Friday, November 18, 2011

Teachers and Process

From one reader about exiting poorly performing teachers:

What is "the process" and how can parents provide support and documentation? How does a parent know if the process is underway? What timeframe does it involve? What constitutes a "bad" teacher according to the District? 

All good questions.  I don't know the whole process.  It is likely detailed in the teachers' contract. 

What I do know is that the first step is to go to the principal and ask.  He or she should be able to tell you what you, as a parent, need to do and what next steps are.  If he or she is unwilling to do so, document your outreach and go to the Executive Director (and, of course, cc the principal).  

I believe the timeframe is at least 6 months to a year (unless there is gross negligence or abuse) because if the principal believes the action is warranted (again, is this based on the number of parent complaints?  I'm not sure), he has to sit down with the teacher and a union rep and provide a plan of action for the teacher to make corrections.  Then the teacher has a certain amount of time to make good on the plan and then otherwise, more steps. 

Maybe someone who is a teacher or a union rep could let us know.


Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Sounds like the paper trail is treated with more importance than the content of that paper trail. Perhaps that's the beginning of the "too hard to fire bad teachers" problem right there. Form over substance. Fairly common. WSDWG

Anonymous said...

I have seen terrible teachers put on plans of improvement who actually did improve and become competent. If you were to keep in mind teacher training: pre-service/ student teaching (master teachers, until recently in only some programs, have left the room for student teachers to go it alone), and MAYBE a mentor for a year after getting hired (alone in the room except for maybe a day or so a month where someone might sit in one class one day), it shouldn't come as a surprise that for some who enter the profession the limited amount of on the job training isn't enough. For the most part, we are left to "figure it out" with limited, if any, unsolicited help.
When I worked at McDonald's as a teenager, I had more supervision and more training on how to flip burgers, work a register, deal with customers, make biscuits, and mop a floor than I did as a teacher. It has only been through my own initiative that I received any additional professional development, and only through my own initiative that I brought the professional development to the rest of my department. (I got tired of fixing the outcomes of bad teaching.)
Not only did McDonald’s provide me with more training, but they also provided me with the time during my regular workweek to do it. This time was paid, of course, at my regular hourly wage. The benefit of receiving the training during my regular work schedule is “good teaching” if you think about it. Train me to do what I need to do then send me out, right away, to do it. Why train me to flip burgers three months before I actually need the information? What job would do that? It just seems impractical and inefficient- a waste of potentially productive time. Not only from a business standpoint is would this be a ridiculous practice, but it seems equally as unreasonable from an employee standpoint as well. If McDonald’s had required me to pay for my own training on how to flip their burgers on my own time, I would have laughed in my manager’s face and quit. Nevertheless, every summer, that is exactly what is asked and expected of teachers. Since our contracts are annualized based on 180 days or so depending on the State and/or district’s budget that means the summers are not included in our annual salary (which bring up another entirely outlandish practice where someone keeps the money we earn in their own bank account to earn interest on it for ten months before doling it out to us during the summer minus the interest earned , of course- they keep that for themselves).
Reading this blog, I often see complaints and outrage expressed by parents and members of the community when teachers ask for or are given time during their workweek, during the school year to improve their practice. I would be willing to bet that the same voices are the ones who also complain about bad teachers and aren’t willing to support the idea that the better solution, the more fair solution might be to provide support in the form of a Personal Improvement Plan. I would have to ask those voices, if our circumstances were yours, what would you see as reasonable? Not everyone has the “gift” of being naturally good at the job of teaching. Some people do need to work for it.
That is not to say that there isn't bad teaching that just can't be fixed. Some people go into the profession for the wrong reasons. These people often times don't want to change and need to go. However, if the laborious process of documentation and support that is the Personal Improvement Plan actually helps someone become a better teacher, then shouldn't it be used? Isn’t it only fair?
Believe me, as a mom, if my kid has a teacher who "obviously needs to go" it is hard to have patience for the process to work. It is only as a professional that I can remember to have compassion for those who need to "work on it."

-Human being

Dorothy Neville said...

Maybe the Alliance will have the answer. Under their Investments Tab, under Teacher Effectiveness, they say, "We are also in the preliminary stages of building a new teacher preparation program based on the medical residency model."


As to dealing with a bad teacher, I would say the most important element of the documenting and moving forward is to absolutely make it clear that the issue is competence with objective measures. WAY too much of the time is a "teacher issue" considered to be a personality conflict between the parent and teacher and in that case the principal and ED director always support the teacher. Also, other parents may simply find the teacher wonderful, so your legitimate frustrations fall on deaf ears.

The issues I have had with my son's teachers have been about competence and performance, and even there, other parents disagree. Their kids appear happy, so they don't care. Or they are also irked by the losing of homework and the obscure rubric but it isn't a battle they care to fight, probably because their own child isn't hugely affected.

And if it comes to a teacher with poor arithmetic skills or grammar skills actively teaching the students incorrectly, be prepared to document, document document. Speak of your concern for kids' performance on state tests, speak of how this behavior increases the achievement gap.

Anonymous said...
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Former Teacher, Now Administrator said...

I am an administrator in a neighboring district who is new to my building this year. I used to be a teacher in Seattle, so I'm familiar with the process there as well. While the specifics between districts will be slightly different, the overall process remains the same.

I have a teacher who has serious performance problems. Here is the road I am now required to go down with that individual:

I have done two formal classroom observations already this year and both have been horrible. I will be doing a third formal observation after Thanksgiving. If that observation also goes poorly, I will meet with HR to craft a plan of improvement. My goal with this part of the process is to wake the person up and get them to start making the necessary improvements to demonstrate a satisfactory performance level in the classroom.

If, by the end of this year, that teacher has not shown enough (or any) improvement, they will receive an "unsatisfactory" review. Barring any major professional misconduct, I will have to open next year with that teacher still in one of my classrooms.

If we are still on this road at that point, the teacher will open next year on a probation plan. If they still have not shown improvement by mid-year, the focus of the plan will shift from an improvement plan to an exit plan.

What will probably happen at that point, if we're still on that road, is that the individual's lawyer (they always lawyer up by this point) will negotiate a settlement with the district so that if they resign, they whole thing goes away and they can start applying for jobs in other districts without the black mark on their application of having been terminated.

On the one hand, it kills me that it takes two years of hard work and documenting like a madman to evaluate out someone who is doing damage to kids. On the other hand, I can appreciate that the process protects teachers who are actually competent from the whims of a rotten principal who does not like them. I understand and accept that the process has to be set up so that everyone's rights are protected and justice is done in the end. I just don't have to be happy that it sucks up so much of my time and effort.

Given what it takes, and the level of unpleasantness that one must be willing to endure to get through the process, I can see why some cowardly administrators chicken out and don't do what is necessary.

Then I look at what is going on in one particular classroom in my building and I see why I have no choice but to steel myself for the task and do it.

Anonymous said...

Former teacher, thank you for your post and for continuing to steel yourself. My children were in a building where the conflict-avoiding principal refused to do what you are doing. Thus, an incompetent teacher hung on year after year, essentially wasting an entire academic year for the children in her class.

However, I am infuriated that it generally takes two years to remove an ineffective teacher. My kids, your kids, the kids in that school do not have two or more years to give. They get one shot at first grade, for instance. And since reading and writing build on what they have learned in first grade, they may be damaged by that year with that ineffective teacher. This is particularly the case with students who will already come to the schoolhouse door with deficits and need to catch up with their grade level peers. Another example: on the high school level, the poor algebra teacher my child had meant that all the kids in her class had a weak foundation for future work. In that class you had to teach yourself and if you couldn’t, well too bad for you.

I am willing to give an employee – be it teacher or administrator – a personal improvement time frame that lasts 90 days. You get 3 months to work on things and to show not just effort, but improvement in your teaching practice. But that’s about it, because my kid actually needs to learn algebra this year. How about the rest of you?


Melissa Westbrook said...

I don't think there is a process for expressing concern. I think you can tell a principal - in an appropriate setting, not the school hallway - and then follow-up with a letter and/or e-mail cc'd to the Executive Director.

That said, a formal letter of complaint will NOT go into a teacher's file unless the principal deems it true. So you could have 10 letters from 10 parents and none of it would be reflected in the teachers file. That said, if you all have e-mails and go to the Executive Director, it would be hard for them to continue to ignore the warning signs.

I can also say that in the case at Roosevelt, other teachers had noticed the issues and spoken to the principal. However you have no way of knowing if that is happening as no one would ever tell you that.
I learned of it after the fact.

And yes, teachers can absolutely improve and have. Sometimes people need a nudge, a plan, some guidance and they get right back on track.

Thank you Former Teacher/Adm for that input.

Kate Martin said...

I'm not sure how basic competency weighs in with teacher evals. At Roosevelt, the teacher I dealt with could not teach the subject. If a proficiency test had been a piece of the puzzle, the teacher would have failed the test. He put movies on to get through class time. Other teachers went to the principal from time to time and asked him to stand outside that classroom to hear the ridiculousness of what was going on in there. This teacher had performed exactly this way at Sealth before Roosevelt. Meanwhile, about 1,500 students were victimized in this teacher's classroom over 10 years and 2 PIPs. A simple proficiency exam would have helped quite a bit. You can't do math therefore you can't teach math. I realize that there are plenty of elementary teachers who can't do math, but slide by. As you move from elementary to middle school and high school, the problem becomes more extreme. About half of the drop outs in my circle were victimized by this teacher and never caught up. Is there any problem with the concept of a proficiency exam for math and science teachers? It seems pretty basic to me.

Jack Whelan said...

I wonder if there are any hard numbers out there about what percentage of underperforming teachers fall into the "you've-chosen-the-wrong-career" category, and how many fall into the "didn't-get-good-training-and-mentorship" category.

I like the "medical residency" model Dorothy refers to. Why not have a system, for instance, in which every teacher works as an IA with an experienced teacher for a year? S/he watches someone do it for a few months, and then is given opportunities to do it herself with concrete feedback from the observing teacher.

How about instead of Teach for America, someone start "Instructional Assistants for America." Let students with a Bachelors get their feet wet in a system like this before they go on for their masters. How many teachers out there pay a ton of money for their MA and then find out they really don't like teaching or aren't much good at it?

But here's the thing, assuming you have an underperforming teacher who fits into the second category--needs help, but doesn't deserve to be fired--what's the best way to get him or her help? An improvement plan by an administrator is not help. It's just a list of demands.

And the process, long and cumbersome though it might be, can still be used unfairly. Ask John Cummings, the fired special ed teacher who ran in the primary against Peter Maier. His main objective in his campaign was to draw attention to the unfairness of this process.

Most underperforming teachers need mentoring, not punishing--and they get that from other teachers, not principals. The current process is not set up to deliver that help very effectively, and if we're serious about improving teacher instruction, we've got to rethink that process.

Anonymous said...

I've seen teachers outed in less than a year in Seattle, despite endless positive feedback from parents and students (and the non-supervisory vp).
The process is as Former teacher said, a lot of observation, conferences, and hoop jumping on both sides.
On the surface there was a lot of available support for the struggling teacher, but realistically the amount of work demanded of them to 'turn it around' was more than I did as a grad student, while they were expected to maintain their current position. Despite marked improvements that were noted by district, union, and outside observers, the teacher was still let go.

It's not always that hard to do. It's just a question of doing it.

If there's a teacher who is unreasonably bad: unsafe, bad information, etc. It's worth a call to a principal.
However, realize that a lot of things in the classroom are teacher built. The rubric you don't understand? Maybe it's a first draft and gets dealt with in the classroom. Call the teacher and ask for clarification. Maybe they've already changed it for next year, and tweaked how they've used it to score this year, without having to (find the paper, and the functioning machine, and the time in order to) re print. Some teachers deliberately give out type-os in worksheets so kids pay attention (there's points or a reward for finding them). If that's a concern, again, talk to the teacher.
If you get a feeling that they have no idea what they are doing, find out why (in my first three years I was at 3 schools; with 3 age groups; 3 different socio-economic populations; 7 different curriculums I was supposed to teach, 3 of which I had to write myself as there was nothing in place; no supplies available; and varying support from colleagues).
If you make honest inquiry and are not treated to reasonable responses, then go to the principal. But don't throw a teacher under a bus because you see a limited perspective. It takes time and stability to be good at any job, and the current climate leaves little of either to even veteran teachers.

no longer in Seattle

CT said...

Removing an incompetent teacher doesn't have to take that long. In my building, we ended up with a surplus person who was terrible, but the previous principal had done nothing about it - just passed her along. My principal refused to do so. She had an observation within the 2nd week of school, documented the issues, put her on a plan of improvement, enlisted the union's support on the plan of improvement and got a mentor from them for her. The union president, mentor, and principal met a couple of times without the teacher, and a couple of times with the teacher to discuss progress. At least 2 more observations were made by the prinicipal, and another couple by the mentor. The teacher was resistant to improving, would not listen to the mentor, and was gone by November. She may have lawyered up, but the process was followed, the union was fully involved in all steps - including selecting the mentor - and she had no other recourse but to resign or be fired.
On the other hand, we got another teacher who was rumored to be awful, but turned out to be fabulous. She'd been an 8th grade teacher who'd been bumped and ended up in 1st grade - bit of a shaft there. The principal in her building disliked her - probably because she asks a lot of questions - and targeted her unmercifully, but didn't really follow process, probably because he knew she wasn't as bad as he made her out to be. We got her the next year in 4th grade and were dreading working with someone who sounded so horrible and incompetent. Parents had also hears the stories and were already upset about class placements. Boy were we wrong, and she had us scrambling to keep up with her. 4th grade was a much better fit for someone who taught 8th before, and within a couple of weeks, we all realized that all of the stories we'd heard were either untrue or exaggerated. I think my principal even said something along those lines at a principal's meeting, or at least rumor says so.

Our system also needs to improve its student teaching mechanisms as well as how "master teachers" are selected. I've seen some people chosen to have student teachers who should never be chosen. I've seen some students have terrible supervisors, leaving the student teachers to sink nor swim in untenable positions. I see many principals who are not supportive of either student teachers or new teachers. There are many areas to improve.

Anonymous said...

There are proficiency exams for adding endorsements and teachers certified before a certain date (I don't know when the original date was, early 90's I believe). However, the way that NCLB has twisted things, there are paths to being "highly qualified" that are utterly ludicrous and were designed more for schools to be in compliance on paper than for students to receive quality instruction. It is entirely likely that the teacher you reference was qualified through some paperwork weirdness, and placed in their current position. As math is notoriously hard to fill, many teachers get stuck with one or two math classes, which then solidifies the assumption they can teach math, and end up with full time math placement.

There's also the possibility that they are better at math than teaching, as so often happens with math and sciences. Many people who just 'get' math can't break it down for those who don't, for them it's like explaining how to breathe.

No longer in seattle

Anonymous said...

Ok, that first sentence is terrible. I wish this had an edit function.

Currently, anyone entering a teaching program takes a proficiency exam. There are endorsements the state considers linked-math and science, english and social studies- that require can require as little as passing a test and one teacher observation by an accredited college. Teachers certified before the start of the exams have other ways to get endorsements, which may or may not include testing. The NCLB means to endorsements are generally for those who have the old certifications.

No longer in Seattle

Anonymous said...

I found the OEO to be extremely helpful when I had concerns regarding a teacher. The steps outlined below are taken from their website:

Steps to Resolve Conflict with Schools
Many conflicts can be solved with only the first step listed below. Try that, and if you’re not satisfied, keep trying as many more steps as you need. For help along the way, contact the Office of the Education Ombudsman.

1. Speak to the school staff member you are in conflict with. If you are uncomfortable alone or speaking up is not part of your culture, you may bring an advocate or a family member. If English is not your first language, request that the school provide an interpreter.

2. Speak with that school staff member’s supervisor or the school principal.

3. Speak with the principal’s supervisor at the school district main office. In a small district, the principal may report to the Superintendent. In a large school district, the supervisor might be the Assistant Superintendent, the Education Director, Chief of Staff, or Chief Academic Officer.

4. Speak directly with the Superintendent, the top employee in the school district, if you haven’t already done so.

5. If the problem is with the system as a whole, you can also speak with the School Board member who represents your neighborhood. Your School Board members are elected officials and together they hire and oversee the Superintendent.

6. Parents of students in special education and bilingual programs should follow complaint procedures set by federal law, which districts are required to explain.

Each time you decide to take the question to a new level, let the last person know, and keep the discussion open to find ways to create a solution. If none of this works, contact the Office of the Education Ombudsman.

If the Problem Continues
If you can’t resolve the difficulty on your own, and the problem fits the Education Ombudsman’s guidelines, we can help. Our job is to help if: Your school did not respond when you complained, or responded inappropriately; The school did not follow state law, federal law or school district policy, AND Your student’s learning suffered, or the learning environment was negatively affected by the school’s action or failure to act.

We will refer you to other sources of help for:
Complaints against elected officials. Problems with private schools, private organizations or businesses. Legal advice

The Office of the Education Ombudsman offers a neutral view of the difficult situation you are experiencing and assistance to solve the problem.

We accept written complaints from parents, legal guardians or students from Washington elementary and secondary public schools. Our complaint forms are available in various languages. Get a complaint form by calling our office or print one from our website.

Office phone: 206-729-3232
Toll-free number: 1-866-297-2597

- 2inelem

Kate Martin said...

No Longer In Seattle-

Good point about being able to teach and competency in the subject itself. In the case of the Roosevelt teacher, he failed on both counts. With math and science, it seems the basic foundation is proficiency in the subject. Once through that hoop, the second level of the competency hierarchy is the question of whether this person can teach the subject effectively. Without the first, the second is impossible.

Jack -

I agree completely about the IAs for America concept. I am assuming we have somewhere around 2000 classrooms in Seattle. Isn't the practical equivalent to halving class size (which would require that we have twice as many classrooms / schools) adding another teacher to each classroom? My older son loved the classroom he was in that had 2 teachers - the Marenstein / Walseth combination at Roosevelt when Walseth came as a student teacher. What I want to see is not a TFA thing, but a real sacrifice - a public service deal where they actually give time at a low compensation rate to be an assistant in the classroom of a teacher of record to actually help students and our country and make a sacrifice doing it. That would be a very noble contribution to our society. Is that too idealistic?


emeraldkity said...

Thus, an incompetent teacher hung on year after year, essentially wasting an entire academic year for the children in her class.
We had a teacher in our school like this- instead of taking two years to exit her, the principal assigned her to a position that was WAY over her head & she quit.

I still don't know if that was better or worse than the approved way.

Anonymous said...

Kate's idea would be more in line with the Peace Corps. You get a stipend and possibly some help with housing. Better yet, why don't we develop scholarships for would be teachers along the line of the NHS? You can draw young and old with preference for those going into science and math.


Anonymous said...

This kind of depresses me. There are ways, difficult ones, of removing "terrible" teachers. So maybe we can or maybe we can't get terrible teachers out.

What about so-so teachers? Endure them forever? Put in a C- performance and you are employed for life? In what other profession does that fly?

Would you go to a C- doctor? Would you hire a C- handyman? Buy C- food for your family?


Tim said...

I am a teacher in Seattle who has also taught elsewhere. The contracts are similar, and as pointed out, are about protecting basic rights to due process. That may be frustrating (I hear you Former Teacher, Now Administrator), but it is designed not just to protect against poor supervision, but also give an adequate opportunity to improve. I think the cost of relacing teachers is high, not just in money but in all the associated instabilities, and it is usually worth it to retrain and help poor performers.
Melissa - you mentioned complaint letters in files. It has been my understanding that any allegations in a complaint letter must be substantiated. So that probably is where the "principal has to agree" idea comes in. I would add that basic due process allows someone accused to face accusers, and in this case, that means an anonymous complaint, or one coming from a parent unwilling to allow the teacher to know where it came from, cannot be placed in a file. However, I would think any boss would "investigate" the allegations and look for their own evidence.
Moose - you mentioned an idea that perhaps 90 days would be reasonable. I don't have the contract in front of me, but there are timelines in it, and I think they may be something like 90 days to allow an inadequate teacher to get support to change their practice. Unfortunately, 90 work days is half a school year. And, if the principal files the first poor write up somewhere around Mid or late October, they may not get that teacher on probation until the 90 days takes them into the next school year. In other words, as Former Teacher points out, without somewhat aggressively sticking to the timelines, it is going to be a long process.

Having said all that, I have had administrators (who were well paid, and trained multiple days every year on contract and evaluation) who were able to push teachers along the track to improvement or get out. On the other hand, I have also had some (in Seattle) who were obviously not closely monitored by central, who rarely did an evaluation on time, or met any of the deadlines. This is where the lawyering up is going to happen, because if one teacher in a building is suddenly held to the letter of the contract while others are not, then clearly it could look like the principal is "out to get" that teacher. So, a principal that lets some deadlines slide or backdates forms will probably always see lawyers. And others seeing this will feel the culture of the district requires lawyering up, even if a teacher is really poor.
Finally, even my colleagues can't expect to see what really happens in my room. They know by rumour and intangibles. If I am observed twice a year and rarely given feedback, I am on my own. Personally, I would welcome feedback on my practice and help with improvement, but NOT in a system where I am not sure that I should trust the process because the contract is so rarely followed, and everybody feels they need to protect themselves with lawyers. In those circumstances, I don't even want to be observed.
Sad, because I know most of colleagues agree that seeing a principal with a reputation of helping to imprve practice in our rooms is exciting and rewarding. Seldom do we get real feedback of our practice that isn't removed by several degrees from direct observation.

dan dempsey said...

Wait a minute.... Do teachers just suddenly become really bad? There was a period of one or two(?) years initially where the District could have chosen not to rehire teachers ... just because. No paperwork needed.

Is that correct?

So if a teacher's performance gradually declined where was the principal to offer corrective actions?

Anyone see the $500,000 per annum MAP as producing Bang for the Buck as a tool for teacher improvement?

At the last Board meeting Smith-Blum mentioned "Khan Academy" free tools coming for evaluating students in Math and connected to meaningful interventions as a "MAP" replacement for determining what students need in Math.

Is anyone still buying hard bound encyclopedias with free Wikipedia on Line and other resources on line?

Why are we spending $500,000 per year on MAP?

dan dempsey said...

Sad, because I know most of colleagues agree that seeing a principal with a reputation of helping to improve practice in our rooms is exciting and rewarding.

Seldom do we get real feedback of our practice that isn't removed by several degrees from direct observation.


What a lot of teachers are receiving these days is fall out from NCLB AYP induced administrator panic.

Special Education teachers often receive Administrator directions from those who know little about teaching.

Tim said...

You hit the nail on the head, Dan. Most teachers do not suddenly become bad. Some slowly do though, and if they aren't properly observed then it gets worse without correction.
I have seen some instances where things went downhill fast, but usually there were tragic personal circumstances as well that caused the teacher to struggle. Also a place where a good admin can help.
As to MAP, I have heard many teachers try to utilize the data it gives them. We are always looking for measures. I would like to be able to trust our leaders to give us the right tools. I don't think most teachers have tried to examine the efficacy of such tests as much as you - they are trying to use the tools they are given instead of raging against the machine.

dan dempsey said...

Also don't miss the Central Admin's chosen plans for Math teachers.... check those SPS math scores on the Algebra EoC for how well that is going.

NO need for change from EDM in elementary school math according to Enfield and Sundquist in a Seattle Times interview.

Enfield rejects requests for waivers ... and District report card tells us that 4th grade math testing shows above state average.

No mention that year to year change comparison with state MSP Math scores shows every demographic group of grade four students doing worse in 2011 than in 2010.

If teachers need to produce better scores ... the District needs to stop providing flawed materials and flawed directions for instructional practice.

This has ceased to be an attempt to meet the educational needs of each child.

WA adoption of the Common Core State Standards may be the next step down the road of testing insanity.

No Vendor Left Behind in the Race to the Bank.

Check out what the $800,000 New Tech Network contract produced for results at Cleveland....

CHS STEM .. great idea ... NTN very poor idea.

Anonymous said...

I think there needs to also be critical evaluation of principals in schools with high turnover or where the principal is labeling teachers as "bad" without the proper training and mentoring.

Our school, Bryant, now has 8 (out or 23) teachers who are new in less than 1 1/2 years. Also, a new assistant principal this year. It cannot be expected that teachers will be perfect from the start, or that they will stay strong without effective guidance, teamwork and the time/resources for improvement.

Is it fair for a principal who received poor ratings from their staff and community to not be held as accountable to their students as the teachers? For example, in the new Climate Survey our principal, Kim Fox, scored the following

regularly visits my classroom (21%)
works closely with staff to improve instructional practice (23%)
regularly discusses my students' progress with me (25%)

and an overall staff rating of 34% (a 37% point decline in one year)

In order for our teachers to be strong, they need strong leaders. Can we expect a principal with this type of performance to be in charge of a staff with over a third brand new teachers and a new principal!?

-concerned for my school

Anonymous said...

We have had great to mediocre to downright incompetent teachers over the years. The great teachers give you hope that you can tolerate the mediocre teachers, but the incompetent teachers can cause serious damage. One especially bad teacher can overshadow the work of all the other great teachers and make school intolerable.

Educationally, foundational skills can be missed and it's difficult to make them up. The next year's teacher assumes they have been taught the previous year's material and they just need to move forward. A bad teacher can turn a child off to writing or math or some other subject and it takes years of support to turn that around.

What is especially egregious to me are teachers that mistreat students. I might be able to tutor my child through a year with a mediocre teacher, but no child should have to tolerate a teacher that belittles or intimidates or singles out particular kids.

It's this behavior, however, that seems the hardest to document and prove. It's the teacher's word against the student's. You get the "there are two sides to every story" line. We can't be there in class with a tape recorder (although this was apparently done in Ohio recently, where it's legal).

The MAP cannot measure a teacher's behavior and for students already above grade level, it will do little to show a teacher's shortcomings.

Parents will also get tutors to support their children, which then reflects positively on MAP scores. Bad math teacher (or math books)? Get a tutor. Watch the child's scores increase (thanks to the tutor) and the teacher is further enabled because MAP scores aren't a true reflection of content learned in class.

Yeah, it's depressing.

dan dempsey said...

Tim said:
they are trying to use the tools they are given instead of raging against the machine.

Excellent point. ....
No time for raging as teachers have an enormous job to do.

I spent, in several situations, time (often years) attempting to make the current or next FAD work. No time for raging or even a lot of analysis of materials as it is what I had and was to use.

The quality of education research is extraordinarily poor. Teachers given direction and support can produce amazing results. (Or sometimes just left alone can do so.) When tools are not efficient and effective one wonders why they were purchased.

I was sold on the University of Chicago's UCSMP grades 7 thru 12 math materials....

Without modification UCSMP covers huge amounts of material but produces very little content mastery. Core-Plus is far worse. It is strictly math appreciation.

Here are a couple articles that give a clue or two as to some of the current issues in education.

The Economist on USA education

The NY Times on Why Science Majors Change Their Minds (It’s Just So Darn Hard)

The New York Times on College students hours of study.

dan dempsey said...

Bad math teacher (or math books)? Get a tutor. Watch the child's scores increase (thanks to the tutor) and the teacher is further enabled because MAP scores aren't a true reflection of content learned in class.

So MAP can be used as a measure of family effectiveness in providing remediation .... now we need a parents collective bargaining agreement to spell out those parent duties -- and use MAP to measure them.

dan dempsey said...

Homework is such a mud pit.

From The Economist article linked above:

"American parents have led grass-root protests against attempts to extend the school year into August or July, or to increase the amount of homework their little darlings have to do. They still find it hard to believe that all those Chinese students, beavering away at their books, will steal their children’s jobs. But Huckleberry Finn was published in 1884. And brain work is going the way of manual work, to whoever will provide the best value for money. "

Think of the vicious cycle around homework:

1. Most kids don't want to do it.

2. Many parents don't want to supervise it or don't want it to interfere with kids sports or dancing or video games or ...

3. Some teachers don't want to grade it so they don't assign it. Some just give it a zero feedback glance check so students are less Iikely to care about it.

4. And of course there are educators happy to bang on about the evils of homework. (consultants selling what sells)

It's no surprise that you learn less if you don't show up for work. Talk about a race to the bottom.

Bring on the 175 day school year ... so we can reach the bottom sooner.

Dr. F said...

Well the real question I have is what do you do if you have an excellent teacher who is being run off by administrative rift. In the situation at our school more then one teacher has left and more are on support plans or even possibly probation because of a ruthless retaliatory principal. This is at Bryant Elementary. Kim Fox is very manipulative and she seems to have Phil Brockman in her pocket …or somewhere else that he is comfortable….lol…. High level staff and teachers with the highest regard by the community and years of teaching excellence in some cases decades of excellence are all trying leave Bryant. Fox posted some of the lowest approval ratings in the district. Easily dismissed by Fox as she is a shrewd manipulator of circumstance. Blame it on Gale Everly…. After all it was Kim Fox who constantly told parents and staff.."write to Phil Brockman"…. I'm under the impression that Phil Brockman runs Bryant Elementary. From canvassing parents who have questioned Fox on any variety of situations, the response is always the same. Fox is condescending and manipulative and very retaliatory. She regularly bullies parents and staff to get what she wants. Fox is great at taking credit for that which she has no responsibility and even better at placing blame and passing off responsibility that is hers. Its quite ironic that Dan Golosman assistant principal is now following in Fox's role and telling parents to write Brockman about Fox. I say we all write to Enfield, Treat, and Thompson, and Martin-Morris. Bryant is lost to a few heavy supporters of Fox. So if our community is content with letting parents and Phil Brockman run Bryant then so be it!

dan dempsey said...

Dr. F,

Education decision-making is increasingly becoming politics and little else.

Many Central Office administrators are excellent at climbing the political totem pole. They like the pole just the way it is.

Document, document, document.


On my STEM thoughts and teaching k-12 to get students College ready in STEM degrees .... Remember in the original CHS STEM plan there was going to be an extensive summer program at Cleveland and lots of remedial interventions outside of the school day ... Budget doomed all that.

Two selected quotes from NYT linked article:

“Most students are already not prepared in math and science to undertake the rigor of STEM degrees, especially engineering.”

“Latest research suggests that grade inflation in the humanities and social sciences provides an incentive for students to leave STEM majors. STEM students are both “pulled away” by high grades in their courses in other fields and “pushed out” by lower grades in their majors.

What is the result in the real world?

According to the National Academies of Sciences, the U. S. has fallen to 27th out of 29 wealthy countries in the proportion of college students with STEM degrees.

Looks like Cliff Mass knows what he is talking about.

So how is $500,000 on MAP going to improve this situation?

Charlie Mas said...

Depressed objected to schools full of "C- teachers". I would really like to explore this idea.

Let's, for the moment, accept the Education Reform myth that "teacher quality" (whatever that is) is quantifiable. We could, according to the myth, give each teacher a single number "effectiveness score" and then rate and rank them all.

We should not expect a normal distribution of teacher effectiveness scores - a bell curve. Instead, it would be a sort of modified bell curve due to survivorship bias. Low scoring teachers leave the system - voluntarily or otherwise - high scoring teachers choose to stay and are retained, and all teachers should be steadily improving.

Still, most of them would be near the average with a long, high tail leading up and a shorter, steeply dropping tail leading down.

We could not, of course, get rid of "mediocre" teachers because the large number of them are mediocre. This is not a slam on teachers. The great majority of almost any group is close to the average.

I remember going to ball games with my kids and they would ask if this player or that player is good. Good? Of course they're good! They're in the major leagues! The least among them has skills we can barely imagine. Now, is that player especially good? among major leaguers? That's a different question.

With teachers - as with any group of employees - we need to set a benchmark of performance which represents adequacy. A Mendoza line. Anyone who is above that line is good enough.

We need to accept the idea that good enough is good enough. We cannot demand that every teacher be in the top third among teachers. It is an obvious absurdity.

If we could determine an effectiveness score for each teacher, then we could set a benchmark. We could, for example, determine that any teacher with an effectiveness score below 30 (on a geometric scale from 17 to 61) is incompetent and gets fired. We could determine that any teacher with a score from 30 to 35 needs improvement. Those teachers could get support and two years to raise their score above 35 - otherwise they are dismissed. Any teacher with a score of 36 or better, however, is regarded as good enough and is eligible for contract renewal. We could, of course, offer additional benefits to teachers with scores in excess of 56 or even 52.

I suppose that once we got all of the teachers over the 35 point line we could ratchet up the definition of incompetence to 34, but let's learn to crawl before we try out for the Olympics.

All of that, however, is completely meaningless because, despite the Education Reform myth, we have no measure - let alone a single measure - of teacher effectiveness.

My point, which I should circle back to emphasize, is that good enough is good enough. A lot of "C- teachers" is normal, it's fine, and it cannot be corrected with the current funding.

dan dempsey said...

Compare and contrast:

Seattle Public Schools=>

Academic Vision
We are focused on improving academic achievement for all students and committed to ensuring that all students graduate from high school prepared for college, careers, and life. We strive to provide excellent teachers in every classroom, set high expectations for every student, meet the needs of our diverse learners, and prepare our students to excel.

Nye County Schools, Nevada =>

Our mission is to provide each student the necessary educational tools to reach his or her full academic potential for the workplace and college.

This responsibility is the top priority of the Nye County School Board, District Administrators, Principals and Teachers.

Which is realistic and achievable?
Which is centered on the individual needs of each student?

Seems those in rural Nevada have an ability to get to the point in a lot less words than the ramblings of urban Seattle educators.

Anyway Seattle has a "Vision" and Nye County only a mission statement with a 'Top Priority' responsibility attached.

Anonymous said...

Hamilton's score card shows "Professional Culture" at just 25% (down from 42%, district avg of 55%), and "School Leadership" at 30% (down from 51%, district average of 58%).

You have to wonder what's going on at some of these schools.

dan dempsey said...

The great majority of almost any group is close to the average.

No Charlie you clearly do not understand the principle elements of grade inflation ...
......... the new B+ is the old C-.

Damn near everyone can be way above average. ... This is a fundamental element of Edu-speak USA.

Well, except those crazy collegiate kids majoring in STEM fields .. their grades are lower.

Charlie Mas said...

High teacher turnover could be an indication of poor management.

Anonymous said...

HIMS report card.

Maybe the leadership concerns are not contained to APP families.

Maybe staff has some concerns.

APP Family

Jack Whelan said...

Maybe I'm off base on this, but I wonder some times if people have unrealistic expectations of teachers. I'm thinking of a point that Ravitch made the other night that ultimately each kid is responsible to learn the material. The teacher is an enabler of success, not someone who can effect success in every student, and to have that expectation of teachers is unfair.

In high school I was a lousy math student, but It wasn't my teachers' fault that I tuned them out. The kids who liked math thought they were good teachers, but I didn't like math because I was more of a history and literature type.

So I got barely passing grades throughout the year, and then took the book home, usually about a month before the NY State EoC exam--the Regents--was scheduled, figured stuff out on my own, and managed to do well enough on them that my math teachers were shocked.

So for me, the teachers were almost irrelevant for my learning, but I had another resource--the curriculum materials. For me, the most trenchant criticism of the current Discovering Math curriculum is that it makes it almost impossible for kids, or kids with the help of their parents, to figure the stuff out on their own. This makes the curriculum too dependent on talented math teachers, which we know are in short supply.

The curriculum ultimately is what carries the learning standard, and a "good enough" math teacher is one who knows the curriculum and is competent to help kids who are having trouble mastering it, but you have to have a high-quality curriculum. The teacher is there to support, inspire, and encourage kids who come to school ready to learn. If they are not ready to learn, as I was not, that's not their teacher's fault.

Melissa Westbrook said...

And Jack, that is exactly what one person wrote to the Times right after Obama was elected. I had saved the letter (but now can't find it) because it was the call to parents.

Education has to matter to your family. You have to model it by having your children see you reading (however you do it), by having discussions at dinner, by going to cultural institutions and events and by just going to the library regularly.

The letter writer said that he was pretty sure that no one opened up Obama's head and poured knowledge in. He said he laughed when Obama said he complained about his mother getting him up early to study and she said, "Well, it's no fun for me either, Buster."

Learning takes effort. If it's too easy, then that child is not being challenged. We gain discipline from learning. We gain resiliency from learning. We gain confidence from learning.

It starts at home and a teacher is just a guide and, as Jack said, hopefully an inspiration.

Anonymous said...

During the candidate forum at Bryant, one of the candidates, I think Kate Martin, gave a number for the amount of dollars spent by SPS families on extra-curricular math, I think specifically Kumon type programs, but maybe others. Does anyone have that number or any significant data along those lines? We spoke with our principal about the number of parents supplementing the math curriculum at home because of it's weaknesses, and she didn't seem to believe it. I would love to see those numbers.

Wanting Better Math

Anonymous said...

Wanting Better Math,

Well if your principal is the Bryant principal she shouldn't be surprised. Her daughter did Kumon.

It would be interesting to survey the school to see. Because many parents also hire private tutors or just do extra math at home.

-Bryant Parent

Anonymous said...

A Tale of Two Teachers.

I was very disappointed when my child was assigned to the class of the mediocre 2nd grade teacher Mrs C. I had heard from friends that she just didn’t challenge kids, they learned little in her class. For 3rd grade my child got the excellent teacher, Mrs. A. She really had the kids working hard & accomplishing a lot. But, as it turned out, my child learned more in the 2nd grade classroom with Mrs C. My child was an eager learner. She wanted to read more, write more, & race on to new math concepts. In Mrs C’s class she was given time & encouragement to do these things. When she wanted to go further into a topic, Mrs C would provide materials or arrange for another adult to help her. When my daughter moved into Mrs A’s class she found so much ‘hoop jumping’ with constant little demands & very specific assignments. All of her effort & time went into fulfilling the expectations of her teacher, often worrying that she might miss one. She never had time to fulfill her own expectations. I loved both of these women. They both did what they thought was best for the children in their classrooms. My daughter learned the most with Mrs C. Many other children learned more with Mrs. A. Who was the better teacher?

My children have had a whole range of teachers. I don’t mind the mediocre ones. Sometimes they reach my kids in a way other teachers don’t. And I always expect there will be academic holes that I have to fill at home, so I am not too surprised about that. In 6 hours a day there is no way that my kids can be taught everything I want them to learn.

We had one middle school teacher who used humiliation as a classroom management tool. I did go to the principal with examples of what my child reported to me. There was an administrator in the class the next day & the teacher was gone by the end of the year.

-Rose M

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

Bryant Parent -

The principal did admit that her daughter did Kumon, however, it was so much work to correct that she stopped after a month.

A survey to see what parents do to supplement the math would be really insightful. Who has the ability to put out such a thing? The PTSA? It would be a really interesting addition to the SPS survey that comes out in the spring.

Wanting Better Math

Anonymous said...

A math survey was proposed by a parent at my child's school and a teacher dismissed the idea. There was concern that it would be an evaluation of the teachers rather than the math program.

Very unfortunate. It would have been a good opportunity to strengthen the math program by seeing its weaknesses.

Perhaps the proposal should be put forth to the new Math and Science Program Manager.

We supplement at home. With EDM, it involved learning standard algorithms for adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. We tried to teach these so they became the "preferred method" before learning the um, interesting EDM methods. With CMP, we straight out taught the concepts of each book or unit as well as supplemented with more challenging problems for some concepts. CMP's coverage of fractions seems weak and it is one of the key skills for manipulating algebraic expressions.

math parent

Anonymous said...

I'm another Bryant parent who is supplementing math instruction. I'd like us to start the process to get a waiver to replace EDM. I know other schools have tried this and been denied, but I still think we should try.

~not a fan of EDM

Anonymous said...

Why do people expect that employees in education will be any different than the collective in any other field? Have you all liked every doctor you've seen? They get paid more than I do for much less time and one client at a time. Lawyers? Billable hours anyone? Even architects - 5 minute emails = $60.

Honestly, I'm not saying we should endure poor teachers but the person who said what about the average ones? The mediocre ones? Get real. I think teaching is an art. Start with appretices; move to journeyman; and hopefully some will become craftsmen after years of training and experience. We have the opposite model: we recently passed a contract to pay beginning teachers a very good salary considering most of them won't stick with it. Older teachers - the craftsmen - are not honored for their mastery of craft.

Of course, in education, the craft constantly changes: skills . . . process . . . skills . . . process. At my school, even though we are weighed down with more and more curriculum, the word "process" is eaking back in with Charlotte Danielson.

We all want good teachers. But teachers are just one leg of the stool: parents, you have a responsibility to send kids ready to learn. In addition, society has a responsibility to provide materials, time and an agreed-upon curriculum not dependent on the whims of school boards and parents who think they have all the answer - which is what happened to TERC in Seattle. That's why we have EDM. The math department wanted TERC.

I'm in elementary. I understand the need for a good curriculum. But the world has progressed since I was in elementary school and all the teacher needed to do was follow the math book, the spelling book, and the reading manual. I don't even remember doing science. The world has changed.

No, I'm not suggesting that really bad teachers should be kept. But, a mediocre teacher isn't going to ruin your kid and will have a substantially less harmful effect than the medioce doc, attorney or any other very expensive service person. Hopefully, children will find excellent teachers as well in their journey through childhood. But parents matter most. And a civil society which cares about all children matters most.

There are schools with principals who do dot every i and cross every t and their teachers are on the ropes with weariness.

One more thing: I've always believed every new teacher should run the substitute circuit before being permanently placed. That's where I got my training and it gave me the best start possible. It would demand that principals get involved with observations of substitutes but why not? Who knows, that might be the best way to find out just who is a good classroom manager and a learned, articulate teacher. Knowing those things at the beginning seems like a better way to go.


Anonymous said...

I am reposting this as it appears there are teachers reading/posting on this thread. For those teachers that do this alredy, thank you, thank you! We find it so helpful.

A couple of suggestions to help this parent support the learning:

1. put HW assignments on the source
2. return tests, quizzes, assignments timely (with in 2-3 weeks of turning them in) so I can go over them with the kids. This lets me know what they know and don't know.
3. on-line access to textbooks being used in classrooms. If cannnot provide on-line access, provide alternatives to help supplement at home.

Thank you,
Seattle mom

Anonymous said...

Seattle Mom,
You fail to respond to the points I made about teachers and their already full plate and instead ask for more:

I put homework on the source. It takes time to do. Much of the homework comes out of copyrighted programs that cannot be put on-line. So, it was the teacher-made parts of the homework guidlines that I put up and you might say a skeletal package.

I agree tests should be returned although the tests we give in elementary are not returned in all cases because they, too, are proprietary and will be reused later. Teacher-made quizes should be returned in a timely manner. I can't think of many except spelling tests, however.

Finally, online access to copyrighted material is not allowable. Providing supplemental work can be done by you. I have twenty-eight kids. Middle school and high school teachers many more students. I spend all the time I can muster preparing for each day of teaching. I use enrichment and supplemental work as best I can. But, to expect the teacher to provide what a parent should be providing for their child is a little exploitative. Not everything has to come from school. There are workbooks, recreational books, math books, writing ideas, brain teasers, plexors, crossword puzzles and the dictionary and encyclopedia - on-line as well as in hard document - and everyone has access to them. The "provided by teacher" label does not make them better.

We can't expect teachers and the education industry to do everything for everybody. It is not possible. Look to yourself for some of the educational needs of your child. Take that responsibility. You will do a better job than we will becuase you have a superior understanding of your child and their needs. Really. You do.


Anonymous said...

northender said: I agree tests should be returned although the tests we give in elementary are not returned in all cases because they, too, are proprietary and will be reused later.

Can someone explain this? Are you referencing EDM tests specifically? How does this comply with FERPA? Do parents have to request a "viewing" of each test?

confused parent

Anonymous said...

But, to expect the teacher to provide what a parent should be providing for their child is a little exploitative.

When I was young, my parents made sure I got to school and did my homework. We learned the basics at school without my parents needing to supplement. Report cards with actual grades helped my parents know how we were doing.

So, as a parent, that's what I expect from the schools. If my child is struggling (and I'm made aware of it), well of course I'd try to the provide help at home.

One of the key differences, however, is that my childhood school had a solid and sequential grade-by-grade curriculum, unlike SPS. For us, supplementation isn't meant to extend their learning, it's to ensure they learn basic skills.

northender also said: We can't expect teachers and the education industry to do everything for everybody. It is not possible.

Okay, but you have them for their best 6 hours of the day, 180 days of the year. What should we expect from that?

confused and irritated

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your response Northender. I appreciate your honesty. For our family, we struggle to provide supplemental and have been everywhere with it. Some of our friends used EPGY for math and writing and have recommended the program highly. We are considering EPGY writing as supplement for this school year. We've used Khan Academy and Singapore Math in the past. I've pullled out my old grammar book (my retired teacher mom sent me) just to review some basics. But I must admit I am not sure if all of this work is necessary or just add more work for my kids or it helps supplement the work teachers do in the classrooms. So when I made the suggestions for on-line access to classroom textbooks and if non available on-line, some supplements referral, it wasn't meant for teachers to create them, just some referral websites or names of books so we parents can look them up ourselves. I just thought as teachers you would be the better judge as to what resources would complement the work you do in the classrooms.

Seattle mom