Movin’ and improvin’

Teacher-effectiveness data should be used to help teachers improve, not just to fire incompetents, argues Movin’ It and Improvin’ It! by Craig Jerald, an education policy consultant, on the the Center for American Progress site.

. . . districts are missing an opportunity to … help leverage their highest performers and help teachers with strong potential grow into solid contributors.

The  “movin’ it” strategy uses “selective recruitment, retention, and ‘deselection’ to attract and keep teachers with higher effectiveness while removing teachers with lower effectiveness.

In contrast, “improvin’ it” policies treat teachers’ effectiveness as a mutable trait that can be improved with time. When reformers talk about providing all teachers with useful feedback following classroom observations or using the results of evaluation to individualize professional development for teachers, they are referring to “improvin’ it” strategies. If enough teachers improved their effectiveness, then the accumulated gains would boost the average effectiveness in the workforce.

Smart districts will do both, Jerald argues.

Professional development rarely improves teaching effectiveness and student learning, research shows. “The nation’s school systems spend billions of dollars annually on wasteful and ineffective professional development,” Jerald writes. Yet some forms of training have shown “substantial improvements in teaching and learning” in the last two years.

Study: Teacher training rarely helps

Improving teachers’ effectiveness is the “paramount challenge” facing our schools, writes Robert Pianta in Teaching Children Well, a report for the Center for American Progress. But most professional development has little or no impact. Districts waste thousands of dollars per teach each year on one-day, one-time workshops that teach “awareness” rather than specific skills, Pianta writes. Trainers promote “models that have little basis in what is known about effective instruction, curriculum, or classroom interactions.”

The report looks at “new evidence-supported approaches to professional development that have promise for closing not only the evidence gap, but the achievement gap as well.”

MyTeachingPartner, or MTP . . . uses a standardized method of online, individualized coaching and a library of highly focused video clips showing effective teachers in action that are tightly coupled with a standardized metric for observing teacher practice in the classroom, called the Classroom Assessment Scoring System, or CLASS.

CLASS and MTP . . .  include models for observing teachers’ instruction in mathematics lessons that are useful in modeling feedback about instruction in the upper grades. There are now professional-development tools that show promise for improving instruction and children’s math skills in preschool.

In early literacy, there are now videos to provide teachers feedback with demonstrable gains for students’ skills as well as statewide models that connect individualized feedback, coursework, and assessment of students’ school-readiness skills in a program of teacher professional development.

In addition, John Tyler’s paper on Designing High-Quality Evaluation Systems for High School Teachers also was released.

Coaching top performers

Top athletes and musicians work with coaches to perfect their skills. Surgeon Atul Gawande explores coaching for surgeons and teachers in The New Yorker.

Jim Knight, director of the Kansas Coaching Project, at the University of Kansas, thinks coaching can help excellent teachers become even better, as well as helping novices.

Training workshops have little effect on how teachers teach, researchers have observed.  Only 10 to 20 percent use what they learned in workshops in the classroom. Coaching — another teacher watched them try the new skills and offered advice — raised the adoption rates to more than 90 percent in California studies.

Gawande and Knight sat in on a coaching session at a Virginia middle school that requires coaching for new teachers and offers it to veterans such as Jennie Critzer, an eighth-grade algebra teacher with 10 years experience.

She set a clear goal, announcing that by the end of class the students would know how to write numbers like ?32 in a simplified form without using a decimal or a fraction. Then she broke the task into steps. She had the students punch ?32 into their calculators and see what number they got (5.66). She had them try explaining to their partner how whole numbers differed from decimals. (“Thirty seconds, everyone.”) She had them write down other numbers whose square root was a whole number. She made them visualize, verbalize, and write the idea. Soon, they’d figured out how to find the factors of the number under the radical sign, and then how to move factors from under the radical sign to outside the radical sign.

Gawande thought the lesson was great. But Critzer told the coaches she was worried about students’ engagement.

At least four of her 20 students “seemed at sea,” the coaches said. When students were paired off, most struggled with having a “math conversation,” especially girl-boy pairs.

Critzer said she had been trying to increase the time that students spend on independent practice during classes, and she thought she was doing a good job. She was also trying to “break the plane” more—get out from in front of the whiteboard and walk among the students—and that was working nicely. But she knew the next question, and posed it herself: “So what didn’t go well?” She noticed one girl who “clearly wasn’t getting it.” But at the time she hadn’t been sure what to do.

“How could you help her?” Hobson asked.

She thought for a moment. “I would need to break the concept down for her more,” she said. “I’ll bring her in during the fifth block.”

Critzer knew students were having trouble talking about math. A coach suggested putting key math words on the board for them to use, such as factoring, perfect square and radical.  She decided to try it.

I asked Critzer if she liked the coaching. “I do,” she said. “It works with my personality. I’m very self-critical. So I grabbed a coach from the beginning.” She had been concerned for a while about how to do a better job engaging her kids. “So many things have to come together. I’d exhausted everything I knew to improve.”

Coaching makes her feel less isolated and lowered her stress level, she told Gawande. “The coaching has definitely changed how satisfying teaching is,” she said.

Baltimore teachers reject new contract

Baltimore teachers rejected a new contract that would have changed the traditional salary scale based on seniority and academic credits.

The proposed contract included pay raises and kept health benefits at their current rate. But some were wary of a provision that would have replaced a system where seniority and degrees determined pay with one where they were paid by effectiveness in the classroom and pursuit of professional development.

Some 58 percent of teachers rejected the contract.

The contract had been hailed as a sign that teachers’ unions are open to reform, notes Teacher Beat. Apparently, the leadership of the AFT-affiliated union couldn’t persuade its membership.

Teacher buy-in

Teacher evaluation and professional development won’t work without teacher buy-in, writes Wookie Kim, who blogs at ABCDE, in his analysis of Education Sector’s Finding the Link conference.  As a high school English teacher in Washington, D.C., Kim has seen the new IMPACT teacher evaluation system make a shaky start.

(1) On the teacher evaluation side, how do you get teachers to buy in to the idea of performance evaluation, especially if and when the system is so unfamiliar, filled with inherent risks, and tied to very high stakes?

. . . At my school, when the master educators enter the building, teachers go around alerting the entire building. Some teachers proceed as usual; others, however, pull out there one-off, let’s-follow-everything-on-the-IMPACT-rubric lesson plan. What I have seen is an “us versus them” (read: “teachers versus IMPACT”) mentality that defeats entirely the purpose of IMPACT. What should we do to increase buy-in here?

(2) On the professional development side, how do you get teachers who are already so busy—gah!—to carve out time for professional development, and to see PD as something more — much more! — than a mandatory requirement to earn a few professional learning units?

IMPACT’s master educators gave Kim “actionable next steps” to improve his teaching; they “followed up with me over email and provided invaluable resources in areas where I needed help.”

But many administrators aren’t prepared to evaluate teachers and many teachers feel there’s been little ongoing support.

I feel like I was given a torn set of instructions before being paradropped behind enemy lines where – in radio silence and without any updated directives – I’m tasked with assaulting the fortress of Effective Teaching.

Rated “effective” by IMPACT, Kim has been “excessed” and will have to find a new job at another school.

Evaluating and training teachers

Finding the Link: Teacher Evaluation and Professional Development starts tomorrow morning in Washington, D.C. as a panel discussion featuring:

Jamie Fasteau, K–12 Education Policy Team Lead for the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee
Scott Thompson, IMPACT, the new teacher evaluation system for the Washington, D.C., public schools
Brad Jupp, senior program adviser for teacher quality initiatives, U.S. Department of Education
Jen Mulhern, The New Teacher Project, who worked with New Haven on their new evaluation system
Elena Silva, senior policy analyst, Education Sector (moderator)

Register to come in person from 9:30 to 11 am, Resources and Conservation Center, 1400 16th Street, NW, Washington, D.C.

While the live panel discusses strategies to link teacher evaluation and development, a group of teacher-bloggers will react to the panel, ask the first questions and post their reflections on their own blogs and on The Quick and the Ed.

Wookie Kim teaches English at the secondary level in the District of Columbia Public Schools. He is also a first-year Teach for America D.C. region corps member. He reflects on his experience as a D.C. educator on his blog, ABCDE.

Dina Strasser teaches seventh-grade English in upstate New York. The former Fulbright scholar has been an educator for 11 years, spending eight of those years teaching English as a Second Language at all levels of education. She blogs at The Line.

Tom White has taught third grade in suburban Seattle for 26 years. He is a National Board Certified Teacher and blogs at Stories from School, which is sponsored by The Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession.

Ann-Bailey Lipsett teaches at an extremely diverse public elementary school in suburban Washington. She blogs at Organized Chaos.

Education will be live-tweeting the event at @EducationSector, using the hashtag #ESTeach.

Follow the live-blogging of  Tom White and comment.

Yes, it sounds complicated. I admire Ed Sector’s initiative.


Science Goddess created an activity to help teachers learn how to teach Washington state’s new science standards.  Her professional development plan has been plagiarized — “just wholesale stealing with no credit offered or permission requested.”

Let teachers train teachers

Districts hire outside consultants to train teachers, even when teachers already working in the district have been using the “new” techniques successfully, complains Anthony Cody, an Oakland (CA) teacher turned professional development coach. If there are local teachers with expertise, why not make them the trainers?

Teachers helping teachers online

The World’s Largest English Department is online, reports Education Week.

Hired to teach 8th grade language arts, Laura Abercrombie turned to The English Companion Ning, “where English teachers meet to help each other.”  One of the liveliest of nearly 7,000 K-12 nings, it has 6,000 teacher participants. She saw “pages of groups, forums, curricula, and multimedia resources,” but didn’t know where to start.

. . . Around 10 a.m., she posted a picture of herself, listed her credentials, and started a discussion under “New Teachers.” She titled it “HELP!!!” In her short message, Abercrombie was blunt about her situation—she would be starting her first year of teaching and she needed support. Her students would be reading Walden over the summer and responding to questions online, and then there was the issue of a “rustic, outdoorsy” trip with students in the fall. She wrote, “I am in the overwhelming process of preparing for the year and I am STUCK. There are no instructional materials for the class and the last teacher isn’t too keen on sharing. I have NO CLUE where to start. Any help would be great.”

Less than 12 hours later, there were roughly 60 responses from novice and veteran educators from across the country. Teachers offered book titles to help her bridge the gap between Thoreau and the class trip; professional development resources on reading strategies; an inquiry about the “essential question” for the year; and a healthy dose of encouragement.

What’s a ning? It’s an online platform used to create social networks. I didn’t know either.

What would a good PD be?

We hear often from teachers (including myself) how useless the professional development sessions often are. But what makes them useless, and how could they be useful, meaningful, or interesting?

The number one complaint is that they are just a waste of time–redundant information, mindless activities. I have attended my fair share of those.

Then some PD leaders assume that the best way to teach teachers is to bombard them with consultants and make believe they are brainless. Put them in little groups and have them write quick little responses to little folktales, and then regroup and fill out charts to post on the wall. Once all the charts are on the wall, the teachers are told to circulate in a “gallery walk” and write comments on Post-its to put on the charts. And then, of course, they are told to go implement this in the classroom right away.

Then there are those that teach a hypothesis as though it were truth–for instance, in connection with “brain-based learning.” Neuroscience is a lively and fascinating field, but its findings are not immediately applicable to the classroom, as Dan Willingham has pointed out. Nonetheless, many PDs push “brain-based learning” without acknowledging the uncertainty around the theories.

There are also practical training sessions–how to administer or score tests, how to use computer equipment, etc. Those may be informative, or they may be old news.

But what sort of professional development would actually be good?

It depends much on the school’s programs, curriculum, etc., and the level. But one idea would be to have teachers give each other seminars in their own subject–that is, we’d have an algebra seminar one week, a Dostoevsky seminar the next, and a seminar on the Reformation the following week. (Or maybe one per month.) The seminar leader would basically give a class intended for adults. But since the adults would not all be versed in the field, the instructor would need to adjust to their knowledge levels. There could be prerequisites or required reading for some seminars.

Why would this be useful? Teachers would be teaching in front of each other, seeing each other teach and respond to teaching, and they would all be learning about each other’s subjects. They would be engaged in the subject matter itself, while the seminar leader would gain new angles on pedagogy. They could then discuss how the same material might be presented to students.

Another kind of PD would involve a visit from a special guest with knowledge in a particular field. This scholar would give a presentation and then open the floor for discussion and debate. For instance, there could be PDs on controversies surrounding pedagogy, neuroscience, etc. Teachers would frankly discuss the pros and cons of various approaches and leave with new insights.

There are many other possibilities. But in general the level of PDs would be lifted if (a) they dealt with subject matter at the teachers’ intellectual level; (b) they allowed teachers to lead PDs regularly; and (c) they included philosophical and controversial topics and presented them as such.