Monday, November 23, 2009

Thinking More About the New Gates Foundation Grants

[Here's a link to the Gates Foundation page with the links to each district.]

Just an update on the Gates Foundation's new grants for studying how teachers are evaluated and how they get tenure. Here's an article from the NY Times. From the article:

"The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Thursday announced its biggest education donation in a decade, $290 million, in support of three school districts and five charter groups working to transform how teachers are evaluated and how they get tenure.

A separate $45 million research initiative will study 3,700 classroom teachers in six cities, including New York, seeking to answer the question that has puzzled investigators for decades: What, exactly, makes a good teacher effective?

The twin projects represent a rethinking of the foundation’s education strategy, previously focused largely on smaller grants intended to remake troubled American high schools. With these new, larger grants, the foundation is seeking to transform teacher management policies in four cities in hopes that the innovations can spread.

The foundation committed $100 million to the Hillsborough County, Fla., schools; $90 million to the Memphis schools; $40 million to the Pittsburgh public schools. Some $60 million will go to five charter management organizations based in Los Angeles: Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools, Green Dot Public Schools, Inner City Education Foundation and Partnerships to Uplift Communities Schools."

Okay, the last sentence of the third paragraph jumped out at me. These are not just grants to study an issue - these are grants to find solutions. And allegedly, these are going to be "innovative" solutions. Is everything that has come before really not working? There are no districts, in the whole country, that have found a good system? I hope this study finds that there is and actually reports it because otherwise this report may already have its own ideas.

Who is being studied?

"The foundation committed $100 million to the Hillsborough County, Fla., schools; $90 million to the Memphis schools; $40 million to the Pittsburgh public schools. Some $60 million will go to five charter management organizations based in Los Angeles: Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools, Green Dot Public Schools, Inner City Education Foundation and Partnerships to Uplift Communities Schools."

Okay but then there's this:

"Unions will be crucial to the project’s success. Teachers in the Hillsborough County, Pittsburgh and Memphis districts are represented by one of the two national teachers’ unions, both of which said their affiliates were cooperating enthusiastically with the project. Four of the five charter groups operate nonunion.

The foundation’s goal, its officials said, is to forge breakthroughs in how school systems recruit, retain and compensate teachers and how they assign them to schools.

“It’ll be difficult, once this work is finished, to say it can’t happen in other places, because this work is going to provide some compelling arguments,” said Vicki L. Phillips, an education director at the foundation."

I guess unions are crucial unless you don't have a union (and most of the charters don't). Will they study how a district that does operate without a teachers union would differ form one that does? I also hear bells with the "compelling arguments" line. Not because they might not find some good answers but again, education is local. The feds are now pushing from the top and here are the Gates pushing from another direction (both seeming to want charters and teacher regulation of some kind) so what is the takeaway for local officials? Is it, here's a great study with some good ideas that have been tested? Or is it, if you want money, do this.

And finding effective teachers?

"Most school districts give teachers tenure after three years of service and only cursory review of how much success they have had with students. The two-year, $45 million project will use cameras, student surveys and other tools to identify the characteristics of standout teachers."

This is interesting because if you want to use surveys (it could be parent rather than student except in high school) and cameras for figuring out what is an effective teacher, why wouldn't you use those tools for teacher assessment?

This may all be for the good. The Gates Foundation did not do well in pushing their small high schools idea (and have pretty much let that go) and they likely learned some lessons. I just worry that this isn't just about examining teacher effectiveness or how to assess teachers but about pushing an agenda.


seattle citizen said...

I'm confused: Is this a study or a pilot program?
"“It’ll be difficult, once this work is finished, to say it can’t happen in other places, because this work is going to provide some compelling arguments,” said Vicki L. Phillips, an education director at the foundation."
Sounds like they're sure of the results. If it's a pilot, then where's the research that backs up surveys and cameras? If it's research, how does she know the results will be compelling?

Sounds to me like they know what they want the results to be and they will be what they want.

dan dempsey said...

Consider the following:
The foundation’s goal, its officials said, is to forge breakthroughs in how school systems recruit, retain and compensate teachers and how they assign them to schools.

“It’ll be difficult, once this work is finished, to say it can’t happen in other places, because this work is going to provide some compelling arguments,” said Vicki L. Phillips, an education director at the foundation."

The USA has an incredibly pathetic approach to mathematics. The instructional materials that work to produce good results on PISA and TIMSS testing in other countries are rarely used in the USA. Effective practices as found in Hattie's "Visible Learning", the NMAP's "Foundations for Success", and PFT are routinely ignored.

Note Gates is again spending lots of money to look at something other than instructional materials and effective practices (is this really about academic improvement?).

This reeks of looking for a pre-ordained conclusion about managing a teaching force ... NOT improving schools in the most cost effective way possible through improving practices, instructional materials, and using relevant data to improve instructional professional development .

dan dempsey said...

When large sums are spent in isolated situations it is often difficult to replicate results when those large sums are not available elsewhere.

seattle citizen said...

There will be large sums of money available everywhere when they break the union and halve educators' pay. With cameras and outcome evalautions, they can hire fresh and cheap teachers, then five years later "evaluate" them out the door. With 10-15 percent unemployment, there's sure to be aready pool of people willing to read scripts for $15 per hour

SPSMom said...

Just think what that money could do if put directly into classrooms across the country.

Makes me ill to think about how Gates is choosing to spend his money, especially since in five years he will have moved onto another "educational" pet project.

But, it is his money.

dan dempsey said...

In the NY Times:
White House Pushes Science and Math Education

Educate to Innovate, will focus mainly on activities outside the classroom.

The White House has also recruited Sally K. Ride, the first American woman in space, and corporate executives like Craig R. Barrett, a former chairman of Intel, and Ursula M. Burns, chief executive of Xerox, to champion the cause of science and math education to corporations and philanthropists.

But some education experts said the initiatives did little to address some core issues: improving the quality of teachers and the curriculum.

seattle citizen said...

335 million divided by 75 thousand (high estimate) is about five thousand teachers.

Limes said...

I had the opportunity to be in a small group conversation with Thomas Kane, head of the teacher evaluation piece. It's really exciting work.

The idea is to get data of thousands of teachers and evaluate that data from a neutral perspective. Typically the person who does teacher evaluation is tied to the teacher (whether for the good or bad).

Here, a neutral panel will assess teacher quality on a whole new level. It's a massive undertaking, and they want to have results back quickly so that Districts can use Race to the Top money.

What I love about Gates is that they are willing to try new things.

I wouldn't say that small schools failed, but I would say that small schools are only successful in Districts and schools that are willing to make significant changes. They learned a lot of things, practical and achievable, but it's not the magic bullet they had hoped for.

Limes said...

Just think what that money could do if put directly into classrooms across the country.

Isn't this putting the money into the classrooms? What better way to provide help to teachers on a MASSIVE scale than to look at teacher performance?

How many of us wish we could be in the classrooms and assessing whether there is or isn't good instruction happening?

Link with more information

zb said...

Thanks for the link -- I think the study, on short glance, sounds interesting. Observing teachers, and then, in a blind way, giving feedback on effectiveness seems like it could be useful. It's a large scale study (clinical? epidemiological? depends on whether there are educational interventions involved or not) of the kind I've often wished for and never see done (because, I presume, the massive expense involved).

The one thing I can't tell from the link is who will be involved in analyzing the data. Whose on their analysis team?

Charlie Mas said...

Limes wrote:

"What better way to provide help to teachers on a MASSIVE scale than to look at teacher performance?"

1. Reduce class size
2. Provide teacher aides
3. Foster a culture that values education

This obsession with "teacher quality" is misplaced. The effectiveness of the teacher is not a significant factor in student's academic achievement. Home influences are far greater factors.

seattle citizen said...

Hmmm...the link provides no information about who actually RUNS this mentions Gates Foundation and independent researchers....

Is this Gates FUNDED or actually run by Gates? Where's the "about us" that describes who is doing this and their backgrounds?

Wowzers...each participating teacher gets about $100 an HOUR ($1500, divided by what they say is about 12-15 hours extra work)

Does the study look into student demographics and situations (what students bring to the classroom?) if not, why not?

This linked website is woefully sparse.

reader said...

Sheesh. Isn't teacher evaluation something we need? Teachers in my school do every possible thing... not to be observed. That was their one big fear in switching to EDM... (not the curriculum itself) some people from the district might actually come and watch them and give them feedback. How is that a good thing? Cameras, getting data feedback, sounds like shining a light exactly where it's needed.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Charlie wrote:
""What better way to provide help to teachers on a MASSIVE scale than to look at teacher performance?"

1. Reduce class size
2. Provide teacher aides
3. Foster a culture that values education

This obsession with "teacher quality" is misplaced. The effectiveness of the teacher is not a significant factor in student's academic achievement. Home influences are far greater factors."

I must say I completely agree. Let's start putting some money into resolving the societal issues that create families that do not value education!

seattle citizen said...

Yes, Reader, evalulation is a good thing. See the District/Union CBA, section on evaluation.
Is this followed now? No.

I think everyon can agree that evaluation is good. Many, including me, don't see how evaluation can be linked to student outcomes, unless one factors in an enormous amount of variables.

My question (as usual) is what is the purpose, who is behind it?

WHY does Gates want to find measures of evulation? Could it be because they have advocated long and hard for merit pay?

WHO is in charge of this study, and what is its purpose? As I quoted earlier, Ms. Phillips at Gates is already sure the study will result in actionable, positive results....hmmm, is that the way we are taught to do studies, to come in with predetermined outcomes in mind?

Maybe this study will find out interesting things, I hope so for 1/3 of a billion...seems more like it's set up to sell us something from the get-go: Why?

Charlie Mas said...

Evaluations are good. Let's have them. But let's not expect them to be the magic bullet that proponents claim they will be. Evaluations are sure to reveal that the vast majority of teachers are doing perfectly good work. Of course there are some who are not, but they are already known and they can already be given poor evaluations.

The question isn't whether to do the evaluations or even how to do the evaluations but what to do with the evaluations. What will be done with them? Will they be used to determine the order in which teachers are laid off? Will they be used to determine merit pay? And, if so, can it be demonstrated that merit pay makes a difference?

What, exactly, is the point of doing these evaluations which are supposed to be different from the evaluations that are supposed to be done now? Wouldn't it be better to just get the principals to do the evaluations that they are already supposed to be doing?

Melissa Westbrook said...

"I wouldn't say that small schools failed, but I would say that small schools are only successful in Districts and schools that are willing to make significant changes."

I didn't say they failed but they did not work and didn't work in a significant number of varied places. SPS did go through, every single school, with transformation plans that continue today. I suspect that many districts didn't want to be told what to do.

Limes, who do you work for? Because honestly, you're not coming across as just a parent in SPS.

Nobody is "neutral". If you think that, you could be a little naive. Mr. Gates has definite ideas about education and has brought together a lot of people in the Education wing of his foundation. And it's all to the better to have lots of voices and studies from all corners.

BUT, he isn't elected to anything. Nor is he an educator. His kids ever experienced public schools? No. So, despite his money, I'm not willing to hand over the reins of American education to him. I don't care how much money he throws at it or the reach of his influence. Public education belongs to the public, not those who can manipulate because they think they know the "best" way.

dan dempsey said...

Here is my difficulty with the planned teacher evaluations for math whether in Seattle or elsewhere.

1. The Seattle district talks about "Best Practices" for math but the NMAP found very few math practices that could be considered "Best".

2. One practice that NMAP found very successful was an increase in "Explicit Instruction" for those struggling to learn math.

3. The SPS district continues to resist instructional materials that use a lot of "Explicit Instruction".

4. So who would be setting the criteria used for evaluating and coaching math teachers to improve?

5. I've read a lot of stuff put out by the "Consultants" .. most of it misses even coming close to the "Effective Practices" found by Hattie. I see a "Club" with various agendas that rarely improves anything with their recommendations.
On Gates and small schools:
They made an incredible mess in many places and lots of those places were "willing to try new things".

It seems there is a great willingness to try new things but little interest in examining relevant data to find out what has a strongly likelihood of bringing academic improvement.

We can file the MGJ bonus idea under bizarre actions.

WenG said...

I will never believe that the market share achieved by Microsoft is going to translate to the activities of the Gates Foundation, but a lot of people do. Still, what has the foundation done, to date, that has helped improve teaching and learning?

@Limes: Did small schools fail in Mountlake Terrace? Why? In what ways did this school fail to make the significant changes required for success? Who will be the neutral observers? What if a teacher, or their students, don't wish to be filmed? The premise of this being a massive undertaking that will produce fast results sounds like a contradiction. Can you really expect both? I don't think you can. SPS is promising to bring fast change to Cleveland, but so far, appears to fear transparency in what they're striving to achieve: rapid change. Students were expected to pass math testing, but OSPI is now afraid to carry out this plan. If they wanted rapid change, why wouldn't they ask Gates for money to put more teachers and more materials into classrooms for students? Wouldn't this effort bring change more rapidly than indirect coaching? You don't need coaches or cameras unless you're trying to tear down and redefine the system. Who really benefits?

Your comments don't make sense.

owlhouse said...

I'm curious about your excitement re: the teacher evaluation process. You say "The idea is to get data of thousands of teachers and evaluate that data from a neutral perspective."

What data are we looking at, measuring for? Are we measuring objective pieces of classroom practice- time in seats, student questions asked/answered...? Are we measuring subjective pieces- guided discussions, expectations of team/peer learning... I'm very unclear on the Gate's Foundation's data criteria. I'm also anxious to learn who the evaluators/interpreters are?

I understand that you "love that Gate's is trying new things." I would suggest that they are not. That rather, they are inserting themselves and their agenda in to an exciting public system. If they really want to try new things, they can create their own schools and learn about teacher quality and student outcomes from the ground up.

As for better ways to help teachers- nutrition, jobs, and housing supports would go a long way to helping families that build communities that can support support education/school/teacher needs.

dan dempsey said...

More federal bucks for more Nonsense in Texas.

Funded by stimulus money, Manor's Think Forward Institute trains teachers in new teaching and learning techniques.

Residency features peer-to-peer training in new teaching methods.
A Texas district's teaching residency trains educators to abandon their traditional role as lecturers to help students learn using collaborative, hands-on projects. Funded by federal stimulus money, the residencies use peer-to-peer instruction to help teachers create data-driven projects for their schools. After the four-day residencies, educators will be mentored for one year by master teachers, who will visit their classrooms and provide feedback on new teaching methods.


So is this the "Best Practice" of the year?

I am still looking for the data that confirms these experts know what they are recommending actually works.

The theory is failing to pieces in actual practice but there are lots of Fed dollars to continue with more ideas from pseudo experts.

How is abandonment of traditional roles working for us???

seattle citizen said...

Since there's not data available to tell us how it's working, Dan, we can't know.

But it's a steam train overloaded, lost its brakes and heading for King Street Station. Its boiler's overheated, pressure tank is poppin' rivets, and if we don't derail that out-of-control behemoth or sidetrack it soon, it's taking out Seattle when it hits us.

Who will run to the switching lever and throw that thing?

dan dempsey said...

There are mountains of data from 28 years of Project Follow Through informing us about the best practices for educationally disadvantaged learners k-3 and the SPS in math has done the exact opposite. The fourth grade WASL achievement gaps grow larger and the School Board orders up a third helping of idiocy because TEAM MGJ recommends it.

Hattie's "Visible Learning" analyzes 800 meta-analyses for effective practices and reports effect sizes. These are largely ignored by TEAM MGJ.

The NMAP tells us which practices have particular merit for struggling learners in math and the School Board ignores it all and adopts "Discovering" and stays with CMP2.

What there is no data for is ... anything supporting this failed math direction instituted by team Bergeson and still being pushed by MGJ's math team. So far Dorn's math team is the same team Bergeson had in place.

Results apparently do not matter to any of these "Official Deciders" as they make decisions.

sixwrens said...

Check out Charlie Rose's interview with Melinda Gates - click on "recent shows" and scroll down. I think the Gates foundation is trying to do the right thing, and that their good intentions are backed up with strong science and a willingness to change direction relatively quickly if they find something does not work. An interesting comment by M. Gates is that they find that it's teacher quality that matters - a strong teacher will do well by the students regardless of whether it's a class of 15 or 30. Small class size is not a magic bullet.

seattle citizen said...

Please show us the science that is strong: There are an increasing number of reports that charter schools, for instance, do no better than publics, and sometimes worse. Show us the research that makes the Gates "science" strong, show us research that tells us merit pay is a good idea...

Of COURSE a "quality teacher" matters. Who would dispute that? The conrern, on my part at least, is that all this "data" is usually reduced to mere numbers on a graph (much of is statistical anomolies or due to various unreported causalities) and is increasingly dumbing down education.

I mean, what do YOU mean when you say "quality teacher"? What do YOU, Sixwrens, think of to answer that description?

Furthermore, the old saw about class size not mattering is de facto absurd: Of COURSE smaller class sizes are better? Who could argue with such a thing? Cost is the issue: are we willing to pay for them?

Show us the research. I would like to see an annotated bibliography of allthe peer-reviewed research available, performed by non-partisan, non-"foundation-funded" organizations that are the "science" behind the idea that WASL scores and re-categorizing people into racial pidgeon holes is a good idea.

seattle citizen said...

So if class size doesn't matter, and educators are supposed to differentiate instruction to meet data-driven mandates, how would larger classes not be worse? educators would need to differentiate more, work more, teach less, and generally give each student less time and energy.

So the "benefit" of a larger class is....what?

reader said...

Seattle Citizen, you're flying off the liberal handle again. Did anybody but you mention pigeon-holing by race? Of course lower class size is better... did anybody say differently? It just isn't affordable. Obviously teaching a small class... say 15 to 30, is fundamentally different than lecturing to 200 college students in some freshman seminar. But, the same basic principals apply to the 15 student class as the 30 student class. 15 is better, depending on the skill of the teacher. Clearly, the teacher is the 1 element that makes the difference. Clearly, we hire lots of them that don't. Has that not been your experience? Teacher quality is the 1 thing we might actually have some control of. Why wouldn't you want to study that? Why wouldn't you want to be able to quantify the key differences between a good teacher and a ho-hum teacher? I didn't hear some predetermined outcome in the Gates initiative. Are some people saying teacher quality doesn't matter? Yes.

Charlie Mas:This obsession with "teacher quality" is misplaced. The effectiveness of the teacher is not a significant factor in student's academic achievement.

If you assume teacher quality doesn't matter... that's really just throwing in the towel on public education. Obviously we aren't going to do any of the listed magic bullets: reduce class size, hire a bunch of aides, or change somebody's culture. Those things listed as "more important" than teacher quality, are in fact, the immutable non-negotiables... (or the only slightly moveable negotiables.) If you throw out the non-negotiables, and believe teacher quality doesn't matter... why not just let those who can educate themselves do so... and forget about everyone else? That would be the reasonable conclusion.

owlhouse said...

Following Lime's mention of Thomas Kane, I found (through the NCTQ website) articles on teacher quality research by Kane and others. They seem to find that when teachers possess a winning combination of "teaching specific content knowledge, cognitive ability, personality traits, feelings of self-efficacy, and scores on a commercially available teacher selection instrument"- students score 10% higher on standardized tests.
Isn't this common sense? Do we really need to spend $300 million to confirm what we already know? Not sure which tests were used as the markers of improvement, but I'm nervous that this is the single proof of student gains. Public schools are public to raise and educate citizens, not just to develop students' aptitude for test taking. Are the Gate's grants to include any type of longitudinal study- following children into adulthood- tracking civic involvement, higher and continuing ed engagement, job satisfaction?

Interesting that M Gates is quoted in the NYT article as saying that the they hope to improve teacher "management"- which I think is different from improving teacher quality. Either way- I'm still genuinely curious as to what the "data" will include, how we will weigh its value.

Maybe I'm jaded by my SPS experience, where "data driven" is claimed for every decision made. The data may be cherry picked, incomplete, old, ignored, flawed, or most recently in the case of MAP testing- not interpreted or shared, but we can be assured that education is improving when we rely on the data. The fact that "data" showing student improvement will result in a bonus for Dr G-J should give us all a healthy does of skepticism, for both "data driven" and "merit pay."

Also of note, Vicki Phillips, the foundation's ed director quoted in the article, is "Hurricane Vicki"- former Portland super who took that district by a storm (the playbook Dr G-J is now following) then left for greener pastures.

sixwrens said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sixwrens said...

I give the Gates foundation credit for asking questions about how to improve education and working to answer these questions empirically. From the M. Gates interview, it did not sound like the foundation is pro-charter or anti-union. Maybe pro-mayoral control, which I have not made any decision about yet.

The Gates foundation seems focused on gathering a lot of data to track kids performance over time and demonstrate teacher performance. Sounds like they are doing this in NC... I don't know if that will work, but isn't it worth a try? Or should we just continue to whine that schools aren't working and what we really need is more money. I'll look for the studies, but my understanding is that (surprisingly) money spent does not correlate with achievement. I am NOT saying that Gates foundation is flawless. But it does seem to me that they are attempting to solve some problems rather than simply pointing out problems.

So they're going to look at whether they can identify teacher quality. If they can't, I believe they will conclude that they couldn't do what the set out to do. If they CAN, then they will probably push to use these measures for merit pay.

And what is wrong with that?

I think excellent teachers should get paid more than mediocre ones. When poor teachers continue in the schools system, and are promoted, it is demoralizing to other teachers, and it eats away at their support. While I am not a teacher, I came from a "teaching family", and many of my family were bothered by poor teachers who weren't fired and great teachers who weren't rewarded.

Josh Hayes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joan NE said...

My guess is that the purpose is to figure out the special things great teachers do that explains their effectiveness, and then catalogue these practices, techniques, and tricks. The catalogue will be given to "students" in teacher-prep crash courses (such as the New Teachers for New Schools program), and taught to poorly-trained "teachers" by instructional coaches/teacher mentors. The idea - I guess - is to figure out shortcuts for making great teachers of non-unionized non-professionally-credentialled educator-recruits. Good luck Bill!

zb said...

I think Joan NE has it right -- the question is whether that can be done. Is there really a quantifiable list that will have true *predictive* value on effectiveness, and will those list items be teachable to a novice teacher or one who doesn't naturally do those things. In discussing this recently we came up with a concrete example of something that might come up in the list: writing a concrete agenda for the class on the board. It could be, after the data collection, that that small act ends up having a significant impact. That's an example of something some teachers might do and others not, and if it turns out to be effective, certainly new teachers could be taught to do it.

The study also seems to be motivated by thinking that we're going to be able to discover complex personality traits that contribute to learning (some of which might be teachable, others not) and then use them to improve effectiveness. It might work, but it might also quite well not work -- they could realize that the traits have a small effect (compared to other things), that they're difficult to teach and a variety of other things that would make the research unhelpful.

Although I think the study should be done, I'd like to see evidence that they understand that they could come up with an "unhelpful" conclusion (kind of like learning that a drug doesn't help with an illness -- the only thing we can do is do the study, and see, but we have to understand that we might not get the result we're hoping for).

zb said...

Limes: do you have a study to cite to on the "small schools"? My understanding was that it was a failure -- you're leaving open the possibility that it was not, in some circumstances, and I'd like to see the analysis. My inclination when I hear that the overall statistics showed no improvement but there were special circumstances where there was an improvement is to presume that we have distributions (normal or otherwise) and that there are outliers. Is there evidence that improvements were not within the variability?

zb said...

It would be nice if they would also fund a control -- using Charlie's interventions of class size and aide. Then, the study would be much more robust. Charlie is making the argument that class size/teacher's aides are going to be more important than "effective" teaching (assuming we can figure out what that is). It's a doable experiment. They could identify similar districts, and fund class size interventions (more teachers & teacher's aides) for some and do their teacher effectiveness study in another.

SPS mom said...

When reading this article, replace Phillips with MGJ and Portland with Seattle. Eerily similar.

'Hurricane Vicki'

Limes said...

I am a SPS parent of two children. I was a happy-go-lucky parent for a long time until I realized that my kids weren't getting a quality education. They were at "good" schools with high levels of parent engagement and high WASL scores. I was involved. And some of the teachers are crap.

If teaching quality and assessment isn't important than why do:

Parents work so hard to get bad teachers fired?

Are APP parents working so hard to get to have high quality standards in the classroom?

Do highly engaged parents need to hire outside tutors to teach what the teachers aren't?

Y'all are kidding right, saying that teacher quality isn't one of the most important things that has an impact on our children?

And because I'm excited about this project, I not a parent of SPS children? Seriously? And because I want high quality instruction in EVERY classroom across the country, I'm somehow suspect?

I don't work for anyone. I am a parent of two children who are doing "ok", I guess. They could be doing better if they had higher quality instruction, but they are doing "just ok".

Just ok isn't good enough. Not even close.

Limes said...

p.s. I'm so frustrated with the argument that home matters more than quality instruction. It gives teachers an excuse to not have high standards.

Here is some hope.

seattle citizen said...

I'm flying off the "liberal handle"? I guess you're one of those "liberal-conservative" pidgeonholers yourself...

You don't think that they pidgeonhole by race? Uh, hello, look at the way schools are identified as "failing" under NCLB: Each school has a variety of categories ("cells") most of which are race categories. When a school "fails" to rise the average over time in one of these cells, it's a "failing school" (even though the populations tested are different cohorts! amazing!)
So a school that serves some students very well, if it "fails" a whole racial category (and of course this doesn't happen - SOME students fail, not whole groups) is declared "failing," or at least subjected to WASL-prep style reconfiguring, where teachers that used to do a fine job (even though some students weren't learning, instruction was fine) are now forced to modify their curriculum to focus on WASL skills.
This hurts students, and it's based on racial categories. In fact, I would argue that it most hurts those that are purportedly struggling: It dumbs down education into the very simplest of things, when in fact education is complex, deep, and does things besides instructs in the 3Rs.

As to class size, I stand by my statement that smaller is better - if a teacher were merely standing and talking, then maybe the size wouldn't matter as much, but as teachers work with students in groups or individually, obviously more students means less time, particularly when everyone seems to agree that this sort of project-based learning, which demands a lot of teacher's work with groups etc, is a goood thing.

Of COURSE teacher quality it important, but the other important thing, which we DO have the power to deal with (your assertion notwithstanding) is student ability, support, home life, community...

The crux of it is that rather than face poverty and deal with it at its roots, teachers are being told to modify their instruction to deal with the effects of poverty. A good teacher can help alleviate the effects of poverty by being a caring and compassionate human; society can help alleviate it by actually providing services to feed, doctor, clothe, house and otherwise support the children of those who can't have the house in Broadmoor.

seattle citizen said...

Limes, how do you define a "quality education," and how do you define a "quality teacher."
You've had experience with both (or what you perceive to be the lack of both) so can you tell us what the very best education for your children would look like, and who would provide it?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sixwrens, I take it you think people are whining here. I invite you to look and see where people DO offer solutions or other places that do.

"So they're going to look at whether they can identify teacher quality. If they can't, I believe they will conclude that they couldn't do what the set out to do."

I absolutely disagree. They will find what they want to find and saying "well we just didn't find anything that works well consistently" will not happen.

Limes, who said home matters more than teacher quality? Where? I have never heard that here or in any study or article. Let us know where you heard that.

Also, please don't paint everyone here with one brush. I think it was Charlie who said that teacher quality wasn't the ONLY factor (not that it didn't matter). I absolutely agree we need to get rid of poor teachers and I think the union needs to be part of that. My son had two bad teachers during high school and luckily both got exited. Not before damage had been done to many students but at least they are gone. Are they still in our district? I don't know because no one would answer the question.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Not to pick on Limes but you did put a link to a story about 4 schools that had challenges and were doing better. The article says nothing on what they did to be better schools. (There was one line about teacher selection and induction which is vague and unclear.)

So what did you get from that article that you think should be done here? (I note that this group's benefactors include the Gates Foundation and wait for it ...Broad Foundation.)

zb said...

"They will find what they want to find and saying "well we just didn't find anything that works well consistently" will not happen."

Well, that's the real danger, and I hope you're wrong Melissa. The entire point of doing a study like this one is to find out what happens. Clinical studies are done all the time and produce mind-numbingly disappointing results. They aren't reported to the extent that they should be, but they do affect the thinking and literature on the subject, and subsequent interventions.

The study seems to be academically designed, and though I don't always agree with Kane's conclusions, I find the analysis (for example, on the Boston charter schools, where he says there were some positive benefits) to be precise and thorough.

For those of us who are skeptical (and I am a skeptic -- I think it unlikely that teacher effectiveness is going to be quantifiable to the extent needed, that the effectiveness of the teacher will only have minor effects on the outcomes they're looking for, and that effective qualiities are going to be difficult to transfer/teach/train), I think our goal should be to keep the study honest, rather than to complain about it being done.

Well, and I do think that someone should campaign for a parallel study, control based on an alternative theory (like reducing class size, providing teacher aides, . . . .).

zb said...

PS: I think this study is pretty much like trying to figure out what makes effective parenting, and then to teach parents those skills. In fact, I think that's another good study for the Foundation. Yet another parallel control/intervention.

Melissa Westbrook said...

ZB, given that the Gates Foundation is a private entity, how do we keep it honest? Seriously, should we call the Gates Foundation (and there's an idea - I'll see if I can ring up Vicki Phillips).

Chris said...

So I'm reading "Left Back" by Diane Ravitch, which is a history of American education in the 20th century. I haven't finished yet, but a few things struck me 1) in the depression lots of people wanted to be teachers due to lack of other jobs and 2)the effect on the teacher pool of other occupations opening up to women.

So right now I'm thinking if you want to have good teachers, you've got to have a pool of talent, even an oversupply (some good ol'competition, eh?) I think the current fads will have the opposite effect. Who will want to be a teacher? You get your training, you put up with kids all day, you have someone telling you what and how to teach AND you still have to produce good test scores from any hand of students you're dealt to get paid well? No thanks!

Better to have fair base pay, solid support for both teachers and students and some RESPECT for teachers. I'm not a teacher but I see these foundation efforts as dehumanizing and the comments by the public (e.g.Times) downright hurtful. Thankfully most teachers I know don't have time to read that crap.

zb said...

"ZB, given that the Gates Foundation is a private entity, how do we keep it honest? Seriously, should we call the Gates Foundation (and there's an idea - I'll see if I can ring up Vicki Phillips)."

Well, by demanding that the science be treated like science.

I'll admit that I have a bias because I believe 1) the Gates have their heart in the right place -- they honestly want to improve education, rather than some other goal, for example dismantling public education in favor of something else 2) they are evidence driven, in the real science, rather than in the fake sense.

But, those are biases -- I don't know them, but I think they've listened to the feedback on the small schools failures and on interventions that didn't work in health care delivery in the third world. I think that they, like many people in similar situations, think they have the magic bullet. But, they've shown some willingness to realize that the magic isn't there, when confronted with evidence.

I don't believe the same thing about the Broad Foundation because of their ties to profit-making enterprises.

How do we influence them? I'm not sure -- but it's worth looking to see how they will be responsive to community voices. They don't have to be, but they might see value in doing so (if they're really trying to be evidence based).

zb said...

Oh, and the Gates Foundation is advertising "program manager" positions for their education projects. Participating in those endeavors, if appropriately qualified, would certainly be a way to have influence.

Charlie Mas said...

I'll write it again:

"This obsession with 'teacher quality' is misplaced. The effectiveness of the teacher is not a significant factor in student's academic achievement. Home influences are far greater factors."

Look, I'm not saying that incompetent teachers don't cause damage; they do. And they should be identified and either improved or exited. However, I see no significant differences in outcomes as a result of incremental differences in "teacher quality" among competent teachers.

Without a metric, assessment, and a benchmark for teacher quality all of the talk about teacher quality is meaningless. None of the people talking about the importance of variations of teacher quality among competent teachers have been able to quantify the variance let alone quantify the impacts.

The home influences are MUCH stronger.

Limes, I won't deny your experience. I believe you.

But was the inadequacy of the education provided to your children a result of teacher quality, or was it a result of an inadequately challenging curriculum?

You wrote "some of the teachers are crap". If those teachers really are crap, then they should either get better or get gone. On the other hand, your expectations may be out of whack. Is there a consensus that the teachers are crap or is yours a minority view? If parents work so hard to get bad teachers fired - then why weren't the "crap" teachers fired? If it is a widely held opinion, then why doesn't the principal take action? Perhaps it is the principal who is crap. In any field there is going to be a range of performances. We need to set some standard of adequacy and remove those who don't meet it.

I don't think that the discussion around teacher quality, however, is about incompetent teachers. I think it is about the variations in "quality" among those who are judged competent.

Limes thinks that APP parents work to have high quality standards in the classroom. That's not a teacher quality issue that's a curriculum issue. There's no assurance that the teachers in APP classrooms are "quality" teachers. There isn't even an assurance that the teachers will deliver a curriculum (since the District hasn't written it).

Highly engaged parents need to hire outside tutors to teach what the teachers don't. But that's not due to inadequate teacher quality - it is due to an inadequate curriculum.

Teacher quality - presuming the teacher is at least competent - isn't one of the most important things that has an impact on our children. It just isn't.

Consider the classroom of 26 students in which half pass the WASL and half fail it. If the teacher is so good, why did half of them fail? If the teacher is so bad, why did half of them pass? The teacher, obviously, isn't the difference between passing and failing; something else makes the difference for these students. That difference is outside the classroom. And 50% is about the pass rate on the WASL in most of our general education classrooms.

I think that most of Lime's concerns are about the curriculum, not the teacher. They are about WHAT is taught, not HOW it is taught. The teacher does not set the curriculum and teacher quality will not improve it.

Trish Millines Dziko said...

Chris said "You get your training, you put up with kids all day, you have someone telling you what and how to teach AND you still have to produce good test scores from any hand of students you're dealt to get paid well?".

I think what's actually being asked of teachers at this point (for the merit pay stuff) is to demonstrate student improvement during the course of a year--the more significant, the better.

This would be gauged by formative assessments instead of a year end test (which amounts to an autopsy).

Teachers ought to be able to do that don't you think? If not, then why bother teaching at all.

zb said...

"I think what's actually being asked of teachers at this point (for the merit pay stuff) is to demonstrate student improvement during the course of a year--the more significant, the better."

I think the crux is how you measure improvement. It's clearly a difficult question as all the experiments with testing have indicated.

Pretty much everyone is confident that they can "teach to the test" to improve performance on a measurement instrument (well, absent willful unwillingness on the part of the children). But, whether kids have truly learned when that happens, well, that's the real question.

In the thread on Kane's report on Boston charters (where they tried to address one important problem with charter studies -- that the charters contain self-selected students), a teacher, who taught at a charter has an important point. She says that since charters have to justify their existence, they are more likely to engage in "teach to the test" practices that might raise scores on measurement instruments.

Perhaps we can come up with great measurement instruments, once where teaching to them in fact results in transferable learning (that's the key -- does the learning transfer to situations not directly being tested). But, there hasn't been a lot of success yet.

Teachers, balk at the use of the current instruments to determine student improvement and their pay, because they see that the quickest way to earn their merit pay would be to teach to the test in a way that potentially doesn't transfer. This then incentivizes the teacher to teach badly. The good teachers, honestly, the good teachers, feel like this is asking them to actively participate in harming their students.

Maureen said...

Way up the page, reader says
Of course lower class size is better... did anybody say differently? It just isn't affordable....Teacher quality is the 1 thing we might actually have some control of.

Why do people act as though reducing class size is expensive, but raising teacher quality is free? One of the easiest ways to raise teacher quality would be to double their salaries. Make it a job that people are competing their way into--not one you take despite the low salary. Love of the job and kids is important, but the bigger the pool of applicants, the higher the quality will be (oh yes, of course, thye won't all be high quality, but the level will rise.)

Reducing class size is expensive. Paying teachers more is expensive. Training teachers well is expensive. Managing teachers well is expensive.

Ignorance is even more expensive.

We will need to spend money to improve education.

reader said...

Seattle Citizen, you just can't get off the NCLB rant, insisting it is some sort of plot against racial minorities.

Whatever the facts of NCLB... it isn't under the control of the Seattle School District. Rant away, it can't effect anything. The district, by law, still must give the tests, and report the results along demographics lines. If one demographic group fails, the school is "failing". In some ways, that's positive... you can't just claim success leaving the same people behind over and over. And so, ALL high schools are "failing" under NCLB. Not just Cleveland and Ranier Beach... Roosevelt and Ballard too. So what? It is meaningless. And nothing is done as a result of that failure identification.

Of course HOME INFLUENCES are the deepest impact on test scores, and all sorts of other outcomes too. But that too isn't under the influency of SPS. Why endlessly repeat that? Given the constiuents coming in, the question is, how do you effect the greatest results? Sure the curriculum could be "better". But my experience has been, it isn't the curriculum at all... it's the teacher, and the teacher quality alone that has the impact. The difference is NOT incremental, it is huge. A good teacher can teach with a bad curriculum... precisely because they can figure out how to do it. They engage students to participate. Lots and lots of teachers do not do this, or even bother to try. My experience has been, at least 1/2 do not engage students. Sure, great home influences can make up for that shortcoming, but why not expect more? Further I have taught teacher candidates in the COE. Colleges of ed. do not attract the best, or even fit, candidates with good certainty.

I believe the Gates initiative has a low chance of success. But, that's what they're about, taking risks. It is a risk that the Gates foundation will be unable to identify metrics of teacher quality. But, maybe they will indeed be able to do so. They have been willing to admit shortcomings in other initiatives. Nobody's saying SPS has got to use results that haven't been found yet.

seattle citizen said...

Trish, formative assessments are used to inform istruction, to show where instruction could be changed. This almost presupposes that outcomes will differ from whatever outcomes are expected at the beginning of the quarter or class.
Assume(and this is a very big assumption) that one could accurately assess someone's knowledge about something at the beginning of the class. Then multiply that by 25 - 25 different levels of knowledge. So the teacher designs instruction to try to reach those various 25 levels, then does a formative check (assessment) to see how that's going. The results of this CHANGE INSTRUCTION, often in many ways (up to 25) as the teacher tailors it to deal with what's before him/her.
This happens again a week later, things change...

So a teacher uses different strategies to meet ever-changing levels of understanding (again, assuming the assessments are valid...which they probably aren't...have you heard that some children tank the MAP because ehy learn that if they get one wrong the questions get easier?) and you propse using these same formative assessments to gauge student learning rather than to modify instruction?

What I'm trying to say is that formative assessments MERELY give the teacher a snapshot of what MIGHT be where students are at. While it might be used to evaluate, I don't really see how, because the results will be all over the place.

Hmmm...It's conceivable that the results, in groups, might show more "gain" than others, I'll concede that. So one class might show more gain....IF the students were all the same, and all the variables were accounted for this might be usable in evaluation, but I think it's way, way too complicated because of the unknown variable.

hschinske said...

"One of the easiest ways to raise teacher quality would be to double their salaries."

Not if teacher salaries stay about the same everywhere else. If I were one of the highly qualified folks they'd presumably be chasing, I sure wouldn't go get a teaching certificate on the off chance of *maybe* getting a job in one of the double-pay districts. In any case it would take years and years for the pool of teachers to improve noticeably, and in the meantime you'd be paying the presumably-on-average-less-qualified folks twice as much, which would from a business standpoint be money down a hole. (There are, of course, *some* teachers who well deserve to make twice as much as they currently get, but they're not the issue.)

Helen Schinske

Maureen said...

helen, true, it would have to be a system wide change with a long term commitment.

zb said...

I think that folks are right that a goal of this study is to figure out how to measure effectiveness so that we can use the effectiveness measure to differentiate teacher pay, kind of like we do with traders or investment bankers (where the problem is supposed to be simple, 'cause they get paid a percent of what they earn for their companies or clients). We know how well that system works.

And I fear the same thing with teacher pay -- that if we create incentives based on effectiveness measures we may have unexpected consequences. In the case of traders its short term gains that collapse the financial industry. In the case of teachers it could be to create a narrow assessment based learning that leaves people unprepared for questions that weren't on the test.

And Charlie seems to be coming from yet again a different philosophical mindset -- that teacher are pretty interchangeable once we've eliminated the bad ones. I don't believe that, but if it were true, our money would be better spent on more teachers rather than fewer good teachers being paid more.

seattle citizen said...

Teachers shouldn't be interchangeable. Students should see a variety of adults tackling similar "problems" (novels, equatins, experiments...) in different ways. Yes, the student might not do as well with a certain sort of style, but since teachers can't be all styles to all students, a little diversity shows creative and diverse solutions (or attempts to solve) to inquiry.
This, tho', requires an acknowledgement that some students might not be at 100% at all times, and that's okay. The idea that all students will excel in every situation is absurd.

Joan NE said...

Trish Millines Dziko - have you read "Left Back", the book by Diane Ravitch that Chris cited?

Have you read the letter to Arne Duncan from BOTA (Board of Testing and Assessment). BOTA is a prestigious scientific review panel, and they come down against data-driven decision making when the "data" is limited to students scores on high stakes tests, and the decisions are about student promotion, student graduation, teacher pay, promotion, tenure, and retention.

You can read the BOTA letter online for free:

Given that education reform advocacy is your profession, you probably should read both of these; then you would be in a better position to discuss and debate the pros and cons of "merit pay stuff," and the pros and cons of all that goes with merit pay, including
-narrowed curriculum
-teaching to the test
-decreased cooperation/increased competition between teachers
-high stakes testing and all the well-recognized problems associated with standardized tests
-gaming of high stakes testing regime by students, teachers, schools, and even states
-erosion of teacher morale
-students (some more successfully than others) taught to parrot facts and reproduce procedures but lacking in critical thinking skills and enthusiasm for learning and requiring remedial courses if they are admitted to college.

Joan NE said...

REader, you wrote "The district, by [NCLB] law, still must give the tests, and report the results along demographics lines."

As I understand it, the state will lose Title I funding if we don't have standardized tests. The Fed contribution to state spending on K-12 is about 1 billion, compared to the state's 8 billion this year. TITLE I funds are part of this one billion (I think). Always helps to have context.

It is quite important for people to know that the law [know as both NCLB and ESEA] is due for reauthorization, and NOW is the time to let legislators know that NCLB needs to be changed, that the law is deeply flawed, including in its categorical basis for determining school failure, its overreliance on standardized state tests, and for encouraging harmful, destabilizing district interventions that hurt low income and minority students more than any other sub-population of students.

[use "ESEA NCLB reauthorization 2010" as a search string go get information about this and find out how to comment]

As I understand it, the state isn't prohibited from using MORE than standardized test scores as part of a range of assessments. SPS need not base critical decisions about students and teachers solely on student scores. But, frustratingly, this is where MGJ is taking SPS. Exactly to what BOTA argues and warns against.

seattle citizen said...

That BOTA letter to NCLB/RTT is a very concise document weighing the pros and cons of research, testing, evaluation and data. A must-read.

Thanks for the link, Joan

Trish Millines Dziko said...

Um Joan, I did not advocate for high stakes tests. I said: This would be gauged by formative assessments instead of a year end test (which amounts to an autopsy).

Formative assessments can be in any form--paper test, electronic test, observation, review of projects, targeted discussion, etc.

Somehow you have to figure out if kids are learning. Somehow teachers have to modify their instruction so kids get the lesson. Somehow you have to tell if a teacher is effective.

There's no getting around that. Otherwise as someone else on this blog rightly pointed out, we may as well let kids teach themselves if we don't care about effective teaching.

Melissa Westbrook said...

To follow-up, I spoke with someone at the Gates Foundation's Education division about these grants. Here's what I learned:

- I had concerns over the heavy focus on teachers. Principals' primary job is to be the academic leaders at their schools. It seems like they would be a huge part of the equation. It seems it depends on which each district, in its proposal, emphasized the role of the principal. All of them did but to varying degrees. I have to wonder about not having a similar focus for each district on this issue because of how much influence a principal can have.

-I asked about the differences between how the districts with unions versus without might be more pronounced. The Gates person said that would be a primary difference in looking at the results. He said that any outcomes would have to be bargained and ratified by unions in place. I'll be interested to see what they find.

-As to who is conducting the research well, it depends on which grant you are talking about. For the smaller one for teacher effectiveness, the research will be done over 2 academic years with independent researchers.

For the districts, they have done their own proposals so they are effectively doing the study themselves.

-I asked about demonstrated results that merit pay works and he said he wasn't the person to pose that question to and I should probably ask someone else.

-Then I asked him about Vicki Phillips quote:
“It’ll be difficult, once this work is finished, to say it can’t happen in other places, because this work is going to provide some compelling arguments."

I said it almost sounded like she knew, in advance, that the work would provide compelling arguments. He demurred saying that she likely meant that never before have districts undertaken this kind of work, at this depth. I did find another quote from her at their website to support this view.

I did ask, "What if the results are ambiguous? Is the Foundation committed to being honest about what they find?" (I almost thought that was a little too direct for him but oh well.) He said that the districts and the Foundation are committed to transparency in this work and would report all results.

The Gates Foundation got back to me in one day and were helpful.

My takeaway is that there is a lot of enthusiasm going into this work. I have to wonder about how each district will approach it and trying to get one distinct takeaway message itself. I find it hard to believe that all 4 districts will have the same outcomes but if we get a greater feel for what will work, it might be worth it.

One thing that jumped out at me from one proposal (I think it was Pittsburgh's) was the following:

"Create new and differentiated career paths that promote teachers to increasing levels of influence (e.g., Beginning Teacher, Professional Teacher, Master Teacher)."

What? Tracking for teachers?

seattle citizen said...

"Somehow teachers have to modify their instruction so kids get the lesson"

What if a student won't or can't?

Do we blame the teacher? Will this result be a checkmark in the "ineffective" column?

For instance: What if a student is four levels behind in, say, comprehension, but two ahead in vocab. Teacher teachs at level, differentiates for the eight different levels in the class, the four different learning styles (meanwhile getting all content to students, at level...wakes the sleepinhg kid, feeds the hungry one, calls the laggard father of this one, sends that one who refuses to quiet down to the office...)
Teacher does all that, documents it each action, spends five hours after school adjusting it all for the next day as the formative assessments indicate be done...

But five students don't learn it.

Bad teaching? Ineffective?

seattle citizen said...

The big question for me is how to document all the inputs and outputs, teaching nuance and sometimes unreliable assessment results, so that one can say (officially and with possible repercussions) that "A" caused "B"
Yes, some correlations might be had, but strong enough to evaluate on?

People say, how then do we judge effectiveness? It's a good question. But many students do well, learn, go on to satisfying lives as citizens and economic entities...ask them, maybe, how they got to where they are.

Chris said...

I picked some footnotes from Diane Ravitch's book in a prior post so now I should mention what seems to be her main point (although I only up to 1960): time after time the "inflexibility" and "obstructionist tendencies" of teachers have saved students from the worst of the fads cooked up by academic education departments, business interests, and the federal DOE.

seattle citizen said...

Yep, Chris, those pesky, individualist teachers, not with the program AT ALL, continue to teach and care through all the "reforms" the pundits propose every six months...crazy, wot?

Joan NE said...

Trish - you may not have explicitly and directly advocated for high stakes testing, but implicitly you are advocating high stakes testing. Teacher effectiveness assessment, in the context of regressive school reform, is ALWAYS related to the Central District's using student scores (taken at whatever time-scale) to make decisions that profoundly affect a teacher's job status, placement, or pay. There are no really strong pros, and there are some serious cons, around centralized data-driven decision making, of which teacher-effectiveness assessment is a part.

I could support TE assessment, as long as it is limited to site-based scale, and has a fair, constructive format, and principal's pay and placement is not tied to AYP and how well the principal gets individual teachers to follow the District's classroom scripts.

Trish - have you read the BOTA letter? I'd like to know what you think of it. It speaks to merit pay, and how standardized testing (MAP is such) relates to that.

Trish, are there any pros for merit pay, other than it being a means to drive down the cost of staffing schools, weaken teachers unions, and serving as a stick to induce teachers to strictly adhere to the Central District expectation that a teacher stand and deliver a curriculuarly aligned standardized teach-to-the-test script?

Trish Millines Dziko said...

Joan, I haven't read the letter and more than likely won't- i'm already neck deep on research and text.

At the end of the day you're going to have your position and I'll have mine and we both think we're right and that's OK with me.

seattle citizen said...

Trish, I surveyed the BOTA letter in ten minutes. Would you like me to copy/paste the relevnat bullet points?
I'm knee deep in research, too, on many aspects of these issues. Nothing I've read of "yor" side of the argument has convinced me; rather, I'm more steadfast in my belief that merit pay and charters and pedagogical/method alignment all have big, big problems. None of the "research I've seen from the "reform" movement appears very deep and valid, (with some notable exceptions)
But at least I look at ALL the research I can find, pro-charter, pro-merit pay...

I'm sorry that you are so firmly on your path that you can't consider other views and other research. It sounds sort of like the Gates spokesperson, who said that the work of REASEARC "will provide some cmpelling arguments. The research you read, evidently, is only the research that supports your predetermined goals.

I might souhd strident and inflexible in my rhetoric, too, but then again I don;t have the money or power of Gates, can sway districts and states so I get a little loud. My apologies. But you HAVE the power, you don't need my angry rhetoric and inflexibility...the research is on your side, right? Unless it's not, in which case I guess you can't be bothered.

This is a shame, and certainly can't be good for students. My advice, Trish, is to spend a year or two in a regular ol' public school, not TAF, not some experimental, well-funded school with free day care and all that, but a regular school. See some of the day-to-day issues that teachers confront, well, daily, and then report back when you know wherefrom you speak.

Data this, data that....these are kids. If you can't do ALL the research, you have no business informing others what education should be since you are using improper research methodologies.

Joan NE said...

Trish - I am not interested in any opinion of yours if you can't be bothered to read the BOTA letter. I doubt you could find any scientific, peer-reviewed document that is more relevant to many/most of topics you are researching is than this letter.


seattle citizen said...

An example of research, Trish, is when I go to the TAF website and review your Ed Director's ideas about education.
Zithri Ahmed Saleem is "[r]esponsible for defining and developing academic pedagogy, models, and curriculum for all TAF programs"
In that capacity, here's a bit of his philosophy:
"society can’t afford to relegate some of our most creative minds to menial tasks because they aren’t complete the “traditional” path to education. The traditional ideas that define what it means to be educated unfairly discredit and devalue others’ intellectual capacity and lived experience, and far too often predictably exclude certain groups from social participation and making much needed contributions. The worst part is these ideas blatantly ignore the true dynamics by which real learning and social contributions have taken place in our society, and we need not look deep into history to find ample cases where we’ve all benefited from the ideas and contributions of those deemed unfit and unqualified by traditional standards.
Education should expose and cultivate the brilliance in individuals’ minds to benefit us all rather than limit the participation of those who don’t fit a highfalutin criterion – the status quo model – of what it means to be educated. Granted, I wouldn’t want a surgeon who doesn’t have proper medical training or an accountant who doesn’t know tax law; I’m simply calling for a re-evaluation of the methods and assumptions by which we work to develop those capacities in individuals. "

Very well put, Mr. Saleem. Creativity, alternate pathways, valuing those deemed " traditional standards."

Now how does this gel with the Gates/Broad alliance's drive to use mere numbers, the very basic traditional education decried above, to judge schools and slot children into categories, to judge teachers...Standardized tests are as about as traditional as one can get, retro 50s, and they're what alternative pedagogy flew away from in the 60s and 70s. Yet the reformers make a big deal about using these to judge students, teachers, and schools. Why?

Maybe so the public schools can be judged "bad" and replaced by schools such as those that Mr. Saleem would love to provide (and hey, what a surprise, it sounds JUST LIKE our public alternative school philosophy...

So Trish, you're in favor of "standards" until the publics and their teachers are proved bad by them somehow, they you and your Ed Director can break off a piece of the publics and create, in effect, replicas of the public alternative schools?

I have a suggestion: Get your Ed Director to come to the Board meetings and convince the district to drop this obsession with "data" and support alternative schools. Mr. Saleem seems well-versed in alternative pedagogy, and he could be assigned to help build more public alternative schools. "Lived experience....intellectual capacity...creative minds...non-traditional paths...true dynamics...the ideas and contributions of those deemed unfit and unqualified by traditional standards...cultivate the brilliance in individual's minds...those who don't fit high-falutin criteria..." sounds like a true public alternative sort of guy. Can we borrow him?

Thanks, that would be very helpful.

Joan NE said...

Seattle Citizen,
Does it seem to you that the District is showing a double-standard by supporting the New School at the same time that it is squashing Alternative Schools? Is there a rationale explanation for this? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Do you recall that on the A4E blog, Trish was one of the few pro-reform commentators, and she and her colleagues never answered any of the legitimate questions; all they could do was complain about the tone, and then call us conspiracy theorists? Name-calling hardly a credible defense of reform.

adhoc said...

Trish said "
I think what's actually being asked of teachers at this point (for the merit pay stuff) is to demonstrate student improvement during the course of a year--the more significant, the better. This would be gauged by formative assessments instead of a year end test (which amounts to an autopsy)."

Then she said "Formative assessments can be in any form--paper test, electronic test, observation, review of projects, targeted discussion, etc. "

Sounds completely rational to me. I think we should expect kids, all kids, to make progress in school each year. It would be ridiculous to expect otherwise. And if we expect that, then we should be able to monitor that progress and assess when necessary. Do you think someone could become a Doctor without any assessment along the way? without any formal testing? without being a resident? Do you think someone should be a lawyer without passing the bar? Assessments can be a good thing too you know.

MS and HS teachers who have an 80-90 kid student load need to have a way to assess their students progress. Trish gives examples of assessments that many alt schools already use successfully today .....frequent assessments (both alt school my kids went to did these, though many weren't district wide mandated tests, they were teacher initiated and less formal), portfolios, one on one discussion and evaluation, and the standardized tests too.

I think Trish has the right idea, and is moving in the right direction.

One of my favorite quotes:

"I see it very simply," Ms. Kanter says of her philosophy as an educator. "Educate the top 100 percent." -Chronicle of Higher Education, 4-17-2009

And Joan NE, you have no right to demand that Trish or anyone else read material that you pick out. You're quite demanding and aggressive and I hope you tone it down. It's getting tiresome.

seattle citizen said...

Formative assessments, as their name implies, are meant to inform instruction. They are not summative, for the purpose of evaluating student knowledge, but meant to tell a teacher where they might focus more, change strategy, etc. So, as I pointed out to Trish, it would be misplaced to use them for "accurately" assessing student knowledge.

Second, even summative assessments are not 100% accurate, yet you propose to use them to evaluate (and pay) teachers?

Third, it is not possible to teach 100% of students in any given lesson. If this happens, the lessons are dumbed down to achieve that percentage. Here's a scenario: The use of colons - preassesment tells us (sort of: remember that tests are by nature inaccurate given the tests themselves and the student motivation, etc...see BOTA) that of 30 students, 15 students are realtively prepared to learn about colons, 10 are sort of prepared, and 5 have no clue about puncuation generally.
Now: how do we know WHY they are not demonstrating, on the little test, readiness? Was it the teacher before? Is it learning diability? Do they have unique ways of learning? Students learn different things at different rates, so there's that...

At any rate, that's what we have: 15 ready, ten sort of, 5 not at all.

So teacher uses their precious 50 minutes - they pull every trick outta their toolbag, differentiate, work their best magic (damn good teaching) yet the next test (still unreliable) shows little or no progress in half the class.

To what do you attribute this apparent "failure"? Teacher? Student motivation on test? Student ability?

That'a an extreme example, but you see what I mean (I hope)

As I say, there IS no way to assess how or why (or even what) a student learns with any degree of certainty. The only way to do that might be to pull a Clockwork Orange and wire the kid's eyes wide open, open their brain, and with electrodes manipulate that complex oozing mass.

So if there is no way to attribute learning (or not) to any given factor, what then?

Look at the teaching. Is it deep? Is it all-out? Does teacher even have a toolbag of tricks? Do they plan? Do they adjust? (ooh, ooh, and of course adjuctment is important, but if one adjusts, then the curriculum (what is proposed to be taught) changes, so the pre-assessment and post-assessment might not match up...uh oh, data trouble! Better to not adjust the lesson EVER, so all the data points line up neatly like the good little soliders they are..)

We need to admit that we will NEVER know completely what a student knows, we will never know completely how well teaching works on a particular's impossible. So what do we do? We value observe, we support teachers, we check for good teaching...and let them do their work. It's worked for a hundred years in many ways, we only now have to adjust so students who are troubled, students who have no enrichment, students who learn diffrently are alos valued, educated, supported...

Lastly, many middle and high school teachers have over 125 students, not the 80-90 you suggest. That's 50% higher, and contrary to some beliefs, size DOES matter.

"Educate the top 100%..." bah! It's a beautiful dream and a nice slogan, but it's impossible for any given lesson. Let's keep it real.

seattle citizen said...

That said, I WOULD like to thank Trish for all her efforts on behalf of children. Technology IS important, and she has made it her life's work to bring it to students. I thank ALL those who have special knowldege and skills, and volunteer (or even pay) to bring it to students; I just don't believe that knowledge of technology and knowledge of education are the same thing.
She has evidently chosen wisely in her selection of Mr. Saleem as her Ed Director - he apparently believes that all children are unique, and can be taught creatively. But her defense of standardization and common data points flies in the nface of this creativity.

But thank you, Ms Dzikos, for your work with children, It's always good to see the community involved.

adhoc said...
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adhoc said...

"At any rate, that's what we have: 15 ready, ten sort of, 5 not at all."

Of course every kid isn't ready to learn about the use of a colon at the same time. That is not at all what I suggested. What I suggested is that 100% of kids can and should make progress over the course of the year, from whatever point they started at, and we should have some meaningful form of assessment to assure that is happening in 100% of our classrooms.

Now perhaps teachers who work in safety net schools, should have different types of (teacher) evaluations? They teach kids in difficult situations. These kids may be less motivated in school, or hungry, or in legal trouble, of in gangs, or foster care, or maybe they have been expelled from their neighborhood schools and the sfety net is their last chance. Teachers can't make kids show up every day, teachers can't help that one of their students takes 2 months off of school for maternity leave, or that they miss 3 months at school because they are locked up in juvenile hall, or drop out to work so their family can eat. That's certainly beyond a teachers control, and and there should be protections for the teacher who teach these challenging populations. And BTW, to all the teachers that do take on these challenging kids (and you know who you are),a huge thanks to you!

But please remember,SC, that safety net students are just a tiny fragment of the overall SPS population. There are many kids that do show up at school every day, that take their education very seriously, that thrive, work hard, earn good grades, work toward perfect attendance (my son this year), that easily get good scores on standardized tests, that take the SAT and do well, voluntarily take higher level math and science classes, voluntarily take honors/AP/IB classes, that are more than prepared for entry into our countries finest colleges, and that excel.

Maybe we need to look at both sides of the picture, and not just one side??

seattle citizen said...

Dear Adhoc (Happy Thanksgiving!)

You write that "100% of kids can and should make progress over the course of the year, from whatever point they started at, and we should have some meaningful form of assessment to assure that is happening in 100% of our classrooms."

Hmm...You also write that your children are excelling, "easily" passed the WASL (telling me perhaps they're beyond WASL level...

Let's say that the knowledge of colon use is all over the map: Of 25 students, there are 25 ranges of knowledge about colons. One would hope that the tracher can address EACH LEVEL (25) of colon knowledge and raise it a lot or a bit.

Is this possible? It means that the teacher would have to teach 25 levels of colon usage, because those that are far beyond would learn nothing otherewise, those that are at level might not progress...

What I'm getting at is that to expect EVERY student in the range to progress one would have to know EVERY level of expertise, and teach to each level. Differentiation might address 4-5 "levels" above, below, and at colons, but some would certainly still be confused or whatever, some would be bored...So to address those who don't get it, teacher, after formative assessment that MIGHT tell teacher where students progressed to, teaches it again, modifying instruction....Now, if the advanced students are lucky and have a skillful teacher, they will be onto something else meantime, so they are getting SOMETHING, but the aren't progressing in colon knowledge because they already know it. What, are they now at 110%? You can give that in football, but that's about it.

So I think it's impossible for all students to progress on any given lesson. Thye might progress generally, but this is different.

And again we run into the difficulty of being 100% sure of what a student knows when they come in, what they learn, what the factors were in that learning (or lack thereof), the accuracy of all the tests (both formative and summative)...What the teacher did: Was teacher especially in the groove that day? Having a bad day? Good teacher, bad lesson (teacher's or a script)?

I mean, who knows?

So how do we evaluate in the precise manner that teacher is "good"? How do we evaluate in a precise manner what student learned and what part the teacher had in it? Some students won't progress, in any given lesson, class, grade...Students have all sorts of learning going on in them, at willy-nilly rates and unassessable...what about THAT learning? Was it teacher's? Parent/Guardians? Who? What? What do they know?

I'm not throwing up my hands, far from it: I'm recognizing a critical aspect of education that should be celebrated and supported, the amazing individuality and unpredicability of human beans.

So how do we nurture thsat, and teach children the best we can? 1) we ALL do it, we make it our life's work, whether one is mere uncle, community member, parent, friend, storekeeper....The more learnin' pouring into these kids the better the chance (and it IS chance) that some of it catches.

We also use qualitative tools to reflect on practice, observe one another, critique, make demands...but demands based on tangible, demonstrated errors ("bad teaching," when it's observed or otherwise noted, in teachers, parents and others!) not demands based on smoke and vapors.

The reality is that some kids won't learn in a given setting, lesson, whatever. That is natural, predicatable, a sure thing. So if you want to "improve" teaching, look at what you actually see, which is the teaching itself.

seattle citizen said...

Adhoc, I join you in celebrating the "safety net" educators. Along with every educator who has to work with students with "issues" everywhere (and in every school.)

Wich brings me to your comment that "safety net" students are just a tiny percentage of the student demographic....

Whoa! That is NOT true! There are students with "issues" of various kinds all over the district, on every school, in every classroom.

I'm very, very glad (and I mean this) that your children are apparently flourishing. BUt this is not the case with many, many students, and they ain't just in safety net, adhoc.

Truancy, drugs, lack of motivation, lack of preparation, lack of support or enrichment, behavior issues...

There are as many "kinds" of students in a classroom as there are students. Some of these "kinds" are successful, some are tanking, some have severe issues (either immediate or in teh future as the crap they are in now catches up when they are 20.)

It is SO NOT true that struggling students are just the ones in safety net - they're in your children's classrooms.

AND, they are evidence of the difficulty for teachers in meeting all the various abilities, aptitudes, styles, motivations, that greet them each morning. You would suggest that the teacher be held accountable for performance metrics differentiated amonst all these students? Well, your children will suffer under it, because the teacher will, if pressed, make sure that all students are "at level" even if that level is merely the WASL tests your chidlren easily passed (a level or two below your child's ability, eh? Guess what? Teachers, schools, the feds....were using your child,s scores to "measure" your child and what services he/;she might need for the last ten years. The WASL directed a part of your child's education...and it appears that it was too easy for them. Education was dumbed down for your children in the pursuit of "data."

Please, please, please Adhoc, look around your schools and tell me how many "safety net" students you see in the halls, in the classes...ask the attendance person to show you truancy rates. Ask the APs to honestly discuss some of the issues they confront. Ask the nurse. Ask one of the remaining lunch staff.

All kids are "safety net," when you think about it. They all have issues, they all need caring teachers/parents/adults/mentors in every building

adhoc said...
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adhoc said...

Oh, SC, you have once again put words in my mouth that I didn't say. I NEVER said kids with issues were only in safety net schools. Never. I really don't live under a rock.

The fact is that safety net schools are designed to take our districts most at risk kids. There are a disproportionate number of kids with "issues" at those schools. Does that mean that there are no "at risk" kids at other schools? Of course not. But there are fewer.

At my sons high school MOST kids are doing well. MOST kids are thriving. Most kids pass the WASL, and do well on the SAT tests. Most kids (82%) go to college after graduation. Same is true for other north end high schools (Roosevelt, Ballard). I won't speak for HS's all over the district because I don't have first hand experience in those schools. But I do have first hand experience in my sons high school and I can tell you that most kids are excelling.

SC, I know you've spent most of your time working with our districts most at risk kids, and I commend you for that. Really, I do. But I wish you'd spend some time in some of our districts high performing schools, and get a chance to see what those kids are doing too.

I am truly perplexed as to why it is so hard for you to acknowledge that there are many many students all across this district that work hard, do well, and excel in our schools.

seattle citizen said...

adhoc, I KNOW that thre are students excelling around teh district, as they have for years, in classrooms that are vibrant, differentiated, led by teachers that are exctied, innovatice, quick to address student levels...

My fear is that in a drive towards standardization (using "data" to drive curriculum and teacher pay, for instance) these classroom, the high-acheiving students included, will suffer: They will become mediocre as the assessed "data" becomes the drviing force, rather than teh joy of learning and teaching.

Just as "data" will drive attempts to solve the ills of the world through classroom instruction, so "data" will, perforce, narrow what is taught into a series of data points.

Data is fine, where it is real and where it used to inform instruction. But when it becomes the summative be-all and end-all of both learning and teaching it will narrow both, which is bad for ALL students.

I wasn't "putting words" in your mouth - you wrote that the safety net teachers work with students with a bunch of issues, and I respeonded that these same issues (though perhaps to a lesser degree) are present everywhere. Students fail classes at Roosevelt because they are absent or inattentive...this is sometimes why they end up in a "safety net" school in the first place. Students in north-end and south-end schools alike have problems. Yes, the north-end schools might show more "success" because, partly, the north-end schools have more more families that have enrichment, less stress, more generational experience with education...but ALL schools have students i EVERY classroom (next to the "high-performers") that struggle, and it is the teacher's job to work with these students, too.

With "data-driven" curriculum and instruction, we are in danger of merely asking all students to perform to the mid-level; we are also in danger of asking teachers to merely focus on data points, because teachers are so, so busy dealing with all sorts of things that it is impossible to ask them to teach to EACH kid - as I wrote, each kid is at a different level, and if you want progress in each kid in a given lesson you HAVE to teach to each kid. So if teachers are forced to demonstrate progress, they will cut out some of the other stuff, some of the "non-assessable" teaching that happens on the fly, that happens outside of documented data points...
I fear that the data will drive the education, and that is limiting for everyone.

My assumption is that teachers CAN'T teach 100% of students in any given lesson, so students have to be prepared to go with the flow occasionally, to coast or work on something else outside the darta stream. Meanwhile, under current "reforms," teacher will be busy accounting for every jot and...tittle? what's that word? so the beautiful flow of the classroom envirnment will become a series of mere checkpoints.

This isn't good for anybody.

reader said...

Some students won't progress, in any given lesson, class, grade...

Wow. Such a negative view of students. If that isn't a "throw in the towel" attitude, I don't know what is. I can't say that I've ever met a student, anywhere... that progressed 0. Learned nothing in a year. If there are such students, they must be exceedingly rare.

The point here isn't that all students will learn the material... it's that all students should make progress. Sure there are 5 students in your hypothetical semicolon class that were totally unprepared to learn that subject.... but, they should have moved from the "totally unready"... to the "sort of prepared level". Such a student who, as SC describes them, clueless about punctuation... should learn something basic like what makes a simple sentence. Teachers who move more students forward, and move them the most are better.

It seems that the main complaint here is that there is no perfect assessment, no perfect data collection process. In fact, we don't even know what data should be collected. SC proposes in the absence of perfect data and assessment is... NO data or assessment. Isn't there some value in all of our imperfect data and assessment, especially if we use many measures? Of course nothing is perfect. But, if we have no measures... we just continue on blindly, never really getting anwhere... and certainly never getting anywhere quickly.

Wouldn't it be great if the district could have something that actually worked to address teacher quality? Afterall, every parent in the school-yard wants to know "who the good teacher for 4th grade is". Every parents seeks out that information, and many lobby for a classroom assignment based on that information.

seattle citizen said...

Reader, it's not negative to recognize truths, and what I was trying to explain is that in a given lesson, some students won't learn: Thye might be ahead of the lesson and already know the material, or they might be ebhind the lesson and not be able (even with teacher differentiation) to "get it."

Don't warp my point into some negativity, you know I'm not negative about teachers teaching, but I see negative aspects of the drive to "data".

In my lesson about colons, if a student learns basic sentence structure, they haven't learned colons, now have they? So they didn't get to the gist of the lessson.

I celebrate when teachers can get a student to understand sentences while teaching colons, yea! This is a good thing, a POSITIVE thing, but unless the assessment on that lesson is then modified to reflect this teaching and learning that taught colons AND sentences, then the teacher will have "failed" and the student will not be "at level" (so the student will be told they fail, too, because they didn't get colons.)

It is a great thing when students get sentences, even tho' they should be getting colons. This is a step forward, and is what happens regularly in good classrooms. But if the data is directed merely at colons, then many won't have progressed WITH COLONS, and hence, according to the data crunchers, progress wasn't made. Sentence--learners will still "fail" the assessment, advnaced students will show no progress because they already knew colons, hence, zero growth there...what a crappy teacher!

I DO propose and expect "data": I expect principals to do what they're paid to do, and what the contract calls for, which is to observe teachers and decide if they're teaching based on the teaching, not on the learning. As learning is fraught with variables (I mean seriously, do I need to go over the list again?) the best thing to do is assess teaching.

The parents in the school yards, looking for the best 4th grade teachers, are not, I'm pretty sure, looking for the best data wonk, the best teacher-to-the-test, the best script, the best same-ness, the best insitutional, bureaucratic drone...they're looking for exciting, flexible humans who know how to nurture, who know that even if a student doesn't get colons at least he/she will get SOMETHING (teacher can't MAKE every kid get colons)...parent/guardians, I suspect, want whole people, rich, varied, enthusiastic because they love teaching and love inquiry...

Reader, you KNOW I'm not being "negative" when I point out the fallacy of using data to somehow attribute learning to teaching in a meaningful and precise way...I am being positive in calling for good teaching, not robotic script followers, trying to teach merely to the script so as to get that extra $1000 and keep their jobs.

You want that sort of teacher? If we keep going the way we are going, and that's what we'll have. The middle class parents will bail on this in a heartbeat because it's BS, the rich will, as usual, use private schools, the poor who are savvy will find some charter school, and the poor who are not, the parents/guardians who don't know the system, aren't around, aren't caring...those parents will continue to send children to public schools that would be mere WASL factories.

That ain't negative, it's the truth as I see it.

Find me a savvy, educated parent who would trade a good teacher at, say, Roosevelt for a data-wonk teacher, teaching to the test, and I might believe you have an argument, but until then...

Joan NE said...

Adhoc - Would you engage in a erudite discussion on the social importance of Mark Twain's writing with a person who had only read an abridged version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and no other writings by this author? It makes as much sense to converse about the merits of merit pay and data-driven decision making with a person who hasn't read BOTA's Oct. 5, 2009 letter to Arne Duncun.

Now, I am all for formative assessment. Diagnostic, formative, and summative assessment is best practice in education. Any teacher who does not make good use of these assessment strategies and the data generated is not a good teacher.

Use of diagnostic, formative, and assesment data by the District in a performance management system, on the other hand is not in the best interests of students. Seattle Citizen argues this point persuasively.

I think it is fine and desirable for the principal to encourage teachers to make best use of the three types of assessments to inform and improve instruction, but I view as undesirable for a principal to use this data in the way the current supt wants principals to use this data - as a weapon (along with merit pay, eventually) to enforce compliance with a standardization program.

Joan NE said...

I am all for principals using parent (and, where appropriate, student) evaluations to identify the weak teachers or to identify specific professional development targets for individual teachers. I want the principal to evaluate whether every teacher is making good use of formative/diagnostic/summative assessment data, and to coach or make the teacher who isn't doing so get prof'l development on this. I am also in favor of principals being able to dismiss teachers who aren't able or willing to improve their teaching in areas that are deficient, and whose deficiencies are significantly detrimental to student progress. But I am not in favor of the DISTRICT using diagnostic/formative/summative assessment data to punish principals/teachers whose school/students are not making academic progress that the District sets as a target.

adhoc said...

"but unless the assessment on that lesson is then modified to reflect this teaching and learning that taught colons AND sentences, then the teacher will have "failed" and the student will not be "at level"

SC, I just realized that we are not talking about the same thing at all. You are talking about teachers being evaluated based on teaching a specific "lesson" such as the use of a semi colon. I am talking about evaluating students independently, based on their individual progress. So if a student is unprepared to learn the proper use of a semi colon, but has the ability to learn basic sentence structure, and he accomplishes this, he is moving forward and making progress (even though he may never even get close to learning the proper use of the colon). Surely, you do agree that all students can and should make progress each year, no?

The question is how to evaluate?

seattle citizen said...

Yes, adhoc, a student can (and should) make progress in a classroom. But the progress the student makes might not be connected directly to the data points assigned to a praticular curriculum/pdeagogy.

For instance, an external entity (district, principal, whatever) says, "You are teaching LA9, which consists of A, B, C...and thse skills, A1, B1, C1, B1, B2...etc" We will measure you on the progress students make on those skills."

Now, a student might be atth grade level in, say, sentence construction. How will the external body measure progress in that if it's not part of the package? It's a teachers duty to do this sort of thing, and hopefully they do, they do preassessments to decide where students some areas...and generally...with some grouping...and adjust instruction.

Must they then report to, say, District (or Arne Duncan) that student #23 is at these multiple levels (different levels for each particular skill, content knowledge, etc) in order for district to then have a baseline for evaluation of instruction? Must the teacher then design instruction to fit EACH student (because if they don't, as I wrote earlier, then only some grouping is possible, and some students won't get some things...or be beyond, and thus not progress, in some things...) Must the teacher then design individually tailored assessments to judge progress in each child?

Or the district could merely use WASL and MAP, which don't account for the nuanced skill levels, they only speak to general aptitudes, but then how do we say that growth occured, progress, in each of the areas of need in each student?

I'm making this more complicated than it need be, certainly, and perhaps I'm confusing everyone, but the converse, the idea that general, externally-generated assessments can be used to evaluate learning strikes me as just too off-target: Which skills was the student deficient in in September...exactly? Which skills (even those not in that level or class) did the student make progress in? (sentences not in curriculum, but made progress - colons in curriculum, no progress.)

THEN we run into the same old issue: which factors positively or negatively impacted learning?

If student A had no home support and tanked, but student B had home support and did well, how do we judge the resultant "scores"? Was it the teaching? Or the parents? Talk about inequities for the student and big problems for the teacher's pay rate and professional standing...teachers are already being told they suck, based merely on WASL results. Think of the professional disrespect they'd get if professional standing and pay were tied to what daddy and mommy did at home...
And that's just one of the many factors that effect assessment scores. No one has answered any of my questions about this. If you can tell me a fair way to account for the variables in assessment scores, I'm all ears. If you can tell me how it's better for students to have teachers teaching to tests and limiting their teaching to just those skills that they will be evaluated on, I'm also all ears. If you can tell me that parent/guardians would willingly give up the creative, articulate, flexible, motivating teachers they've seen and replace them with teachers under the gun to produce standardized test scores, I'm all ears and I don't believe it: Those parents, if all teachers were held to such mediocre, bureaucratic standards would run screaming for a private school...or a good public alternative school that has somehow escaped the limiting and stultifying strictures of the reform movement's eduspeak.

reader said...

SC, it IS extremely negative when you say that there are students who can not achieve ANYTHING in a matter what. It is extremely anti-student to say that some students are just plain impossible to reach. That is NOT the truth or the reality. I do know of 1 severely disabled student, who can not care for himself, who is not toilet trained at age 10, who can not even use utensils, who is residentially placed, who I would consider "does not progress in a year" despite lots of otherwise effective teaching. Other than that 1 unique student, every other student I know progresses... and progreses more with better teachers. That is the fact. And THAT is the truth. To let teachers off the hook, for any progress at all.. is simply a complete defeatism... and no, I do not KNOW anything of your values, except that you seem to feel all teachers do a great job under difficult circumstances. That has not been my experience.

If student A had no home support and tanked, but student B had home support and did well, how do we judge the resultant "scores"? Was it the teaching? Or the parents?

Uh... you work based off of what you know, off common themes. You know lots of factors like FRL, single-parent status, etc., and you account for them. SC, it seems to me you are really hung up on the imperfections in systems of assessment for both teachers AND students. Everybody agrees that they are imperfect. Let's consider all the challenges, let's measure progress not absolutes... it isn't only 1 teacher that has a challenges. It isn't 1 teacher that's somehow going to get "the shaft" for their incompetent students... MOST teachers have lots of challenges which can be known. If you look at the entire system you can quantify those challenges. If you simply believe everything to be too difficult... well, you'll quantify nothing.

Somebody told me... "there's lots of reasons you failed to do well on the assessment... but only 1 reason you aced it". Surely we can at least discover those who "ace it".

seattle citizen said...

Reader, reader, reader...
Show me where I said there are students who can't learn anything in a year.
What I'm obviously describing (your twisting of my words into...NEGATIVITY notwithstanding, is the problem of evaluating teaching based on student learning.

Of COURSE students learn SOMETHING, but it might not be part of the packaged curriculum, and the learning is hard to attribute to any one factor.

THAT is why I believe it is better for educators and students alike to evaluate the teaching, not the learning.

Seems like a no-brainer, yet you keep twisting my comments as if I'm somehow anti-student...

Ah well, if you don't understand what I'm trying to say, I hope that at least others will. But please don't twist my words into such silly things as "some students won't learn anything..."

hschinske said...

"Or the district could merely use WASL and MAP, which don't account for the nuanced skill levels, they only speak to general aptitudes, but then how do we say that growth occured, progress, in each of the areas of need in each student?"

In theory, MAP results *are* supposed to show the level the student is at in each subskill. How well this works out in practice I still don't know, but the theory behind the tests seems to me to be *precisely* getting a more nuanced look at skill levels and thus being better able to track progress for the individual student.

Helen Schinske

adhoc said...

Yes, I agree, Helen, I think the MAP test is very promising. I also like some "non traditional" forms of assessment like portfolios and student presentations, etc.

I think some "non traditional" forms of assessment coupled with more formal, standardized tests, together, can paint a pretty clear picture.

seattle citizen said...

Hmm, MAP might help, but not to the level of evaluating teachers.., and, as Adhoc points out, any of these has to be looked at as part of as package of assessments to get some sort of general idea of where a student is at.
With MAP< we've already seen that some students purposely tank a question or two, to make the test easier...and as with any relatively short adaptive test, it's hard to judge the accuracy as the test moves around, depending on student input.

seattle citizen said...

I happened to watch a broadcast of the Washington State School Directors Association meeting that occured Nov 18-21 in Seattle.

The speaker I saw was Yong Zhao, a professor at Michigan State who studies eductation, globalization, technology...

Here's his note slides:

He said (to the best of my recall):
The current national "reform" movement (standardization and "accountability" through standardization) was misguided and dangerous to our economy and to our children.
His reasons:
1)The US pruports to want to play catch up to some nations that might be ahead of us in Math and Science. These nations, such as Japan, Korea and China, are actually moving away from standards'based ed and towards "creativity." It is a mistake for us to try and match other countries (particularly when they are, in fact moving away from standards due to thier limiting effect) because we can't compete with them anyway: If we produce engineers, the engineers in India, et al, will still come cheaper, so we can't compete. It is a msitake to produce the same sort of students other countries are producing because they will undercut us anyway.
So other countries have seen this fallacy, and are busy bridging the "achievement gap" of creativity" We use to have creativity, they didn't, they're moving towards it and we're moving away.

2) "acheivement gap": People are all wildly different, and to group children and thus attribue gaps is limiting - it narrows response and does a dis-service to the various skills children have.

3) we need to be fostering critical thinking and entreprenaurial action: The global economy will increasingly reward "niche" business, business that meets various small needs, rather than the large corporations that, increasingly, will outsource anyway (see above) (so why are we listening to MS and other large corporatikons? Don't they want to limit small competitors? Didn't MS squash competition?)

4) standards narrow and make into icons a very limited set of knowledge; they place the state seal of "approval" on very basic and limited education. They do not reward critical thinking, creativity, and the diverse nature of human minds.
4a) education is so much broader than just these basic standards: We want citizens, we want compassionate people, it's not just Read/Write/Math/Science, yet this is all that's valued in these standards.

He thinks a school that, at graduation, has made "passionate, curious and adventurous citizens" has done a good job. A school that has made innumerable copies of basic modes of understanding and thinking has created a dysfuntional society.

He was quite adamant that the country was going down the wrong path.

It seems to me that he was extolling the virtues of what we already have in many of our schools, both traditional and alternative, and that to erase these things and chase these basic standards (and their accompanying "accountability") would be a grave mistake

reader said...

SC, you ask me to find where you post that students have learned nothing in a year. Obviously, lots of other people are hearing a similar thing from you. "Oh the poor teachers. They have a hard job. Nobody can really measure their work... so just give them a big raise and leave them alone. Better yet, go volunteer. Schools don't need cheap teachers, they need free volunteers.".

I think most of us can agree the job is difficult. Most people can also agree that assessments are even more difficult, and that narrow standards don't really do the job adequately. But, the only measurement we need for teachers... is an assessment of their teaching effectiveness. And yes, we want to measure progress of each student along many axis. Nobody is saying that a student who is many years behind can make it up with some sort of magic wand... but making a year of progress is better than making 2 months of progress. Making a year of progress, if you're facing lots of challenges is better than a year of progress if you've got every advantage. Sure, a kid tanks for a reason, not the teacher's fault. But, dealing with challenges IS the teacher's job, and over time.... those factors can be accounted for. ALL teachers face students with challenges. The good ones, can teach more, in spite of the challenges, than the mediocre teachers.

Well, here's cut and paste from what you said about students. Nobody's twisted your words, you've done it yourself. You seem to think, we all know you... and know what you really mean. I only know what you've said.

... So I think it's impossible for all students to progress on any given lesson. Thye might progress generally, but this is different....

or more cut and paste from SC

Some students won't progress, in any given lesson, class, grade...

... that pretty much leaves the teacher unaccountable for anything.

seattle citizen said...

Reader, some students WON'T progress in some lessons - they won't get it, they are already past is (and won't then "progress"...)

I'm certainly not saying leave teachers alone, blah blah blah...You are consistendly twisting my words. I AM saying that using student learning as a tool for evaluation is fraught with difficulty and might lead to dumbing down education.

You can twist my words all you'd like, Reader, and attack me 'til teh cows come home (which seems to be your bent....why do I upset you so, Reader?) but I'm sticking to 'em: Student learning is extermely difficult to assess, let alone base teacher's evaluations on. Better (in my opinion, Reader, take it or leave it) to evaluate TEACHING.

seattle citizen said...

teachers are accountable for good teaching: it's up to the students to learn. Teachers are NOT acountable for student learning - it's an impossibility. Teachers can only set the stage; students, and those who support them (including teachers) can HELP them try to learn, can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.

Joan NE said...

With respect to teacher effectiveness, would it help to differentiate self-evaluation, parent/student evaluations, principal evaluation and district-evaluation?

My point is this: If the principal (as supervisor) and teacher are both making effective use of teacher effectiveness data to set and monitor fulfillment of individual teacher professional growth objectives, and if the school in the aggregate is performing on par or better than peer schools, then it is not necessary for the district to have a role in analyzing the same data to grade teachers on their effectiveness. For the District to have such a role has distinct, strong, disadvantages. TO me it seems better if teacher effectiveness evaluation occurs on the scale of school buildings, and doesn't go up to district level.

Self-evaluation could include the following activities:
1) teachers make effective use of diagnostic, formative, and summative data to inform and improve their own instruction methods, and to select - for low-performing students - altermative measures of student achievement (The U.S. Secretary of Education now encourages multiple measures be used to quantify student achievement).
2) Each school year, each teacher sets effectiveness improvement objectives - call it professional growth objectives -, with strategies for fulfilling the objectives

Parent/student evaulations: Principals invite parents to write end-of-year reviews about the teachers that their child has been assigned to.

Principal evaluations could include the following activities:
1) Principal and teacher together review the available teacher effectiveness data (including, but not limited to parent/student comments and student diagnostic/formative/summative assessment data) to identify any "teacher effectiveness" issues or problem areas

2) Principal takes measures to see that teachers are effectively using diagnostic, formative, and summative evaluation to improve instruction, discourages teachers from teaching narrowly to the test, and sees that teachers have selected appropriate measures of achievement for students whose scores on state standardized exams are not - in the student's/parent's/teacher's opinion - representative of the student's academic achievement.

3)Principal and teacher together evaluate whether the teacher could benefit from targetted professional development; to prioritize professional development objectives; and to identify suitable professional development opportunities

4) Principal reviews each teacher's sets effectiveness improvement plan, and together the principal and teacher finalize the plan. The plan will set a future date at which the principal and teacher will together review whether the objectives have been fulfilled.

5) seems to me that it would be constructive if a principal can dismiss a teacher whom s/he finds is not making a good faith effort to fulfill the professional growth goals, or is unable to.

District evaluation of teacher effectiveness: In this scheme, the district's job is evaluate principal effectiveness. The district might want to take into consideration the overall performance of students in the building, how the school in the aggregate is doing compared to peer schools, and parent surveys of principal effectiveness. In this scheme, there is no direct role for the district to collect data on and directly evaluate teacher effectiveness.

seattle citizen said...

Joan, your outline of possible evaluation methods seems like a good plan: It incorporates many different metrics that can be taken, in toto, by teh principal to help him/her determine effectiveness without being based on mere test scores. While formative/summative assessments might be a part of this, the skills therein are not necessarily the point: It is whether teaching is going on, and formatively in a way that adddresses various student needs.
The beauty of this, in my opiniojn, is that it allows the principal, who is "on site", to recognize the variety and levels of "difficulty" in students and work with the teacher accordingly, rather than have a remote evalulator hold the teacher to unreasonable metrics that don't recognize this diversity.

This addresses the biggest problem I have with the standardized method: I don't know how the various factors/aspects would be recognized so as to inform evaluation and remediation (or, in nicer terms, adjustment to the factors "on the ground."

Of course it relies on a principal who has the time to do this, and is aware of what's going on the building, has some stability in the building to see the changes over time, and it requires the district to select and trust principals who can be effective in this role.

It's really an expansion of existing ideas, but deeper and more varied (parent input, for instance) so it would give a better picture...But the existing evaluation process isn't fully utilized, so there would have to be in place a mechanism to esnure this one was.
Sounds good to me.

reader said...

But SC... the only point of the teacher, is student learning. That much is incredibly self-evident. If the student isn't learning.... the teacher isn't taking the non-negotiable, the student (with all his warts, flaws, and challenges), and teaching him. So what if she tried really hard, or did her best... if it didn't work well?

Sure... we all know it's hard. (The teaching job is hard, the student assessment is hard, assessing the teacher is hard... and all multifaceted.)But that isn't an excuse for not doing it, or not doing it as well as possible.

I agree that defining teaching quality and metrics isn't the be-all or #1 priority of SPS. SPS is probably incapable of that analysis at any level. But if a private person wants to do that research... that's a fine and worthy cause. After all, teacher quality and metrics are something we should absolutely expect our universities, especially our state funded universities, to be studying very rigorously and vigorously. I don't really see a lot of results there. Without that, we will see a continual erosion in education as a public responsibility. In my lifetime, we've already seen a huge shift away from public schools. At some point, continuing at the current rate, we would expect public education to be something exclusively for poor and/or disabled students... those who can not provide for themselves.

seattle citizen said...

Yes, Reader, teacher quality is important, in all its permutations. I'm of the opinion that we don't judge teacher quality by student learning, is all.

You're right, we can make some very general assumptions about teachers from, say, WASL scores, but I don't believe they tell a very accurate story, not do I believe, in the lonig run, that "teacher quality" is to be had by narrowing education to a minimal set of standards. Personally, I feel this would drvei teachers out. If you want to have "quality" standards-teachers, teachers who can merely shovel in the basic four things tested on our current state (hence, fed) all means, narrow the expectations to just that.

I fully expect our public universities (such as the one Yong Zhao teaches at) to do being this sort of study (like his study) to find ways to better reach struggling students. There are ways, no doubt, to do this. There are ways, no doubt, to evaluate teachers fairly, both to help them improve (formative) and to evaluate their professional standing (summative?).

I just don't think using student learning is the way to do this, except in a very generalized way (perhaps as Joan enumerates) and with the addition of other checks on the "data".

I hold (still) to the belief that it is impossible to accurately assess what's in a person's head; I hold also to the idea that some times students don't learn even with the very very best teaching in the world.

Would we dock the teachers pay when a student refused to learn, for instance? A student who was tardy all t he time, who was insolent, who just sat and stared...

Of course there aren't a lot of these (thank god) and of course teachers will try to reach and teach them anyway, but there it is: some students won't learn what's on the curriculum.

In you last comment, you postulated that students learn SOMETHING, and this is usually true, but my earlier point is that this something might not be on the assessments used to evaluate the teacher,. and it might not be directly attributable to the teacher, so again, there you have it.

If you can describe a completely fair system of evaluating a teacher based on student learning, I'm all ears. The system should also not HARM the students (low or high or at level) by narrowing teaching or learning to just the four main core subjects. Also, it must have a way of evaluating none-core teachers, such as History, Art, Health, PE, Metal Shop, etc.

WV thinks the difficulty of this evaluation problem is making it cycodic.

adhoc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
adhoc said...

SC, since teachers should only be "accountable for good teaching" (and I agree with this on a certain level) how then would you like to see "good teaching" evaluated?

As for student learning, there is no doubt that it should be assessed too, though not necessarily tied to teacher evaluation, unless as just one component to a larger, well rounded evaluation.

I would like to see student learning assessed via multiple mechanisms including non traditional methods (portfolios, student presentation of work), teacher evaluation and input (grades on projects/classwork/homework, personal observation in class), and standardized tests (MAP, WASL, SAT). That would give us a well rounded snapshot of student learning and progress.

seattle citizen said...

I think "good teaching" could be evaluated by the methods Joan described:
A well-trained principal, who is aware of what what should be taught and is able to document various evaluation crtieria so the process is fair, gathers various information about classroom "performance" of each educator and uses this to congratulate, remediate, or terminate. There should be checks on this - checks, perhaps, on the process and on WHO is being remediated and why, as principals are, like anybody, capable of whim and bias, etc.
But as teachers DO have to be checked on their teaching (and not merely for professional evsal, one would hope, but to work collaborativly to become better) then who else but the person in charge of the building? Distant admins, downtown or at state (via WASLs, et al) can't know the day-to-day realities of each classroom (and remember, many of these classrooms aren't core subjects, but have other curriculum associated) so it just makes sense for the person who is the leader of instruction in a building to be the leader of evaluation.

There is a lot of concern that principals might have other motives for their hiring/firing decisions, and these concerns are often real, and should addressed - What if a principal was merely trying to "look good" on certain metrics in order to further his/her career? Might that principal load up on certain "kinds" of teachers? Maybe....this is another subject of discussion: How much freedom from pedagogical dictates should a principal have? Should they be beholden to federal dictate? State? District? Grant providers in the building? Their own career? What DO we want principals to oversee, and how much discretion should they have?

But I digress: Joan's points are a good set of evaluation/assistance tools - and, I'd add, increasing collaboration between teachers themselves serves as a sort of check on a teacher coasting, or not being reflective in their practice...when they need to work together, a teacher who might be inclined to say in her/his silo is easier to spot, and might be more routinely called on the carpet for slacking off.
Of course, that means teachers need TIME to collaborate, and who's got that? Same for principal evals, it takes time...

Sooo...instead of using the easy (and cheaper) way out of merely counting bubbles on student assessments, which, I'll say again (heard it lately?) just isn't accurate enough to assess teaching itself (though in a general way it can help inform instruction, and over time, for an individual student, might show trends in learning which could be used for the higher stakes, such as passing a class or graduating...)

I'll back down a bit and say that I've come to understand, from some comments here (including...Readers...) that it might be possible to use SOME student data, in the aggregate, to view teaching skill. I think it would be difficult, I think there are many factors that pertain, I think it could be mis-used (and, generally, that's sort of where I'm coming from: I don't believe the drive for "quality teachers" is so much a drive for good teaching as it is a drive to break the union and provide a rationale for easy dismissal of educators who aren't "with the program"...I believe that educators bring unique abilities, and I fear these might be lost do to union-busting..) BUT I think that if some generally "tracked" students, over time, all seemed to be losing steam in one classroom or another,it might be possible to see that as an indicator that something's going on there. I just don't know which assessment would allow this: as I've indicated, I have little faith in many standardized assessments, and this is what you'd need to do this.

seattle citizen said...

Lastly, the whole drive to "increase teacher quality" seems based on the idea that teachers generally suck: look at the data we're fed via the media and the state...WASL scores. This data is woefully flawed. ("Oooh! This year's 4th graders scored differently than last years!" Uh, hello, different cohort...) So again, I fear that many, if not most, teachers do a pretty good job but the public is being sold on the idea that the whole system should be changed because teachers, generally, are merely union slackers who need a whack upside the head. This is so far from teh truth, and it's a terrible injustice to both teachers and students alike if the "cure" (standardized assessments) is worse than the disease (a few bad teachers, who, as everyone points out, are probably pretty identifiable without all this hub-bub about WASL and MAP and Common Curriculum and Race for the Top and charter schools and merit pay and all the other BS.

reader said...

You think teacher assessments are bad... what about principals? The average tenure of a principal in a building is something like 5 years. What amount of assessing, instructional leadership, or any leadership, can a principal who keeps his job for 5 years provide? I would posit... none at all. Principal evaluation is absolutely meaningless to me, and a terrible way to measure teaching effectiveness. In fact, I'd much rather see WASL score improvements as a teacher measure than principal evaluation. (And of course, I'd like to see something a lot better than WASL score improvements if we had it.) The schools I've seen.... the teachers always outlive the principals, usually by several decades. You if don't like your teacher review (and why should you care about the review because the principal doesn't know that much), well, just wait a year, or even a few months. Voila! A new bungie principal will be bounced into your building. Who knows? Maybe that new principal will like you better. And so true about principals, their main goal is to get a district directorship, or other cushy, upwardly mobile job down at JSIS.

reader said...

The other thing is.... principals are just going to push the evil WASL improvements(or son-of-WASL) as their main objective too. EG. At one of my schools curriculum night, we all learned of our building's fabulous WASL scores from the principal. Parents cheered. Principal said... our goal and focus this year is to improve our "writing" WASLs, to very, very close to 100%. The improvement should now be immenently possible because we have a new thing: "Writer's Workshop". We should all be expecting great writing WASL scores because of this new direction. Everyone cheered.

So you see, the principal isn't going to be an escape from the WASL measurement. Whatever evaluation the principal does give will be strongly based on that evil WASL result.

Charlie Mas said...

Remind me again about the point of teacher evaluations.

Is it a tool for identifying and removing the "bad" teachers? Can't we already do that? I think we can. The impediment here has been the unwillingness of principals to follow the process.

Or is it a tool for ranking teachers on a quality scale from adequate to exceptional? And what would be the purpose of that?

Would it be to identify specific weaknesses and provide targeted professional development to help teachers improve? Can't we already do that? I think we can. The impediment here has been the unwillingness of principals to give meaningful reviews.

Would it be to identify and duplicate effective teaching practices? Can't we already do that? I think we can. The impediment here has been a lack of peer-to-peer communication. Nothing a blog couldn't fix.

I don't think we need radical change or new evaluations, metrics, benchmarks, or assessments for teachers. I think we need principals to do their jobs and we need to allow teachers the opportunity to communicate with each other.

I could be wrong.

adhoc said...

As usual, I agree with Charlie 100%. We already have the metrics in place to evaluate teachers; principals should already be doing this. But they aren't. At least not consistently. That's really what we need to address. With some urgency in my opinion.

Joan NE said...

My impression is that we are faced with a few problems that we need to find a way to address. We need to figure out what are the most fundamental problems; what are appropriate, effective solutions; and then figure out how to effectively agitate for these. The goal would be to figure out the smallest number of changes needed that will lead to all the changes that are needed.

Here is the list that occurs to me. I ask all of you, what would you add to this list, remove from it, and/or how would you modifiy the suggestions I have here?

Is there anyone here who can speak to whether the teachers union and principals union might be open to the teacher and principal evaluation scheme?

1.We need to induce the Board to pass an irrevocable policy or Article of Incorporation that says that the Board's job is to a)define district policy, and b) evaulate the Superintendent's performance according to his/her effectiveness with respect to implementing and upholding policy, following law, and showing good moral judgement. Perhaps we should demand that the Board does NOT use outside consultants to assist or conduct or oversee the annual evaluations. Perhaps we should also insist that the Board not use any superintendent search consultants who have any connection to the Broad Foundation or similar organizations.

2. We need the Board to take leadrership by writing and enforcing a policy that gives a different definition of Instructional Leadership than is currently being used by the District. The District, in the name of IL, is training principals to become enforcers of standardized curriculum. "Learning Walks" is very likely part of the training that our principals are getting. [See the Rand Corp. Occasional Report No. 170 for a description of learning walks.]

3. We need to revise the policy that currently says the Superintendent can remove and replace principals at will (Supe. has no responsibility to justify these decisions). I have come to understand that the principal is a critical factor in school success. There are many examples with SPS that prove this (e.g., northbeach elementary being ruined by a principal replacement). This could address the problem that average principal longevity is 5 years (according to a commenter on this strand). Let principals stay in place for their whole career if they are effective, if parents/students give a strong satisfaction rating to the principal, and if the principal is happy to stay in the same job. Let principals form peer-coaching relationships, to help weaker principals become stronger.

4. Let principal evaluation be similar to principal-mediated teacher evaluation. The Education Director (ED) would act as the principal's partner in his/her annual performance evaluations. As with the teacher evaluations, the principal evaluation would take into account surveys of parent/student satisfaction with the school and the principal (but would not look at the surveys of p/s satisfaction with individual teachers), checks to make sure principal is exercising appropriate constructive instructional leadership (according to the scheme I have proposed, with such modifications as SC and others suggest); each year principal writes (and ED approves) a professional growth plan, with dates to meet with ED to review the principal's progress on meeting the goals. If the principal is unable or unwilling to meet the goals, then the ED is justified to propose principal replacement.

Joan NE said...


5. School communities need to have a very strong say in a principal assignment selection process. The parents/students/staff will chose a principal whom they view as likely to continue to uphold the values of the school community, change the things that the community feels need to be changed, and help the school to develop constructively. [The report "Chicago School Reform: Lessions for the Nation" speaks to the importance of parents/staff of a school having the right to choose their principal. This right is one of the "five pillars" of successful inner-city schools, (meaning high % minority and low-income students). The report is easily found by googling the title.]

6. Induce or compel the Board to pass a policy that says that a parent/teacher/student (i.e. critical stakeholders) committee will, in consultation with a panel of education experts, choose math textooks and the District shall not overrule the committee's recommendation. (In my view, in the case of math, I feel that the pro's of having a uniform math curriculum outweigh the cons. But maybe to get strong community support for this, we need to have the Board say that there must be a fair waiver application/appeal process for individual schools that do not want to follow the recommendation.)

7. Do we want to ask for such a policy as in #5 for all subject areas?

8. Do we need the Board to pass (and require Sup to uphold) a policy that says the District must ensure that all students have access to high quality textbooks and curriculum materials?

9.Demand that the Board prohibit the Superintendent from entering into an MOU with the State on the Race-to-the-Top program. I have studied this program closely, and even with the U.S. Dept. of Ed. adding a clause that gives credit for alternative schools (The Dept. calls them "innovative autonomous public schools"), my view is that in return for a on-time infusiong of a small amount of money, the District - in signing an MOI with the STate on RTT - will be committing to profound changes most of which will not be appreciated by this community.

10. Figure out how to prevent Mike McGinn and any future mayor from getting the power to appoint school Board Directors.

11. Figure out how to get a school board campaign contribution limit that is less than or equal to the current limit for contributions to Seattle mayoral campaigns($700). [Currently there is no limit on the size of individual contributions to school board director campaigns. Extraordinary contributions in 2007 from a few people/businesses to DeBell, Carr, Maier, and Martin-Morris probably influenced the outcome of the elections of at least the first three of these four candidates, and may mean that these directors are overly responsive to the reform priorities of a small, wealthy, constituency - some members of which don't even live in the school district!]

Nancy said...

As other commenters have said, the money (or at last part of it) could probably do a great deal of good if it were directly injected into classrooms across the country. A big part of teacher effectiveness is whether they have the basic resources necessary to a learning environment... many do not. These big public school grants are wonderful, but on the ground level, regular people that want to help teachers can use the Adopt-A-Classroom website at to support a teacher (100% of the donation goes to the classroom and it's tax deductible).

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