Duncan delays teacher accountability

“In what some see as a tacit recognition of the Obama administration’s overreach into nitty-gritty management of America’s schools, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will give states a reprieve from certain aspects of teacher evaluations’ consequences and the new wave of testing tied to the Common Core,” reports Joy Resmovits in the Huffington Post.

Duncan said Tuesday he will give “some flexibility” in when states with No Child Left Behind waivers start “using student growth data for high-stakes decisions.” The first two groups of waiver states will have an extra year, until the academic year 2016-2017, before they must use teacher evaluations to make personnel decisions.

The U.S. Senate and House are holding hearings on “dueling bills” to revise No Child Left Behind. There’s little hope of replacing rule by waiver with a “coherent law,” writes Resmovits.

States must still evaluate teachers, at least in part by their students’ academic progress.

An Education Department memo obtained by HuffPost states explicitly that “there will be no pause or moratorium in rollout of standards, assessments, and teacher leader evaluation … or in accountability … because the need for these changes is too urgent.” But given the changes, “it is crucial that teachers and principals are well prepared for this shift.”

Teachers will receive low ratings if their students show too little growth on the standardized exams, but cannot be fired for those ratings within the year of reprieve.

Duncan also said states piloting new exams won’t have to give the old exams too in 2013-14. Without “double testing,” schools could be held to different standards in the same year.

Evaluating special ed teachers

Paul Hogan teaches severely handicapped children in New York City, yet he’s evaluated with a framework designed for teachers of mainstream students. This is “tantamount to punishing and penalizing teachers who go into this demanding, difficult and highly *specialized* type of teaching,” he writes. The union hasn’t helped.

A classroom teacher can earn a “highly effective” rating only if students are observed by the evaluator to formulate high-level questions and take  ”responsibility for the success of the discussion.”

Many students in District 75, which serves severely handicapped children, can’t speak.

In some cases  these non-verbal kids may be trained to push buttons on  electronic devices to communicate basic needs. “Bathroom,” for example, represented on the device by an icon or pictograph, is a basic need; as is “Hungry”. There are various picture/symbol communication  systems (TEACCH, PECS, etc.) that are used with some success with some students.  This is the kind of thing we do in special ed.. . . And let me tell you: if you are talking about a non-verbal child, classified by the DOE as “untestable,” who is incontinent and has struggled from birth with tripelgic or quadriplegic spastic cerebral palsy, you can take the Danielson Framework and burn it. It has no relevance to the  proper education of the child I just described.

Some students have IQs too low to measure. They don’t “initiate or adapt activities and projects to enhance their understanding.” They don’t exhibit “grade-level understanding.”

Exasperated Educator teaches and tests students with less-severe disabilities.

 

AFT poll: Teachers unprepared for new standards

Most public school teachers say they’re not prepared to teach math and reading to the new Common Core standards, according to a survey by the American Federation of Teachers. While 75 percent of teachers surveyed by the union support the Common Core, less than one-third said they’d received the training and resources needed to teach to the new standards.

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted the new standards and many have started implementation.

Two states — Kentucky and New York — have already tested students on the new standards. In New York, teachers, parents and students complained that the tests were poorly designed, covered material that had not been taught and frustrated children to the point of tears. Like many other states, New York intends to use the test results in decisions about student grade promotion, teacher job evaluations and school closings.

AFT President Randi Weingarten has called for a testing moratorium for at least one year. Among teachers surveyed, 83 percent supported the moratorium.

Teachers take value-added to court

The courts may decide whether students’ test score gains are a fair way to judge teachers, note the Hechinger Report.

In what may be among the first of many lawsuits over the new evaluations—which have been adopted by multiple states—the Florida teachers union is challenging the state’s use of test scores in decisions about which teachers are fired and which receive pay raises. The Florida Education Association argues the system violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection and due process clauses.

Everyone agrees that value-added measures, which compare students’ performance with a teacher to their past performance, aren’t entirely reliable. But are they good enough?

About one-quarter of effective teachers may be misidentified as ineffective, concludes a paper by Dan Goldhaber of the University of Washington-Bothell, and Susanna Loeb, of Stanford. “The error rates,” they write, “appear to be quite high.”

And, yet, traditional methods of evaluating teachers, such as “cursory classroom observations, pass rates on licensure tests and degrees earned” are even less reliable.

“Flawed as they are, value-added measures appear to be better predictors of student achievement than the teacher characteristics that we currently use,” the researchers write.

“Ultimately, employment decisions need only be based on evaluation systems that are sufficiently valid, not perfect,” they conclude.

‘Corporate reformers’ are public school allies

Demonizing “corporate school reform” is a waste of venom, argues Larry Cuban, a former Stanford education professor, superintendent and teacher.

Critics of the contemporary school reform agenda of test-based accountability, evaluating and paying teachers on the basis of test scores, more charter schools, and Common Core Standards point to the stakeholders in the civic, philanthropic, and business led coalition (e.g., Walton, Gates, and Broad foundations, hedge fund managers, mayors who have taken over city schools, testing companies) that have linked education and the economy since the 1980s. These critics argue that this reform agenda seeks to turn schools into market-driven organizations where consumer choice reigns and teaching and learning are commodities to be packaged and delivered.

“My experiences and research see no conspiracies to destroy public schools or bash teachers but differences in political beliefs, values, and language over the direction public schools should take  in an ever-changing global economy, one in which business and government have been and are continually entangled in making decisions,” Cuban concludes.

Is There A “Corporate Education Reform” Movement? asks Leo Casey on Shanker Blog, citing Cuban’s essay. He has doubts too.

Vicki Phillips, director of K-12 programs at the Gates Founation, collaborated with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten on a sponsored article on teacher evaluation in The New Republic.

From blog posts to some reader comments section on Diane Ravitch’s blog, what one found were not political analyses or reasoned objections to the particular points where Phillips and Weingarten were in agreement, but tests of moral purity, in which any discussion of common ground with Gates and the Gates Foundation was regarded as the violation of a pollution taboo. One blogger even managed to condemn Weingarten for doing what he himself tells us he did – engage in a dialogue with the Gates Foundation.

Chill, Casey advises. Every progressive reform in the U.S.  has been backed “by a powerful mass movement from below” and “a fraction of the power elite from above,” he writes. “Those of us who care about the survival and health of public education need all (the allies) we can find, even those who are not allies for all things or for all time.”

 

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.

Evaluation overkill hits PE teachers

Evaluating teachers’ impact on student achievement is “a necessary reform,” writes Terry Ryan on Ohio Gadfly. But it can go too far. Ohio will evaluate phys ed teachers on their students’ skipping, throwing, dancing and batting skills and knowledge. Among the goals:

*Consistently demonstrating correct skipping technique with a smooth and effortless rhythm;

*Able to throw consistently a ball underhand with good accuracy and technique to a target (or person) with varying distances.

The suggested written test for K-2 students (five to eight year olds) includes:

To throw a ball overhand with your right hand, you should step forward with your left foot.

A. True B. False

For a good overhand throw, you should bend the elbow in the shape of an “L” behind the head before throwing.

A. True B. False

Instead of throwing balls, kids will be taking tests on how to throw balls. Teachers think this is stupid, writes Ryan. Parents think it’s stupid. Everyone thinks it’s stupid except for the Ohio Department of Education.

Tiger Rhee

In Radical: Fighting to Put Students First, Michelle Rhee touts her skills at firing people — and buying them off — writes Naomi Schaefer Riley in a Wall Street Journal review of the book.

image

To get union approval for performance pay and a new teacher evaluation system, Rhee raised millions of dollars from foundations.

Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty backed Rhee — and lost his bid for re-election. Rhee resigned from the chancellorship and founded StudentsFirst to lobby for school reform.

The daughter of Korean immigrants, Rhee “was urged by her Tiger Mom to go to law school,” writes Riley. Instead, she volunteered for Teach for America.  She almost quit after her first year at a tough Baltimore school, but her father told her to finish what she’d started. In her second year, she asked for advice from the best teachers and found new ways to “push her students harder and keep them interested.”

As chancellor in D.C., Rhee “became livid” when she learned a sign at a Washington school that read: “Teachers cannot make up for what parents and students will not do,” Riley writes. As a Tiger Reformer, Rhee thinks effort always pays off.

When she was a child, Rhee attended school in Seoul, South Korea for several months, she writes in Radical. Every child in her class of 70 was ranked, publicly. “Rather than damaging the souls of the less accomplished, the rankings focused every family on moving their children up the ladder.”

A walking ray of sunshine (and failure)

“This year, I have been blessed with a student who may be the nicest kid I’ve ever taught,” writes Exasperated Educator, who teaches in New York City.

Always prepared with an ear-to-ear smile and enormous enthusiasm, he is friendly to everyone even the mean kids. . . . No matter how challenging the lesson is for him, he works hard to understand. He is a walking ray of sunshine.

She’s also got a student who can process information in the moment, but can’t retain anything.

I model it. I give him manipulatives. I’ve had other students tutor him. I’ve given him extra homework. I’ve given him no homework. I’ve let him investigate the topic using videos or computer games. I’ve kept him at lunch for private tutoring. If he does understand the lesson, it lasts only a short while and certainly not into the next day.

It’s the same kid. As much as she likes him, she worries his inevitable failure will make it harder for her to be labeled an “effective” teacher. She resents that — and hates herself for thinking of this warm-hearted boy as a problem.

Value-added analysis is supposed to account for this kind of student: He’s maintaining his previous rate of growth — none — in her class. Whether it actually works like that is another story.  Exasperated doesn’t say if he’s been diagnosed with a learning disability. Inability to retain information should qualify him for an Individualized Education Program, though that’s no magic cure.

Superintendent: Don’t test for 3 years

Schools need time to implement Common Core standards, so declare a three-year moratorium on federally required testing, proposes Joshua P. Starr, superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, in a Washington Post op-ed.

If we are serious about realizing the promise of the Common Core, we must allow our school districts to focus on the important work of curriculum and assessment development, implementation and professional development.

Most U.S. public school systems are attempting to implement at least three things at once right now: revamped accountability measures, reforms as part of the federal Race to the Top program and the Common Core State Standards. This is simply too much at one time.

“School districts are not investing in new curricula, assessments, professional development or data systems” because they’re so distracted by testing, Starr argues.

I think his real concern is to derail value-added teacher evaluation plans.