From the article:
Though the government spends billions of dollars every year on education, relatively little of the money has gone to figuring out which teachers are effective and why.
Seeking to shed light on the problem, The Times obtained seven years of math and English test scores from the Los Angeles Unified School District and used the information to estimate the effectiveness of L.A. teachers — something the district could do but has not.
The Times used a statistical approach known as value-added analysis, which rates teachers based on their students' progress on standardized tests from year to year. Each student's performance is compared with his or her own in past years, which largely controls for outside influences often blamed for academic failure: poverty, prior learning and other factors.
Interestingly, the LA Times apparently had access to more than 50 elementary school classrooms. (Yes, I know it's public school but man, you can get pushback as a parent to sit in on a class so I'm amazed they got into so many.) And guess what, these journalists, who may or may not have ever attended a public school or have kids, made these observations:
On visits to the classrooms of more than 50 elementary school teachers in Los Angeles, Times reporters found that the most effective instructors differed widely in style and personality. Perhaps not surprisingly, they shared a tendency to be strict, maintain high standards and encourage critical thinking.
But the surest sign of a teacher's effectiveness was the engagement of his or her students — something that often was obvious from the expressions on their faces.
Mr. Kotter! The surest sign of a teacher's effectiveness was the engagement of students. And the reporters back this up with...nothing. How do they know this? I have known some pretty entertaining teachers who were not that good at teaching.
(I'm sorry but anyone reading this blog has just as much ability to assess a classroom as reporters from the LA Times so what they say on this point means little to me.)
What the union has to say:
In an interview last week, A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, was adamant that value-added should not be used to evaluate teachers, citing concerns about its reliance on test scores and its tendency to encourage "teaching to the test." But Duffy said the data could provide useful feedback.
"I'm not opposed to standardized tests as one means to helping teachers look at what's happening in their classrooms," he said.
The next story is a piece in Seattle Crosscuts by Councilman Tim Burgess. Look, I've talked to Burgess, I think he's a smart guy, a well-meaning guy (and likely Mayor of Seattle someday) but he doesn't really understand education (or hasn't tried to at least get a well-rounded understanding). First, he kind of takes issue on the op-ed piece that he and Councilman Richard Conlin had written for the Times recently. He says that people were personally critical of him and this is true but only because most of the commenters (myself included) did not believe they wrote the piece. (Frankly, I think they read a couple of white papers, talked to some ed reformers and called it a day, passing off the writing to aides.)
Then he goes on to say - finally - that:
The reforms needed in public education involve the entire system, not just teachers. Everyone involved in public education — administrators, principals, school board members, and teachers — is responsible for the system we have today that routinely fails a third to one-half of our children. There is enough failure for everyone to share.
But there is no one word of HOW that accountability will come. Thanks, Tim. And, then he goes on to talk just about teachers. He then says the line that Charlie hates a lot:
Teachers are the single most important factor in a child's education, so discussion about reform often centers on how they are evaluated, rewarded, and recognized.
I agree with Charlie; parents are the single most important factor in a child's education. Decades of education research state this and I believe it is far more likely that researchers have found parents rather than teachers the most important factor.
Hilariously, next to the Burgess piece is a link to an article from the Wall Street Journal entitled, "Needs Improvement: Where Teacher Report Cards Fall Short."
From the article:
One perplexing finding: A large proportion of teachers who rate highly one year fall to the bottom of the charts the next year. For example, in a group of elementary-school math teachers who ranked in the top 20% in five Florida counties early last decade, more than three in five didn't stay in the top quintile the following year, according to a study published last year in the journal Education Finance and Policy.
"Because education tends to have this moral-crusade element…we tend to rush to use things before they are refined or really fully baked," says Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
But even skeptics of test-score-based evaluations acknowledge that a uniform, data-based approach for ranking teachers could be superior to subjective methods—such as principals' observations—that still predominate in schools. "Damn near anything is going to be an improvement on the status quo," says Daniel Willingham, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Virginia.
Sounds like there's some confusion and uncertainty here. But okay, let's try something different but can we make sure first that we do no harm?
These measures don't simply ding teachers for their students' low scores, because not all incoming classes start the year equally. Instead, teachers are evaluated based on how much students' scores improve by the end of their year.
But good teachers aren't easy to identify this way. For one thing,students aren't always assigned to teachers randomly. A teacher who gets more than his share of students who learn slowly because of his knack for helping them might be penalized at the end of the year.