About this blog Subscribe to this blog

More on Teacher Evaluation

A new study finds that teachers who are evaluated improve during the evaluation year and in the following years. 

The study by economists Eric Taylor and John Tyler, under the auspices of the National Bureau of Economic Research, was first highlighted by Andrew Rotherham on Eduwonk.  Taylor and Tyler used data from Cincinnati, Ohio schools and tracked teachers during the years they were evaluated and in subsequent years.  Rotherham suggests that the results of the study show that teachers used their evaluation feedback to improve their work.  That could be the case, but I also think continued improvement could be a result of the old adage, “What gets measured gets done.”

The teachers evaluated in the study had at least five years’ experience, enough to have learned a few things about classroom management but not so much that they had lost their enthusiasm to try new instructional techniques.  Teachers were evaluated through observation, not by test scores.

Bored_of_education In other news, another facet of Ohio Senate Bill 5 signed into law this month eliminates salary schedules and step increases for 110,000 public school teachers statewide according to the Plain Dealer.  While other states have experimented with merit pay on top of contractual increases (with little success), this would be the first time that the only pay increases would be merit pay increases.  Teacher performance will be judged by new standards developed by the state board of education, a decision that will allow us to see if the old joke, “I’m from State Ed and I’m here to help you” is still viable.  I’m guessing it is.

The Ohio Board of Education is also developing yearly tests to gauge academic growth.  Student achievement will account for 50% of a teacher’s evaluation.  The entire evaluation will determine whether a teacher gets a raise, gets no increase, or is maybe even fired.

So let’s see:  Armed with new statewide standards for teachers, the principal marches into every classroom every year to make an observation which may eventually determine a teacher’s fate.  Sounds simple.  Let’s hope that both teacher and principal agree on what constitutes a strong classroom performance.


What We Can Learn from Private Schools

Out of the public school grows the greatness of a nation.

                                                                                    -- Mark Twain


Tingley-021 color Years ago I accepted Twain’s statement as true and I’ve embraced it for my entire life in education.  Public education – universal and compulsory and accessible – determines our future as a country.  Not charter, not private, not parochial, although all play a part in educating our citizens.  But it’s a small part.  Our democracy depends on a strong public education system available to all.

So the overreaction to Michael Winerip’s column in last week’s New York Times suggests that perhaps not everyone understands the essential importance of public education.  Noting that many reformers were themselves graduates of private schools, Winerip asks, Does a private school background give [reformers] a much-needed distance and fresh perspective to better critique and remake traditional public schools? Does it make them distrust public schools — or even worse — poison their perception of them? Or does it make any difference?

The answers are yes, no, and probably.

Of my 30 years in education, 25 were spent in public schools.  For five years, someplace in the middle of my career, I was the academic dean in a private independent school.  So does a private school background give reformers a different perspective?  Yes.  Here’s why:  A private school is a business that depends on enrollment, not state aid, and to recruit students, private schools need to deliver something better than you can get for free at your local public school.  Staples of private school marketing tools are a rigorous curriculum, individual Mark Twain attention, and strong faculty.  Parents expect results (the end result is getting their kids into a good college) because they know exactly how much they’re paying for tuition and it better be worth it.

Does attending private school make reformers “mistrust” public schools?  I don’t know about “mistrust.”  But they certainly see the disparity between the schools they graduated from and some public schools.  Even a month in private school could be enough to see the difference in attitude between some public schools and private schools in terms of teachers’ responsibilities that every child is challenged and every child learns basic skills. 

Finally, Winerup asks, does it make any difference that reformers went to private schools?  Probably.  Many have seen how schools could be and want to work to reform what some public schools have become. 

This isn’t about class warfare.  It’s about making all our public schools like private schools in terms of individual attention, strong teaching, responsiveness to student needs and interests, and parental involvement. 

Of course, public schools have to educate a broader population of more diverse abilities.  Private schools have no obligation to accept students with disabilities or students who can’t behave.  Public schools may not be selective in any way, but therein lies their beauty and strength and their essential importance to our democracy.  We open our public school doors and accept the challenge to educate everyone.  So let’s take what we can from the private school experience and apply what we can to improve our schools.  Let’s act as if parents are paying for their kids to attend their local public schools – which they are.







Ohio Senate Bill 5

Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich signed into law a couple of days ago Senate Bill 5.  One of the most onerous parts of the law, according to labor leaders and unions, is that public employees, all 350,000 of them including teachers, must pay at least 20% of their health insurance.  The second most onerous part is that the law eliminates automatic step and longevity increases for public employees.

Senate bill 5 I was back in Ohio last weekend at a large gathering of family and friends.  Some were public employees including a few teachers; others worked in private industry.  Eventually discussion turned to Senate Bill 5, which at this point had not been signed into law.  The teachers, as expected, were outraged.  “I just feel like we’re targeted,” said one.  “It just makes me feel awful that they don’t respect us, that they don’t respect our work.  Teaching is my whole life!  And they treat us like we don’t matter.”

Another young couple had just bought a house and were expecting a baby in a couple of months.  He works for the state; she’s a teacher.  “I don’t know how we’re going to do it,” he said.  “I’ll be paying an extra $300 a month for insurance.  I mean, it’s not what I expected when I took the job.”

But some of those who worked in private industry, while sympathetic to their friends and family, had to gently point out that they’ve always paid more than 20% of their health insurance.  A lot more.  And most expect to pay even more when they retire.  “I’ve always paid 50%,” said one young man in banking.  “I’d love it if I only had to pay 20%.”

Currently union members are collecting signatures in an attempt to put the measure on the ballot in November as a public referendum.  I think it’s a good idea to let the public vote on the issue rather than allow the majority of the Republican legislature to make the decision for hundreds of thousands.  However, given the general tone of the discussion I heard, I’m wondering how a referendum will turn out.  Employees in private industry may be tired of paying for their own health insurance and also contributing to the health insurance costs of government workers.  On the other hand, the collective bargaining issue may resonate with private and public workers alike.

An analysis of the state Office of Collective Bargaining estimates that the state can save $1.3 billion under the new legislation.  On the other hand, the Cleveland Plain Dealer insisted in Sunday’s paper that the law wouldn’t save everyone money because workers in some cities and school districts were already paying at least 20% of health costs.

If a referendum in the fall reveals that the public doesn’t support limiting collective bargaining, it could slow the movement in its tracks.  On the other hand, strong public support may be the impetus to limit the effect of public employees’ unions in other states as well.


Do We Know Good Teaching When We See It?

Tingley-021 color Look for the next big thing to be training administrators to perform competent classroom evaluations.

Teachers are going to continue to be under greater scrutiny, and test scores may or may not be a permanent part of the evaluation process.  One thing we can count on, however, is that classroom observations are here to stay.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie unveiled yet another plan last week to reward or punish teachers.  Under Christie’s plan, teachers who perform well in the classroom would be granted tenure, but it could be taken away if the teacher has two consecutive  years of poor performance as judged by classroom observations.  (I’m not sure the Governor understands the definition of tenure.)

Statewide protocols for teacher evaluation, according to Christie’s proposal, would be in effect by 2012-13.   The timeline, of course, is ridiculous, and so is the idea that everyone will agree upon what makes a good lesson.  It’s a little trickier than it looks, Gov, because in order to avoid charges of incompetence from both sides, teachers and administrators need to agree on what good teaching looks like.  The good news is that when teachers and administrators work together to define the characteristics of good teaching, both sides Clipboard benefit.  For classroom observations to be fair and effective, both the observed and the observer need to speak the same language.

Frankly, not all administrators do a good job of evaluating teachers.  Some don’t do it at all.  And when a teacher’s job or rate of pay is at stake, the principal better be sure that she knows what she’s doing. Training administrators to be good classroom observers not only protects teachers, but administrators as well.

And here’s another observation, Governor:  Your proposal for a statewide observation format that would be used in all schools is a recipe for mediocrity.  Remember “basic competency tests”?  The bar has to be low enough so that the majority can jump over it. 

So look for a sudden focus on what constitutes good teaching and how to determine if it’s happening.  (I’ve written about this issue several times over the past few months and even spent a couple of days in March working with Magna Publications Inside the School recording videos on evaluation and supervision.)  It’s all well and good for business people and politicians to demand all kinds of changes in education and expect them to happen overnight.  Implementation is another matter entirely, and (surprise!) it actually has to be accomplished by educational professionals.





















The Sexualization of Little Girls

I order my tall skinny latte and try to find a place to sit and read the paper among the tables filled with hipsters and others not so hip working on their laptops, their paper cups long empty.  While I wait I notice a mother and her pre-teen daughter in line ready to order.  I can see only their backs; the mom wears a long conservative summer dress and sensible sandals.  Her daughter, shorter by a head, wears a tiny red ruffled skirt that barely covers her behind and a tank top revealing bra straps.  Her celery stick legs totter on black and white polka-dotted high heels.  She carries a small black purse.  I’m guessing she’s pre-teen from her skinny legs and her awkwardness on those shoes.

My latte is ready and I find a table vacated by one of the guilt-ridden unhip.   I open USA Today and on the front page is an article entitled, “Puberty Too Soon.”  The lead is “Girls are maturing faster than ever, and doctors are not sure why.”   The paper reports that about 15% of American girls begin puberty by age 7 based on a study published in Pediatrics last year.  The paper quotes biologist Sandra Steingraber, author of a 2007 report on early puberty for the Breast Cancer Fund:  “Over the last 30 years, we’ve shortened the childhood of girls by about a year and a half.  That’s not good.”

No kidding.  The study lists a number of factors that may be contributing to the trend towards earlier onset of puberty:  childhood obesity, premature birth, genetics, environmental chemicals, time spent sitting in front of computer or TV screens, and family stress.  And then there’s the incessant marketing to “tweens,” children between some number and thirteen.  That number drops lower and lower every year, even, as you will see in the video below, to perhaps 6 years old.  And here’s a creepy little factoid:  girls who don’t live with their biological fathers, some preliminary studies at Berkeley are suggesting, are more likely to move into puberty early.

I lift my eyes from the paper and notice that the mom and her daughter have found a table facing me, and I see I am right.  The little girl dressed like a hooker has a sweet, lovely, unblemished face.  No make-up.  My guess based on my own experience is that she pleaded with her mom to let her wear the outfit today.  It’s just to go to the coffee shop!  The logo on the front of the bag she carries is Hello Kitty.  Hang tough, Mom, I think.  Hang tough.






Developing Giftedness

Tingley-021 color On occasion a study will appear that simply verifies what some of us in the field suspect is true. That doesn’t mean the study is useless; on the contrary, it give quantitative support for qualitative observations. 

Such is the case in the study done on a pilot project called Project Bright IDEA, which worked for five years (2004-09) in some North Carolina school districts.  Five thousand children in kindergarten through second grade took part in the project, which was federally funded because of the high percentage of low income kids involved.

The results, first reported in The Cary News and also in Ed Week, validated the premise of the project:  You can teach kids gifted behaviors by treating them like gifted kids.

Teachers in the program received special training in working with gifted kids.  Instruction included high level language, problem solving, and challenging work.  After three years the percentage of kids identified as gifted in third grade almost doubled in comparison with students who were not included in the project.

Reporter Jane Stancill notes that retraining all teachers to use “gifted” strategies would be expensive.  Of course, retraining teachers is expensive, but it’s nothing in comparison to the enormous costs of a “dumbed Computer-girl down” curriculum for low income and minority students and for the nation’s future.  No one is served when students’ potential is denied, and in the larger picture, retraining teachers to improve their skills is less costly than removing them and starting fresh.   Of course, improving skills is one thing; improving possibly embedded attitudes towards some students’ potential is another.  Both, however, can change when the results are shown to be positive.

What we know for sure is this:  Kids respond to the way you treat them.  I used to have a poster on my office door that said, “They won’t always remember what you taught them.  But they’ll always remember how you treated them.”  When I listen to my own kids talk about their former teachers, I know that’s true.  It’s all about expectations.





Grossology:  The  (Impolite) Study of the Human Body is disgustingly great.  It’s everything a kid could want in grossness.  Kids can crawl into a huge stomach and slide into the intestines. They can shoot balls into an Grossology enormous nose, and when the nose sneezes, it shoots the balls back.  They can pull a lever and turn a wheel to see how vomit moves from the stomach to your mouth.  They can smell all manner of body odors and learn the difference between snot and boogers.  They learn about scabs and pimples.  I mean, is this a great museum or what?

Grossology is a traveling exhibit, so I should warn you that it could be in your town next when it closes at the Virginia Air and Space Center in September.  Just keep that in mind.

I’ve seen (and even led) groups of students as they wandered through some of the great museums in our country -- the Museum of Natural History in New York, the art museum of the Grossology2 Smithsonian, the Cleveland Museum of Art.  Depending on the age of the students, the job of the adult in charge is mainly to keep kids from touching things or talking too loud. 

Touching things or talking (even yelling) is not a problem at the Grossology exhibit.  In fact, museum “curators” are delighted when kids yell, “EWWWWW.”  That’s the point, you see.

So it’s not fine art or great history, but if you can stand it, take some kids you know.  I guarantee they will love it, and so will the seventh grade boy in you.


The Sky Is Falling, But Only for Poor KIds

Tingley-021 color If you listen to Diane Ravitch, the sky has been falling in education since at least 1985 with the publication of The Schools We Deserve:  Reflections on the Educational Crises of Our Times.  Another chunk fell last week with her essay in Newsweek, “Obama’s War on Schools,” which notes that NCLB has been “deadly” to education.

With her usual gift for understatement, Ravitch says that of the 100,000 people she’s ‘”spoken to” over the past year, no one sees anyone in a leadership position “who understands the damage being done to their schools by federal policies.”  They feel “betrayed” by President Obama, yet at the same time states and districts are “emboldened” by the current administration to evaluate teachers using (gasp!) test scores.

No one knows what happened to Ravitch to turn her from a right wing harbinger of bad news to a more general harbinger of bad news, but her message remains the same:  American education is going to hell in a hand basket and has been for almost 30 years. 

As a public school administrator for 25 of those years, I respectfully disagree.  Every year  brings a new set of challenges, and every year we adjust as best we can.  We open our doors to all the children – the wealthy and the poor, the brilliant and the challenged, the strong and the weak.  We educate those who come from affluent families that have been here since the Mayflower and immigrants who came last week and who barely speak English.  “I lift my lamp beside the golden door,” says the Lady in the Harbor, and you know what?  Many who actually work in education believe in the promise.

Hidden deep inside Ravitch’s sudden and inexplicable support for teachers and her chronic and hyperbolic Poor_student_600 attacks on policymakers is an excuse for not providing our poorest kids with a good education.  The notion that teachers shouldn’t be responsible for the test scores of some kids – notably those from poor homes, dysfunctional homes, or no homes at all and kids whose parents don’t speak English – is insidious.  The notion is getting legs like a scorpion, poisonous to the premise of universal education.

When you choose to enter the teaching profession, you get what you get.  Working with the kids you have is what the job is.  The challenges kids face outside the doors of the school are daunting, but they’re not a built-in excuse for a poor education.  If teaching were easy, anyone could do it.  If you believe that you shouldn’t be responsible for the test scores of kids from disadvantaged homes, then you should really be doing something else with your life.

So instead of looking for excuses, why don’t we focus on myriad ways not only to train teachers, but to evaluate them in ways that include test scores as well as good classroom management and pedagogical practices?  Forget the hyperbole and the doomsday nonsense.  Yeah, it sells books and gets you a shot on TV.  But it’s a disservice to our children.





Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.