tee-ball rules where you can’t keep score and everybody gets a chance to hit, it could stamp out steroid use.

Students have been cheating on tests forever — massive, systematic cheating, you could say. Why? Because they have an incentive to do well. Give teachers and administrators an incentive for their students to do well, and more of them will cheat.

Standardized test scores “account for no more than half of the criteria” for evaluating teachers in any state, Chait writes. Classroom evaluations and other factors count for the rest.

 States use complex models to measure how much a class increased its performance from the beginning to the end of the school year, accounting for socioeconomic conditions and other factors.

“There’s a useful debate to be had over how to design the criteria for measuring effective teachers,” he writes, but minimizing cheating is not the top priority. “The top priority should be teaching students better.”

The Atlanta scandal wasn’t about teachers cheating to look better. It was about administrators pressuring teachers to make low-performing schools look better. That’s true in Philadelphia’s cheating scandal too.

Philly sanctions two principals for cheating

After a nearly two-year-old investigation into cheating on state  tests at 53 Philadelphia public schools, two principals have surrendered their administrative credentials.

Barbara McCreery, who oversaw astronomical test score gains in 2010 at Communications Technology High in Southwest Philadelphia, was alleged to have “violated the integrity and security of the PSSA by erasing and changing student answers, creating an answer key and manipulating student data.”

Lola Marie O’Rourke, former principal of Locke Elementary in West Philadelphia, faced similar allegations, including that she directly provided answers to students.

McCreery was fired as principal of Bok Tech. O’Rourke left the district to work as an administrator in Trenton, New Jersey. Both will retain their teaching certificates but won’t be able to teach in the Philadelphia School District. Neither will be eligible to work as a principal in Pennsylvania.

The cheating investigation is continuing. Will there be indictments, as in Atlanta? Retiring a few years early or taking an out-of-state job isn’t much of a punishment.

Teacher’s got a gun

Arming educators is a reality in some places and under serious consideration in others, reports Education Week.

 In Utah, school employees have been able to carry concealed weapons onto campus for about a decade—without telling a soul—and at least four Texas school districts are known to have granted select employees permission to take concealed weapons to school.

A rural Texas district, Southland is 15 miles from the nearest law-enforcement agencies, says Superintendent Toby Miller. Deciding “we are the first responders,”  Southland is training some of its employees to carry guns.

The armed employees, a small subset of the district’s 32-member staff, went through mental-health screenings and trained for their concealed-weapons licenses together. The training will be ongoing, he said, as long as Southland employees carry weapons. And the guns fire so-called frangible ammunition, which breaks into small pieces on contact, preventing ricochet.

Armed staffers must carry their weapon at all times in a concealed holster: Guns cannot be carried in a purse or locked in a desk.

Michael S. Dorn, who runs the nonprofit Safe Havens International, worries about a new attitude among school employees since the Newtown shootings: “Now, I’m supposed to die” to defend students.

Dorn, a former school police chief, thinks too many teachers and administrators have switched to attack mode. “We’re seeing so many [school employees] saying they would attack” someone, he said, “whether it’s two parents coming into the office arguing over a custody issue or people pulling a handgun but not actually shooting anybody.”

A few weeks ago, a school principal told me she’s been thinking about whether she’d give her life to protect her students from a gunman as the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary did. Another woman said. “I’d want a gun.”

Other schools are taking a different tack: Marietta, Georgia public schools are installing “panic buttons” that call 911.  At an Alabama school, teachers and staff wear panic buttons around their necks that trigger a school lockdown.

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.

Study: States lack data on principals

A good school requires a good principal, nearly everyone agrees. But most states collect little or no information about how their principals are prepared, licensed, supported and evaluated, concludes Operating in the Dark, an analysis by the Dallas-based George W. Bush Institute.

“While 47 states reported they have adopted standards for principal effectiveness . . . just 17 states include learning outcomes when evaluating principal-preparation programs,” notes Ed Week. “Only six states—Connecticut, Georgia, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Tennessee, and Washington—use some evidence of effectiveness in renewing principals’ licenses.”Rhode Island  creating comprehensive systems to follow principals from their training programs through licensing, placement, and school leadership.

Federal discipline rules could hurt blacks

Sen. Dick Durbin’s hearing on the “school to prison pipeline” may lead to federal mandates to curtail the use of out-of-school suspensions,  make suspension policies uniform across schools, or both, writes Andrew Coulson of Cato @ Liberty, who testified against zero-tolerance policies at the hearing.

Black students are more likely to be suspended than whites. However, requiring lenient discipline policies would hurt black students the most, Coulson writes.

In Understanding the Black-White School Discipline Gap, Rochester University Professor Joshua Kinsler concludes that black and white students are suspended at the same rates for the same offenses at the same schools, Coulson writes.

However principals at predominantly black schools issue more and longer suspensions to all students — black and white — while discipline policies are more lenient for all students at predominantly white schools.

In a subsequent empirical study, Kinsler investigated what would happen if all schools were compelled to observe a more lenient suspension policy, to close the black/white discipline gap. He found that this would disproportionately hurt the achievement of African American students, widening the black/white achievement gap.  The reason for this, according to Kinsler’s findings, is that serious suspensions do in fact discourage misbehavior, and that removing disruptive students from the class does improve the achievement of the other students.

In his written testimony, Coulson proposed alternatives to out-of-school suspensions that motivate students to behave while protecting their classmates from disruption.

Chubb: Get serious about high-quality teachers

Today’s teachers “don’t come close to meeting the academic standards being set for students” writes John Chubb in The Best Teachers in the World.

A proficient score on NAEP reading or math translates into at least a 600 on the SAT, or about a 1200 overall. The most generous estimate of the aptitude of new U.S. teachers recently estimated SAT scores of 515 in critical reading (formerly verbal) and 506 in math, or 1021 overall.

Once on the job, teachers rarely are held accountable for their students’ performance, Chubb writes. And “by international standards teachers are not highly compensated in the United States—at least one factor that determines the quality of individuals attracted to a profession and willing to stick with it.” In short, “U.S. education policy is not serious about high-quality teachers.”

The U.S. needs to recruit high achievers to teaching and give them “work that is less menial and more expert, less prescribed and more responsible,” Chubb writes. Using technology to improve productivity would make it possible to raise pay to attract top talent.

 Teaching is not an art, to which some are born and others are not. It is an intellectually demanding endeavor that can and should be guided by research-based practice. Teachers should be trained, both before they take charge of a classroom and thereafter. They should not be trained, however, in the schools of education that predominate today.

Finally, high-quality teaching requires high-quality principals, who “create the working conditions that help determine whether great teachers remain.”

Chubb’s new book is The Best Teachers in the World: Why We Don’t Have Them and How We Could.

 

How to get the best teachers

In The Best Teachers in the World, John Chubb advocates reconfiguring schools to make good use of teachers and technology, eliminating teacher licensing requirements and giving school principals increased responsibility for hiring, developing and retaining strong teachers.