Teacher Contract Negotiations

As I mentioned elsewhere, contract negotiations between the district and the SEA (Seattle Education Association) have resumed. The deadline is August 31st and if they don't reach a contract, well, we could have a strike.

The issues are myriad and the district has a job on its hands convincing the teachers both from what the tide is nationally and some of the district's own handiwork.

Some of the issues:
  • apparently classified staff haven't had a raise in quite awhile
  • the national trend towards teacher assessments. This is very touchy to teachers, Bill Gates recently chimed in (discussed in a previous post) and I think parents have mixed feelings.
  • teacher pay
  • teacher use of The Source
And many others (and chime in here). I think the district hurts its negotiations with the teachers by crying poor (close schools, lay off teachers/staff) and then hiring staff at headquarters.

The newest parent/teacher group, Stand for Children has an online petition for parents to sign in support of teacher assessments. I had been exchanging e-mails with Brooke Brod, a local organizer, about why we should do this.

"The District is proposing creating a pilot program of Performance Management that would include the following features:

~ A better professional evaluation process
~ incentives for teachers who receive good professional evaluations and whose students show growth
~ incentives for teachers who take on assignments in high-needs schools
~ more support and professional development opportunities for teachers and principals in high-needs schools.
~ incentives for teachers who teach hard-to-staff subjects like math, special ed, science

Now the District hasn't put forth a specific program, what they want to do in the first year of the new contract is to work in partnership with the union to develop the specifics, which is a good thing. A Performance Management program shouldn't be imposed on teachers it should be created in collaboration with them.

Unfortunately at this point the Union has said no to considering the proposal and we're not sure the District will push for these proposals, which again is why Stand is circulating the petition, because we think it's important that both parties know that broader community wants to have a dialog about these issues.

One of the reasons the union, and sometimes other folks as well, say no is they hear "performance management" and think "merit pay" or "bonuses based on WASL test scores." This is not what's being proposed, not what Stand for Children is advocating and not how such a program would have to be crafted. There are a number of models out there including Denver's ProComp, Chicago TAP (Teacher Advancement Program), Minnesota Q-Comp (which is a unique statewide program). All of these programs were developed with teachers, are governed by collective bargaining agreements and do far more to support effective teaching.

Finally, the Obama administration last Friday announced that there is 4.35 billion dollars available to states AND local districts in the form of competitive grants. Unfortunately Seattle, because we lack any comprehensive reform program, will most likely be ineligible to apply."

I did look into the Minnesota and Chicago models and they are interesting. I think the trend is towards teacher assessment (but not using one single test as the basis). I did write to SEA and WEA and neither answered so it is difficult to know exactly what their stance is and, more importantly, why. Brooke is right that SPS is not going to be eligible for the "Race to the Top" fund from the feds because of lack of reform standards (and also because we don't have charters).

Here's the district's stance:

"Because the negotiations are not open to community members, the District will not be answering emails about our negotiations, nor will the District solicit public or staff input."


It breaks my heart that Seattle is not eligible for the Race to the Top funds. How did we let our city get so far behind other places?
owlhouse said…
Seattle's ineligibility has much more to do with state-wide issues than the specifics in our district. "Race for the Top" is an illconceived competition- as inevitably, a race will have winners and losers. Apparently, Gates and company are assisting some 15 states through the application process and there is wide speculation that a majority of states will not be in line to compete for the funds. As the policy is currently drafted, NY and CA are among the ineligible because they don't allow teacher identities to be linked with reported student data.

So, my questions are not about how Seattle fell so far behind- but HOW IN THE WORLD this an appropriate way for our nation to fund public education? What accommodations will be made for states with laws explicitly prohibiting charter schools, but allowing for other means of school choice? Who is reviewing the RTT applications? Will the criteria be the same for phase 1 and phase 2 grants? There is a clause to allow/accelerate alternate means of teacher certification, but no mechanism to compare the traditional teacher college route to the new means (TFA, etc.)- how does this improve teacher quality? What, aside from state tests, will measure the impact of the RTT funds, determine the impact on the achievement gap?
The DoE has yet to answer a long string of questions relevant to the investment in ed that excludes so many.

Drat for RTT is here:

As for Stand, they are not a new organization- just recently organizing here in Seattle. They've been in Portland for years- backing "reform" school board candidates and the former Broad trained Super. I'm glad you got some answers from them, as when I questioned an organizer on a community blog- she pulled her post.
Sahila said…
Let me be clear that I have no idea how this works in the US right now....

I think that there ought to be some sort of performance oversight for teachers - but that ought not to be tied to standardised test scores.

It ought to be an internal (school community) process - six monthly reviews - parents and students' input (51%), plus peer and principal evaluation (49%), with mandatory ongoing professional development to shore up and improve on any weaknesses.

And I think that teachers not reaching or maintaining a certain level of expertise, skill, enthusiasm, innovation and spirit of good teaching, ought to be given two or three written communications pointing out that lack, and after a certain period of lack of improvement, ought to be asked to find another vocation - this is normal for most occupations and I don't see why teachers should be exempt, especially as the impact of their lack of ability/interest/suitability impact kids who have no choice but to live through the negative experience and may lose year(s)of educational opportunity/forward momentum and the love of learning.

AND I think that teachers need the protection of unions to avert the trend of firing more experienced (more expensive) staff at the first sign of trouble, to protect them from unfair dismissal practices, to maintain and increase pay rates, to maintain and improve working conditions, to maintain and improve professional standing and respect and to give them all the advantages conferred by belonging to a professional association.

I dont think these ideas are mutually exclusive, whereas groups such as Stand for Children seem to think they are....
seattle citizen said…
I agree with Melissa, owlhouse and Sahila:

Melissa - yes, there needs to be a better assessment. My personal favorite would be a neutral body, maybe a state office ($$$) that sends out teams of evaluators. A teacher might get two or three visits a year, maybe surprise visits. The evaluators (perhaps three to avoid biases) would a) observe and record; b) ask for, copy and take away lesson plans, activities and assignments, assessments and portfolios...They would leave, and then rate these things somehow.
The problem with a community-based evaluation system, perhaps like the one Sahila describes, is that there is too much potential for bias, and community members might not be up to speed on job expectations, pedagogy etc. Not to dismiss their knowledge or concern, but it's difficult to, over time, carry forward data points that maintain similarity and comparability: The parents/students who evaluate one year might be different that those that evaluate the next. The evaluator group could have specific biases that do not reflect the bigger picture of the district and its employees nor the individual methods and style of each teacher.

Maybe the issue is that only communities evaluate, there is too much potential for negative ramifications: If a principal is free to hire and fire (or a community in a school,) might not a larger body, say someone who comes along and says, "My company/district/organization promises huge results if you do it our way," convinces its community that this is true, then proceeds to wipe out anyone "not with the program"

Hmm...The more I write the closer I get to the concern I have: Loss of teacher autonomy. Some teachers grate on some people, some teachers do things "differently," some are sociable, some are introverted...It's my belief that, while no one wants a BAD teacher, it is well and good that teachers do things differently. Students benefit from a variety of syles (they also benefit from making the best of a bad situation, in the case of a "bad" teacher: life is full of travails one must overcome - again, not to condone bad teaching, but to suggest avoiding throwing the baby out with the bathwater by forcing teachers into some sort of mold in order to "rate" them according to those expected parameters.

Thus, I favor a board that evaluates teaching skill generally: organization, presentation, activity, rigor etc. while not being too specific to a minutely deliniated set of expectations. I fear that with a "community" doing the evaluating, those evaluated will need to be in lockstep with the community's beliefs, and this I'm not in favor of.

I agree with Owlhouse that the whole "Race to the Top" thing is whacky: You've got a few key players whispering in the DoE's ear telling it how school's should be run, dictating policy. Who decided this policy? Who says it's right? Why is local educational policy being dictated from on high?

I believe there must be improved evaluation, and principals just don't have the time, nor should they be solely responsible (as they are mere humans with their own agendas, prejudices, wishes and desires. I don't think the district should do it alone: they'd also have their own fleeting designs. I don't think the community should do it, as they have specific goals that mkight stifle individual styles (and the "community" might be manufactured, like astroturf, to create and enact designs formed elsewhere...)
dan dempsey said…

"The federal government is taking over public education. It has no legal authority to do this, but it’s doing it anyway. This is not change I believe in."

Federal Control Expands despite the Rules
wseadawg said…
"There are a number of models out there including Denver's ProComp, Chicago TAP (Teacher Advancement Program), Minnesota Q-Comp (which is a unique statewide program). All of these programs were developed with teachers, are governed by collective bargaining agreements and do far more to support effective teaching."

Okay, just show me the hard proof that standards adopted above have "done farm more to support effective teaching" (however that is defined), and I'll be on board.

According to the best measure available, the NAEP, the achievement gap has widened and the Chicago system that produced Paul Vallas and Arne Duncan has shown virtually no meaningful improvement after almost a decade of reforms.

Why not call the supposed "race to the top" what it is: Blackmail.

Worse than that, and call me hysterical if you must, but the supposed "race to the top" is nothing more than soft fascism delivered via bribery and starvation, instead of at the point of a gun. What is the message? You WILL do this, OR ELSE?

How will such a philosophy EVER produce the best systems, when the victors in the race to the top are pre-ordained? (Charters...You win. No Charters...you lose. To heck with the results).

Its bribery. Its corruption. Its fascist. And it doesn't work.

Why not just carve into the walls of every school in SPS "The Golden Rule is: He who has the gold makes the rules." That is exactly what's going on.

Yet, the seduction of blaming teachers remains irresistible, apparently, as reform group after reform group continues to echo the oligarchs mantra of "effective teachers" and "business model solutions" etc.

Yes, I'm ranting. Yes, I'm angry. No, I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid of the bribery and extortion artists.

If their programs had a shred of effectiveness, would they have to bribe states into adopting their models?
wseadawg said…
And NO, I'm not calling anyone on this blog a fascist. I'm saying the "our way, or the highway" method Arne Duncan et al are proposing, while freezing out bona fide criticisms, cherry picking data, and marginalizing and silencing critics is fascist. It is not democratic at all.
dan dempsey said…
About professional development from John Hattie's "Visible Learning":

A major area in Educational Research should be:
why we continue to believe many claims about "what works best" when there is no evidence for these claims.

Consider almost anything having to do with math in the last 10 years in the SPS...... Professional Development in math in the SPS is a very bad joke.

All the best SPS ideas about math were in place at Cleveland High School 2006 -2009.

The books: Interactive Math Program (IMP) praised by Gov. Gregoire, the SPS Admin continually tried to get these adopted ... most recently by MG-J in Spring 2008.

The practices: Professional learning communities, on going professional development, increased planning time, UW assistance both from UW Math and UW College of Education.

This was a collaborative effort by UW Math, UW College of Education, and the SPS. The collaboration was funded by the National Science Foundation division of Education and Human Resources.

The results from WASL test scores were pathetic.

Hattie's book urges evidence based decision making, which is largely absent in education.

Arne Duncan said:
We created seniority rules that protect teachers from arbitrary and capricious management—and that's a good goal. But sometimes those rules place teachers in schools and communities where they won't succeed—and that's wrong. paragraph 55
(at about 2/3 mark)

We see a preference for the latest ideology instead of evidence based practice.

I've spent the last 2.7 years largely presenting evidence, which I hoped would drive math decision making; but to no avail.

What teacher would think that this administration could put together a way to evaluate math teaching? The Central Administration has clearly demonstrated:
1... No idea how to close achievement gap
2... No idea what are the real evidentiary based best practices
3... No idea how to select instructional materials that will produce significantly improved results
4... A preference to avoid providing effective interventions based on student performance ( ignored State Math standards in 2008-2009 despite the Strategic Plan saying these were in place)
5... A preference for centralized control of math teaching with pacing plans .. that produces very poor results.
dan dempsey said…

In regard to Ms. Raines principal at Brighton:
The school has 85%+ on free and reduced lunch . Brighton is NOT in Improvement. Brighton made AYP.

MG-J has done an abysmal job of implementing the Strategic Plan as well as defective inadequate reporting on the implementation of the Strategic Plan (quarterly???).

The principal shuffle is perhaps a way to shift accountability away from the inadequate job done by Central Administration by blaming it on building administration.

It have yet to see any reason that increased SPS centralized control is going to produce classroom level improvements. It seems to produce the opposite.
Consider Engelmann's questions:

1... Precisely where have you seen this practice installed so that it produces effective results?

2... Where is the data to show you have achieved performance that is superior to that achieved by successful programs (not simply the administrations last unsuccessful attempt)?

3... Where are your endorsements from historically successful teachers (those whose students outperform demographic predictions) ?

The Central Admin and the Board are usually ZERO for THREE on the above.

Politically correct ideology and Fad-based decision-making trump improving the system through intelligent decision making based on relevant data.

I can hardly wait for the "STEM" option High School at Cleveland ... another venture into ZERO for THREE land. I never received an answer to inquiries about what Math would look like at Cleveland "STEM".

STEM looks like it may be founded on on more practices that Hattie finds little evidence to use.
dan dempsey said…
"Race to the Top" = Extortion
dan dempsey said…
Seattle Citizen said:
""My personal favorite would be a neutral body, maybe a state office ($$$) that sends out teams of evaluators."

Let us look at the past. Imagine such an evaluation team coming from Dr. Bergeson's team at OSPI. {I cannot imagine a worse fate}.

Look at Engelmann's 3 questions, Hattie's thoughts and my observations. What would lead anyone to believe that the state has any better idea than the SPS as to what is an evidence based best practice?

The SPS, Gates Foundation, Arne Duncan, NCLB, OSPI et al. have clearly demonstrated little if any idea how to bring about significant improvement. Why would anyone continue to think that greater centralized control is a solution?

I am looking for principals who make decisions to improve the performance of the children in their school rather than pleasing the central office.

All elementary principals unanimously supported Everyday Math May 2007.
All high school principals unanimously supported the HS math adoption May 2009.

When job performance is actually judged on achievement rather than agreement with "clueless" administrative fiats then improvement is a possibility. Right now we have an increasingly large cumbersome counterproductive bureaucracy increasing their power because an equally "clueless" populace thinks more central control is a good idea.

Teachers are the agents for improvement. Principals are in a position to support teachers. The Centralized Overhead Bureaucracy has shown themselves incapable of even reading empirically valid research much less making intelligent decisions.

I will agree the system needs great improvement but believing that greater centralized control is a possible solution is pure insanity.
dan dempsey said…

I had been exchanging e-mails with Brooke Brod, a local organizer, {Brooke's education qualifications?} about why we should do this.

"The District is proposing creating a pilot program of Performance Management that would include the following features:

~ A better professional evaluation process {Who defines better? Would they know it if they saw it?}
~ incentives for teachers who receive good professional evaluations and whose students show growth {based on the evaluations and growth targets produced by whom?}
~ incentives for teachers who take on assignments in high-needs schools
~ more support and professional development opportunities for teachers and principals in high-needs schools. {support and professional development based on what?}
~ incentives for teachers who teach hard-to-staff subjects like math, special ed, science.

This looks like voting for Brand X, because you do not like the current situation.

Until any of these proposed changes can go 3 for 3 on Engelmann's questions.... we will continue floundering without evidence. This is a kin to picking your favorite leeches in hopes of improving your health in 1790.

Professional development in the selection of leeches was not what improved medicine. It was the move to evidence based practices.

It appears that many in the audience are assuming that best practices are evidence based, unfortunately that is not the case.
Charlie Mas said…
The performance evaluations for teachers that the District wants to introduce were piloted at a number of schools last year. We should already know if they were effective and beneficial for the management, teachers, and students. But, oddly, I haven't heard anyone say whether they were or not. I haven't heard from anyone whether the piloted evaluations were wonderful or dreadful. I haven't heard anyone say if they needed some tweaking.
Chris S. said…
What is a parent to do? I'd like to see teachers supported, seniority reduced to <100%, etc. but when a group comes along claiming to want the same thing, they seem to be sheep in wolf's clothing.

I'd really like to see the union propose something, anything in addition to seniority. I realize it's nearly impossible to think of anything that can't be politicized or gamed. Which comes back to my perennial observation: nobody trusts anybody in this business.

Maybe the district should make some overtures to teachers to build trust, rather than doing the opposite as they have done in the past year. Maybe until then we should replace seniority + performance with seniority + coin-flip.

I want to know how I can weigh in without being a union-basher.
seattle citizen said…
You wrote that you'd "really like to see the union propose something, anything in addition to seniority."

The union was part of negotiations that resulted in the current evaluation system as it is expressed in the existing CBA (contract.)
I'm certain that the union is proposing alternatives to the district's proposal (and if I remember, the rank and file overwhelmingly voted against the district's proposal in a survey)

So the union already does things about evaluation: it negotiates with the district each contract round. The result as it stands in the CBA has a system of evaluation. It is probably rarely followed, because it is time consuming. But to blame the union for this is placing the blame in the wrong place: it is up to management to evaluate employees, and if we want good evaluation we need to budget for them and delegate administrative FTE to the time it takes to do comprehensive evals. It ain't the union's fault if this is not done.

You ask the union to come up with something "in addition to seniority." In my mind, seniority and evaluation are two separate issues. ALL staff should be evaluated, and continue to "succeed" under these evaluations, and if and when you have to reduce force, THEN seniority would be applied. In other words, if your entire staff was evaluated regularly and deemed proficient, then seniority would be a fair way to make cuts.
Sahila said…
I dont see anything wrong with school communities assessing/carrying out performance reviews of teachers.... I take the points about the bias, but students and parents are after all the final 'customer' and have to deal with the positive and negative consequences of living/working with either a 'good' or a 'bad' teacher everyday...

Perhaps for those concerned about the possibility of bias and for infiltration/subversion of a school with an agenda that is hostile to teachers, we could have a 3-armed assessment team...

Parents/students having 51% influence, principal and peers and (neutral) external assessors 24.5% each...

As I wrote on a previous thread, regular performance reviews would cut out the 'dead wood' people complain about as being spared when lay-offs happen...

Then if lay-offs are necessary, it should be last on, first off, as in other industries...

I myself don't think lay-offs are ever necessary; what I think ought to be happening is that we should be moving towards the stated goal of having smaller classes in all our schools - smaller classes means we need to keep our teachers, and maybe even hire more....
Chris S. said…
Thanks, seattle citizen. That information needs to get out. You also made me realize that any evaluation that is meaningful is not going to be easy. Stand for Children should keep that in mind. I'd rather have a coin-toss than WASL-score based measure because at least no one is under the impression that the former is meaningful...

So is the issue that a balance between fair & meaningful vs. do-able needs to be found? Or is it that what the union accept the district won't do and what the district wants the union won't accept?

I guess that the district is not following through on what it agreed to on paper is..uh passive aggressive?
seattle citizen said…

Yes, the student is the recipient (I prefer not to say customer) of the educator's wealth or dearth. The student's parents might or might not be involved.

What happens over time? Say you're a middle school teacher: in 2009, you get 51% of your evaluation by one group of students/parents (who might or might not be knowledgeable or neutral - the student is there NOW, mightn't the tendancy be to advocate for short-term goals?) then, three years later, you have a new group of students, new parents, maybe some of them don't like for whatever reason a particular educator and they game the system to lose them...or the teacher survices THAT, but then three years later yet another group of students/parents come in, different people entirely with different goals and understanding (your scenario involves and ideal - institutional memory and active parent/guardians working not on behalf of their children but opn behalf of the long-term institution (and even the district)

I'm playing devil's advocate, but I see potential for instability (and caprice) as being detrimental to the welfare of the educator. Yes, the student is the reciever (the "customer") but that does not mean the student is the employer, nor are the parents.

Hopefully, "ideally" :), the employer or a neutral evaluation team knows what it needs in education. Do parents and students?

If I were to weight student/parent evaluation, I would weight it at much less, maybe %20. I would also be hypervigilant for parent/guardians advocating because of experience their child had, and not on the larger picutre (in other words, I'd argue against evaluation teams that have as members parents who "believe" their child got a "bad" education; this introduces bias. Rather, there needs to be a stronger system in place for parent's concerns to be met in a regular "complaint" process, and, additionally, more collaboration between students, parents and teachers in setting expectations and goals, etc)
seattle citizen said…
"So is the issue that a balance between fair & meaningful vs. do-able needs to be found? Or is it that what the union accept the district won't do and what the district wants the union won't accept?"

yes, balance needs to be found. The union (educators) needs to step up and propose/accept, and management needs to be creative rather than following national efficacy.

I think what's missing in this thred (and elsewhere) is a deliniation oif two things, in order:

First, what should be evaluated?
Then, after you decide that, WHO will do the evaluating?

First, I propose these things to be evaluated:
Evidence of lesson planning over time;
Evidence of lesson delivery over time;
Evidence of divergences from planned lessons, their intent, and their usefulness;
Evidence, classroom-based, of learning that takes into account a wide and somewhat fluid variety of factors, including student demographics, student participation and its fluctuations (a psych-based analysis, somehow, of a student's "mood" on any given day - are they recpeptive? Are there personal problems? etc.)
Evidence of "people skills" - does the educator yell? Why? Do the students practice good learning practices? etc.
Evidence of the educator meeting certain school/district expectaitons pertaining to the Source, out-of-classroom activities etc.

Wow. The list goes on and on. But maybe others have ideas...What should we evaluate?
Okay, but teachers, tell us - how would you like to be evaluated?

I hear all the things you don't want or don't think will work. Are you saying you don't think it possible to evaluate teachers?

I wait and wait for teachers to tell me what THEY think would work and all I hear is what won't.

Please tell me what you would support in the way of teacher evaluation.
Sahila said…
seattlecitizen... hiya!

actually, I think the students/parents are the employers/customers/clients - they pay the taxes that fund the schools that pay the wages/salaries of educators...and they have the most at stake (the success/rest of the childrens' lives) in the process of laying a strong educational foundation...

I'm looking at the education system/structure and power base from an 'alternative' perspective - where education delivery is a community-directed, collaborative, student-centred process... and I am incensed, to put it plainly, at the lack of parental input into these basic issues...

I am thinking of an example I have been watching where a teacher has shown very little preparation and barely any existence of lesson plans over the rest of the year, but managed to create them and deliver them to the class over a period of a few weeks when it was required for the national certification process that person undertook... I apologise for the awkwardness of that sentence, but I was wanting to keep it as anonymous and gender/grade neutral as possible...

I know this has been going on with this person for a number of years... some parents have been/would be fine with it, others have not/would not... my point is that when evaluation was at stake, the teacher was able to pull out the stops and do what was necessary to meet those requirements, but when the video camera was off then that person reverted back to a different way of doing things... external evaluation, especially if it was not unannounced/unexpected would not bring to light this discrepancy...

anyway - I agree with Melissa and Chris - I would love to know what teachers want in this regard.... maybe it is not so far from what parents want... and if parents and teachers all want the same thing, then maybe there is leverage there to get the District to buy in...
seattle citizen said…
Yes, if a teacher had time to prepare, an external evaluator might not learn much. But if they were unannounced...
You ask what teachers want "in this regard" (method of evaluation). I'd suggest that first we must determine what is in the best interest of the students, schools, districts and state in terms of evaluation. First discover what it is we're looking for, then determine how to get it and who does the work.
dj said…
At least at the universities where I have taught, we have had teaching evaluations conducted that are scheduled, and while I understand that there are possible issues with that in terms of teachers who ordinarily slack off suddenly pulling things together for a scheduled evaluation, there are issues on the flip side as well (I occasionally show films or otherwise have classes that are unrepresentative of my general teaching approach, and an evaluator arriving on such a day would get a warped view of my approach). I'm not convinced that evaluations need to be a surprise.
Megan Mc said…
I can't think of a job as complex as a public K-12 teacher. There are so many components that make up the job and what it means to be "good" at each of those components.

Melissa said,
"I hear all the things you don't want or don't think will work. Are you saying you don't think it possible to evaluate teachers? "

Maybe the union and the district could come up with an evaluation of what a "bad" teacher looks like and measure teachers against that.

Poor Parent Communication (documented by parent complaints)
Ineffective Instruction (documented by peer review, student evaluations and classroom data - not standardized tests)
Unprofessional Conduct (documented by principal) Example: not coming to work on time, not following up on coach recommendations, failure to submit administrative documents on time

Teachers could maintain a portfolio of all the other great and wonderful things they do and submit it for further compensation. I have no idea how this would be arbitrated (by the union? the principals) and how the district would budget for this since the teachers would be submitting their portfolios at the end of the school year.
Charlie Mas said…
Aside from everything else, I would like the evaluation to confirm that the teacher effectively delivers the curriculum - as evidenced by the students learning the curriculum, confirm that the teacher is maintaining appropriate standards - as evidenced by student evaluations that are consistent with the teacher's assessments and grading, confirm that the teacher is providing appropriate and adequate support to students working below grade level and confirm that the teacher is providing appropriate and adequate support to students who are working beyond grade level.
seattle citizen said…
Charlie, that's a concise (and relatively short!) list of what might be the core targets for evaluation. I asked earlier, what are we evaluating FOR, what are we looking for, and your list provides some foundational examples.
Not to appear negative, because I agree in theory with everything you wrote, but (to play devil's advocate and flesh out some detail):

If a student does not learn the curriculum, or parts thereof, what mechanism is available to determine where the "fault" lies?

Student evaluations: is there a mechanism to identify "sour grapes"?

What is "adequate" support to students below or above level? Enough to bring them to level? What if they're too far below? Enough to move them even higher? How much?

Again, I agree in principle that your list contains what might be THE four basics (not to diminish other classroom endeavors, such as social skills, working in teams etc etc) but, as usual, I'm looking for workability: how will variances be addressed, demographics, "bad hair days" and "waking on the wrong side of the bed"...pure oppositional behavior (refusal to learn)...I believe that it might be possible to factor many of these things, find means and averages, but these external factors must be acknowledged, otherwise teachers are being held responsible sometimes for things that might be beyond their control.
gavroche said…

Isabel -- I see it quite differently: We in Seattle did not "let our city get so far behind other places" as you put it; we have had the sense to protect the essential democratic concept of FREE PUBLIC EDUCATION from the corrosive influence of privatizing profiteers. I see that as a strength, a point of pride about our state, and an admirable indication that we as a state believe that truly free public education is a concept and foundation of democracy that's worth preserving.

Seattle and Washington have had the sense to say we want to offer strong, free schools for all our kids, which are accountable to everyone. We value a democratically elected school board, public accountability, and parental input that public education offers. We do not want to surrender that to private interests or "venture (vulture) philanthropists" whose true goal is financial profit, and not the well-being of our kids.

That's why, like others who have commented here, I also find it offensive and alarming that Sec. of Ed. Duncan and Pres. Obama himself are holding a gun to the states (so to speak) and threatening to withhold much-needed funding if states don't fall to their knees and embrace the Duncan/Obama/Broad/Gates corporate agenda for education "reform."

I find it enormously ironic and hypocritical that these self-proclaimed "data-driven," statistic-preaching "reformers" are disregarding the data and statistics that prove that the tired "reforms" they are trying to force down our throats don't work--and in some cases do harm.

Shame on Obama for supporting this vile snake oil.

Here are a couple of articles (& excerpts) about Arne Duncan's record in Chicago (not so great after all) and the success/failure rate of charter schools as reported in Stanford University's recent CREDO report (really not good), and the direct link between the establishment of privately run charters and attempts to weaken or break the teacher's unions.

"Arnie in (Charter) Wonderland"
by Gerald Bracey


Moreover, if the CREDO results are true, Arne, why are you blackmailing states with threats to withhold stimulus money unless they permit charters or lift charter caps? The logic here is astonishing. Suppose I invent a medicine and find it helps 17% of people, doesn't do anything for 46% and hurts 37%. Would the FDA approve and tout my medicine? CREDO is a Stanford University-based think tank and its findings were that kids in charters did better than matched peers in publics in 17% of the cases, worse in 37% and neither better nor worse 46% of the time. As I closed my chapter on charters in Setting the Record Straight (second edition), "Charter schools were born of perceived failures in public schools. So, if the charters are doing worse than the publics, where is the outrage about them?" Where indeed, Arne?

Why is Obama continuing the failed conservative & corporate-driven “education reform” policies of George Bush?
by Horatio Guernica


It’s all too easy for the rich “philanthropists” to blame teachers or public schools for failing our most vulnerable kids, rather than acknowledge and address the truly difficult, profound and complex social injustice and class inequality in our country that hold too many kids down – and the free market system that helped create this inequity in the first place, not least of which by sending our economy into its current Depression.

Our nation’s public schools should not be forced to accept failed “solutions” devised by corporate myopics. It says something about the legitimacy of such “reforms” when the president has to have his education secretary threaten states with ultimatums rather than winning community support.

That was the Bush/Cheney way of doing things. Didn’t American voters just vote to end all that?
Teachermom said…
We already have a teacher evaluation process in place. The problem is, it is not followed by some (many?) principals. Even if the process is followed, many of the principals don't have the knowledge of the work their teachers do, or they are not themselves effective teachers or managers, and can't give a meaningful and fair evaluation.

I would propose we tighten up the process already in place and really hold people accountable (This word is almost meaningless at this point, but I'll use it for the heck of it.) for following protocol, then see what needs to be added.

We should also ensure that there is a strong principal in every school to carry this out, and realize that if they are not doing their job in one school, the legacy will likely continue if they are shuffled to another school.

Another idea: Let's not keep "biggering" schools and expect one principal to meaningfully evaluate everyone, and let's go back to referring to principals as "educational leaders" rather than "CEO's", that is, if we are expecting educational leadership from them rather than pandering, profitability.....and a "product".
Sahila said…
I dont get why we all arent rolling around in the aisles, wetting ourselves with laughing so hard...

Obama supports Duncan in his efforts to blackmail states into 'reform', and the legalisation and adoption of charter schools and sends his own kids to Sidwell, a school that basically is the epitome of the best of Seattle Public School Alternative Schools Policy C54.00 ...

We really have fallen down the rabbit hole...
seattle citizen said…
well said, Gavroche.

While there's always room (and need) for constant improvement in any enterprise, and change is sometimes good, it astounds me that Arne Duncan (and now Obama) can get any traction selling a product that seems so dismally unsound.

As has been pointed out in numerous instances, many alternative schools, many traditional publics, perform as well or better than many charters. 17% of charter students do better than publics, while 37% do worse? By my accounting, that's an overall loss for students of 20%

And this helps how....

And we have to adopt it to get funding for being "innovative" when the "innovations" are forced onto ua and are, often, blatantly flawed...

Rabbit hole, indeed.
reader said…
What's the big angst about charters? Doesn't it seem that the handwriting is on the wall? Why constantly buck city hall.

OK. So, charters are not perfect. Nothing ever is. We've got an assignment system coming up with vastly reduced family choice -- by design. We've got a school system with an entrenched and protected work force, full of vested personal interests contrary to the needs of the job and community. There are many, many unmotivated uncreative employees. Sure there are some good ones... but few great ones. Isn't there a little room to try something else? Just a little?

Our alt's aren't all that alternative, and many aren't all that good. We need something out of the reach of the union... just a little something. No, you can't just un-riff yourself into a charter. No, it isn't ALL about seniority. Yes, we want teacher observation. No, we don't want a lifetime employment act.. nobody else gets that. Yes, we want variable accountability measure. Yes, we need experiential classrooms.
seattle citizen said…
"What's the big angst about charters? Doesn't it seem that the handwriting is on the wall? Why constantly buck city hall."

Even if charters, or some of them ("17% better than tradtional, 37% worse...") are BAD for public education? "Why buck city hall"? Because we are interested, active, stakeholders in public education, maybe?

You suggest that we just go with the flow without discussion, without comment, because someone somehere at city hall or in DC said that we should, that "the handwriting is one the wall"?

Heck of a way to run a democracy" "This won't hurt a bit..."

You identify what appears to be YOUR main concern, one that is purported to be addressed by charters: Get rid of the unions:
Gewt rid of educators who are supposedly "entrenched and protected...full of vested personal interests contrary to the needs of the job and community...many, many unmotivated uncreative employees...some good ones... but few great ones"

Wow. A bit exaggerated, no?
Maybe you're right, we need more teachers without personal interests, motivated solely by the joy to be had in teaching the next generation...Their needs get in the way of them doing their job, and their needs are harmful to the community, who would rather they have none. If only those "many, many" unmotivated and uncreative educators would give up their selfish needs!

All we need is some "new...young...fresh...cheap" teachers to see some action! Those newbies know how to teach! Their months of experience give them ample skill in handling the issues society lets its children drag into the classroom! I say we fire all the oldsters, those merely interested in their pensions and their McMansions, and get in more malleable educators, fresh from the latest "reformist" training programs at Microsoft and AIG! They're happy with thirty thousand and if they want a raise, tough, there's plenty more who are motivated purely by love and a desire to teach. Talk of money is crass.

You can't fight city hall, even if it's in the interests of quality educations for all of Seattle's children, so we should jump on the charter bandwagon because it's "innovative"

It does sound easier....
Maureen said…
I agree with Teachermom.

More specifically, I'm not sure it's necessary to rank or even evaluate the top 90% of teachers. If principals would just apply (what I understand to be) the current standards and follow through on the paperwork for the lowest performing 10% then I think it could make a big difference. And if there was some level of error and someone from the 12th percentile was let go, it wouldn't be a disaster.

I'm not sure how much good it would do to distinguish between someone at the 56th and 63rd percentile (however defined) in any given year.

The trick, I suppose is that some schools will have none of these truly poor teachers and some schools will have two or three. Each principal has the incentive to think they run the first type of school and not the second. This is where their supervisors must step up and do their jobs.
TechyMom said…
I'm still undecided on charters. I think that, implemented properly, they can provide a structure that allows and protects something very much like Seattle's alternative schools. Implemented improperly, they can be a source of leaking public funding to private for-profit companies. The devil is in the details.

However, the statistics about whether they are better, worse, or the same are based on... get ready... standardized tests of reading and math. I just don't buy that it's valid to say a school is better or worse than another based on standardized math and reading. Charters may or may not be worse, but this data doesn't prove it either way.

Why? Well, these tests only cover math and reading, and there's a lot more to education than that. Some charters have a focus on somehting other than math and reading. As we've seen in some of our alternative schools, spending more time on art or teaching math in Japanese can lower these scores. BUT, the students have learned art or Japanese, which isn't tested. If you're a kid who loves art or drama or languages, you get a lot more out of a school that spends time on those things than one that concentrates on math and reading.

Second, test scores are more correlated to demographics than to anything the school does or doesn't do. A lot of charters target at-risk populations. Do these numbers account for that?

I think we could call our alternatives charters and go on our merry way, possibly even getting some of this federal funding. I know that WA doesn't have charters. But, I expect that with Race to the Top, we'll see another Charter initiative. What if we worked to allow charters, but disallow for-profit charter operators in our state? Would that qualify us for these funds?

Or, maybe we could make a case that alternative schools should count. Make your views known White House Contact Form
seattle citizen said…
Good point about the statistics regarding charters being based on standardized tests that don't tell us much...

As one who just used those statistics in a somewhat vitriolic reply to Reader (sorry Reader, for my tone) I stand corrected.
seattle citizen said…
Maureen, your suggestion of allowing charters but not for-profit charters bears discussion. But as this thread regards the teacher contract, I'd add that I'd like to see charters organized, if they are, around the CBA, the contract. Many believe charters are merely a tool for union-busting: by allowing charters but with the caveat that employees are still covered under their CBAs....that might mollify critics.

Or is the purpose to break unions? This stipulation, or reaction to it, might elicit an answer.
Unknown said…
I agree that charters would be much much more acceptable if for-profit charters were barred.

Since the current climate is not receptive to new alternative schools it might be nice for community groups to be allowed to create new expeditionary learning, montessori, IB, core knowledge, wilderness or arts based schools.
Unknown said…
Oh, and I see no reason why the teachers couldn't be part of the union still, as long as the charter had some control of hiring in their particular building to ensure a good fit.
reader said…
Ah Seattle Citizen, we're not asking for charters without public comment. We're having that commentary now, and we've been having it as a country for a really long time. And, nobody is saying "get rid of unions". They're simply saying, let's try having an option without unions. A small option at that. I don't know a single non-teacher protected by a union. Why should they have that benefit without question? And nobody is saying let's hire the newest, cheapest teachers. But how about use criteria other than "I've been here forever so I'm untouchable". How about just a different seniority system that doesn't place the most expensive teachers in the easiest schools? Union doesn't even allow that. To the unions, seniority means you get the easiest job AND the highest pay. Good for them, but bad for everyone else. Sure principals could do a better job evaluating teachers.... but they're in the union too. Principals know: what goes around comes around. And are not motivated to rock the boat either.

This is all by choice by the way. You want to stay in your union, great stay in! You don't like charter schools, great, don't choose one. Public school kids need choice too. Alternative schools aren't much of a choice and I don't think should qualify.

I don't think I'm exaggerating at all when I suggest the work force in largely undermotivated, and mis-motivated (by things other than doing a good job). That has been my experience. And yes there are exceptions, exceptionally good... but they ARE exceptions not the rule. Schoolmarm is a word for a reason. It describes our teachers! And no, it's not just a problem with the bottom 10%, it's a culture of complacency (but not really incompetence). We can't expect saints, but we should expect more than what we're getting... and, at least an option for those who wish to try to do something better.
TechyMom said…
reader, could you elaborate on this?

"Alternative schools aren't much of a choice and I don't think should qualify."

seattle citizen said…
"And, nobody is saying "get rid of unions". They're simply saying, let's try having an option without unions. A small option at that."

WHO'S simply saying let's have an option?

And how do you have a union if some "shops" are allowed to be non-union?

And how can mamnagement, once tasting the cost reduction, keep from salivating over the prospect of chewing away at more schools, cutting the union memnbership even more?

Why, Reader, couldn't we have charters with union staff?

And I still disagree with your assessment that "the work force in largely undermotivated, and mis-motivated (by things other than doing a good job)." I'm sorry if that's been your experience, but there are many students and parent/guardians who think the union teachers are doing a fine job.

Complacency? Not what I've seen in the schools. I see active, interesting, energetic educators who often have to deal with all sorts of changes every year, and always have to deal with students who bring in heavy loads of crap from the world outside the schoolhouse doors.

If educators are complacent, it's in quietly "going with the flow" of BS that endlessly pours from reformer's think tanks. There are smart thinkers about education, then there are thousands who have never taught, never been educators, but make huge sums of money (directly or indirectly) by pontificating from on high about their magnificant reform (even if, like some charters, the proof does NOT seem to be in the pudding)

"Schoolmarm is a word for a reason. It describes our teachers!"
THIS I don't understand, but maybe I'm ignorant: I thought this term was a corruption of "school mom" but maybe I'm clueless. Isn't a schoolmarm a term of endearment?
In a recent thread, we had posted a link to a story in the NY Times about several charters around the country where the teachers WERE turning to union organizing because they were frustrated at their schools (and their choice is the status quo or leave). So I think part of any charter legislation is the right to organize if the teachers want to. I could see many teachers not wanting to and charters that didn't have unions. I'm not sure I believe unions are the big difference is how charters operate.

I think a lot of difference in charters is based on if they are for-profit, if they have an extended school day, if they have a parent contract, if the teachers have to be more accessible, etc.

Again, one of the big issues is this notion of a "high-quality" charter. Duncan and Obama have to define it and then, somehow, convince states to sign it on in their own states (education is about local control, remember?). So until there are definitions and some idea about how we develop and maintain a system of high-quality charters throughout the U.S., I'll still be on the fence (with my feet dragging over on the "no" side).
seattle citizen said…
Reader, you say that the term "schoolmarm" describes our teachers.

The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English | 2009©

"school·marm / ˈskoōlˌmä(r)m/
• n. a female schoolteacher (typically used with reference to a woman regarded as prim, strict, and brisk in manner)"

Prim, strict, brisk...
Sounds good to me!
Sahila said…
I am not in favour of charters...too much freedom to do as they like (including excluding 'undesirable' children and expelling those who dont measure up in whatever way), too little accountability, all the time siphoning off money and resources from the public education purse...

and I read a few weeks ago that some staff in charters in Chicago and elsewhere are unionising... life was hell for them without unions... low pay, long hours, no respect, being fired for questioning management and having to buy their own classroom resources...




this next PDF discusses charter schools and unions.... note the allegiances of the participants and the authors... not what I would call a 'neutral' report, despite the participation of union leaders...


and for those interested in the theory and practice of evaluating schools, something to look at might be:
"School-based evaluation - an international perspective" edited by David Nevo...

WV - falibl... fallibe? LOL... wouldnt it be lovely if SPS Staff and the Board would admit that they might be fallible and ask those who have the most info and the clearest perspective on what is best for the children of the District, ie parents and teachers, what's needed and where we should be heading!
Sahila said…
http://thestimulist.com/no-constituency-left-behind/ ...

and pigs will fly over a frozen hell....

with thanks to the person who sent me this!
reader said…
Schoolmarm isn't an endearing term, it is usually associated with pedantic behavior and mindless rule following by a teacher... usually one past middle age.

Lots of people are fed up with unions. They essentially killed the auto industry after many years. If you look at the current union contract, and I have, it's not all about the salary and price... it's all about every aspect of quality avoidance... starting with the job interview, before the staff is even hired. Do you realize each candidate must be presented with the exact same questions? No deviation is permitted, no discussion is allowed, nothing. And the interview is brief. The unions don't want you to know a single thing that might make one person any "better" than another. They want no injection of quality from day one. And then it continues. They insist on pay for longevity, and that's in addition to COLA's. Why should anybody be paid for longevity? Shouldn't you have to take on added responsibility to earn higher job grades? That's how it is everywhere else. If you want a promotion with better pay, why not require that the teacher take on a more challenging school assignment, or job? Sometimes it isn't "fair"... the wrong person gets promoted. Don't all the rest of us deal with that every day? On interviewing, why not have the teacher actually teach a class? Show their abilities. This is typical in private schools. But, no, no, no.... no can do. The unions don't want you to really know, who is good, who is not, or... even any area for improvement... in anyone.

There's a lot we could require in a charter: equal access, pay grades for teachers, financial accountability, goals, measures of success, and protection against privatization if that was decided unworkable...

And if we decide that charters did a better job, and were cheaper... why not have more of them? Why would that be so horrible? Is that really the fear? Somebody might to a better job at a lower cost? If they were indeed under paying, quality would suffer because teachers wouldn't want to be there.
seattle citizen said…
Reader, you write that
"[the union]want[s] no injection of quality from day one."
Many businesses use standard interview questions to maintain fairness. Many interviewees know this, and use the "anything you want to say?" portion of the interview to espouse their qualities. Additionally, the union is moot on application packets: An applicant can shine on the application questions, in her/his resume, and in the cover letter. The school (site-based hiring committee, then principal) decide among packets, then decide among selected interviewees. Pretty common practice, eh?

You then write that
"then it continues. They insist on pay for longevity, and that's in addition to COLA's. Why should anybody be paid for longevity?"
EVERYONE should be paid for longevity. The vast majority of workers in this nation and globally are in jobs that require little, if any, ongoing job modification. Denied access to further opportunity, shouldn't ALL good workers, universally, recieve increasing pay (beyond COLA) to recognize loyalty and to bring that person further along towards a living wage? Your comment, if applied elsewhere, suggests that no one should get a raise unless they do something "more productive." Most workers CAN'T do "something more productive." Should they wallow in economic craptitude? Which leads to the next line you wrote:

"Shouldn't you have to take on added responsibility to earn higher job grades? That's how it is everywhere else."
Educators take on added responsibilities every year. They a) are handed packets of material that rain down from above, and told that this is the next best way. They add that responsibility to the previous list. b), they have entirely new "clientele" (students) everyyear, or every semester, or every quarter, and must take on the responsibility of learning new ways to reach this varied audience. As teachers spend time in the classroom, they get better at this and take on more. As good teachers get better, they learn how to add necessary (but not necessarily mandated) additions to thier duties: calling home, activities, conferences, committees, community interactions...

And again, besides those increasing responsibilities, shouldn't every worker (who retains her/his position) be rewarded with increasing pay? If others aren't (you write that "that's how it is everywhere else")then maybe its time to fix THAT. Your "merit-based" pay raise proposal is typical free-market: only those who have (or are given...) opportunity should be rewarded. All others can stand still - if they can't find increased opportunity, tough.

How would all this play out in a charter school? "We can pay more, because our parent base is richer. We'll get the 'better (?) teachers. Those poor people who can't pony up an extra ten grand beyond what the five grand the state gives every student, well, they get the 'worse' teachers, because they can't pay peanuts."
Or, heaven forbit, a large corporation decides that there's money to be made, profit! in opening up shop in a poot part of town, grabbing the state's five grand, soliciting "contributions" from gullible parents or unwary benefactors, and getting away with education on the cheap. Pay nothing, use an endless supply of desperate people, who will do anything for a job as warm bodies to read the script, and reap some profit on every li'l darlin' that walks in the door.
seattle citizen said…
Speaking of profit, I wonder if Edison is publically traded...if it is, then there must be some reports available that show us their costs and funding sources and all that....hmm....
Sahila said…
Well said, Seattle Citizen...
reader said…
Many businesses use standard interview questions to maintain fairness.

Really? That has not been my experience. You don't get a lifetime appointment on a 20 minute soliloquy anywhere but in education.

Shouldn't ALL good workers, universally, recieve increasing pay (beyond COLA) to recognize loyalty and to bring that person further along towards a living wage? Your comment, if applied elsewhere, suggests that no one should get a raise unless they do something "more productive." Most workers CAN'T do "something more productive."

People should get honest pay for their work, and COLA's... but not more and more and more... for little results or decreasing responsibility. No, you don't get more for simply getting older. Those days are over in all industries, we simply can't afford it. Increased productivity is a must. Sounds like you're living in a fairy-tale land if you deny that basic fact of life.

There are lots of opportunities for job grade increases and to take on more... if you're motivated. . Applying the current standards, as they change, isn't "more responsibility"... it's the job from the start. How about teach difficult kids? How about teach in poor schools? How about teach a difficult subject we NEED: math, science, and technology. How about teach special education? How about mentor other teachers? How about do family outreach? Unions discourage all of that effort. It encourages teachers to move to the easiest school and sit there until retirement. I see it everywhere. If some teachers already take on more, great! That's promotion worthy. If others don't take on more... sorry, no promotion, but you can stay at your current level or even move down. That's what the Obama plan is trying to get at, accountability for results. And if the unions have hampered that, charters could be the opportunity to instate it.

Where does it end, SC? Auto workers union required salary even for laid off employees. We see where that led. An industry with absolutely no innovation, at a high cost, and finally, out of business.

Shahila, I'm not advocating privatization but change as you are. If everyone loves their school and the innovations you're getting, why is there even a conversation? I guess I just don't understand all the complaining. Everyone loves to bash the school administration and it's obvious disregard for accountability. Where do you think it starts? What environment did those people come from? Where did they learn that quality and accountability made no difference? They learned it as teachers in the education culture, where they ALL started.... and they were probably the best at their teaching jobs and were promoted upwards.
seattle citizen said…
"Promotion worthy"?
What metrics? You list all sorts of "special populations" that most teachers already teach everyday. SpEd, "tough" students...You propose we have some sort of rating system to see who teaches who? I'm curious how this would look.

What sorts of "promotion"? An educator who enters the classroom has but one way to change job positions (i.e. "get promoted"):
Become a department head (for which they receive a stipend) Beyond that, if a teacher wants to be "promoted" they must leave teaching and become and administrator.
It isn't like industry, where you might move from sweeping floors to manning a customer service desk to managing accounts to managing the department to VP (if THAT position isn't already occupied by some guy who went to Yale because daddy went to Yale, who got the job because daddy knows someone....white...who could slide him in...speaking of interviews, I wonder how many CEOs were interviewed by stockholders instead of by their buddies on boards....I wonder who interviewde Arne Duncan, and what his soliloquy said about his educational experience over there in Chi-town...)
Anyway, my point is that a teacher is a teacher. There aren't various levels of teaching; teaching is teaching.

What you propose, with taking on additional responsibilities such as mentoring etc, is already an avenue of increased recompense for those who desire it.

What would YOUR system look like?
Teacher Level I (basic)
Teacher Level II (calls home, mentors)
Teacher Level III (calls, mentors, does committee work...)

These expectations should be part of EVERY teacher. Teachewrs not doing their jobs should be evaluated, retrained, given opportunity to do what's in the job description, then....

The issue of "hard to fill" jobs:

So Special Ed teachers should be paid more? How much more than "Teacher Level IIs"? What about welding class? What level of difficulty is that subject matter, what sort of students...what's the work load of that teacher? Is it higher than a "Teacher Level II" but not quite as much as a "Teacher Level IV"?

Every teacher coming in knows that some subjects are "easier" to teach, some harder, some more work, some less...they also (hopefully) know they will get all sorts of students and teach whoever comes through the door.

You write,
"accountability for results. And if the unions have hampered that, charters could be the opportunity to instate it."
Then show me the "results" that show charters to be accountable: do they admit everyone? do they meet a variety of needs? Do they teach a variety of subjects in depth? Do they foster critical thinking? Union schools seem to do quite a bit of this already; some would say they do rather well, notwithstanding the constant bashing the receive and the unsupportive community members.

And we disagree on payment, obviously. You believe only those who have access to promotion should get more money; I believe that there are many, if not most, workers (including techers) who cannot be "promoted" as their job classification is bounded, there aren't innumerable pathways "up."
seattle citizen said…
so "Everyone loves to bash the school administration and it's obvious disregard for accountability. Where do you think it starts? What environment did those people come from? Where did they learn that quality and accountability made no difference? They learned it as teachers in the education culture, where they ALL started.... and they were probably the best at their teaching jobs and were promoted upwards."

So the "education culture" 9please define) produces people who "learn that quality and accountability made no difference", eh? Wow, you have a very bitter view of educators. What caused this pessimistic view of public school teachers? How sad.

What "culture" did Arne Duncan experience that led his vision to be so much "better"?

Finally, you write that you don't understand why people complain about administrators, but then go on to say that admins are a product of the education culture, that they are unaccountable and don't value quality, and were promoted to admin BECAUSE they learned well these bad attitudes! So you think admins are a result of teaching, that they are unaccountable and evidently low quality, yet you don't understand why people complain? I don't get it.

Many admins come from teaching. Many are good. Many not so good. Just like any job. Most of the good ones have experience in education and aren't merely mouthing platitudes spoon-fed them by "reformist" think tanks with little grounding in day-to-day academia, they haven't been handed high-paying jobs because of friendship and connections...Like happens, oh, so often in the higher levels of the business world.
reader said…
SC, it's kinda like congress. Everybody hates congress, but loves their representative. It is an oxymoron. I don't understand how people can hate congress collectively, but love the same qualities in their own congressman. In schools, they hate the unaccountable and capricous administrators, but the love (and overlook) those same qualities in their own teachers and esp principals... who were teachers not very long ago.

I wouldn't say the public school system and its staff is horrible, just entrenched, uninspired and unmotivated. And not very capable of improvement. That much is very obvious to everyone. You asked caused the attitude? Observation and participation.

Charters and getting rid of unions, or at least, reducing union impact may not be a magic bullet. But it would be an optional step in accountability and improvement, especially for those who need it most.
I was part of a teacher hire team. We did indeed have to ask the same questions and I get why. It's a fairness thing to all candidates but the answers you get are where you get to know a candidate. There were no 20-minute "soliloquy" from any candidate. From the teacher candidate pov, I thought it fair.

BUT, I still think it possible to assess teachers on job performance. Maybe, as some here have suggested, we don't need to assess every teacher just those that seem to be struggling.

Everyone gets judged for the job that they do. I don't accept that there is no fair way to do it for teachers. They have very complicated jobs given that they are dealing with human beings and from a constantly changing education environment. However, this is the same for people in health care and they get assessed as well.

There's got to be a middle ground.
Sahila said…
I dont believe the best teachers move up into administration-ie SPS District Staff. In fact, I believe the opposite happens-people who find they are not really suited to the challenges of teaching often move into the less turbulent waters of administration where they are not stretched in quite the same way.

I believe administration and teaching are two very different vocations and those teachers who are the best in their fields usually stay there-its their life calling. AND they operate under a whole spectrum of handicaps/challenges having to do with factors that affect their ability to teach and a child's ability to learn, factors that come from outside the classroom and which they have very little ability to change/impact-family, social, personality problems, poverty, racism, abuse, poor health.

Teachers have to work with what they are given-mostly crap and poor resources from the administration (made up of people who cant teach well or dont know what good teaching involves) and whatever the child brings into the classroom on any given day. They're the meat in the sandwich and they have absolutely no control or ability to mediate what they have to deal with. They cant say to a kid:
"sorry, not my problem, not my business, you're going to have to deal with that yourself." And always, the problem the child is facing directly and negatively impacts their ability to learn.

Reader, your position would be valid if we were talking about the production of a product or the delivery of a clearly defined/delineated service; if we were talking about a factory where the manufacturing process can be controlled down to the last minute, where all the parts can be stamped out by moulds, where we're working in a sterile, closed environment.

The act of educating is none of those things. Most teachers take on much more than they're supposed to under the terms of their contracts. They dont stand up in front of a class with a stop watch in their hands and only focus on the topic and deliver a standardised script for 30 or 45 minutes and then punch the clock and finish and withdraw from the kids. We could have robots, computers and videos to teach our kids if that's what we think education is and what we want for our kids-OOPS, SILLY ME, I FORGOT; THAT IS WHAT SOME BUSINESS LEADERS WANT FOR OUR KIDS.

As a society we expect far too much of our teachers-we expect them to provide the safety net for our kids and to deal with/fix all the problems we have as a society created outside the classroom, and we dont pay them enough or give them enough respect to expect them to shoulder that responsibility for us all. And its not that some parents are better, more involved in their kids lives/education, its that we as a society (especially here in the US) refuse to acknowledge that we are all connected, that we have some basic things wrong with our world and very few people can overcome those obstacles without help.

I wont make myself any more popular with this next statement, but this country is about as dysfunctional as the former USSR was, as China, as many third world countries are. It's just that the veneer is a little thicker, more shiny, but its pretty much as rotten at the core as these examples I have given.

If you think that everyone has an equal chance to be successful and that all it takes is hard work and intelligence, you're living in a world that is at least as much a fantasy as the one I have been accused of inhabiting.

Teachers everyday have to live with the reality of what life is in this country-and we blame them for that reality and we expect them to fix our stuff ups and then we dump on them when they cant do that-crazy, crazy, crazy.

I believe that there is room for teacher evaluation in terms of professional development but not this hardline approach you are calling for and blaming all of our kids' academic failings on teachers is nonsensical.
reader said…
The fact that the current union contracts reward teachers moving to the easiest schools, those in the most affluent neighborhoods, and leaves the hardest jobs to those with the least seniority, is well documented. Google it. That is not "pay for results"... it is "pay for lack of results". Don't you think we should at least try to fix that? As taxpayers?

How might a more equitable and accountable system look? At a minimum, it might equitably spread teachers with seniority across all schools. That way, the most senior teachers wouldn't all sit in a couple wealthy schools (most often, without "all sorts"). That would be an improvement for everyone, including the wealthy schools. It might rate the demographics of a school, including any challenging student population, and provide a higher job grade for teachers teaching in schools or classrooms with higher densities of challenges. The union, if it had any interest in students and student achievement, could have instituted some of this accountability on its own. Melissa already noted that they have instead opted for nothing... zip... status quo.

Charters schools would be new, unproven. But they would be accountable to their charter... and closed if failed. And that could inject some excitement, motivation, and choice into the system. And yes, they'd have to be accessible to those who need it most, a problem in some charters.... but a problem in union schools too.
reader said…
You know Shahila, you've stereotyped my position, with some sort of knee jerk liberal left business bashing attitude. And what about the saying "Those who can't do, teach"? That expression came from somewhere... but you neglected it in your list of platitudes.

To clarify, I don't believe in school as a business... or students as "products". I don't believe in private funds in schools or Broad Foundation crap. I don't believe everyone has an "equal chance". I don't believe that teachers are the cause of all educational failings... or even most of them.

From my experience, I see lots of under achieving teachers... just doing what they've done for years and years and years. Definitely not going the extra mile.

Teachers do need protection, because we need them. They might even need unions. But, the unions have gone WAY too far, and charters could add accountability and innovation we need... as a CHOICE. I thought you were all about choice... unless it's something popular like charters.
As dysfunctional as China or the former USSR? Hmm. Sahila if you don't see or know the difference by now between those countries and the U.S., you'll likely spend a lot more time feeling frustrated in this country. Maybe you just missed Sonia Sottomayor's story.

No, it isn't all equal in this country but it is a close as you will get on this planet (for the opportunities available here). And people still clamor to get it.

I've lived other places, too. Every place has good and bad points but this is the country I proudly live in and this is why I work for a better public school system.

And people say I'm negative.
Danny K said…
We've drifted pretty far from the initial issues. I'd like to see merit pay -- teachers right now get extra pay for coaching football, but not for coaching debate club or math club or other things that, you know, contribute to success in later life. Merit pay might also make it easier for SPS to attract and retain well qualified math teachers.

And I also like the idea of making it easier to remove the bottom of the barrel from the schools. We've had a lot of news stories in the past few years about abusive teachers who were "untouchable" because union rules prevented the principals from taking effective action or even passing on their concerns to the next manager in charge of that teacher.
Ex-Detroiter said…
Sorry, reader, but now you are getting your auto industry facts wrong too.

To accurately explain the current state of the American auto industry, you need to address PROTECTIONISM, TRADE TARIFFS, SINGLE-PAYER HEALTH INSURANCE, AMERICAN CONSUMERISM and CHEAP GAS and other issues.

To say the unions brought down the auto industry is simplistic garbage.

The US auto industry has not been able to operate on a level playing field internationally, for one thing. The trade laws and tariffs governing the import and export of fully and partially assembled automobiles has favored non-US auto manufacturers.

The US auto industry has traditionally provided a living wage, retirement and health benefits to its employees—thanks to the unions, and an American belief in workers being able to have a good standard of living. In turn the industry has gotten lifelong commitment from employees.

We also try to have environmental and worker safety standards in this country. Not necessarily true for other countries.

Health insurance costs play a big part in the inequity between the US and Japanese auto companies' bottom lines.

Toyota for example, does not have to pay for its employees’ health insurance—because the Japanese government already does. This is a good example of why we should all support single-payer health insurance, incidentally.

So the US auto companies have been paying their employees benefits that the Japanese companies did not have to calculate into their costs.

Reader - by erroneously blaming the unions for the auto industry not innovating, you are letting the American Consumer off the hook. The American Consumer chose to buy the gas-guzzling SUVs when gas was cheap. So what incentive was there for the auto industry to “innovate” and offer smaller, more economical hybrids? Never underestimate the rapacious capacity of the American Consumer to want Bigger and More of everything, regardless of the longterm consequences.

The story is different now, of course, with gas prices higher. But we saw this phase happen once before in the 1970s during the OPEC crisis and gas shortages – US drivers suddenly wanted smaller, economical cars cause of the cost of gas. But once that was over, they went right back to their old habits of wanting Bigger, Newer, Environment-Be-Damned SUVs. I predict the majority of Americans will ditch their hybrids the minute gas prices get cheap again.

Perhaps you would rather US companies provide no benefits, no living wage, and we go back to the Dark Ages of serfs and lords and peasants? Or maybe we should repeal our Child Labor Laws and put kids back to work in the factories. Hey, maybe that’s the solution to poor performing schools and troublesome kids! How’s this for a new “education reform” slogan: “Teach the Kids a Trade in Third Grade!"

Unions in America are not very powerful, by the way, compared to elsewhere in the world. One of the impediments to this is the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act, which oughta be repealed. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taft%E2%80%93Hartley_Act)

Unions are one of the few elements of our capitalist system that protects average workers from being totally exploited. They may be imperfect, but they are absolutely necessary.

By the way, my father was a lifetime employee of the Ford Motor Company.
reader said…
Does anyone have information about the negotiations relating to special education? There is all this talk about new service delivery methods, so, where is the support and know-how coming from for that?

My hope is that the teachers get what they need and that they do that in ways that don't stereotype disabilities as if the invaders are coming. We've heard some of that, unfortunately. I hope no one is throwing inclusive education under the bus just to make a point that the district absolutely has to step up with the necessary supports for the classroom teachers.

That said, our inclusion general education teacher never really lifted a finger to find out about our daughter's disability. It was eyebrows raised all year all the time. It was discouraging. I don't know if the union leadership realizes that this type of thing is really not very uncommon. There are some serious prima donas out there. Principals really need to step up the pace in terms of their expectations too.
seattle citizen said…
Danny K,
You write that we've read about "abusive teachers who were "untouchable" because union rules prevented the principals from taking effective action or even passing on their concerns to the next manager in charge of that teacher"

I posit that teachers (and IAs) are NOT "untouchable," but that the rules that need to be followed to ensure a fare process are lengthy and time-consuming, but not THAT difficult...The problem, as I see it, is two-fold: One, "managers" (principals) don't have lots of time to be sittig in classrooms observing, or doing other follow-up on complaints etc. Some schools have over one hundred employees. Combine the CBA mandated observation time for REGULAR evals (not complaint-driven) with extra hours spent dealing with issues that need to be documented, etc, and you've got a heavy workload for one manager (or perhaps a couple:some of these tasks can be delegated to APs)
Two, I personally feel that many principals recognize, or think they recognize, the myraid ways a teacher or other staff member might "come under the gun." Parents, guardans, others might have ten, no, a hundred bad things to say about a teacher. Maybe the teacher is doing badly; maybe not. But the principal might let some things slide because overall the teacher seems effective, and to track down and properly (officially) document every complaint would necessitate spending days and months doing just this for a hundred employees. I guess what I'm saying is that the PROCESS scares principals away, and also the idea that many complaints are arbitary, capricious, or ignorant of the bigger pciture (NOT to downplay legitimate complaints - I only mean that principals must decide what to run with and what to smooth over. Principals are widely different from each other. Some react to everyhting, some to nothing, some find a balance. But there is, certainly, an atmosphere of "let's go along to get along." This is not necessitated by the union; it is necessitated by the process of dealing with complaints or supposedly ineffective teachers.

As I've siad before, if the CBA, the union contract, were followed to the letter of its intent, there WOULD be better evaluations. There WOULD be better follow-up on complaints. That the CBA process is not followed is more a recognition of the tediousness of it, the bother...and a beleive that mostly things are okay. (and principals, too, can rely on their own intuition and perspective to come to believe that a teacher is doing fine, overall, in the face of complaints that might or might not have merit. THIS would be the "culture of education" that Reader mentioned, perhaps, the "way things are, don't rock the boat."

But none of this points to a faulty contract. Instead it points to the process. Do we get rid of the process, make it less intiminidating for a principal to just fire someone, forget the documentaiotn or investigation...Is THAT what we want? As I mentioned above, principals differ: what if the principal has a bee in her/his bonnet? What if they have an agenda? What if THEY are merely waiting for retirement?
I support evaluation. I support documentation of process. I also support making sure that due process is followed BEFORE we say "wah, there's no evaluation, the union sucks!"
Give principals the time and tools, and the expectation, to properly evaluate all staff, and to properly investigate all complaints. If THAT doesn't work, THEN talk about reworking the system. Be careful, though: Carte blanche to hire and fire at will places a lot of power in the hands of just one person...
seattle citizen said…
In short (ha ha ha ha!) I support Melissa's plea for a middle ground, some form of evaluation; I support Charlie's "Four Points" of evaluation, but with caveats regarding demographics etc; I support mandating a simpler system of reporting perceived malfeance and craptitude and mandated evaluations of staff by principals (and perhaps, with caveats, others in the community....peers, parents, students...but beware lack of knowledge, no disrespect intended, and beware sour grapes or selfish aims, such as "MY child needed this particular, specific, esoteric thing and didn't get it while Teacher was busy teaching other students!"

Again, I ask contributors to name the things they would like to see in an evaluation: perparation? Flexibility? Adherence to a script? What?
Oh Seattle Citizen, you kidder!

But yes, please, someone, what would make a fair assessment? (This is the third time I've asked so I'm beginning to wonder.)
sixwrens said…
There are lots of methods for assessing / ranking physicians that could be applied to teachers using some type of test outcome (WASL, or percent reading at or above grade level, a few different measures could be used). The comparisons would need to adjust for student characteristics that are related to (though do not *determine*) academic performance, such as outcome in the last year, or maybe some SES measures).

This type of comparison could give an overall picture of performance. Teachers who fall in the lower ranks could undergo observation or some other, more direct, evaluation.

Seems that parent evaluations could also be a relatively simple way to evaluate teachers. The trouble will be getting all of the parents to provide evaluations, not just those with "rants" and "raves".
Following up on Carolyn's thoughts, if parents were given a teacher survey with responses such as "excellent", "good", "fair", "poor" for questions like:

- uses Source regularly
- my child was able to do homework assigned at home alone
- my child understood what was expected in a homework assignment
- teacher answered e-mails/phone calls in a timely manner

Then, if parents wanted to leave a comment, there would be a comment section. Like any other survey, you'll be able to see a pattern in parent responses and judge accordingly. If you don't, with parents' answers all over the place, you might have a teacher with such a distinct style that it only reaches certain students.

But, of course, there would be the issue of some schools being able to get parents to do the surveys. Would it be valid if only 5 parents responded in one class and 20 in another?

That's why you need multiple measures of assessment.
Sahila said…
Melissa - we are coming from very different political/philosophical/economic perspectives...

I truly dont see much difference between those countries and the US and quoting Sotomayor's achievement is pretty much irrelevant...

The USSR and China also have those who beat the odds... the point being that unless you are at the top of the pyramid, gaining success is an exercise in beating the odds here as much as it was in the USSR and is in China... for every Sotomayor or Obama or whoever from a minority group - even from the predominant group - who makes it here, there are millions who dont....

You dont have a democracy here - you would need to bring in proportional representation to achieve that, and I can just see the Republicans and Democrats agreeing to that...

You're hamstrung in moving forward as a country by your federal system - which is wasteful of resources and illogical in that people have certain rights and rules operating in one geographic location and a different set of rules in another - and by a piece of paper written hundreds of years ago which, while providing some basic protection in some circumstances, also curtails the most obvious and logical progress in human rights because its bound by the conventions, thinking and prejudice of the handful of middle-aged, middle class WASP white men who wrote it...

You have a third world economy, which operates in the same league as Mexico, Brazil and China and which economic system is basically a hybrid pyramid/ponzie scheme. Under this scheme, millions cant earn a living wage, cant get health care and have no security of any sort... which is barbaric... countries in Europe acknowledge that food, shelter, medical care and education are basic human rights and have measures in place to provide that to their citizens...

This country is not the greatest on earth... its not the worst but its nowhere near the best either... such a shame when a country begins to believe its own PR and the view of their world that cable TV/Fox/CNN brings them... Nationally speaking, the Brits, Canadians, Kiwis and Aussies, learned a long time ago how to take the p**s out of themselves and their establishments/systems... there are comedians here who do that individually, but I have yet to see this country as a whole laugh at itself...
Rose M said…
I am disappointed that SEA ( & WEA) are not willing to propose some evaluation plans. I would rather have a plan that teachers support then ones designed by the administrators.

I think that one factor used in evaluating teachers could be the amount of academic progress made by their students in a school year. The district tells us that the new MAP testing will be able to evaluate that. That way the progress of a student who is below grade level but made more than a year of progress won't compare poorly to a student who started above grade level but made less than one year of progress.

Obviously that can't tell the whole story, but it is a start.

I think there should be peer review as well. Teacher's know who is effective & who isn't.

Principals need to have time to spend in classrooms doing evaluations. Currently they don't.

There should be parent & student surveys. If there is one classroom in a building that has a much higher number of students who say they don't feel safe, or who say they can't understand the assignments, that should trigger more classroom observations by a principal or evaluation team member. The result doesn't have to be punitive.

Maybe there should be evaluation teams. A team could spend time in the classroom, could mentor the teacher, set up improvement an plan & make a final recommendation at the end of some defined period. There could be a union rep on the team or other teachers.

Just ideas.
reader said…
Gee X-Detroiter, your Dad was a lifetime employee of Ford? No kidding.

The auto industry (which includes the union in the "large") did everything it could to keep gas guzzlers alive and well... forever. It rejected cafe standards and every other effort of the people to move towards better, less guzzlerier standards. They created Hummers and huge, stupid trucks, and forced them on the public. They simply did not want to innovate at all. Zip. And now, they're paying the price. My car in Europe got around 50 miles per gallon, and it was big. (I consider government as the representative of the people btw). Unions for a living wage? I don't consider PAY for being laid-off... which was a union deal, as in any way reasonable. We live in a global economy. People get laid off to save their companies money. Duh. They aren't needed, or aren't providing more value than they cost. It's innovate or die. Detroit deserved to go under.. except for Ford. Good thing your dad worked at Ford and not GM.
seattle citizen said…
Rose, you write, "I am disappointed that SEA ( & WEA) are not willing to propose some evaluation plans. I would rather have a plan that teachers support then ones designed by the administrators."

Do you have information that tells you the union ISN'T proposing evaluations? The negotiation process is just that, talks back and forth. Five years ago, this process resulted in the current CBA, which has an evaluation process outlined. I'm sure that this is the result of discussion: proposal, counter-proposal...

That said, I think you have some very good points about other sorts of eval, such an eval that looks not at raw WASL scores but at "value-added" data for each student. IF a number of other factors could be used with this (there is such a huge variety of students, factoring in these diverse factors will be the tricky part...Perhaps this is another reason for multiple forms of evaluation), it would give a much better picture of teaching than does the WASL....or maybe even MAP...(BTW, FYI, here's MAP: www.nwea.org It's NOT the WEA, it's the Northwest Evaluation Association. There's info about MAP, their product, on this website.)
seattle citizen said…
You ask, "please, someone, what would make a fair assessment? (This is the third time I've asked so I'm beginning to wonder.)"

I think the first question is what should be assessed? I think there are some suggestions here but they're buried in the rhetoric (ahem....cough, cough)
Maybe a new thread, titled:
What skills should be assessed in educators?

THEN we can ask, "How should we assess for these skills?"
Sahila said…
educator skills to be assessed (not an exhaustive list and not in any particular order, except maybe the first):

*must like children! (see Mary Poppins for the reference!)
*enthusiasm, passion even for teaching and their subject
*child-centred approach
*subject expertise
*knowledge of learning styles and latest research/techniques relating to effective teaching/learning
*ability/willingness to teach to each of those learning styles and the most up-to-date learning knowledge
*willingness/ability to be creative in presenting/teaching curricula
*willingness to partner with their students and with parents/community
open door policy
*willingness/ability to lead and shepherd in a non-authoritarian manner...

These qualities are what I have seen in good teachers and what I would look/assess for...

Most of these attributes are non-quantifiable, but they are qualitatively measurable... and if these qualities are present in a teacher and brought forth in a classroom, I am convinced class average academic results would be more than satisfactory ...
seattle citizen said…
That's a good list, Sahila. I agree with all of them. They are pretty exhaustive in covering, as you indicate, the non-quantifiable aspects of what we would like to see in our educators.

We also need some quantifiables: For the sake of fairness (so teachers are being evaluated objectively) and because this is what many stakeholders want.

It would be tough to evaluate a teacher on qualitative data. It can be done, but it might be subjective, and subject to whimsy and caprice. I'm afraid that, unfortunately, to satisfy the taxpayers (many of whom are unfamiliar with qualitiative research and eval) we might best come up with some numbers.

Does anyone have a good place to start in finding "hard data" that can be evaluated? Rose, I think it was, suggested using a sort of value-added system, where the student's knowledge is measured going in and coming out (over the course of a quarter or however long that student has that teacher. This seems a better indicator than mere WASL scores generally, but there's still room for error in all the variety of things students bring, do, and don't do...
(come to think of it, if a student comes in at, say, a 5th grade level and the teacher can't raise them at all, is that necessarily the teacher's issue? Are they responsible? The student could be progressing nicely, then "opt out" of learning in that quarter.

To alleviate this problem, I recall that someone suggested using averages: If MANY students in one particular classroom were't progressing, where many students in somewhat similar classrooms next door were, now you've got an indicator....

Student progress has to be looked at somehow (it's the "product" of the teacher's effort, after all...not to disrespect enthusiasm, commitment, etc, but those things are aimed at student progress...right?)
seattle citizen said…
Can someone supply me with some extra "end parentheses"? I seem to keep running out at the end of my parentheticals...
reader said…
Melissa writes on teacher interviews:

From the teacher candidate pov, I thought it fair.

Well that's great for the teachers. Actually, not really. Student teachers and subs in the building have a huge advantage over Jo-Blow, because they are better known in their buildings. Is that "fair"? Melissa, did you really think that you knew from the simple-minded interview process, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the teacher could do the job? Did you really know how they would handle a classroom, or a discipline situation? Did you really know anything about their work-ethic or ogranizational skills? I don't think so. Or did you just get a hunch?

When you start out unable to really differentiate quality, you already make things difficult. Fairness to the "prospective teacher" is NOT the first priority by any stretch. The first priority is identifying the best candidate.

The first step in evaluating teachers is associating student improvement with specific teachers. Student achievement is less interesting. How much progress did each student make? And, as with precision teaching methods, which are highly data driven, the data should be logarithmic at some level. So for example, getting a year of progress at a lower level, or from someone behind, is a greater accomplishment than, say, getting a year of progress from an 11th grader. Put another way, a fifth grader who starts out with first grade skills, but improves one grade level... has accomplished much more than an on-track 11th grader who progresses 1 year.

That's the sort of data we need, but don't have. And it's the sort of data we should be using to motivate our work force.
Josh Hayes said…
I'm sorry, reader, but that makes no sense.

Your request for data rests on a number of assumptions, and foremost among them is that there is some accurate empirical way of measuring "student performance". This is simply wrong.

And since it IS wrong, the idea that teachers should be judged on the basis of some set of fictional numbers is clearly absurd. Hey, I have a request: we should also take into account teacher minchiness and splurgitude. Those are, of course, critical.

They are also, of course, equally fictional. We all know that students do learn things. We know they progress. We do not have any agreement AT ALL on measures of that progress. My son, for instance, was reading at about 10th grade level in 3rd grade. He's now assessed at reading at about 12th grade level (in grade 7). Oh, no! He's only advanced two grades in FOUR YEARS! His teachers must STINK!

It's this kind of simple-minded, wrong-headed, statistical analysis that inevitably emerges from such demands for "data-driven assessments". I've worked in fields like this, and believe me, that's what happens. It's not about truth, or value, it's about how I can tweak my spreadsheet, and that's something we've got entirely too much of already in SPS.

"Assessment" is not the bugaboo: it's how you do it, in real terms, that's the problem.
reader said…
Josh, so you're saying you'd like good teachers but are unwilling to have any measure that measures them? Or anything that rewards good performance? Status quo is therefore completely inevitable. ??? Achievement gap... all irrelevant, since we don't really even know what "achievement" is, there can't possibly even be an "achievement gap". ??? Is that what you're saying?

If that's your position, why shouldn't a school district just say... "Hey Josh, all our schools are equally good, all of our teachers equally good.... and so, you get 0 choice, or even input. We don't need it, and neither do you. And no, we don't need any alternative schools either, regular is fine. Look. We've measured nothing and it was all good."

In fact, that IS pretty much what they've said and implied.

I guess I think that in reading, your reading teachers might not stink... but, without more input, she hasn't accomplished anything too remarkable. Yes, we should have more data than just "reading score", but that should be part of it. And if a seventh grader, reading at second grade level, were improved to reading at 6th grade level in one year... well that would be huge. And if a teacher consistently had results like that, we should know about it, and do more of it, and pay more for it. Right now, we can't even know about it. Right now we have a vague idea about what achievement is, and where there is achievement... but no idea about academic improvement. Without that, we can't replicate academic success.
reader said…
PS. At some point "reading level", as a measurable concept, doesn't have any meaning. I'd say that point is probably about 9th grade level. Afterall, we would never say... look at Suzy-Q over there, she's 45.. but reads like a 60 year old. She must be doing something right!
"Melissa, did you really think that you knew from the simple-minded interview process, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the teacher could do the job? Did you really know how they would handle a classroom, or a discipline situation? Did you really know anything about their work-ethic or organizational skills? I don't think so. Or did you just get a hunch?"

Reader, were in the room with me? I don't think so and therefore, I have no idea why you believe it was a simple-minded interview? It wasn't. And yes, we did ask about discipline.

Did I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that this person was a perfect teacher? Nope. Does anyone know for sure anyone is just right for a job? Of course not unless you have been interviewed for the Secret Service or Special Ops.

And, for the record, I left out that I didn't like the outcome of the interview based on factors like familiarity and let the administrators/district staff know that I did not believe the interview had been conducted properly. Enough said.

So now, we not only have the problem of not being able to figure out how to assess teacher but also how to hire them?

It's a wonder anybody wants the job.
Mr. Edelman said…
Ah, reading assessments. Now there's something I actually know a little something about. I'm not an expert, but I'm familiar with some of the literature and, more importantly, I have practical experience.

There is no reading assessment that is completely reliable. Some students score well on one assessment and badly on another. Sometimes a reading score is more a measure of how a student is feeling at the time of the test than anything else. Teenagers are (surprise!) moody--an assessment may show that a student has gone down in reading ability, but the reality might be that the student is depressed, unmotivated, worried, sleep-deprived or something else.

Some students react badly to computer-based assessments because they hate computers. Some react badly to paper-and-pencil assessments. Some react badly to timed assessments. Some react badly to untimed assessments. Some react badly to all assessments. Some do much better with a portfolio assessment. Some do much better with an oral assessment.

So am I saying that students shouldn't be assessed? Of course not. But if you want an accurate picture of a student's reading ability, you should use a variety of assessments in a variety of contexts.

Does this mean that teachers' performance shouldn't be assessed? No, of course not. A variety of assessments in a variety of contexts should be used, however. I think it's a mistake to use one type of measurement to assess teacher performance.

In my view, teacher evaluations should be worked out with supervisors. Teachers and supervisors should agree to a set of goals, and the evaluations should be based on whether there's evidence the teacher has met those goals. Evidence should come in the form of observations, formal assessments, portfolios and so on.

I have no problem with data-gathering, as long as we're not sacrificing too much class time for an endless series of assessments. I use data to inform my practice. However, I try to use it wisely by taking into consideration multiple assessments.

There are many complications I haven't even touched on. For example, in the past, most of my students have spoken a language other than English at home. How do these students progress? It depends. Students who are new to English progress very slowly, according to some reading assessments, for the first couple years. If they're motivated, if there's a history of literacy at home, and if they receive good instruction, the rate at which they improve increases over time. These are factors that should be considered in any teacher evaluation.

Finally, teachers are not curriculum-delivery machines. A teacher can perfectly implement a curriculum and fail to help his or her students to improve. That's because, in my experience, fifty percent of teaching is motivating students. In all this talk about student achievement, teacher performance, data-gathering, bla, bla, bla, I haven't heard much discussion about the complications of student motivation. We need to be talking about it, in my view.
Sahila said…
Seeing I dont believe in standarisation, I would be looking for individual child progress...

A teacher is succeeding in his/her work if Jane/John shows movement forward over the course of the entire year...

Jane/John might stand still for a certain period of time - learning does have plateaus, just as physical growth does... and there might also be a marking time for a period because the mind/body/spirit is focusing on things other than academic learning...

I would say that a teacher's performance/ability ought to be looked at when Jane/John actually regresses or stands still for more than a semester, for example...

IF you can rule out factors in the child's headspace/life outside the classroom that might be a contributing cause to the failure to progress, then its likely to be a teaching issue...

You measure a child's progress (and teacher performance) by looking at the child's work/output/development over the entire year - portfolio/narrative progress reports, not by a standardised test which doesnt uncover true comprehension and ability to reason, problem solve, articulate anyway...

And also.... can you say there has been no improvement if Jane/John hasnt increased their reading range, but has grown to the point where they are no longer the 'troubled' child in class, the distractor, the outsider, the bully, the fill-in-whatever-lable-you-want-to-use-here...?

This whole thing about measuring academic improvement is so artificial... growth doesnt happen in a linear fashion... it doesnt respect the school year timeline - X amount of growth between September and June... so stupid to be operating with such a artificial/false set of criteria...

What a waste of time and energy twiddling with an outdated, dysfunctional, illogical paradigm which was never really about education anyway...

Why are we still messing with this... for the business minded amongst you who think that education ought to be approached in the same fashion, I used to work with people involved in new product design and manufacture. In prototyping and manufacture, at a certain point there is no way to improve something that is basically flawed ... the only way to change things for the better is to pull down the entire system and start again, with a more congruent set of premises setting the framework...

There's an entire process devoted to this problem - its called Stage Gating - part of rapid prototyping theory and practice... might be a good idea to think about applying this to our education system... a far more effective, efficient and humane approach to finding out what does and doesnt work and why, and coming up with better solutions than this 'fumbling in the dark' approach SPS is so fond of taking....
TechyMom said…
I completely agree with this statement:

"In my view, teacher evaluations should be worked out with supervisors. Teachers and supervisors should agree to a set of goals, and the evaluations should be based on whether there's evidence the teacher has met those goals. Evidence should come in the form of observations, formal assessments, portfolios and so on."

That's how evaluations work in most other professions (notice I said PROFESSION, not JOB).

However, that takes a lot of time to do well. Not only does it require evaulations at least once a year, there need to be opportunies to check in and make sure you're on track, while you still have time to fix it... at least monthly. Someone on this thread said that principals are responsible for as many 100 teachers. Do all the teachers report directly to the principal? It would be very hard to do high quality evaluations of 100 people, let alone monthly check in meetings. Honestly, it would be hard to keep the details about each of 100 people clear in your head. Principals have lots of duties, and this is a big time commitment to add.

What about having smaller groups of teachers reporting to department heads or team leaders? It's pretty easy to get to know the goals, strenghts and weaknesses of 7-10 people. The principal and other team leads could review decisions to provide checks and balances, prevent capricious or malicious evaluations. Teachers who show talent for motivating and organzing people could become team leaders, and get extra pay for that.

This type of approach is used in many, many companies that have high-skill employees who they want to keep, motivate and grow. Most people find it both fair and useful. Could schools use a similar approach?
Mr. Edelman said…
"And also.... can you say there has been no improvement if Jane/John hasnt increased their reading range, but has grown to the point where they are no longer the 'troubled' child in class, the distractor, the outsider, the bully, the fill-in-whatever-lable-you-want-to-use-here...?"

Good question. For example, a student won't progress in reading if he or she hates it--if, that is, the student experiences it as painful, frustrating, boring, and so on. In this case, dispositional change is as important as an improvement in reading comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary. How is a dispositional change accomplished? This is not a simple process, believe me. It can take months for a student to change how he or she feels about reading. It helps for a student to have reading material at his or her level that appeals to the student personally. Students have to make connections with what they read, and the teacher's job is to help with that. The teacher can also help with reading strategies, help create a culture of reading in the classroom, help build vocabulary, and so on. The teacher also has to find a way to motivate students individually.

The long and the short of it is that in some infrequent instances students need almost a year to change how they feel about reading. That may be the only progress for the year--progress that one can find evidence for (student surveys, narratives, etc.) but that isn't easily turned into data.

However, we're talking about what should be an exception. The point of assessments shouldn't just be to evaluate the teacher. The teacher uses assessments to inform his or her practice. If there's no evidence that a student is making any progress, then the teacher has to figure out what to do. The teacher should also use assessments to demonstrate to students how much progress they're making. Part of motivating students is proving to them that they're getting better. When they see themselves making progress, they gain confidence--it helps tremendously. As I think I said, I figure motivation is about fifty percent of the job.

Teachers may do some creative things to motivate students--things that are not strictly part of the district-mandated curriculum. That's why results are more important than fidelity of implementation.
Unknown said…
"In my view, teacher evaluations should be worked out with supervisors. Teachers and supervisors should agree to a set of goals, and the evaluations should be based on whether there's evidence the teacher has met those goals. Evidence should come in the form of observations, formal assessments, portfolios and so on."

This is exactly the system that is in place right now. Every year teachers must define a specific set of goals based on the school's transformation plan. They must also decide (with the principal) what evidence will be presented to show whether or not those goals have been met. Near the end of the year, each teacher meets with the principal to go over the goals and the results, based on the evidence. The principal then writes up a formal evaluation for the teacher based in part on these goals, and in part on principal observations and on other professional development goals that have also been set by the teacher at the beginning of the year.

If it's teacher evaluation that everyone wants, it is already in place.

If it's merit pay everyone wants, then there better be an unlimited pot of money to give every teacher who deserves it some extra pay, because that is what it would come down to. Do you really thing there are that many poorly performing teachers?
Mr. Edelman said…
"They must also decide (with the principal) what evidence will be presented to show whether or not those goals have been met. Near the end of the year, each teacher meets with the principal to go over the goals and the results, based on the evidence. The principal then writes up a formal evaluation for the teacher based in part on these goals. . ."

To be precise, teachers are evaluated by supervisors, who may or may not be principals. A teacher's supervisor may be an Assistant Principal. I don't know of any cases where the department head is the supervisor.

At Microsoft, we had quarterly evaluations. There were maybe six or eight people in my department, and my manager and I worked out quantifiable goals each quarter. Much of the important stuff I did wasn't quantifiable, so the goals were really BS, and everyone knew it (except upper management). In any case, my manager would rank her employees in order of importance to the department, and raises and stock options were handed out accordingly. At least that's how I remember it. Really, it came down to her personal judgment--the quantifiable goals were a joke.

In my view, my evaluations at SPS have been far more valid than at Microsoft.
Sahila said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sahila said…
Microsoft and evaluations... doesnt matter what you get in evaluations - you can consistently have the highest grades possible as given by customers who experience interaction with you and still get fired - just on the word of some senior executive who sees you once and then decides you dont fit his idea of the perfect person for the job...

And with Washington being an 'at will' state, you have no protection and no comeback, nor do your hiring managers and your direct microsoft managers who advocate as hard as they can (without putting themselves in jeopardy) for you to keep your job because you are very good at it...

Anyone who argues that we need to dilute unionism in this state, for teachers or other workers, hasnt been on the receiving end of unfair dismissal...which sad to say happens more often than you might think in the 21st Century...

and, it seems any concerns we might have about what's going on in the District dont just relate to Marie Goodloe-Johnson's conflict of interest in holding a Broad Board position while at the same time hiring Broad fellows, converting their residency to full-time, permanent positions and having a fellow Broadite facilitate her evaluation by the SPS Board. I believe that our beloved Superintendent not too long ago may have joined the ranks of previous SPS District leaders who crossed boundaries into their parent constituents' daily lives when things got a little hot in the kitchen...the wild, wild west of the Seattle Public School District... does anyone have any historical knowledge about previous incumbents and about the things that are happening in the District now, that can be made public?
Sahila said…

Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the Gates and Broad Foundations and local lobby groups are pushing (SPS) for merit-pay for teachers in the current contract negotiations... see this opinion piece about the status of teachers and their fight to be regarded as professionals, the responsibilities they undertake daily on our society's behalf, and the lack of respect and pay they receive in return... If you agree with this opinion and you think its time for things to change - please take action! Call me on 206 297 7511 if you want to know what you can do...

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