Monday, August 30, 2010

Opportunity vs Outcome

We all know that there is no school so bad that a motivated student cannot wrestle an education away from it. We have seen all of the inspiring stories of students who grew up with everything against them: poverty, neglect, substance abuse, etc., yet managed to achieve in high school, win acceptance to a competitive university, and become a shining example of how far hard work, talent, and determination can take you here in the good ol' U.S.A., the land of opportunity.

We also know that there is no school so good that it can force an education onto an un-motivated student. We have plenty of examples of this as well.

Just the same, it is easier to get an education from a good school than a bad one.

Given this knowledge, education activists have worked and sought equity of opportunity. Look through everything that the District has ever said about equity and it has ALL been on the opportunity side. All high schools must offer a minimum number of AP or IB classes. All schools must have something for advanced learners. All schools must have adequate programs for all kinds of students. It has always been about equity of opportunity.

Now, however, we see a change. The District has evaluated teachers based on how they taught - they were responsible for providing students with the opportunity. Now the District wants to evaluate teachers based on student learning - outcomes instead of opportunity.

This represents a big revolution. It is one thing to make teachers responsible for their own work. It is something entirely different to make them responsible for someone else's work. The teacher's duty has always been to provide the opportunity; now the District wants to hold them responsible for students taking that opportunity and generating outcomes.

In America, we believe deeply in equity of opportunity and we work to guarantee the equity of opportunity. We do not, however, believe that society or the government owes anyone a guarantee of equity of outcomes. As an American, I'm not comfortable making it the responsibility of government workers (teachers) to deliver equal outcomes for citizens (students).

I think this is an interesting perspective on the question of using student test scores as a measure of teacher effectiveness.

This idea just came to me this morning and I haven't fully explored it. But this is the state of my thinking on this question right now.

23 comments:

SC parent said...

As an outsider to your school system who is just looking in, I can agree with much of what you are saying. Because I am on the east coast, I have to take at face value that all schools within your district afford similar opportunities, including the quality of curriculum and the quality of the teaching staff. It seems very unfair that inspired teachers can be down graded when the deck is stacked with unmotivated students. It begs another question, can unremarkable teachers be upgraded by a work load of already highly motivated students?

Your argument becomes much more unsettling when you consider inequities within the same district that may be the direct result of administrative policies. What additional problems can be created when the teaching staff is graded on outcomes at locations where educational environments are not equitable? Assuming many students rise and fall to the level of the challenges put before them, who will grade the administration for student outcomes when programs (opportunities) offered in different schools within the district are not comparable? How can student opportunities be measured, particularly when they are lost due to failed or poorly administered policies?

karyn king said...

Thank you, Charlie. This is an excellent diagnosis of the problem teachers face with SERVE.

"The teacher's duty has always been to provide the opportunity; now the District wants to hold them responsible for students taking that opportunity and generating outcomes."

Seeking equality of outcomes from teachers would conveniently eliminate the need for personal responsibility on the part of politicians, district administration, the board, parents and students.

Teachers are already expected not to just deliver instruction, but to assess and design curricula that matches the individual learning styles, strengths and challenges of each student(for up to 150 students a day!) to equalize opportunity to the greatest extent possible.

Outcomes cannot be seen as the responsibility of one person. It does take a village...

ParentofThree said...

What is the SEA proposing as an alternative to SERVE?

Rabbit said...

Very well said Charlie.

I often think about the outcome of an experiment in which the district would exchange all of the students attending RBHS with all of the students attending Roosevelt. In other words all of the Roosevelt students would attend RBHS and have the RBHS teachers, class offerings, extracurricular programs, arts, etc. Like wise all of the RBHS students would go to Roosevelt and have all of the Roosevelt teachers, access to many AP classes, drama, jazz band, etc.

I do not believe much would change, performance wise, in the two groups of students. I don't think the school, teachers, offerings, or school culture/environment make that much of a difference in the outcomes of student performance.

I believe that overnight RBHS would become one of the top performing high schools in the district, while Roosevelt would sink to the lowest performing high school, with not one single change in either schools staff, culture, leadership, offerings.

So how could we base a teachers evaluation on student outcomes?

hschinske said...

"I don't think the school, teachers, offerings, or school culture/environment make that much of a difference in the outcomes of student performance."

Why send students to school at all, then?

Helen Schinske

Rabbit said...

Students are going to get out of school what they want to get out of school. I don't think the actual school itself, teachers, etc., make a huge difference. The best teacher in the world can't get an unmotivated student to perform, and likewise the worst teacher probably can't derail a kid who wants to learn and whose family expects him to learn and do well.

Think about your own daughter. Do you think her academic outcome would have been drastically different if she attended RBHS, Ingraham or West Seattle instead of NOVA? She may not have liked the other schools as much as she did NOVA, but do you think it would have affected her academic outcome?

I believe my kids would do well in practically any school. We (or they) might like one school better than another, mesh better with the culture or pedagogy of one school than another, and even like a set of peers/students much more at one school than another, but in the end I believe they would do just fine, academically, about anywhere.

Sahila said...

Parentofthree... I just posted the joint SPS/SEA PG&E proposal on the Open thread...

you can also find it here:

http://www.seattlewea.org/index.php/component/content/article/256-why-the-professional-growth-and-evaluation-joint-proposal-is-better-for-students-and-teachers

Maureen said...

Parentof3, From what I understand, the SEA is proposing that they stick with the Professional Growth and Evaluation system they spent the last two years hammering out with the District.

reader said...

In America, we believe deeply in equity of opportunity and we work to guarantee the equity of opportunity.

Sounds like we're back in Alabama in the 50's. You are suggesting that the acheivement gap is destiny... and deserved. According to you, they're just unmotivated, which I guess might be better than stupid and inferior (or is it really the same thing?)... They have had the opportunity as you, right? Let's just cancel education all together, the motivated don't really need education at all. So why should the rest of us pay for it?

Josh Hayes said...

That's utter bosh, reader, and you darn well know it.

In Alabama in the 50's, there WAS no equality of opportunity. In many parts of the country today the same thing is true (I would suggest it's true in SPS, due to unequal distribution of resources). Equality of opportunity, REAL opportunity, should be the goal. We don't have it now, but we should -- and tying teacher retention to student test scores does absolutely nothing to advance that cause, according to all the studies. Would you care to provide some data that show otherwise?

Sahila said...

I love the quaint naivety of Americans and their belief in the land of opportunity.... forgetting maybe why your ancestors deserted the old world and fought a revolution....so trusting of the system and the myth that if we all work our hardest, we too shall have success, our little place in the sun...

karyn king said...

@Reader,"You are suggesting that the acheivement gap is destiny... and deserved. According to you, they're just unmotivated, which I guess might be better than stupid and inferior (or is it really the same thing?)... They have had the opportunity as you, right?"

C'mon, reader, I don't hear him saying that at all! But much of the achievement gap has a lot more to do with what goes on outside the classroom than what goes on inside. Poverty IS a big contributor to the gap. All students CAN learn, but some WON'T because of circumstances beyond the control of the teacher, student or parent. Until the politicians, businesses and society itself decides to value real education for everyone, instead of just screaming about test scores, unitl everyone values teachers like they do in the rest of the world, we can eliminate the gap by scapegoating teachers or students.

Charlie Mas said...

Reader raises a valid point. The point, however, is the difference between an equitable opportunity and an equal opportunity.

There are students who arrive at school well-prepared to do the work. There are other students who arrive less prepared.

We can provide them with an equal opportunity, but the poorly prepared students will fail. Or we can provide them with an equitable opportunity, which includes the necessary supports for success for all students.

We have, in fact, been doing the equal opportunity and the results have been, by and large, the predictable failure for students who were not well-prepared and supported.

Now we should try to provide the equitable opportunity. It can be done and it works well when it is done. It requires, however, a conscious effort. It requires early and effective interventions. It requires lots of enrichment (field trips, art, music, drama, zoo trips, library trips, museum trips, etc.). It requires targeted class size reduction. It requires extended school day, week and year. It requires a thoughtful effort to accelerate the education of students who started behind or fell behind.

The students who have historically failed have not, in fact, had the same opportunity that I had. They didn't have a family and a culture that valued education above almost all else. They didn't have the encouragement to achieve academically, they didn't have the academic support, and they didn't have the pressure to achieve academically. Their opportunity was nothing like mine.

No, we are going to have to work a lot harder and a lot more thoughtfully about how to deliver an equitable opportunity. But THAT is where we should be concentrating our efforts. Not in some futile quest to ensure equitable outcomes.

Charlie Mas said...

That then brings us to the next great question: if schools and teachers don't have a significant impact on student achievement, then why bother with them at all?

This represents faulty logic. If the bowling ball doesn't make much difference in who gets the higher score, then why have bowling balls?

We should definitely have schools and teachers. More than that, we should definitely measure the quality of our schools and teachers. But we only need to assure that they meet some acceptable minimum for quality, we don't need to expend a lot of energy or resources seeking incremental improvements in quality beyond that benchmark minimum.

Back in the old days people used to have to actually touch their televisions to change the channels. There was a dial that was used to select channels. It would click from position to position as it was rotated. Outside of the channel selector, concentric with it, was a knurled dial for fine tuning. Often, after selecting a channel, the picture was fuzzy, but it could be cleared by turning the fine tuning dial in one direction or the other. I suspect every curious child wondered if it were possible to move from channel 4 to channel 5 by using the fine tuning dial. I'm certain that a lot of us tried it. Guess what? Diligent turning of the fine tuning dial would eventually bring the TV from channel four to channel five. So it could be done - but it was a silly, time-consuming, and labor intensive way to go about the task.

When I see all of the emphasis put on making incremental improvements in teacher effectiveness - among teachers who are compentent - as a means of improving outcomes for students, I am reminded of efforts to change channels on an old TV using the fine tuning dial.

Instead, let's put our energy and resources into making the changes that will deliver a big difference in student outcomes. It's not "teacher quality". It is early and effective intervention.

GreyWatch said...

@ Rabbit - I used to agree with you that if the parents are involved and the kids are motivated all will work out regardless of the school, quality of the teachers, etc. Until my kids went to school that is.

My daughter will do well where ever she lands. Her brother has always been a bad school year (or day) away from throwing in the towel. A good teacher can have a tremendous impact on motivation. A bad teacher at certain times in a child's life can make them hate school, and worse, think of themselves as stupid. Good luck getting a decent education after that.

As for school reputations, kids are perceptive. They pick up on adult perceptions of school quality and perform accordingly, both socially and academically.

hschinske said...

"I believe my kids would do well in practically any school."

Mine wouldn't. Far from it. If what you say is true, I think it's likely that your children are temperamentally unusually adaptable, which may be great for them, but not a pattern for the rest of us.

Helen Schinske

Charlie Mas said...

Honestly, I never expected my kids' schools or teachers to motivate them. I just didn't want the school or the teacher to de-nmotivate them. I, personally, was de-motivated in the 4th and 5th grades and never really worked hard in school again. Fortunately my kids didn't get de-motivated until middle school. It was math class in the seventh grade that torpedoed both of them. CMP 2.

Now, despite the fact that they each have perfectly brilliant mathematical minds, they are both convinced that they are bad at math, that they just don't get it, and that they shouldn't even bother.

NOVA helped my older daughter regain her enthusiasm and motivation. I'm hoping that geometry at Chief Sealth and a total change of scenery and peers will do it for my younger daughter.

The school doesn't have to push them, just not block them.

MathTeacher42 said...

Charlie, once again, hits it outta the park. People commenting are bringing up great points.

I think to understand the underlying educational philosophy we need to read 1984, by George Orwell. We need to read up on doublethink.

In Orwell's ...um ... society, those most skilled at creating the doublethink of the society ended up its leaders. At the next societal level were those skilled enough to navigate the bizarro world of doublethink created by the leaders.

So far in my teaching life, ideas which REALLY help us teachers help our kids seem to be the result of random accidents, instead of the result of deliberate design. For the real string pullers of ed deform, the goal isn't helping our kids, the goal is another workforce segment of compliant, terrified, and obedient serfs.

The string pullers create the doublethink used by 2 different groups aiding the string pullers. The first is a lot of very well intentioned people, conversant in ed deform doublethink, who are being used. The second group conversant in ed deform doublethink is aspiring to membership in the string puller cla$$.

BM

Mary said...

Charlie, I have often thought that a teacher's motto should also be, "First, do no harm."

Melissa Westbrook said...

And Mary that is precisely the phrase used in the new briefing paper about teacher evaluation. It suggests that maybe the Dept of Ed should encourage innovations in teacher evaluation but NOT recommend one way.

reader said...

The point is not about quibbles with "equitable and equal". Equitable usually is even worse than equal... some people, usually minorities, get equitable - remediation, and interevention. Other people, like Charlies kids, get the equal - or education. But that is a digression. This is exactly the same logic used by all the civil rights nay-sayers and racists of all ages. "Look, we gave them equal and/or equitable opportunity (mighty white of us in our magnanimity) and they still flopped. They're poor because, well, they're stupid and/or lazy (not to mention another race)... And yes, we (in all our generosity) can't be expected to make up for their bad backgrounds. They came to work without the right ethic. Race is coincidental."

The usual civil rights republican-style issue is over money. In your case, it's over education. And the next step, would be the money.

dan dempsey said...

It was said:
"Students are going to get out of school what they want to get out of school. I don't think the actual school itself, teachers, etc., make a huge difference."

Only partially true ....
for many students beginning in k-4 if the materials is not presented in an accessible way ...... IT WILL NOT be learned.

Look at the results of the OSPI reform math push that almost every district bought into at least k-5 and most places k-8.

There were years in which not a single student at RBHS scored at level 4 on the 10th grade math WASL.

Material that is presented in an accessible way does make a huge difference. But many kids from less advantaged homes may never know that in the SPS. For the SPS math plan k-5 is to keep on with NOT presenting math in an accessible way for many students.

Charlie Mas said...

reader, what would you have the district do?