Teacher retention is up in reform era

Teachers are staying in the classroom, despite education reforms some said would create rapid turnover, according to a U.S. Education Department survey.

In the past, half of teachers would leave in their first five years, write Kaitlin Pennington and Robert Hanna of the Center for American Progress. But 70 percent of teachers who started five years ago have stayed in the profession.

The Great Recession started in 2009, which may have discouraged job switching, they observe. With many experienced teachers retiring, new teachers may have expected more opportunities.
Still, the new research should “give pause” to reform critics, write Pennington and Hanna.

Some claimed that teachers would react strongly to teacher evaluations that are based in part on student test-score growth and that the stress would drive many of them out. Bob Sullo, an education consultant and author, called it a “recipe for disaster.” And education historian Diane Ravitch predicted that “many will leave teaching, discouraged by the loss of their professional autonomy.”

Over the course of President Obama’s first term, about two-thirds of teachers said that if they “could go back to college and start over again,” they would “probably” or “definitely” still become teachers.

Principal’s classroom visits don’t help

Principals say “instructional leadership” is important, but what does that mean? Cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham praises a new study that recorded how 100 principals spent their time during the school day.  Principals averaged 12.6 percent of their time on activities related to instruction, including classroom walkthroughs (5.4 percent) and formal teacher evaluation (2.4 percent).

Principals spent more time on instructional leadership at schools with more lower-income, lower-achieving and nonwhite students.
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“Just pretend I’m not here.”

Time spent on instructional leadership did not correlate with better student learning outcomes — unless the principal spent that time coaching teachers (especially in math) or evaluating teachers and curriculum. 

. . . informal classroom walkthroughs–the most common activity–were negatively associated with student achievement. This was especially true in high schools.

. . . The negative association with student achievement was most evident where principals believed that teachers did not view walkthroughs as opportunities for professional development.  (Other reasons for walkthroughs might be to ensure that a teacher is following a curriculum, or to be more visible to faculty.)

It’s all about the feedback, concludes Willingham. “Instructional leadership activities that offer meaningful feedback to teachers may help. Those that don’t, will not.”

Observing teachers: Is it worth the time?

Teacher evaluation is off to a “bumpy start” in New York City schools, reports the New York Times. For example, PS 130 Principal Lily Din Woo and her assistant principal “are spending parts of each day darting in and out of classrooms, clipboards and iPads in hand, as they go over checklists for good teaching. Is the lesson clear? Is the classroom organized?”

All told, they will spend over two of the 40 weeks of the school year on such visits. The hours spent sitting with teachers to discuss each encounter and entering their marks into the school system’s temperamental teacher-grading database easily stretch to more than a month.

So, the principal and her assistant now will spend 10 percent of their time visiting classrooms, observing and giving teachers feedback on their teaching. Is that really excessive?

“Talent coaches” are helping and retirees may be hired “to pitch in at schools where the workload is heavy.”

Writing up observations, which must be “low inference” and aligned to the “Danielson rubric,” will be more time consuming and taxing than the Times estimates, predicts NYC Educator.

Minnesota is piloting a new teacher evaluation system that includes more classroom observation by the principal, reports Hechinger’s Tim Post for Minnesota Public Radio.

Pine Island, Minn. – Principal Cindy Hansen’s fingers fly across her laptop as she types notes in a corner of Scott Morgan’s classroom, watching as the special education teacher works with a kindergartner on her social skills.

This is more than a principal pop-in. Hansen and Morgan are part of a new, experimental kind of teacher evaluation. Earlier, they met for a pre-evaluation chat. Later, they’ll talk over the teacher’s strengths and weaknesses and set performance goals. She’ll evaluate 70 teachers this way.

“It’s not meant to be a “gotcha” kind of a situation,” Hansen says later. “It’s really is meant to be a helpful kind of conversation.”

Beginning teachers will be observed three times a year for the first three years, while veteran teachers will be observed at least once a year, with a more thorough review once every three years. Student performance will count for 35 percent of overall evaluations. Student surveys also will be factored in.

Use of test scores to evaluate teachers is controversial. Now there’s resistance to principals evaluating their teachers’ classroom performance.

How a charter network evaluates teachers

Evaluating teachers’ effectiveness is a priority for the Aspire network of 37 charter schools, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. It’s not just about test scores.

When Eva Kellogg’s bosses evaluated her performance as a teacher, they observed her classes. They reviewed her lesson plans. They polled her students, their parents and other teachers. And then they took a look at her students’ standardized test scores.

When the lengthy process was over, the eighth-grade English teacher at Aspire Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy in Oakland had received the highest rank possible.

She was a master teacher.

And based on her job performance, she got a $3,000 bonus as well as a metaphorical front-row seat at one of the biggest battles in public education: how to evaluate teachers and whether to give good ones a bigger paycheck.

Forty percent of a teacher’s score is based on observation by the principal, 30 percent on students’ standardized test scores and the rest on student, colleague and family feedback, as well as the school’s overall test scores.

Teachers are ranked as emerging, effective, highly effective or master. Bonuses range from $500 to $3,000.

Test revolts spread — but will they burn out?

Test revolts are spreading, writes Alexander Russo in The Atlantic.

This past year has shown an “unprecedented surge” of parents, teachers, and students revolting against standardized testing, according to Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, a Ford Foundation-funded nonprofit.

Roughly half the parents at a Tulsa, Oklahoma, middle school opted out of a 90-minute “pilot” reading test that was added to the normal battery of reading and math tests this past spring.

Over the summer, an estimated 1,600 people filled a Long Island high school football stadium in protest against the state’s move toward newer, tougher tests.

More than 80 percent of the parents at a New York City primary school recently decided against participating in testing that would have been used to evaluate their children’s teachers.

Protests like these have already led to testing rollbacks in TexasSeattle and Chicago.

A few states are resisting or rejecting new Common Core-aligned tests.

But most people accept testing, says Democrats for Education Reform’s policy director, Charles Barone. In a recent AP poll, only about one in four parents said their child takes too many standardized tests.

Parent protests against tests “pop up like wildfires” about every decade, but don’t catch on, says the Brookings Institution’s Tom Loveless.

Waivers won’t require access to good teachers

No Child Left Behind waivers will be renewed with no rule to ensure low-income and minority students get equal access to effective teachers, reports Politics K-12.

Guidelines released in August required states to use teacher-evaluation data, starting in October, 2015, to see that “poor and minority students are not taught by ineffective teachers at a higher rate than their peers,” writes Michele McNeil. The Education Department will drop that rule.

Civil rights groups have fought for better teachers in high-poverty schools. Teachers’ unions have opposed the use of evaluation data to rate teachers.

The timing is bad, writes Stephen Sawchuk on Teacher Beat. Two recent students show that “disadvantaged students tend to get weaker instruction and also that it’s really difficult to encourage the best teachers to transfer to low-performing schools.”

The Education Department claims it will deal with the issue next year by putting “teeth” into NCLB. But the law deals only with “inexperienced, unqualified or out-of-field teachers,” notes Sawchuk. “The effectiveness language came later and only applied to stimulus funds.”

Tennessee, D.C. lead ed reform

Tennessee and District of Columbia schools are making the fastest reading and math gains in the nation on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) , writes Richard Whitmire in a USA Today column.

A few years ago, Tennessee students were acing state tests but failing the high bar set by NAEP, writes Whitmire. Washington D.C. “was regarded as one of the worst urban school districts in the country.”

Both adopted education reforms that remain very controversial.

In Tennessee, a third of the district school superintendents along with the teachers unions in Memphis and Nashville just signed no-confidence letters condemning State Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman.

. . . The Washington reforms are famously controversial, designed by former chancellor Michelle Rhee (Huffman’s ex-wife), who was forced from office in part because of the political turmoil created by those school changes. Current Chancellor Kaya Henderson was able to preserve and improve those reforms partly because she is considerably less inflammatory than Rhee.

Tennessee and D.C. raised their standards, then switched to Common Core.

Both got serious about evaluating teachers.

In Washington, D.C., teachers routinely won rave reviews despite abysmal outcomes by their students — a contradiction routinely explained away by poverty (despite higher-poverty school districts with better outcomes). That changed dramatically with its groundbreaking 2009 IMPACT teacher evaluation. At the time, national union leaders dubbed it outrageous. Last month, a national study dubbed it effective. Overall, the better teachers stayed and tried harder, encouraged by the prospect of being rewarded. The “minimally effective” teachers tended to look for other lines of work.

Forty percent of D.C. students now attend charter schools, which tend to have higher test scores than district-run schools. That may be a factor in the rising scores.

Education Consumers Foundation lists Tennessee’s reforms.

Successes are fragile, Whitmire warns. There’s always push back.

The author of The Bee Eater: Michelle Rhee Takes On the Nation’s Worst School District, he is writing a book about high-performing charter schools, On the Rocketship.

Maryland tops the NAEP dishonor roll by excluding most special-education students and English Language Learners, reports Dropout Nation.

Teacher evaluation is a-changin’

Most states are using student achievement to evaluate teachers, according to Connect the Dots from the National Council on Teacher Quality. “What is occurring more slowly are the policy changes that will connect the rich performance data from these systems to tenure decisions, professional development, compensation, teacher preparation, and consequences for ineffectiveness.”

NCTQ looks at teacher evaluation policies across the 50 states and Washington D.C. Louisiana is “connecting the most dots,” followed closely by Florida and Tennessee, NCTQ concludes. Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Rhode Island and DCPS are also ahead of the curve.

Authors: Testing kills love of reading

Testing kills children’s “love of reading,” according to a bunch of children’s authors and illustrators who signed Fair Test‘s open letter to President Obama. Judy Blume, Maya Angelou and Jules Feiffer are the big names.

. . . requirements to evaluate teachers based on student test scores impose more standardized exams and crowd out exploration.

We call on you to support authentic performance assessments, not simply computerized versions of multiple-choice exams. We also urge you to reverse the narrowing of curriculum that has resulted from a fixation on high-stakes testing.

Our public school students spend far too much time preparing for reading tests and too little time curling up with books that fire their imaginations.

If children’s love of reading has declined in recent years, blame multimedia, responds Patrick Riccards in Are you there, God. It’s me, Eduflack.

Do we blame the bubble sheet, or do we blame the multitude of options now competing for a young learner’s attention?

Honestly, I’m getting a little tired of testing being blamed for all that is perceived wrong in our country.  . . . We ignore that testing has been a part of our public schools for as long as we’ve had public schools.  We overlook that testing data can play a meaningful role in improving both teaching and learning.  We avoid the true debate, a discussion about ensuring the value of testing and the use and application of high-quality assessments.

You know what really kills the love of reading? Not being able to read very well.

Study: Evaluation works in DC

The District of Columbia’s teacher evaluation system — with rewards for the best and firing for the worst — is working, according to a a new study.  “Teachers on the cusp of dismissal under D.C.’s IMPACT evaluation system improved their performance by statistically significant margins, as did those on the cusp of winning a large financial bonus,” reports Ed Week.

 D.C.’s IMPACT evaluation system relies on a complex mix of factors to score each teacher, including both multiple observations and measures of student achievement. Teachers deemed ineffective under the system can be dismissed, while those scoring at the “minimally effective” level, the second lowest, get one year to improve. Those teachers who earn the “highly effective” rating are eligible for bonuses of up to $25,000. Earning successive “highly effective” ratings also permits teachers to skip ahead several steps on the salary scale.

Since its rollout, IMPACT has led to the dismissal of several hundred teachers.

The much-reviled Michelle Rhee started IMPACT when she was chancellor, jump-starting the evaluation program with foundation grants.

Are D.C. students learning more? The study didn’t look at student achievement.