Teacher Evaluation In The New York Times And In New York. Plus, Why Does Tom Loveless Hate The Finns?

This week’s TIME School of Thought column: Should Homeschool students play public school sports?

Teacher evaluation deal in NY – it’s significant and a pretty good deal. More action to come in NYC though so the theater lovers have additional scenes to look forward to.

Tom Loveless throws some much-needed cold water on international comparisons.

You have to dig pretty far into today’s WashPost story on merit pay and Daniel Pink to get past the strawmen but if you do DC Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson succinctly sums up the pay and performance issue in a way our national debate over this generally fails to:

“A great teacher is not going to teach harder or better because there’s a bonus,” Henderson said in an interview. “But if they make a significant accomplishment, treating them the same way we treat the teacher who sent their kids backwards makes no sense. . . . This whole one-size-fits-all approach is so counter to me. There are very few occupations that have a lockstep pay schedule. . . .I’m in a situation where right now I have to change outcomes for kids. I don’t have the money to raise teachers’ salaries to $100,000 across the board. But I do have the money to reward my highest-performing teachers.”

Also on the teacher eval issue, good and fair Kristof column in The Times today on New Haven and the teacher evaluation initiative there. Elements of New Haven are part of the new NY deal. The real question though is how widely the New Haven approach can be implemented in a meaningful way in cities around the country.  Despite today’s deal, which only came with a lot of pressure, jury’s out on that.

Joe Nathan looks at early-chilhood in MN. I’m a proponent of expanding access to early-childhood and improving quality but these programs are frequently oversold in terms of what the evidence shows today.

5 Replies to “Teacher Evaluation In The New York Times And In New York. Plus, Why Does Tom Loveless Hate The Finns?”

  1. Re: Loveless. You know what’s funny about his Finland hate? It makes no sense–he doesn’t explain it very well. He just cautions against making other countries role models. He spends most of his time trashing the data from Poland. I suspect he just isn’t a fan of how Finland treats teachers and the profession of teaching.

  2. What’s so good about the NY teacher eval plan? Looks like the usual corporate-reform/RTTT formula — 40% based on student academic progress with half of that 40% based on value-added student test scores + the remaining 60% based on traditional principal observation.

    This plan has all the defects inherent in any high-stakes-testing plan — many non-teacher-controlled variables (such as the impact on instruction of disruptive students) are not captured by even value-added test scores + many teachers will not have value-added test scores (or any test scores) + other measures of student academic progress are even less reliable than student tests scores and are time-consuming to generate/use + high-stakes-testing discourages teachers from cooperating with each other, encourages cheating, and discourages teachers from working in high-poverty schools + principals can significantly impact teachers’ test scores by assignment decisions (problem students, class size, total student load, # of preps).

    This plan also has little, if any, provision to guard against principal incompetence or bias in the principal-observation portion of the evaluation. There is little/no peer-review component where truly independent veteran teachers with relevant experience/expertise closely observe teachers who are potentially poor performers and have significant input into the ultimate retain/discharge decision.

    Montgomery County (MD) has operated a peer-review system for over 10 years. Principals identify potentially poor performers, veteran peer review teachers work closely with these teachers for an extended period, and a committee of peer-review teachers/principals makes the retain/discharge decision. Over 200 teachers have been discharged and over 300 teachers have resigned during the peer-review process. The teachers’ union supports the peer-review system. Few of the discharges have been challenged in litigation. This system is working beautifully — why not use it (or something like it) instead of these untried/obviously-defective high-stakes-testing + principal observation systems?

  3. Good points, LaborLawyer. I agree with you that value-added systems are fraught with problems, when used to evaluate the competence of an individual teacher.

    As a former teacher (who taught in several schools), I know firsthand that MANY variables influence a student’s ability to learn. These variables include the student’s family, peers, level of effort in class and at home studying and doing homework.

    In addition, many variables influence a teacher’s ability to effectively teach, including support from the administration, student behavior/discipline policy, number of different preps, new course assignment, moving rooms from period to period (vs. having one classroom) and MANY other things.

    These variables are not going to be (and cannot be) thoroughly controlled for by any value-added computation, and therefore the use of these value-added formulas for high-stakes evaluation of teachers is inherently ill-advised.

  4. Teachers MUST go on the offensive with these evaluations. It is not at all difficult to demonstrate student progress, but teachers don’t always take the time to document it properly. Now, they will have to. This is what I recommend:

    Teachers should test each child individually in the fall. They should make certain there are other witnesses, such as the reading specialist or the principal. They should ask the principal (in writing) to come into the classroom to serve as a witness. If the principal is “too busy” this should be documented.

    If possible, each child should be videotaped in the fall, showing the child’s oral reading and responses to comprehension questions.

    Each month, benchmark tests and compositions should be kept in folders. Again, the teacher should invite the administrator to note progress and examine student work. It’s best if other professionals administer the tests. Perhaps teachers could exchange classrooms or give tests together in large groups. Parents should be involved as often as possible. They make great witnesses.

    When the supervising person enters the classroom, the teacher should make certain that person is aware of student progress at regular intervals throughout the year. They should invite several supervisors in during the year and insist that these people note student progress. Teachers should insist on feedback in writing, if possible. Again, they should make note of refusals to do so.

    At the end of the year, the teacher (again with witnesses) should test each child individually to document that individual’s progress. Cumulative tests at the end of textbooks should be given by other teachers, if possible. Again, teachers should ask principals for help with this, and document it, if the principal is “too busy.” Videotape each child reading orally and answering questions.

    If a parent delivers a compliment (“James is learning so much this year”) the teacher should ask her to put it in writing. Most parents are happy to comply.

    If a teacher is deemed “ineffective” she should have lots of evidence to prove otherwise.

    If a teacher believes she’s been deemed “ineffective” based on her age, her race or something else unlawful, she’ll have ammunition to provide in a court of law. My guess is that there will be a lot of expensive litigation ahead for New York and other urban districts.

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