Five Ideas, And A DC Round-up

Smart take on some social entrepreneurial opportunities in education today.  And via The Atlantic a good round-up of recent takes on education in D.C. and the election. I would dispute, however, that education is the center of the election, it’s an issue, yes, but there are a number of issues in play – of both style and substance.   The AFT funded ads, for instance, accuse Fenty of being a ‘part time’ mayor.

11 Responses to “Five Ideas, And A DC Round-up”

  1. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    There is a simple way of explaining the fact that Fenty will probably lose the election: In a democratic society it is wise to include the opinions of the electorate and to treat them with respect. In regard to the schools, Rhee could have been successful if she had asked the teachers to help her.

    “When the largest stakeholders in any endeavor are seen as the opposition, you will fail.”

  2. Chris Smyr Says:

    “You’ve been labeled as ineffective. What do you think we should do about it?”

  3. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Chris, I’m glad you asked this question because if there’s one thing Michelle Rhee has done for teachers, it’s the fact that she has disproved the myths of “you can’t fire a teacher” or “the unions protect bad teachers.”

    As she has shown us, the facts are very different. Each state has a plan for dismissing ineffective teachers, but the district must abide by “due process” laws. Teachers do not have “tenure” in the same sense that college professors do. Rhee found out about the ninety-day plan in DC, hired more administrators to help with the legal process, and dismissed teachers without too much of a problem. As we can see, the union was not part of this process until after the fact when it offered teachers legal help. However, the dismissed teachers discovered that if the legal process was followed, there wasn’t much they could do. Long after this “reform” is dead and buried, I think people will remember that it is the administrator, not the “union,” who has the job of dismissing a teacher.

    So what has been the problem? For many years almost 50% of all new teachers left the profession during the first five years. Almost all these people “resigned” at the end of the year. Very few teachers are “fired;” their contracts are not renewed so their leaving does not look like a dismissal even if they were asked to resign. Teaching is actually the most self-selective of all the professions.

    As for veteran teachers, it’s a well-known fact that about 95% receive satisfactory evaluations from their administrators. Why this is I don’t know, but I have some theories, based on experience:

    Teachers in urban areas, until this recession, have been very difficult to attract and retain. Many stay only a year or two. Therefore many principals just want to hang on to everyone who shows up and has classroom control;

    Most ineffective teachers resign during the first five years so a principal might not have any ineffective people on her staff;

    Administrators don’t have time to properly evaluate each teacher so they don’t bother;

    “Ineffective” teachers are sometimes well-liked by the principal and are given good evaluations by them;

    Even ineffective teachers are often popular with parents and children, so firing him or her sometimes incurs the wrath of the community;

    Administrators often prefer to “push out” these ineffective teachers by giving them unpopular assignments so these people quit and are listed as “resignations” and not “terminations.”

    To answer your question directly, Chris, a principal who wants to dismiss an ineffective teacher should find out what the law in her state allows and then follow that procedure. In my experience hardly any principals tried to dismiss veteran teachers, but when they did, they were almost always successful. I’ve read about the “rubber rooms” in big cities, but I never witnessed anything like that. Personally I am hoping that most districts adopt a peer evaluation approach. Teachers would never allow ineffective colleagues to remain employed, as administrators have done for so many years, especially in our neediest schools. I think we all agree that the administrative practice of giving almost all teachers a rating of “effective” has been very detrimental to students.

    There is one factor that is absolutely necessary if principals are going to be able to dismiss ineffective teachers and that is supply. When this recession is over, and the baby boomers have retired, who will want to be a k-12 teacher? If there aren’t many candidates, whose fault will it be? I say it will be the fault of the people who are bashing teachers right now.

  4. Chris Smyr Says:

    Linda,

    I did my best to sound facetious, actually. I will try harder to show this next time.

    “[Rhee] has disproved the myths of “you can’t fire a teacher” or “the unions protect bad teachers.’”

    Much of the work that Rhee has put into DCPS has been precisely because of these two “myths”. Before Rhee came along, wasn’t nearly every teacher in DCPS considered effective? And how often then were teachers let go? There needed to be an evaluation system that not only could terminate employment upon ineffective marks but that also had buy-in from the teacher’s union for the above to effectively happen, and this has only recently come about.

    Your alternative explanations for why teachers are hardly ever let go both fill me with fear due to their implications, and also provide further justification for the reform ongoing in DCPS:

    “As for veteran teachers, it’s a well-known fact that about 95% receive satisfactory evaluations from their administrators. Why this is I don’t know, but I have some theories, based on experience:

    Teachers in urban areas, until this recession, have been very difficult to attract and retain. Many stay only a year or two. Therefore many principals just want to hang on to everyone who shows up and has classroom control;”

    If this were true, this would suggest that someone needs to intervene and remind them that classroom control should not be the ultimate goal of teaching, and that they need to look elsewhere for talent.

    “Most ineffective teachers resign during the first five years so a principal might not have any ineffective people on her staff;”

    This is a good reason for why we should never allow teachers to self-evaluate themselves, since they might eventually come to believe, as Linda ventures to guess, that they really are all effective. Please, just take their word for it. Pay no attention to the data behind the curtain!

    “Administrators don’t have time to properly evaluate each teacher so they don’t bother;”

    If this were true, it’s another good reason to intervene and remind them where their priorities should lie.

    ““Ineffective” teachers are sometimes well-liked by the principal and are given good evaluations by them;”

    This is a great reason why evaluations should be — dare I say it — supplemented by student achievement data.

    “Even ineffective teachers are often popular with parents and children, so firing him or her sometimes incurs the wrath of the community;”

    And what’s currently popular with parents is exactly what’s right for students.

    “Administrators often prefer to “push out” these ineffective teachers by giving them unpopular assignments so these people quit and are listed as “resignations” and not “terminations.””

    If only all ineffective teachers were as easy to get rid of as you imply. The simple response here is twofold: ineffective teachers aren’t all just going to quit upon a bad year (ineffective teaching would probably be the easiest job in the world); and administrators shouldn’t play politics with the educational attainment of their students.

    “There is one factor that is absolutely necessary if principals are going to be able to dismiss ineffective teachers and that is supply. When this recession is over, and the baby boomers have retired, who will want to be a k-12 teacher?”

    Hopefully not anyone who would make a terrible teacher. But at least a stringent evaluation system would help prevent that from happening.

  5. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    Rhee fired teachers before the new contract was signed; she based it on the existing ninety-day plan.

    Yes, principals need to be reminded to look at other traits beside classroom control.

    Evaluations should always be based on both objective data and subjective observations and professional judgments. It’s always been the lawful duty of the principal to base his evaluations of teachers on student progress as evidenced by personal examination, test scores, student work and so forth. Most principals don’t do it because they are overwhelmed by paperwork, parent visits, pupil discipline and classroom visits. Hiring more administrators, as Rhee did, is beyond the financial capabilities of most districts. The important fact is that the administrator, not the union, is the evaluator. Evaluation was a failure of administration, not teachers.

    Yes, parents usually know when a teacher is good. For my own sons, what counted most was the character of the teacher; was she kind, was she fair; did she like my child; did she know his strengths and weaknesses, did she have enthusiasm.

    No, principals should not play politics, but they often do.

    If the recession continues, districts will have their pick of teachers and evaluation systems will weed out the “ineffective” ones, who will probably also be the highest on the salary schedule. Let’s hope, for the sake of children, that we never have to go back to the “warm body.” The way things are going now, I think districts such as DC will have a very difficult time hiring and retaining highly-qualified teachers. One ominous sign is the fact that very few of our top young men AND women are going into teaching. It used to be that we at least got the best female students but now those people are going into law, medicine, business etc.

    A country gets the teachers it demands. If we show disrespect and offer mediocre salaries to the people who educate our children, we aren’t going to attract the top people to the profession. It’s as simple as that.

  6. Chris Smyr Says:

    Linda,

    “Rhee fired teachers before the new contract was signed; she based it on the existing ninety-day plan.”

    Rhee had to initially rely on an evaluation process that was slow, cumbersome, and focused on continued opportunities for improvement for teachers even after said teachers were failing their students down. Useful flowchart describing such: (http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/special/2007/Bfeature0223.pdf ). The only time it ever got extensive use was in the hands of Rhee, and even then this was not a tool designed for speedy dismissal of bad teachers. It’s apparent that the process itself was at least one of the reasons why hardly anyone was ever let go.

    “Yes, principals need to be reminded to look at other traits beside classroom control.”

    By whom? It sounds like you were implying that teachers would do a better job of this, but why? If it’s true that principals were settling for teachers that could simply control a classroom due to trouble finding talent, what exactly would prevent teachers from doing this as well?

    “Yes, parents usually know when a teacher is good. For my own sons, what counted most was the character of the teacher; was she kind, was she fair; did she like my child; did she know his strengths and weaknesses, did she have enthusiasm.”

    But parents are not the ones in charge of the classroom, nor are they supposed to be the go-to experts when decisions arise on whether to let a teacher go. Our school staffs should not be beholden to the interests of parents.

    “The way things are going now, I think districts such as DC will have a very difficult time hiring and retaining highly-qualified teachers. One ominous sign is the fact that very few of our top young men AND women are going into teaching. It used to be that we at least got the best female students but now those people are going into law, medicine, business etc.”

    Can you give a citation that suggests this, or is this experience talking?

  7. Linda/RetiredTeacher Says:

    In regard to a possible teacher shortage, see this article:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/07/education/07teacher.html

    Yes, my opinion is also based on experience. Among my friends and relatives, not a single young person is preparing for a K-12 teaching career.

    Unfortunately, many young Americans share your view of teachers.

  8. Chris Smyr Says:

    Linda:

    You linked to a report that did *NOT* provide evidence for or even suggest that there are “very few of our top young men AND women going into teaching… [they] are going into law, medicine, business etc.” It suggested that retirement of the Baby Boomers will put an added strain on schools to keep a good staff. The report also seems to be humorously exaggerating the impact this will have when it alerts us that “the traditional teaching career is collapsing at both ends”. It also assumes that the departing Baby Boomers are our “best teachers” without explaining why.

    And what is my view of teachers that you are trying to insult above?

  9. Billy Bob Says:

    Actually, there is some good evidence that the academic qualifications of baby boomer teachers was better, primarily because women did not have much occupational choices until the mid to late 1970s. There are tons of analyses on this from people from across the ideological spectrum.

    Hansuhek and Pace in 1995 found that teachers tended to be a little below average in terms of academic qualifications than other graduates. When compared to law, medicine, etc, the differences are certainly larger in terms of qualifications such as SAT/ACT/GRE scores.

  10. Chris Smyr Says:

    Linda:

    Do you have another citation that better supports what you were arguing?

    Billy Bob:

    Being a better teacher doesn’t necessarily mean having better academic qualifications. I imagine most would quantify better teaching skills with some evidence of teaching, rather than with degrees or teacher test scores.

  11. Billy Bob Says:

    Most studies find that teachers with greater SAT/ACT/GRE scores elicit greater gains in student achievement at the secondary level. Further, recent VAM analyses have shown that grads from elite universities tend to elicit greater gains. These were the women who used to enter teaching.

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