Volunteer! Plus, The Poor Affluent…

At last, here’s a thoughtful critique of teacher evaluation in Tennessee.

Per today’s latest Hess – Petrilli broadside against achievement gap efforts, three quick points.  First, it’s as though these guys have never heard of enrichment programs, early childhood education, etc…They write that expecting more diverse participation in gifted programs, “…ignores the unseemly reality that advantaged children are statistically more likely to be ready to succeed in tough classes than are low-income children raised in households with fewer books and more television.” Sure, but it’s not immutable and there are things policymakers can do to ameliorate it.  The same issue applies to their assertion that improving diversity in advanced classes axiomatically means diluting excellence.  Want an example of an institution that has figured this out pretty well?  The officer corps of the United States military.

Second, this part is just slippery.  They write that, “The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and the Northwest Evaluation Association released a study in September that tracked more than 100,000 high-achieving pupils over time and found that more than one-third lost steam as they progressed through school.”  How much did they fall?  And how do we know that’s not just the way the data are going to look?  Hint: The answers are – not all that much and we don’t.  I happen to think there are trade-offs in all this but the case is largely circumstantial or based on possible counterfactuals that it’s hard to examine with today’s data.

Third, this whole debate unfolds with scant attention to what happens to gifted kids who are poor and minority. Here’s a smart paper from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation about that issue (pdf). Petrilli and Hess clearly think that our future rest on gifted children.  But what if a lot of gifted kids are now lost among all the students trapped in persistently lousy schools or overlooked and undereducated in better schools?  In other words, there is a compelling case that many of our potential future leaders are among those falling through the cracks.

Finally, I honestly don’t get this emerging hobby horse among the conservative think tank set.  How anyone can look around this country – even look around Washington in case you don’t get out much – and conclude our problem is that we’re spending too much attention and/or resources on poor people or minorities escapes me.  Longer look at this manufactured crisis from  TIME via this link.

3 Replies to “Volunteer! Plus, The Poor Affluent…”

  1. Thanks for the report from Tennessee. One thought of the author’s that haunts me: “Some of the teachers and professors who helped me to grow academically would not score very high on the TAP rubric. Could we also lose very good, effective teachers — teachers who produce high value-added scores — simply because their particular “style” of teaching does not match the rubric?”

    I can think of six teachers in public school who were critical to my life in high school alone. NONE of them would have scored in the highest levels where my Race to the Top inspired district now rates me. Our American culture often celebrates as exemplars of virtue and innovation individuals who break the mold, who go beyond what is expected, who subvert the dominant paradigm. But, in education now, we are to uphold the teacher who most closely hews to the party line, the expected number of words on the wall, the scores on tests designed by those who never visited the classroom. For years we felt superior to the Japanese and now Chinese schools which expect compliance and fidelity to the delivered paradigm from on high–now out of some misplaced fear of failure, we are becoming them.

  2. JMiller: Well said. I agree that excellent teachers can have very different teaching styles and individual approaches to instruction. Some may use more lecture, some more hands-on projects, some may have a great sense of humor while others have a more serious approach. Expecting all teachers to use the same styles and/or formats to teach a variety of classes across the K-12 spectrum is inappropriate; Judging them on their ability to teach identically is outrageous.

  3. It’s frightening if we’re going to start discharging significant numbers of teachers based on some combination of infrequent principal observations and student test scores.

    There are too many analytic weaknesses in the infrequent-principal-observation and the student-test-score factors to have much confidence in the overall ratings.

    The fact that several school systems are seeing at best weak correlations between the observation ratings and the student-test-score ratings should be enough to stop these programs in their tracks.

    If a teacher has a low rating on principal observations or on student test scores, this could serve as red flag warning that the teacher may not be performing well. The school system should then respond to the red flag by subjecting the teacher to closer scrutiny. It should be the results of that closer scrutiny, not the red flags, that trigger discharge.

    There are different options for the closer scrutiny. Some would be fairly expensive — i.e., a mentor teacher team-teaching with the red-flagged teacher for several weeks and then writing a report recommending retention, further monitoring, or discharge. Some would be inexpensive — i.e., frequent walk-bys by an administrator to see whether the teacher is goofing off (reading the newspaper, chatting on the cell phone, showing non-academic movies).

    The overall approach would be to use the infrequent observations/student-test-scores/other info to identify the few teachers who might be performing poorly and to then follow up with regard to those few teachers with a management response tailored to evaluate the extent of the teacher’s apparent performance problem — i.e., subject matter incompetence, teaching incompetence, laziness.

    This management response might cure the problem; if not, it would provide a defensible basis for adverse action. If there is a teachers union, involving the union in developing the generic management responses (i.e., in selecting the pool of mentor teachers who would do the team-teaching with the red-flagged teacher) and notifyign the union when a teacher was red-flagged would add to the defensibility of any ultimate adverse action.

    In my career as a labor attorney, I frequently represented management in dealing with performance problems of union-represented white-collar employees. The approach outlined above worked very well. Within a few months, the problem employees usually either improved or quit; with regard to the few who were discharged, the union usually declined to take the cases to arbitration and, when the union did arbitrate, management prevailed.

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