Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Test Cheating Scandal in Atlanta

From AP via Seattle PI online:

Former Atlanta schools Superintendent Beverly Hall knew about cheating allegations on standardized tests but either ignored them or tried to hide them, according to a state investigation.

An 800-page report released Tuesday to The Associated Press by Gov. Nathan Deal's office through an open records request shows several educators reported cheating in their schools. But the report says Hall, who won the national Superintendent of the Year award in 2009, and other administrators ignored those reports and sometimes retaliated against the whistleblowers.

The yearlong investigation shows educators at nearly four dozen Atlanta elementary and middle schools cheated on standardized tests by helping students or changing the answers once exams were handed in.

The investigators also found a "culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation" in the school district over the cheating allegations, which led to educators lying about the cheating or destroying documents to cover it up, according to the report. School officials had "warnings" as early as 2005 that there was cheating on standardized tests, but those signals were ignored, according to the report.

A "culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation"  sounds familiar, right?  Ignoring signals that things are wrong, again very familiar.    

From the report:
"Dr. Hall and her administration emphasized test results and public praise to the exclusion of integrity and ethics," the report states. "Dr. Hall either knew or should have known cheating and other misconduct was occurring in the APS system."
 
Yes and I recall another superintendent who had people working under her who pushed good news rather than investigating misconduct.  

Follow-up?

Deal declined to answer questions about Hall or her role in the cheating scandal. He said the investigation is being forwarded to Fulton, DeKalb and Douglas county prosecutors for possible criminal charges.

All educators in the report also will be referred to the state Professional Standards Commission, which licenses teachers in Georgia, to determine whether they should have their licenses suspended or revoked, Deal said.

Interim Atlanta schools superintendent Erroll Davis said in a news conference later Tuesday that those responsible for the cheating will "not be put in front of children again."

Dr. Hall retired June 30th (run away before you have to face the music).    

FYI, apparently Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is back in town.  She may be here while her husband completes his studies (she was spotted at a gymnastics class with her daughter). 

This leads up to my next thread - Arne Duncan, Congress and the showdown over NCLB. 

54 comments:

Josh Hayes said...

I heard something about this on NPR yesterday. I found it especially amusing when one person expressed shock at the whole thing, saying something like, "Why would they ever do this? Why would anyone artificially inflate test scores?", in a bewildered tone.

Gee, maybe it's because keeping their job requires that they continually bump up test scores? Tying job security to test scores doesn't just incentivize cheating, it guarantees it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

And that's the teachers' motive. What was Superintendent Hall's? Self-promotion.

jack Whelan said...

And at the same time, there's news this week that the NEA has caved on linking teacher performance to the test. That's a move in the right direction: http://www.boston.com/news/education/k_12/articles/2011/07/06/new_nea_teacher_evaluation_policy_in_step_with_mass/?s_campaign=8315

jack Whelan said...

In case it's not obvious, I'm being ironic about the move in the right direction.

Anonymous said...

And the ties to the Broad Academy...

2003 - The Broad Center For Superintendents Hosts Training Academy in Houston, Beverly Hall (Superintendent, Atlanta Public Schools) is listed as a speaker

2007 - The Atlanta School Board attends Broad Academy training

FYI

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
deja vu said...

The New York Times has posted pdfs of the Governor's report. From the report overview:

Failure of leadership was attributed to several factors -

Dr. Hall's insular style and her insulation from the rank-and-file was a major factor. In addition, Dr. Hall and her top managers refused to accept responsibility for anything other than success.

Deputy Superintendent...operated as de-facto second in command. She told us she should not be held responsible for cheating that took place in APS classrooms under her authority.

While this may be an appropriate defense to criminal charges, it is an absurd leadership concept. Dr. Hall and her senior cabinet accepted accolades when those below them performed well, but they wanted none of the burdens of failure.

seattle citizen said...

Broadie through and through (even if she didn't graduate their program) - She countenanced cheating to make "data" appear as if she was helping struggling students achieve, when in fact the cheating cost t he struggling students the individual attention they need to achieve.

From the NY Times, August 7, 2010 (when the cheating was publicized but Superintendent Beverly Hall was still deflecting criticism):

Scandal Haunts Atlanta’s School Chief

…Dr. Hall, who rose through the ranks of New York City school system and is now one of the longest-serving urban superintendents, has spent her career trying to dislodge [skepticism about the ability of urban students to achieve]…
…Dr. Hall is not a stranger to tough situations. In 1995, when she was second-in-command at the New York school system, New Jersey chose her to lead its hostile takeover of Newark schools. Residents marched in protest with placards that read “New York sent us a rotten apple…
…When she came to Atlanta in 1999, she wrestled with a dysfunctional board, closed more than 20 schools and replaced 90 percent of the principals — proof, she said, that she is not afraid to clean house. She has offered blistering criticism to teacher-training schools for failing to keep up with the most effective techniques…"

Charlie Mas said...

deja vu, was that a quote from the governor's report?

"While this may be an appropriate defense to criminal charges, it is an absurd leadership concept. Dr. Hall and her senior cabinet accepted accolades when those below them performed well, but they wanted none of the burdens of failure."

If so, that's one heck of an editorial view for a government report.

deja vu said...

Charlie, it's straight from the Governor's report.

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/packages/pdf/us/Volume-1.pdf

The level of cheating and cover-up is appalling. Inside the report is a glowing article, "Beating the Odds at Atlanta Parks Middle School" which boasts of the amazing turnaround for a school with 94% low income students. The principal is praised for amazing leadership and praised by Hall as a model principal - it turns out the most egregious cheating occurred at Parks and was sanctioned by the principal.

Anonymous said...

At our school, we've noticed a big emphasis on MAP scores. We have a new principal who is ambitious career-wise and wants improved test scores so will see more emphasis on reading and math (and on 5th grade science to get the science MSP number up) next year.

My kids did learned about poetry terms and devices for the MAP, but they didn't actually read or write any poetry. So it's not cheating on the test, but can't hep but feel like the kids got cheated out of learning poetry.

-go figure

seattle citizen said...

"My kids did learned about poetry terms and devices for the MAP, but they didn't actually read or write any poetry."

One of the saddest things I've read in days. This about sums up the direction the Reform movement would like to take us:

"terms and devices" without heart; "data" without context; words without meaning.

Another said...

Our child had a teacher that was deviating from the curriculum (as in not teaching it) about a week before MAP and students were getting out of level or out of sequence worksheets on random topics. The teacher will not be returning next year.

Quizzical said...

I'm curious...is there a proven method for teacher evaluation that doesn't involve assessing students? I'm not a fan of the reform stuff, but I'm also not a fan of the status quo. My daughter just spent a year with a veteran teacher who really shouldn't be in a classroom.

I don't like the use (and misuse) of standardized testing, but the status quo---retention based on union seniority rules, etc.---seems indefensible as well. I realize the status quo is different in different places, but the predominant union position is "we oppose using student performance testing for teacher evaluation", as opposed to "we support using method X for teacher evaluation."

So is there a common evaluation method that anyone can actually get behind? In my profession there is a heavy emphasis on peer norms and peer evaluation; but that model doesn't apply perfectly to classroom instruction. In some other professions the emphasis is on certification; that seems to already have a hold in the education industry...don't know how effective it is.

Charlie Mas said...

Wow! I'm reading the original report from the investigators. It's horrific.

Anonymous said...

Can you say "dysfunctional" spelled wih a y?

This is a continuum--a brand of pressure that puts, at a minimum, crazy pressure on teachers at non-affluent schools (since students at those schools will usually test well) who, in turn pressure students (even unconsiously).

Notice how these mega-scandals almost always erupt at schools with high numbers of students in poverty (the same places where the feds jump in)?

When does a teacher cross the line between pressuring students and erasing answers? Would Bill Gates or Barack Obama (or his, puppet, Arne) put up with this abuse at their childrens' schools?

If teaching were an honored profession, to answer Quizzical, most of this mess would go away through genuine competition for jobs. Look again at Finland.

--that's right, MAP is computerized so they can't erase (but Enfield's MAP lovefest is assuring they are pressuring your kids)

Anonymous said...

Given that Dr. Hall was regarded as an outstanding superintendent prior to this scandal, will the SPS now be calling a "culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation" a Best Practice?

-- Dan Dempsey

StopTFA said...

We need a list of principals and whether they are viewed as pro-reform/standardized testing or anti. I want to be able to track their school's retention and TFA staffing record.

Quizzical said...

Anonymous @ 1:03 PM

I don't understand what "if teaching were an honored profession" means. Does that mean more pay? Does that mean more "honors"? I think you are talking about a cultural shift, or something. Can you be specific?

I lurk on this blog all the time and I see a lot of anti-reform rhetoric---to the point that it seems to be a guilt-by-association game, e.g. 'connect the dots to Broad'---but not a lot of specifics on what a working system might look like or how we could get from here to there.

I don't expect everyone who observes a problem to have a ready-made solution---but maybe someone has useful ways to think about the problem?

For instance, what specific metrics would you use to evaluate whether a school district is doing a "good" job over the course of (let's say) a two-year period? Bonus points if those metrics are resistant to gaming and manipulation.

I'll throw one out there: how about surveying every SPS family every year about how happy they are with SPS? Simple "satisfaction" measures can be a powerful metric to drive change, even though they don't always point to specific problems.

Anonymous said...

Sir Walter Scott could have been watching American School administration:
“Oh what a tangled web we weave, When first we practice to deceive”

This is a continuum--a brand of pressure that puts, at a minimum, crazy pressure on teachers at non-affluent schools

While we know that success for low income schools depends to some extent on a stable teaching staff, Arne D and friends have pushed a system that de facto decreases stability.

I've taught in a great variety of situations. When a teacher has little to no control over instructional practices and materials (due to the curriculum police -- err -- I mean academic coaches etc.) there is little that can be done to produce substantial improvement. Thus cheating should not come as a surprise.

BUT is anyone doing anything about this situation? Arne D is hell bent on proclaiming failing schools. In Seattle the failing schools were Cleveland HS, Hawthorne and West Seattle Elementary schools.

West Seattle Elementary 85.5%
Hawthorne Elementary 84.8%
Cleveland High School 72.5%
(%= free & reduced meal qualified)

The District required teachers to use Everyday Math at the elementary level and Cleveland had the great unmonitored "IMP" 3-year math experiment from the UW ... followed with Discovering.

The system is designed to produce failing schools at low income schools ... (unless teachers and administrators cheat)

===========
Speaking of (possible) Cheating the district never fact checked Bree Dessault's resume when she was hired. Now even after the Ingraham - Floe incident, the district still has not fact checked her resume.

Notre Dame hired George O'Leary as head football coach in 2001. Five days later O'Leary was fired because of falsehoods on his resume.
============

Dr. Enfield is not big on fact checking or accuracy..... this may lead to cheating.

Dr. Enfield failed to certify transcripts of evidence as correct in the appeal of the $800,000 New Tech Network contract. This is now headed to Appeals court.

In fact her attitude has already lead to cheating. Dr. Enfield, in her production of the NTN SB Action Report of 3-12-2010, submitted a document to the court which was not what she claimed it was.

The District is lying in regard to TfA by claiming that TfA Conditionally certified teachers are needed to close the achievement gap. The lie is that "the District claims that no other solutions to closing the achievement gaps are available. Check the language of the WAC. Also note there is no evidence that TfA ever closed achievement gaps in a situation like Seattle. ..... WOW this lying is a pretty common practice.

-- Dan Dempsey

Stu said...

Speaking of (possible) Cheating the district never fact checked Bree Dessault's resume when she was hired. Now even after the Ingraham - Floe incident, the district still has not fact checked her resume.

Dan - Though I really enjoy reading your detailed, and sometimes exhaustive, reports, the above paragraph does lean toward the name-calling charge that, in general, I believe does not apply to your posts. If you know that Dessault lied on her resume, expose the lie. If you don't know something, it makes it more like a witch hunt and is the worst kind of innuendo 'cause it's indefensible.

stu

dan dempsey said...

Stu,

said: If you know that Dessault lied on her resume, expose the lie.

I will get back to you on that.
There is plenty of substance behind my lack of fact checking claim.

No really I will, I will get back to you on that.

I'll be checking with Linh-co.

Stu said...

No really I will, I will get back to you on that

Excellent! 'Cause the only thing more interesting than unsubstantiated dirt is substantiated dirt!

stu

seattle citizen said...

Quizzical writes that "I'm not a fan of the reform stuff, but I'm also not a fan of the status quo"

Q, what do you mean by "status quo"? While you say that some bloggers (mea culpa) always seem to "connect the dots to Broad," your claim that there is some sort of "status quo" is mightily similar to the usual rhetoric we hear from Reformers: "Schools don't change, teachers don't change, we must move from The Status Quo!"

But really, teachers, classrooms, districts...change often, in fact they're rather fluid. The schools of a hundred years ago are not the schools of today; the schools of three decades ago are not, either. Teachers have IDEA to pay attention to(Special ed law), they had the removal of race as an enrollment tiebreaker in the interest of diversity a few years back, they have a new contract that, in fact, uses MAP scores as a signifier to prompt action towards teachers...

When I hear someone say, "status quo," I think they mean, "poor children are failing, can't schools change to address this?" That's what the Reformers usually mean by it. Yet schools have been trying to help poor students succeed for years: The poor used to just scoot right on over the factory floor; now they are expected to stay in school until age 18. (Some don't.)

There are all sorts of problems, yes, in schools and out. Many educators, and many on this blog, work day in and day out to address these problems, it's not as if everybody is sitting around griping.

So what, exactly, is "the status quo" you refer to?

peonypower said...

@Quizzical- a good administrator knows good teaching. I think that one of the huge problems facing education is that principals have been reluctant to hold a poor teacher accountable, and now we have principals with very little teaching experience working as evaluators (and often of subjects where they have little to no knowledge of.) In order to evaluate out a poor teacher a principal has to do additional work and sometimes this work just does not get done. If the role of a principal is to be the instructional leader then they need to be trained and allowed the time to fulfill that role. I also think that peer evaluations could be included as well as feedback from the community. I agree that there needs to be a way to evaluate what teachers are doing and accountability for schools that is better than what we have had, but I don't see that the current system proposed by the state is going to help much. It will only become more tedious and time consuming for principals and will still have the same results.

Personally, nothing irks me more than working with someone I know is not carrying their load when I am working 60 and 70 hour weeks. Of course a teaching career shouldn't require that a teacher sacrifice home and family to their job to be a "good" teacher. The work load is what kills people in this profession and addressing that issue through lower class size and less paperwork would go a long way in "honoring" the profession. You should not have to be a martyr to be a teacher.

I oppose using test scores as a tool because there is no reliable metric for using them, and frankly the best teachers don't teach to the test, and while their students would do well they might not "ace" the test. However, someone who does drill and kill would have great scores. I know which class I would want my child in and which class I would want to teach. In addition using test scores as the metric penalizes teachers who want to work with challenged populations (low income, ELL, sped) when we should be encouraging those teachers. Not to mention the whole potential to game the system or cheat is magnified. Using a simple metric like test scores does little to encourage innovation and creativity in the classroom and that is something we need more of not less.

Charlie Mas said...

Quizzical raised a good point and asked an excellent question.

Long-time readers of this blog have seen well-considered solutions laid out. It must be time for some more of that.

"For instance, what specific metrics would you use to evaluate whether a school district is doing a 'good' job over the course of (let's say) a two-year period?"

A good school district is one that provides good schools, so what is a good school? I would suggest that we cannot rely on MSP pass rates to identify good schools, because the pass rates have such a strong inverse correlation with poverty rates. MSP pass rates tell more about the economic status of the typical neighborhood resident than it tells about the school.

So what, then, does describe the quality of a school? That pretty much brings us back to the question of what a good school is. I would say that there are a few hallmarks of a good school.

1) The students and teachers feel safe in their person and their property. Honestly, this is key. It is the foundation on which everything else is built.

2) The classes - at a minimum - cover the grade level content. Again, this cannot be left out. I'm less concerned about instructional strategies or materials, but at the end of the year the students should have been taught the knowledge and skills that they are supposed to learn. The grade level content is a MINIMUM. It's a floor, not a ceiling. Teachers should not only be free to exceed that minimum, they should be actively encouraged to do so. Teachers should determine the instructional strategies and they should have some choice in materials as well. These are the teachers' tools and I want them to have access to a full range of tools.

3) Principals set a positive culture and act as instructional leaders. Principals should be working closely with teachers and know what they are doing and how they are doing it. They should know which teachers are excelling and how and which teachers are struggling and how and they should be working to support them all.

4) A sense of community. The whole school community - students, family, staff, and neighbors - should feel a sense of community with each other and shared sense of purpose around the school. This is a big part of the culture that the principal needs to foster.

5) Students who are falling behind get the early and effective inventions they need. It may not be the same intervention for every student - I don't see how it could be - but they all get one.

6) Students who are working ahead of the grade level expectations get the challenge they need. In particular, they should be taught the subject matter deeper and broader as well as just further.

7) Finally, since student academic achievement is driven primarily by the student's motivation, a good school takes intentional steps to motivate students and to keep them motivated. Again, the same tactic won't work for every student.

I don't much care how the school manages to differentiate the instruction, but they need to do it. They need to provide the students with the foundational knowledge and skills and they also need to engage their higher cognitive functions.

I believe that assessments for these qualities can be devised and benchmarks can be set. It's not all that hard. It should be reflected in students' academic progress because the mission of the school is to educate students. However it cannot be measured simply by the outcome because so much of that outcome is outside the control of the school.

In truth, I'm just tapping all around this thing with my cane, but I have a good sense that it is somewhere around here and nowhere near where Atlanta was looking for it.

Jan said...

Quizzical: I think peonypower has it mostly right. The only way to continually keep teacher quality "in view" -- in my opinion -- is for principals to be qualified, willing, and able (i.e. -- given the time and the tools) to do this job.

I think that evaluations, feedback, etc. needs to be multifaceted, because teaching is so complex. I would rely on the following:

A. Principal review (but this needs to be tempered especially in middle schools/high schools -- because a principal at those levels is not going to know every subject, every teaching style, etc.)

B. Peer Review: a teacher should be reviewed every year by other teachers, some perhaps selected by the teacher, and some selected at random. They should be a mix of teachers who know the subject matter (i.e. -- other geometry teachers), some who will get those kids next (i.e. -- teachers at the "next" level -- precalc, whatever), and some who know the kids or the school (and can best speak to classroom management, behavioral issues with specific kids, etc.).

C. Kid and parent review. These are tricky, because some kids will downgrade good, but hard, teachers who have given them bad grades, some just don't care, some don't click with a particular teachers' style, etc. But if you wade through enough, you will find kids genuinely appreciative of good teaching -- and you will get "some" useful information. Same with parents. Some may criticize a teacher for giving lots of homework; others may love it. Some will appreciate a late work/make up policy that accomodates an ADD kid -- others will hate it and want teachers who make their kids toe the line -- because that is what the real world is like.

Frankly, I am not sure whether, or how, test scores fit in here anywhere -- because to be valid, you have to be testing the same kids over a time period, and you have to be able to filter out things that invalidate the test (kids taking Kumon, kids missing tons of school for illness, special ed kids doing work in resource rooms, etc.). I think that tests are mostly valuable for letting schools know, on an aggregate basis, about where their kids generally rank vis a vis other aggregated groups of kids -- so they can respond generally.

The sad thing is -- the District and the SEA were moving towards a system that would have more in it than just "seniority and I didn't commit a crime" to it. But it was derailed last summer in the contract negotiations.

Jan said...

Quizzical: For example, I think it is valuable at WSE to know whether 80 percent of the kids read below grade level, and that 20 percent read more than 2 years below (I am making up these "facts" to illustrate). That way, you choose literature, and gear class time, to reinforce reading/comprehension/fluency skills. BUT -- if there are 4 kids in my class who read a year above grade level -- I need to know that too -- so I can give them books to read, and work to do, that meets their level. Same with math and other stuff.

But I am not sure whether kids make X amount of progress on a MAP test tells me even whether the kids are learning -- much less whether the teachers are teaching better than whoever you might hire to replace them (which is the crux of teacher firing/retention).

Anonymous said...

I think Quizzical described a personal status quo she can't support -- a veteran teacher for her own daughter who shouldn't be in the classroom.

My answer is that I do believe in teacher review -- by peers, with an opportunity to change. This review should be comprehensive, though, and not as simple as "someone says that I'm a bad teacher."

Comprehensive review is expensive. In order to do it we need to fund teacher time to review other teachers (in addition to teaching). It would be a real and significant expense though, and one I think we've been unwilling to pay. Is it worth it to pay? My guess is, often not; often the teachers are doing a satisfactory job. If we had reason to believe they weren't? Well, there should be review, and we should fund it.

And, what does "honor" teachers mean? Well, it doesn't just mean more pay (though I think more pay would be a good thing). It means respecting their opinions as professionals. I've talked to a few teachers recently and have come to realize how little they expect their views to be respected -- so little that they tread very very gingerly in any interaction with a parent. In general, many seem to have learned that there's no gain to telling parents that their children are not doing well in any way, and that the best approach is to be silent, because the reaction to their professional feedback is usually to blame the messenger.

(zb)

Linh-Co said...

I don't know anything about the accuracy of Ms. Dusseault's resume. I do know that there were claims on her resume of students' test scores improving by 43% in math and English at the New Orleans school she was principal.

We asked Dr. Enfield for the data behind those numbers - which tests, if there were pre- and post- tests given. She didn't know. When we asked if anyone fact checked the resume, Dr. Enfield told us she didn't have the man power in central office to do that. She said they don't fact check resumes.

Anonymous said...

My kids did learned about poetry terms and devices for the MAP, but they didn't actually read or write any poetry.

Better cheating on a stupid test... (and getting to do read and write poetry)... than learning nothing at all. This isn't a tragedy. It's a big so-what? What did anybody expect? We set up a system that incents the wrong things. Let's not cry when it happens. Move on.

-parent

Anonymous said...

And, what does "honor" teachers mean? Well, it doesn't just mean more pay (though I think more pay would be a good thing).
Really? More pay? Why more pay? Aren't we finding good ones at the current rates? If so, we don't need to pay more.

Here's what SPS teachers are making, or were making last year. Not too shabby. I find mine to be making close to $90 grand, for 10 months work. And, another $20+ grand in benefits (not counting insurance).

No, they aren't getting rich. But really. Enough is enough. And I truly value my teachers, the good ones. But, there are also many duds, also costing more than $100 grand per year. We take the good with the bad.

-parent

Anonymous said...

Quizzical said...

I'm curious...is there a proven method for teacher evaluation that doesn't involve assessing students? I'm not a fan of the reform stuff, but I'm also not a fan of the status quo. My daughter just spent a year with a veteran teacher who really shouldn't be in a classroom.


If your daughter's teacher truly has nothing to offer any child (and some teachers work well for some kids but not others) and should not be teaching, then your daughter's principal is not doing his/her job either.

I hope you spoke to the principal about your concerns.

As for the 'status quo,' right now it's NCLB/Race to the Top, hyper-punitive, test-obsessed 'ed reform', and I'm not a fan of that 'status quo' either. It leads to the mess that has happened in Atlanta.

(Why I Am Not A Defender Of The 'Status Quo' In Education: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sue-peters/why-i-am-not-a-defender-o_b_816547.html)

-- Sue P.

Patrick said...

"They told us to raise the test scores; we raised the test scores."

dan dempsey said...

Stu,

I need to get some sleep. Here is Brianna Dusseault's resume:

http://www.school-truth.com/Dusseault_Resume.pdf

I'll post some things that I feel need further examination ....
When administrators are making $100,000+ and making decisions that have huge impacts on schools ... Enfield's procedure of NO fact checking is absurd. The SPS was spending 9+% of budget on central admin ... but could not be bothered with fact checking.... Notre Dame and the NY Times found out the importance of fact checking after the fact.... The SPS just does not care.
=====

Charlie Mas and Dorothy Neville were in great form at the meeting tonight. Dorothy was in testimony slot 16 and Charlie shortly thereafter.

Anonymous said...

I hope you spoke to the principal about your concerns.



Oh please. Has a principal ever done anything about that? I guess I have heard that principals really provide
"instructional leadership", and weed out duds, but I've never seen it, or anything close. Pointing out that there are indeed duds isn't demonizing. What would be the upside in complaining? Then your child would be stuck in the poor teacher's classroom. The teacher probably will have been informed that some ingrate parent complained (you) complained; your kid will then be held hostage in the classroom, and absolutely nothing will happen. Because, well, there's very little that a principal can really do... short of gross negligence on the part of teachers. And then there's is the principal issue. What if the principal is also not so hot? (which many are). Not to mention the fact that principals are constantly in transition. It's pretty hard for them to fire somebody, when they're only in their jobs a year or two. Now what?

-been there done that

Anonymous said...

To: been there,

But it's a principal's job to oversee
such matters. If s/he doesn't address parent concerns and doesn't check in on her/his teaching staff to see if they need support or are problematic, then s/he's not doing his/her job.

Yes I have heard of principals intervening when there are complaints about a teacher. I've also heard of principals who didn't.

Yet principals are noticeably absent from the national discussions about teacher evaluations, seniority, etc. and I have long wondered why. The ed reformers seem intent on solely blaming unions for any weak teaching that isn't addressed.

I suspect there is something else at play here. Principals can be useful tools to the top-down management types and superintendents who want to put pressure on teachers (especially veteran, experienced ones) or weaken their union.

For example, the latest PASS (principal's union) contract
(www.seattleschools.org/area/board/10-11agendas/.../passcontract.pdf)
offers principals a "Student Achievement" bonus of as much as $10,000 annually based on "demonstrated growth in student achievement" -- ie. if test scores in their school go up. That in turn ties everything to standardized test scores and likely leads to principals putting pressure on teachers to raise them; putting pressure on teachers -- even the best ones -- to teach to the test and abandon any creativity. This is an example of principals pressuring teachers for all the wrong reasons and with the wrong outcomes.

I heard one principal refer to the new PASS contract as a "deal with the devil."

Which brings us back to Atlanta...

--Sue P.

someone said...

Interesting quote from Gates Foundation today on this story:

The most generous among of APS’ donors, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, set the tone Wednesday when it said it continues to support APS and the work it funds.

“The work we fund is making a difference for teachers and their students, and while we take this situation seriously, it shouldn’t prevent the district from doing what’s best for students,” said Christopher Williams, the foundation’s press secretary.

full story here: APS braces for fallout"

Anonymous said...

Back to poetry and testing. Why can't we have a marriage of the 2. If you are going to teach kids poetic devices and terms, then what's the harm of having the kids write out a few limericks, haiku, blank verse, rhyming verse, etc. My boys love the word omnotopoeia. They think if all english words were such, they can ace word definition. They enjoy making up "dirty limericks" which consist of finding as many rhyming words to "poo" and "fart" as 8 and 10 yo boys can.

I am not against testing, just wish it would measure something meaningful such as acutal learning. I don't know why we don't see more poetry writing in ES. Is it against writer's workshop? I can't imagine a more fun way for kids to play with words, to count them, to make every word count with meaning and wit.

-still trying to figure it out

Lori said...

"I don't know why we don't see more poetry writing in ES. Is it against writer's workshop? "

For whatever it's worth, my child finished this past year (2nd grade) with a poetry unit in Writer's Workshop. She wrote some amazing poetry that I didn't see until end of the year stuff came home. So it's not verboten in WW. I can't speak to whether or not she was also taught various poetry related terms and devices though. I didn't ask, but I will later after camp today.

Quizzical said...

To answer a few questions that came up:

- I used "status quo" as shorthand for a teacher placement/evaluation system driven primarily by union seniority rules. I concede that I may be accepting a slanted take on the matter, and that by now there are other forces at work in many districts that might be called the "status quo." However, whether you call it "status quo" or something else, union-driven decision-making is real and I have seen it in this district (more below). I saw "Waiting for Superman" and while the lionizing of Rhee et al is patently ridiculous, the "rubber room" stuff makes me want to vomit.

- Without going into too much detail...did the principal intervene? Yes, and after several months was able to get the teacher out of the classroom. I have been told several interesting facts, however:
1) as a result of last year's contract negotiations with SEA, the principal no longer has the ability to select candidates for teaching positions, and instead has to accept whichever teacher is at the top of the list, which is driven by union seniority rules.
2) this teacher was not effective and was not improving under direct supervision by the principal---the teacher is a nice person but out of their depth despite over a decade of experience.
3) when the teacher was removed, the union stepped in and negotiated a settlement that had any trace of poor performance removed from the teacher's record, on the condition that the teacher not work in the district again. Yes, that's right, the union ensured that the district passed the lemon out of the district entirely.
4) this principal has engendered some serious ill will with the teaching staff; I don't know whether the above actions are the reason, or if other things the principal did are to blame.
5) the teacher's take on the matter is that they were crucified by an uncaring administrator who was obsessed with compliance.

So, a sordid tale. Does the teacher's union look like part of the problem? Absolutely. Would standardized test scores help identify this teacher's performance problem? No way. Was the principal part of the solution? Yes.

Just to be clear, I'm not an anti-union person, and I'm not even really an anti-teacher's-union person. But most of the time I see the SEA on the wrong side of the problem, which is pretty sad.

Anonymous said...

Related to bringing issues to the Principal's attention -

We've had both experiences, one principal that was loathe to do anything and going to the District supervisor was also useless, and another where the principal did intervene on our behalf to force some changes in the classroom.

They were both difficult years...but it makes a world of difference when you know the principal doesn't outright dismiss parental concerns.

What surprised us in both situations is that several parents had similar concerns, but would not come forward with their complaints.

been there x2

Anonymous said...

There are real ways to measure teacher performance and bring ones who are performing poorly for review and support, and if they do not improve, fired. Check out the NYT's article below. The Montgomery Co. school district has a Peer Assistance Review program to do just this. It is made up of teachers and principals. It works and is well respected by teachers and administrators. Unfortunately due to RTT, this program may be on its way out because it does not use standardized testing as the end all, be all approach.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/06/education/06oneducation.html

-there are good solutions out there

Looking Forward said...

I wonder if the Atlanta School District had a SPS Teacher Incentive Fund driving their culture. Seems like the program manager De Barros is heading SPS in the same change, change through fear. The coaches they have hired should know better, they are former teachers, but their peers no longer respect them. Ms. De Barros has never taught in the classroom, worked with a large number of student, if she had then she might understand where this is going, Atlanta here we come.

Patrick said...

Honoring teachers is not just money. It's not micromanaging them. It's not expecting them to teach 30+ kids who range from 3 years behind grade to 3 years above with different special needs.

I didn't happen to see any teachers in that list making $90k plus benefits. While I believe you, I think it's very unusual. But why shouldn't they? Highly skilled people with masters' degrees often make that much. Why should the best graduates of 4-year colleges, who could go into most any profession, have to take a pay cut in order to go into teaching?

Anonymous said...

I know an SPS teacher who recently left and took a 20K paycut to teach somewhere other than Seattle.

This teacher was considered exceptional by all measures (including MAP!).

What drove this teacher out of Seattle? The horrible treatment of teachers, pure and simple--class sizes, lack of money going into schools, micromanagement by coaches and others who were not good teachers themselves, insulting pseudo-engagements like Soup with the Supe, a curriculum that has been proven to cause disproportionality to increase, and the continual negative attitude toward "veteran teachers"
(which, in many cases, in undisguised ageism).

Other places value experience and, if a teacher is poor, do not preface it "that burnout veteran teacher." A lot of yuppies in Seattle (as smart as you are) have been really, really brainwashed.

--the grass is greener on the other side

Anonymous said...

RE: Principals intervening...

Careful. I know one principal who tried to push a teacher put of the school. When that didn't work, she manipulated the parents into attacking the teacher. Which forced the teacher out using "parental complaints".

-JC.

Quizzical said...

So one concrete, actionable item that has emerged from responses to my original question: a peer review process for teachers. Most of the other stuff is just too easy to pay lip service too.

So, teacher peer reviews...I like it, sounds like something I've experienced as an effective approach. Why don't we have it in Seattle? Why isn't anyone agitating for that here with the same passion as all the anti-TFA heckling?

I'm sure to some of you the idea that teacher evaluation is really important smacks of a crypto-reformist agenda...but I've seen what happens when teacher quality breaks down. At that point the Silas Potters and Eli Broads of the world don't really matter.

Also, Jan made reference to improvements getting scuttled in last year's negotiations---what the heck happened?

Anonymous said...

Sue P,

Principals, whatever their job role may be, are accountable to no one. They are NEVER fired, though they may be exited only with huge golden parachutes and it happens rarely. Michael DeBell discussed this at some of his community meetings, along with the fact that they are virtually protected from accountablility by state law. Sure, maybe it would be great to open some sort of national dialogue about it. The only way they ever really could have more influence would be if they could actually get rid of teachers and/or influence compensation. A "review" from a principal, without any teeth, doesn't matter much to most professionals. It wouldn't to me.


But the idea, you posited, that you can just go complain to the principal, and the problem teacher will be fixed... well, it's absurd. In point of fact, the principals rarely in the same school for long enough to have much impact, and isn't there long enough to know whether or not to believe the parent. From the parent's perspective, there's just a lot of risk and downside to complaining, even though it might occassionally work.

--BTDT

seattle citizen said...

Quizzical,
I'm not sure what Jan was referring to in reference to "improvements [to the teacher's contract] being scuttled..." but I know that the district and the union had been working for two years to develop a more meaty evaluation, thought they had come to terms, and then, in July 2010, right before final bargaining, the ex-supe MGJ dropped a bombshell on the whole thing, demanding a new thing called "SERVE," which was basically the Reform platform of "test scores, test scores, test scores" for evaluation, along with a mightily Reformish merit pay system, etc etc.
Everyone was stunned. She waited 'til the last minute and "served" rank and file with notice.
She lost most of the proposal, it was just out outlandish.
Meanwhile, the two-year discussions (collaborations) between union and district came up with the new evaluation in play now, which uses the Danielson model of four domains: If a teacher is evaluated poorly in an area of the domain, it affects the domain "score"; if a teacher gets a series of negative evals in the domains, they are subject to remediation, propation, and ouster.
Test scores, under this model (if they ever figure out how to use them) would serve as a signal that a teacher was "not doing well," or whatever, and would likewise signal increased attention, remediation, etc. (The problem with the test score piece is that it requires two or more district wide tests, which makes sense for triangulation, but many students don't take two district-wide tests each year - they might take MAP maybe HSPE, but HSPE stops at grade ten, MAP stops at nine, etc etc. That and many teachers teach subjects that are not math or reading. NO test tests civics, art, history...you know, the REST of the course offerings?

The SERVE proposal was just more Reform crap. District and union had already agreed to introduce limited use of test scores, to see who they might work (or not), had decided on the Danielson framework, which, while complicated and rather loosely worded, is a good start towards deepening evalution. But MGJ just couln't wait, she had a Reform agenda to enact, so she shoved the negotiation team aside and demanded the whole Reform evaluation package. Teachers were upset, community stakeholders were aghast, it was a bad thing that further eroded trust in her management.

seattle citizen said...

Here's a link to a Daily Kos piece on SERVE, which might shed more light on it. I couldn't find the dsicussions we had on it on this blog, but look in late July of 2010.

Anonymous said...

BTDT--

Enfield fired the principal of Ingraham (Martin Floe) a few months ago, apparently at the behest of her Executive Director Bree Dusseault -- both of whom are Floe's bosses. (Though Enfield reversed that decision.)

And principals are getting fired all over the country in the name of 'ed reform.'

So yes, principals can be fired.

Principals do have to answer to the supt. and here in Seattle, to the exec. directors.

Having said that, I feel there are too many examples of problematic principals being shuffled around from one school to another, or sucked back into central admin and given some kind of desk job -- at a principal's salary -- only to be, years later, dusted off and sent out to 'lead' another school.

This highlights another problem: SPS leadership (supt for example) passing the buck when it comes to dealing with weak principals.

DeBell also spoke about this problem at his meetings about a year ago. He said that Goodloe-Johnson was purposely assigning problematic principals to strong school communities with the goal of having those communities complain, document the problems, and have the principals fired or resign.

A "review" from a principal, without any teeth, doesn't matter much to most professionals. It wouldn't to me.

I dunno about this. I can think of at least one SPS principal this past year who pressured teachers so much (including some of the school's best teachers) that an unprecedented number of them left the school this year. I think a principal on the warpath, especially if s/he has support from the supt., can indeed matter to teachers, and can create an atmosphere of hostility in a school. (This, of course, is the other extreme, and not a desirable example.)

But the idea, you posited, that you can just go complain to the principal, and the problem teacher will be fixed... well, it's absurd.

Nope, I never said anything would be fixed. I said that if parents simply stew and don't take their concerns to the principal -- or the teacher if at all possible -- then they can't complain about nothing being done (if they themselves are doing nothing).

In point of fact, the principals rarely in the same school for long enough to have much impact, and isn't there long enough to know whether or not to believe the parent.

Not always true. I can think of a couple examples of principals who have been at their schools for 7-12 years. This 'musical principals' trend we've seen in SPS these past few years is a relatively new one, I believe (and part of an intentional destabilization, I think).

From the parent's perspective, there's just a lot of risk and downside to complaining, even though it might occassionally work.

You may be right about this. But I suspect it's not easy for a principal to confront a teacher, who in theory is a colleague, and tell her/him she's not up to snuff. So it seems that not that many principals do it, even though it's their job to support and maintain a strong teaching staff.

My overall point is that blaming the teacher's union for the existence of weak teachers is too simplistic. Doing something about such teachers is more complicated, and I feel the ball is being dropped by various people along the chain of command.

I also believe that the incidence of 'bad teachers' is being overstated by the ed reformers. But that may be a topic for another discussion.

-- Sue P.

Anonymous said...

Uhhh. No, Ensfield didn't fire Floe. He's still there. Notice how hard it is to fire somebody. Notice that when accountability is indeed attempted, rats come out of a sinking ship to "defend" their man. In this case it was the community. Despite all evidence to the contrary, they defend him. (And there were probably many issues we don't even know about.) OK. Maybe he was good. Maybe not. Maybe he was dealt a challenging hand. The fact remains, he didn't get fired. And firing him (good or bad) would have been a huge, lengthy legal battle with an unknown outcome. My guess, he would have prevailed. Just as most teachers, incompetent or not, prevail. Because they are part of a cadre that protects its own. Had the district won, there would have then been a giant golden parachute for him. My experience is around 30% of teachers are not that great, and we wish we didn't have them. And, they run to the union at every opportunity. This isn't to say they don't deserve a union, they do. But, unions don't represent families or promote good teaching. They protect their members as their primary mission.

PS. DeBell is still saying those things about principals in general... you can't get rid of them. Go to any community meeting.

-BTDT

Seattlite said...

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/06/education/06oneducation.html

I recommend this article about the teacher evaluation system used by Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland.