Something to Smile (Ruefully) About

Over at Diane Ravitch's blog, she has more evidence of corporate ed reform crack-up.  I'll just let her tell you:

At a panel discussion in New York City, Bridgeport Superintendent Paul Vallas made a startling admission. He said that the efforts to develop a teacher evaluation metric was a huge mess and that no one understands it.

He said:

“The Bridgeport, Conn. superintendent — who has served stints in Chicago, Philadelphia, and New Orleans and earned a reputation as a turnaround consultant for struggling districts with big budget gaps — said reforms he backed were at risk of collapsing “under the weight of how complicated we’re making it.”

“We’re working on the evaluation system right now,” Vallas said of Bridgeport. “And I’ll tell you, it is a nightmare.” Vallas went further and said: ““We’re losing the communications game because we don’t have a good message to communicate,” he said. In separate comments, Vallas criticized evaluations as a “testing industrial complex” and “a system where you literally have binders on individual teachers with rubrics that are so complicated … that they’ll just make you suicidal.”

A nightmare, yes. A testing-industrial complex, yes.

Professor Audrey Amrein Beardsley at Arizona State has written extensively about teacher evaluation and in her most recent study–not yet published–she reports the results of a 50-state survey. Not a single state has figured out how to use the value-added data to help teachers, and–get this–in every state the formulae are so complex that no one understands them other than those who created them. And the billions invested in this nutty endeavor are supposed to improve education!

David Coleman, as is his wont, was provocative. “Coleman was perhaps the night’s most outspoken panelist, at one point suggesting that those who believe that poverty is an insurmountable obstacle to improving student achievement should offer to cut teacher salaries and redistribute those funds to the poor.”

End of Diane's post.

Say what?  Teachers,who are being evaluated in a myriad of ways, have new student assessments thrown at them and a new Common Core curriculum coming - THEY are supposed to take a pay cut?

I'm with Diane - let's start with the billionaires who all think this is a good idea.  


Mark Ahlness said…
I wonder if Vallas was talking about using the Danielson teacher evaluation model. I've seen the binders - I had one for a year. It's being used in SPS and in many districts around the country. It is a shocking waste of time, energy, and resources.
Anonymous said…
How we arrived at using the Danielson Framework in Washington State: Race to the Top

mirmac1 said…
The PG&E and Danielson "Framework" has simply been used as a mechanism for some despotic principal or assistant principals to drum out whomever they don't like. It's a perversion of something is supposedly meant to "improve" instruction.
Eric M said…
The "Danielson Framework" we teachers now muddle through rates us proficient if we have "general warmth and caring". But we can be rated innovative if we have "genuine warmth and caring".

General and Genuine were used for their alliterative 'G's" , not because they lie at two different places on the same scale. General/specific vs. Genuine/False.

That's my favorite ridiculous example of null semantic content in Danielson, but by no means the only one.

If you impose a 10 page, 8 point font rubric onto the very very complex job that is teaching, somehow bad teaching gets more attention? No. It just adds more smokescreen.
If anything, administrators have even less time, and teachers are left even more on their own.

There's a lot of hot air about how teachers needed a 4 level scale, rather than satisfactory vs unsatisfactory. Bill Gates himself is still spouting this meme. Well, so we have that in SPS. Very few teachers get rated at either the highest or lowest levels, so, after all the drama, it's still a 2-level system in effect.

And that MAP test scores would be folded into this frothy mix?
Anonymous said…

Mr T
dw said…
There's a lot of hot air about how teachers needed a 4 level scale, rather than satisfactory vs unsatisfactory. Bill Gates himself is still spouting this meme. Well, so we have that in SPS. Very few teachers get rated at either the highest or lowest levels, so, after all the drama, it's still a 2-level system in effect.

Sorry Eric, but as much as I disagree with most of the Ed Reform movement, charter schools, etc., this is one thing that really needed to happen. Pass/fail is not adequate to summarize how a teacher is performing. We don't need pages and pages of complicated metrics and fancy-shmancy rubrics either, but thumbs-up/thumbs-down is stupid. It doesn't provide any way to give official, on-the-record props to teachers who are doing an exemplary job, nor does it leave room to officially let a teacher know they need to step it up without giving them the dreaded "unsatisfactory", which pretty much meant your life was about to become really painful.

Frankly, if I was a teacher, I'd have been all over this, trying to encourage everyone to push for a 4 or 5 level rating system. Think about it, you don't just give your students a pass/fail (in most classes), right? Why? Because there is no granularity. Same thing.

If, as you say, very few teachers get the highest and lowest ratings, that's not an indication that it's still a 2-level system, it's an indication that the new system is working. Few teachers are fantastic, and few are terrible. But in either case, they should get the proper attention they need. A 5-level system would have been much better than 4 levels, but what we have is a big improvement.
Eric M said…
Are you are teacher, dw?
mirmac1 said…
Combine PG&E/Danielson whatsit with $100K in private investigations and you have a witch hunt. Don't toe the line and the principal will place a target on your back and HR (Sue Means) will take aim. It is quite amateurish really. The "investigative" reports read like muckraker rags. I'm disgusted we spend our education dollars this way...
Unknown said…

Two levels, four levels, why not ten levels? Why not twnety five? Because it doesn't matter if the premise that principals are qualified to do these evaluations is flawed. It doesn't matter if, as Mirmac points out, it's still being used as a tool to drum out teachers principals don't like or who have been targeted for whatever reason.

Maybe I missed any discussion of it here, but the PBS/TED show on education last week was curious. Everybody was great from Rita Pierson to Ken Robinson, but right in the middle was Bill Gates.

I thought there was a very strong implicit anti-corporate reform theme from speaker to speaker, even Canada was basically right about innovation, but then there was Gates. What was our favorite technocrat's message? Let's spend $5 billion to get video cameras into every classroom. Why? Because teachers want it and deserve it to get the feedback they deserve.

Yes, good teachers want and need feedback, and like all professionals they want to get better at what they do, and the system is set up right now in such a way that they are not getting it. Gates references Shanghai, and my understanding is that Shanghai does not use cameras and actually has a pretty good master teacher mentorship program for young or struggling teachers. But Gates doesn't talk about that, nor does he talk about Finland, nor does he talk about the PAR program used in Montgomery County MD. There are so many collaborative, human ways to help teachers get better. But cameras?

Gates's talk was Orwellian on so many levels--not the least of which was his skillfull appropriation of humanistic language for anti-humanistic purposes--whoever writes his speeches is very smooth. But perhaps given all the other options, we shouldn't be surprised that he would choose China as a model to emulate. Maybe we have Gates all wrong. He doesn't want schools to be run like businesses; he want them run like authoritarian surveillance states.

Democracy--you know, too messy, not as much control, and not as good for business.
Jack, I intend to watch that PBSC series (I noted it awhile back) but was dragging my feet over Gates.

I hear that Gates says HE even has a coach.

No, we don't have Gates wrong. Not in the least.
dw said…
Eric M said:Are you are teacher, dw?

After apparently not reading: Frankly, if I was a teacher, I'd have been all over this...

Makes me question if you read any of the post diligently, but I guess I'll respond anyway. I am a teacher, but not the kind you're thinking. I am a teacher of life skills. I am a teacher of enrichment. I am a teacher of passion and compassion. I am a teacher that fills in the gaps when a school district fails (whether due to teacher, school, district, state or federal problems). I am the one and only teacher that has the ultimate responsibility for my children throughout their K-12 years.

That said, if the implication is that only a teacher employed by a "proper" school district can determine what makes sense within that profession, I'll just say that I'm not a (published) author, but I can recognize and suggest fixes for typos, grammatical errors and plot inconsistencies. Some things are complex and nuanced, others, not so much.
dw said…
@Jack, It doesn't matter if, as Mirmac points out, it's still being used as a tool to drum out teachers principals don't like or who have been targeted for whatever reason.

Yes, now THIS is a problem worth fighting over, and I've seen firsthand how devastating some of this targeting can be.

The problem is that some people label every single concept as bad, just because it was suggested by their opposition. Multiple rating levels just makes sense, and could even protect strong teachers. Imagine a stellar 15 year veteran teacher, with strong ratings (4s) over those years under 2 or 3 different principals. New principal comes in an wants to "clean house" and/or homogenize the teaching staff. Those kind of past records make it much more difficult to make a case that the teacher somehow changed overnight. It has the potential to make it easier for the union to mount a stronger case for them, if necessary, and makes them more desirable to other, reasonable principals in the district. With merely satisfactory/unsatisfactory ratings, there is essentially no track record, because most teachers just get labeled as satisfactory.

As you point out, a better rating system is no panacea, of course, and any system can be abused. This one is just a little better, with some benefits around the edges. When people start rejecting good ideas like this, that have little to no downside, that's when they get labeled as "wanting no change", which gives ammunition to the Reformers. Not clever, strategically.
Eric M said…
@ dw: Of course I "read your post diligently".
My question was of course facetious.
I could tell right away that you weren't on the ground in a school, because you seemed to so confidently know what we teachers needed, even to the point of dismissing my teacher viewpoint. It is so amazing to me how so many people feel free to dismiss teachers as morons.

I get feedback every day from my students: that's what matters. A 4-tier rating system? Based on 20 minutes of administrator observation over the course of 2500 hours of teaching in a school year? Not at all. Not just my opinion. Ask any SPS teachers.

Can you please be more specific about what you do for a living, so I can offer my thoughts about what would be an appropriate evaluation system for that work? Since I don't work in your field, my viewpoint would be unbiased and important. :)

dw said…
I'll just make a couple points, since it seems you're on your own rant, not really listening to what I'm saying.

First, in my profession it's not uncommon to see managers forced to stack-rank their employees, after which the bottom portion in any group just gets the axe. Doesn't matter if they're all AA all-stars. And yeah, it can get pretty damn arbitrary, and you'd better not piss off your boss. I don't want that for your profession, do you? You may think it's bad now (and yes, I've seen the absolute worst of the worst dished out to teachers, it can be disgusting), but don't even start to make the comparison with other professions, because in almost any non-menial profession you will not win that argument.

Based on 20 minutes of administrator observation over the course of 2500 hours of teaching in a school year?

This is bullshit. First, you're making up numbers. There are not 2500 hours of teaching in any school. Try 185*5 (unless you're one of those super-human teachers teaching 6 periods, or somehow have zero PCP in elem). That's 925 hours. Now, if you want to talk about how many hours teachers actually spend working, as opposed to teaching, that's a different story entirely, and I'll grant you it's a lot more for most teachers. Even still, very few will hit 2500, that's more than 62 hours/week, Every Single Week of the year, including for good measure, working 62+ hours/week through 2 breaks. That's 10+ hour days, 6 days/week, all year long. I've known exactly one teacher that might possibly have come close to that (bless her heart), out of the roughly 60 teachers my kids have had so far and all those I had myself growing up.

So are you talking about teaching, or working? Because your argument is about administrator observation. That's teaching. Get it? Math refresher: you can't add fractions with different denominators.

All that aside, and more importantly, if you think the only thing a principal uses to make a determination of a teacher's effectiveness is one 20 minute session in an entire year, you're making the same mistake you're accusing others of, which is dismissing principals as morons. Principals are in their buildings day-in, day-out, all year long. They are involved with BLTs, parents, curriculum, and engage with staff members every day of the year. Most principals come up through the teaching ranks, do they sprout horns when they become principals? (Okay, I'll admit maybe a few do! But not most).

Eric, exaggeration doesn't help your cause, it hurts it. I'm on YOUR side in this battle against most of the Ed Reform movement. I worked very hard to help eject the worst of our Reform-aligned Board Directors. Your militant stance risks alienating your supporters. Is it worth it?

Back to the topic, here's one question. I've told you one reason why 4 tiers can be better than 2. Can you tell me any reason why 2 is better than 4? If not, then you're just arguing because you don't want any rating system, and for better or worse, that's just not in the cards.
Chris S. said…
...those who believe that poverty is a surmountable obstacle to improving student achievement should pay their taxes to reduce economic equality so that teachers can teach rather than surmounting poverty all day long.
Principals are in their buildings day-in, day-out, all year long.

DW, I would point out that just because that is true does not mean they have properly and fairly assessed the teaching skill of every single teacher in their building.

Their first job IS to be the academic leader and yet so many other their other jobs take over.

That you will attack his work without explaining your own does seem unfair.

The whole point of this thread is that even ed reformers are saying they are so bogged down with teacher evaluations that THEY can't get it right.

Why NOT ask the teachers and start from there?
Mark Ahlness said…
Thanks Melissa, for pointing it back to the people who know. I'm kicking myself for even jumping into this straw man argument which identifies teachers as having ANY part in our "education crisis".

I experienced a wasteful, burdensome, and meaningless teacher evaluation system my last couple of years as a teacher and I couldn't keep my mouth shut :)

Look elsewhere, folks, it's not your teachers who need reforming...
dw said…
A small apology for getting carried away. Part of it was due to things outside this thread, and for all I know this might not even be the Eric M I was assuming.

Melissa said: I would point out that just because that is true does not mean they have properly and fairly assessed the teaching skill of every single teacher in their building.

Now this kind of statement I can totally agree with. What gets me steamed is when people make up numbers for effect, i.e. 20 minutes out of 2500 hours. I'll call that out every time. And I'm still waiting to hear a good reason why 2 tiers is better than 4.

As to what you're saying here, not only do I agree with you, I acknowledge it can be even worse than that. I've seen too many situations where a principal just plain didn't like certain teachers and made their lives hell. Makes me sick. I'm pretty sure many of us who have spent a significant amount of time in the buildings and in close contact with many teachers have seen this in action more than a couple times.

That said, the big question is: How do you balance that kind of abuse with the unfortunate truth that there are teachers who aren't cutting it? In some cases they might do fine with some supportive action, but for others that's just not enough. Frankly, I don't have a good answer to this, and apparently on one else does either, otherwise everyone would be headed toward some kind of standard solution.

Why NOT ask the teachers and start from there?

I agree 100%. Hasn't this been tried in the past? And what has the response been?

I would love to see teachers be proactive on this and come up with a system that seems fair and reasonable. Seniority alone is ridiculously out of date, and frankly it's not fair in a field like teaching, where we need to respect outstanding teachers for their amazing ability (some of which does indeed come with experience, but not all) and the desire for some level independence granted based on that ability. Teaching isn't like making widgets on a factory floor, where managers can swap people in and out at will. That said, coming up with a "solution" would be really, really difficult work on a very touchy subject. My gut tells me it will be nearly impossible to get a strong consensus from teachers for any one method. No system is perfect, and any potential flaws will be magnified every step of the way.

Back to the title of the thread, I think it's great that some of these people are finally recognizing it's not as easy as they thought it would be.
Anonymous said…
Try this from Montgomery County (MD) school district, their PAR system for teacher eval:


Much more fair and reasonable.

Anonymous said…
The fact of the matter is - we've gone "high stakes" for the kids. And so we WILL go "high stakes" for the teachers. It only follows from the same high stakes notion that applies to students. DW is right on this one. Sooner or later - we'll go high stakes for the principals too. But really, they're management, albeit at the lowest level. If kids get 4 or 5 grades or ratings, teachers will also get 4 or 5 ratings. (btw, I can't think of ANY other industry that makes job performance a P/F proposition) I say this as someone who disagrees with ed reform too. MSP/HSPEs/EOCs - are all highly imperfect measures of acheivement, and not even necessarily acheivement that matters. Yet, students are subjected to it endlessly, and to their detriment. You can't ask students to be repsonsible for that - and not ask teachers to sit in the same boat.

As usual - you see teachers wanting endless accountability in their students, but unwilling to take any for themselves.

Anonymous said…
And BTW, the 2 tier rating system really is the 1 tier rating system. Pass. How many people really "fail" teaching? It seems the dead weight stays for years and years. Yes evidently some principals can work them out, but not many.

mirmac1 said…
SPS is spending $$Ms on this, has spent $$M on this, on consultants for the TIF evaluation system, roster verification (Brainbox, PICO Logic, Greythorn Inc, Robert Half Technology, Hansell Tierney), on admin training to use the eval system and the Superintendent's Leadership Initiative, on the proprietary Danielson materials. And it is still being used in an ineffective, harmful manner.
"That said, the big question is: How do you balance that kind of abuse with the unfortunate truth that there are teachers who aren't cutting it?"

Again, go to the principals. My own experience is that a good principal, willing to follow the process, can exit low-performing teachers who have not followed their improvement plans.

It can be done but principals have to be willing to step up and do the follow-thru.
dw said…
Oh, I have no doubt that if a principal really wants to exit a low-performing teacher, they can do it. It takes diligence and a mindset that you don't care what anyone thinks or says, you're just going to make it happen.

The problem is that using similar tactics, principals can also exit middle-performing teachers, and even high-performing teachers. That's the worry. You can look at the Lowell debacle 2 years ago for real-world examples. In fact, because high-performing teachers are more likely to use their own unique methods, they can be easy pickings if a principal decides they are going to get zealous about "teaching standards".

So on the one hand, it may be possible to exit teachers, but it's really hard work that most principals don't want to do unless or until it becomes so bad that it's intolerable. It's far easier to let things ride, and there are always 20 other issues to deal with every day.

But on the other hand, there doesn't seem to be any commonsense protections for good teachers that have fallen out of favor with a principal, for whatever reasons. It's not like the union was effective at Lowell.

There is a philosophy in negotiation that if both sides walk away from the table disappointed, then the final agreement was fair. Maybe that's the situation we're at with the principal/teacher balance of power.
dw said…
reader said: As usual - you see teachers wanting endless accountability in their students, but unwilling to take any for themselves.

Are you suggesting that these tests exist because teachers want them??

I'm pretty sure most teachers would like less high stake tests interrupting their year. It's the districts and state that push for all the testing because they want metrics across their entire systems. I don't blame them for wanting metrics, it just seems like there are too many, too often.
Anonymous said…
Yes DW, I know teachers like the whole "standard's based" education. At least the ones at my kids' schools all seem to want it. Even the ones at an "alternative" school. The teachers LOVE the idea of "standards based grades". Which is really another form of "high stakes" evaluation, with MSP/HSPE/EOCs being the cherry on top. They never tire of posting the letter and number of the STANDARD with each assignment, and with every lecture - as if it were some sort of Bible verse. And all that standard's based stuff can just as easily be turned around on them. And rightly so. If student's aren't performing and "accountable" then that's a reflection on THEM, the teachers.

On the other hand, if we recognize that students aren't standard, and never can be, can't all achieve the same things for a whole host of reasons, don't all value the same thing, and shouldn't be solely measured by "universal standards" - then we free the teachers to actually teach what students need, and what they actually can give.

At the end of the day - if you buy into "standards" and "accountability", you will also have to have "high stakes" something (usually tests) to be the accountability piece. And that will always rightfully be used against whoever set it up. Because if it's the "right" thing for the students, then it's the "right" thing for the teachers. They're a package deal.

dw said…
I guess you hang out with a VERY different set of teachers than me (or other parents I've talked with). I've heard many teachers say they dislike all the testing.

Anyone else? I'd rather not see it turn into a series of individual anecdotes, but rather hear from teachers themselves and/or bigger picture details.

One thing I can point to that is pretty indisputable is that the Garfield teachers overwhelmingly made a stand to fight against the MAP test. They put themselves at personal risk, it was very public, and I believe all or nearly all of the staff that had to deal with those tests stood in solidarity.

Teachers, am I wrong? Do you really like all the testing?

( Re-reading your post, are you confusing "standards-based grading" with "high stakes testing"?? They're not the same thing at all. )
mirmac1 said…
Standards-based grading assumes every child must "meet the standard" rather than learn at their pace and to their full potential. This is a difficult construct for students with learning or developmental disabilities. Once again our children are the failures, can't make the grade, seen as a lost cause. That perspective stinks and CCSS just amplifies this.
hschinske said…
The original theory of standards-based grading is in fact a lot more student-friendly. It's supposed to document which standards you met in this grading period, something like belt tests in a martial art. Not surprisingly, all the best parts of the theory frequently get thrown out in practice.

Helen Schinske

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