The MSM Comes Through!

Turns out that the AFT/UFT Edwize blog didn’t tell quite the whole story about the online Q & A that President Obama held yesterday and glossed right over the most interesting edupart.   But thankfully The Washington Post is on the case:

Arguably the most animated and substantial exchange was between the president and a longtime teacher from Overbrook High School in West Philadelphia who was seated a few feet behind him. The teacher asked Obama for his definition of “a charter school” and “an effective teacher.” While Obama quickly dispensed with the first part of the question, he could not get the teacher to answer when he asked whether in her 15 years on the job she has encountered colleagues who she would not want to teach her own children.

You can read the whole transcript here, the rest of the education answers are interesting, but things The President has said before.

17 Responses to “The MSM Comes Through!”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Ah, a stunning revelation: there are actually teachers who we would not want to teach our children. As a former elementary teacher and current teacher educator, I will admit that I have encountered many teachers whose classrooms I would despise and even pre-service teachers that frighten me. The question I have: why is this such a controversial issue? Really? Is anyone surprised to hear that there are crappy teachers as there are crappy lawyers, police officers, and investment bankers? There’s also a lot of crappy Catholic priests that end up molesting kids, but they get a slap on the wrist and are sent to a new parish.

    It is odd too that this teacher would be so fearful to admit it. It is likely that she did not want to embarrass herself, perhaps raise some tensions amongst her immediate colleagues as everyone begins a live game of Clue trying to figure out who she was talking about. Yet, it is funny that she was afraid to admit it AND it Obama’s question in reply seems like a gotcha moment for education reformers who are seeking ways to measure teacher quality. I have to tell you, there are some terrible educators out there, I see it and have no problem admitting it. Now, the question is, what do we do about it? Before we answer that, maybe those on all sides should refrain from treating that question like a bomb about to go off. That goes, yes, for BOTH sides of the debate.

  2. john thompson Says:

    The AFT certainly disagrees with the president’s statement that, “At some point they’ve got to find a new career.”

    Ineffective teachers must be removed fairly but efficiently. As Randi says, you can often identify such a teacher in five minutes. Under the Toledo Plan, teacher mentors typically make the decision on ineffective teachers in the first year. We are very reluctant to hang on avoid making the tough choices. Teachers are always tougher in evaluating other teachers than others are.

  3. JCC Says:

    “Teachers are always tougher in evaluating other teachers than others are.”

    Involving teachers in the evaluation process would probably do wonderful things to advance the professionalism and practice of teaching, but I’m not sure how John could substantiate that statement with anything other than anecdote.

    As to making decisions on ineffective teachers in the first year, that’s all well and good for the students who happen to sit in that classroom during that teacher’s first year. But what about during his/her 5th or 10th or 15th year teaching? Many factors besides baseline talent affect job performance, and granting permanent employment status so early in a person’s career is a capricious and inefficient way to deliver great instruction to children … not to mention manage talent.

  4. john thompson Says:

    The Toledo Plan, admitably, has a tougher challenge with veteran teachers but it still is more effective on this problem. We have a lot of anecdotal evidence, as well as pretty decent research, that shows that teachers are tougher in evaluations.

    But, the most cost effective method of reducing the number of ineffective veteran teachers is to deal with it systematically and effeciently remove the incompetents.

    The worst way would be premature utilization of value-added models that would invite costly legal battles.

  5. Kate in Oklahoma Says:

    This was a great exchange between the president and the teacher and I thank you for pointing me to it. I absolutely love what he said about teacher quality, measuring it in ways beyond a test. and (most importantly) doing something about it — using evaluation to actually improve teaching.

    You did kind of gloss over one thing the President said about charter schools — he said there was no cherry-picking because there was a lottery. That’s fine — for the pool of kids whose parents cared enough to get them into the lottery — but it’s still cherry-picking of a sort.

    It’s not picking the finest cherries, but it is leaving a bunch of them — the ones who are most likely to need innovation — to sit, unattended, in the barrel. So, comparing charter school results to unsorted public school results remains an unequal comparison.

  6. GRC Says:

    Are bankers always tougher in evaluating bankers than others would be? Or lawyers? Or any other field? What makes teachers so unusual in how tough they are on their colleagues?

  7. J. Elli Says:

    I am a veteran teacher of 14 years, and I have known several colleagues with whom I would be unhappy teaching my own children. I know many more with whom I would be pleased. What I want to know is what specific criteria will be used to measure teacher performance, and at what stage in a teacher’s career will this take place? Is it fair to have the same set of standards for a notice as an expert teacher? Like many others in my profession, I am not the same teacher I was when I began my career. As in any career, it takes time and experience to become an expert in one’s field.

  8. Jeff Says:

    It is interesting how many current and former teachers are the most lucid when it comes to the teacher quality debate, particularly regarding evaluation. A previous commenter recalled a quote that a good or bad teacher could be noticed in about five minutes. Fine, but it all depends on the five minutes you catch me. I will admit that I am a damn good teacher, but if you caught me, say, during a transition, or if I was sick and still had to come to school, or on a day like Halloween where management can be an issue in most public schools, I am sure that my status would be a bit more dubious. You would have to make multiple observations and utilize a number of measures, unless there was something glaring, like I hit the students, or something like that.

    The problem is that teachers are not going to have the power to evaluate colleagues and policy makers don’t have the sand to come into actual classrooms and make the observations. They want to steer at a distance and look for some quick dashboard measures to make decisions. I recognize that there are limitations to making multiple observations in every single classroom, but if you want to get at that elusive teacher quality problem, this is what is going to have to happen.

    A much larger problem is that the teaching profession does not attract enough high quality individuals from the get go, which makes all this nitpicking evaluation crap necessary. Policy makers and other education leaders refuse to address the underlying causes and cultural forces that lead directly to these quality issues. Again, to address these would be expensive, time consuming, and may look much less attractive in a policy brief or a snappy government report.

  9. john thompson Says:

    Jeff,

    That’s the beauty of the Toledo Plan. Its teachers that peer review, mentor, and then make the tough decisions. Through experience, we learned that teacher mentors need to be people who WANT to return to the classroom after doing their three year duty as peer reviewers/evaluators. The job can’t be a stepping stone to administratioion.

    CRC, I’ll take your comment as a compliment. Teachers are human, but now that you mention it we demonstrate a lot of integrity that may be a-typical. I think the reason is our close proximity to kids. That challenges us to put our students’ welfare above our ideology. But regardless, as President Obama unravels the mess in our financial system (created in part by the same engineering of data that gave us data-driven accountability in schools) he has no choice but to listen to the financial people who have practical experience and he has no choice honor existing contracts.

    I see teachers as complex human beings – no better or worse than other humans, so frankly I don’t understand liberals who want to help schools by turning teachers into second class citizens by flippantly taking away our constitutional rights.

    Kate in Oklahoma, are you doubting our state’s Republican legislature that wants to turn all schools into charters? Sure they’ve invested a century in trying to kill public education and civil rights, but now they want to liberate all kids from silly rules like collective bargaining, due process, class size regulations, fads like AP classes, and secular humanism. Sure we’re 49th in teacher salaries, but if you really believe those silly laws of science (that have in the past produced rot in cherry’s left at the bottom of the barrels) can be overcome. Haven’t you read about the loaves and the fishes or seen the inspiring movies about teachers who overcome all by “High Expectations?”

    Seriously Kate, what do you think about “reforms” which may or may not have produced improvements in NYC or D.C., and people who say we need to replicate those policies when we have 1/3rd of the funding while facing problems that are often worst due to our century of poverty. Why are “reformers” beating up on teachers and not the legislatures that have starved education while providing subsidies to corporations for de-industrializing our inner cities?

  10. Allison Says:

    I’ve only been teaching for two years, but I certainly have colleagues whom I would not want to teaching my children. I have colleagues whom I don’t even want teaching my current and former students, let alone my own kids.

    To the comment above that said that teachers are harder on colleagues than others are….isn’t that true of most industries? Our peers see a different side of us than our supervisors do, because many of us are VERY VERY CAREFUL to only show the best side to those who have control over our jobs – to agree with their ideas, to not challenge them when we disagree, to surpass expectations if we know they’re watching. I think it’s kind of natural.

    But if other teachers were also involved in evaluations, it would become harder for people to show only that best side if it wasn’t a consistent view of their abilities, because too many people would be watching with the potential of actually influencing an outcome. And perhaps the teachers who aren’t doing an effective job (whether by laziness or inadequacy, and I think both are issues) would either step it up, or leave the profession.

  11. tauna Says:

    Great conversation here.

    “Teachers are always tougher in evaluating other teachers than others are.”

    “We have a lot of anecdotal evidence, as well as pretty decent research, that shows that teachers are tougher in evaluations.”

    John, great comments! Could you provide citations for the research that shows teachers are tougher in evaluations? I see this anecdotally in my life as a teacher but I’d like to see the research.

    I’ll Google the Toledo Plan…if you have other sources pertinent to this issue, please advise. Thank you.

  12. tauna Says:

    I am returning this evening a little red-faced, my poor form in commenting here having hit me. I don’t think I had ever even commented at Eduwonk before… yet I just sort of butted in suddenly with no introduction, even asked for sources and offered my “qualified” opinion of the comments!! But I can say I honestly enjoyed and got something out of all of the above comments and the original Eduwonk post. Anyway, with red-face, I apologize.

    There are some angry teachers out here (quite justified IMO) and I have been one of them. But I am growing weary of being angry. I think it accomplishes little and merely feeds into an endless, unproductive cycle of exchanging vitriol for vitriol. A little voice has been telling me for some time that I need to practice more humility in my own postings. Perhaps being wrong in attitude is every bit as damaging to all as being wrong factually.

    With all that said, I am glad to learn about the Toledo Plan. Out here in my neck of the woods, I hadn’t even heard of it. While there can be no perfect method for assessing the quality of teachers, my opinion is that this is likely a considerably more just and accurate method of assessing the performance of teachers than standardized test results. The “Status Report of Intern Teachers” was particularly interesting.(http://www.tft250.org/the_toledo_plan.htm) However, it only goes through 1998 and I haven’t located an updated table yet.

  13. john thompson Says:

    Tauna,

    You made valuable comments. Keep em coming.

    The “pretty decent” study I mention is in hard copy only, an evaluation of the Toledo Plan, and I’ve misplaced it. I’ll get by the union office and find another. But please remember, the evaluation was for our own practical purposes so there was no motive to spin. As far as anecdotal evidence, and if I recall correctly there was also some research, I went through the NEA teacher mentor training following a format by the College Board and both organizations (as I recall) agreed that teachers are tougher on themselves. When I was tougher in my eval of a rookie teacher, the college professor who was conducting the process also told me that teachers were tougher on themselves. When I toured Milken TAP schools in Phoenix, I heard more of the same anecdotal evidence.

    Does anyone doubt that students are tougher in evaluating themselves than teachers? I don’t claim anything definitive, but I’ve never had reason to doubt the conventioanl wisdom that seems so obvious to me.

  14. Jessica Says:

    I am a second year teacher and have read through all of this blogs. I know teachers that I would want to teach my own children and I know teachers that I wouldn’t want to teach my children. I think that the testing and evaluation of teachers needs to be changed and held to more importance. When I graduated with my undergrad I had to take a test with multiple choice questions and essays. I found out that I passed and then went on to get my teaching degree. I wish that I would have known more about my results so that I can improve what I got wrong. There was nothing to better myself on.

    As I listen to other teachers in my school and around at other schools I hear the same comments being made about standardized tests. We don’t want to subject our students in our classrooms to it due to many reasons. Why would we want it for ourselves? We know that it doesn’t really portray much. We also know that there are students that don’t do well with this testing. There are other forms of assessment that would allow our students to express everything that they have learned in a way that they are comfortable with. Shouldn’t the testing of teachers hold up the same ideals? Do you think that teachers should be able to prove that they are great teachers in different ways then taking a fill in the bubbles test?

    I can’t wait to learn more about this Toledo Plan. Also I want to see if there is a way that we can connect the way we want our students to learn to the way that we as teachers learn and are evaluated.

  15. Molly Says:

    There are many great thoughts and perspectives in regard to this issue. The main point Obama makes, however, is the most critical – we must evaluate and assess what we are doing as educators and make changes that will benefit public education, and most importantly, students. Are we willing to look at ourselves and identify our strengths and weaknesses? Are we willing to open ourselves to feedback – positive and negative? It requires a great deal of humility to seek advice and get input from others. I do believe other teachers are very qualified to help us grow – they are professionals, and they are in the trenches with us. There must be a commitment to students and a responsibility to put their needs before ours. Are we willing to consider stepping down if at some point we realize that we are not suited for a position and are possibly hindering students? Teaching is a complex profession, as it involves the human element. We aren’t working with formulas and numbers, but lives. Consequently, it is our responsibility to offer our best, which means constantly developing. I agree that it is unrealistic to have the same expectations of performance for a beginning teacher and a veteran, but it is not unreasonable to ask both teachers to continue to learn and grow.

  16. K. Lorenz Says:

    Thank you, J. Elli. I am a 2nd-year middle school math teacher. I stick, pretty much, to my given curriculum. I have a fear of branching out just yet because I want to make sure my kids are getting the same material as everyone else in the country. How would I be judged? I am aware of the fact that I am not an expert teacher; I know I’m a novice. I have accepted this and
    I am taking steps, enthusiastically, to become an expert teacher. How will I know when I reach it? Is there a checklist out there that I am unaware of? I noticed that President Obama didn’t actually give a definition of an “expert teacher;” he simply gave ideas on how to help our community. I will be interested to see how he achieves “buy-in” and how he plans on measuring it. What happens if we don’t buy-in? Will we be blacklisted and asked to “find a new career”? How will the “ideal expert teacher” be measured and will peer reviews work for everyone? I don’t think anyone knows the answers, not even the president. In an ideal society, we’d all be expert teachers from the get-go – but what about having expert students? And expert parents? And ideal working conditions? Most of us were meant to be teachers; my dad was meant to be a carpenter. There are numerous careers out there that pay more, are less stressful, and the high-stakes are minimal. A new career? I don’t want one. I am all-in and ready for change – give me a program that celebrates the hard work teachers do. Give me an expert policy and president and I’ll be an expert teacher. Until that time, I’ll continue to work hard at it for the benefit of my students and my intrinsic rewards and maybe someday we’ll all be experts in our fields.

  17. Alex Gil Says:

    As part of a project of my master’s I was given the opportunity to surf on different education blogs and read several postings and comments.
    I live in Mexico and reading this article has given me a better picture of how the education is perceived in the United States and how President Obama is dedicated to foster a radical change in the educational field.
    I have also seen that the “crappy teacher” issue not only happens in countries like mine but also in countries where one would think education is a crucial part of the equation and teachers are, as mentioned by President Obama, the most important part of it. I really don’t know what would happen if President Calderon would ask our Education Minister the same question because I believe that the bright side of this is that your president is actually concerned about it and it is actually facing the problem. Now, as also mentioned by some comments, what would you do about it?

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