Archives for category: Teacher Evaluations

In this post, Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute in D.C., debates Peter Cunningham, who served as Arne Duncan’s Assistant Secretary for Communications in President Obama’s first term. The subject: Should the federal government mandate teacher evaluation.

Cunningham, not surprisingly, says yes, suggesting that teachers would not be evaluated correctly (I.e. using test scores) without a federal mandate.

Hess opposes a federal mandate.

Here is the beginning of his very fine response:

“School systems should do much better when it comes to teacher evaluation, but Congress should stay far, far away from that process. When it comes to teacher evaluation, where the question is not whether it’s done but how well it’s done, federal requirements are good at spurring commotion and compliance, but lousy at ensuring that complex tasks are done well.

“It’s not like teacher evaluation is a new thing. Schools and systems have done it forever, and they’ve generally been awful at it. Guess what? For all the frustration and furor prompted by the Obama administration’s waivers, little has changed. In states like Florida, Tennessee, and Michigan, 99% of teachers were rated effective before they unveiled new evaluation systems in accord with federal demands—and 98% or 99% were deemed effective under their new systems.”

My thought: Teaching is a very essential profession, even though most teachers are not paid like professionals. If Congress insists on mandates for teachers, why not high-stakes doctor evaluations? Lawyer evaluations? State legislator evaluations? Members of Congress evaluations? Governor evaluations?

For legislators, for example, how often were you absent? How many votes did you miss? Who funded your campaign? Did your votes reflect the wishes of your contributors, or the needs of your constituents? How many bills did you introduce? How many passed? What changes did they produce? Did you help to reduce poverty? Unemployment?

Wonder how doctors and lawyers would respond to evaluations mandated by Congrress?

David Gamberg, superintendent of the public schools in Southold and Greenport–two independent districts on Long Island in Néw York–denounced Governor Cuomo’s “education reforms.” Gamberg was blunt. He has the full support of his board.

 

Gamberg said that the Governor’s desire to make test scores count for 50% of teachers’ evaluation “could devastate the faculty and, thus, the students of Southold.

 

“The governor has proposed a teacher rating system that would base 50 percent of an instructor’s evaluation on student performance on state tests — an increase from the current 20 percent.

 

“If this plan were to become law, I will provide the board with direct, accurate evidence of [the teachers] who will get swept up — that should not get swept up — in this metric to the detriment of the students of Southold,” Mr. Gamberg said. “I think it would be the highest irresponsibility for our school district to just sit by and allow it to happen….

 

““It can not go through because it is, without a doubt, the worst construct of improvement in public education that has been enunciated in the history of New York,” Mr. Gamberg said.”

 

Cuomo is holding school districts hostage, said Southold school board president Paulette Ofrias, by promising them a 4.8% increase in funds, but only if they implement his ideas.

 

“The New York State teachers’ union did not endorse Mr. Cuomo in his bid for re-election last year and has fought his reform agenda in recent years.

 

“I know he’s doing it to get back at the teachers, but the bottom line is it hurts the children in New York State,” Ms. Ofrias said about the governor’s latest plan. “It’s just deplorable and disgusting.”

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, American business is taking a new approach to its employees: Show them appreciation, support, and encouragement. The title of the article is: “You’re Awesome: Firms Scrap Negative Feedback.”

 

Stack-ranking of employees from best to worst is out. Punitive evaluations are so yesterday. People do their best when they are appreciated.

 

So this is what American business is doing! Would someone please tell Arne Duncan, Andrew Cuomo, Rick Scott, Scott Walker, Mike Pence, and members of Congress?

 

 

The article, written by Rachel Feintszeig, begins this way:

 

 
If you don’t have anything nice to say, management has a tip: Try harder.

 

Fearing they’ll crush employees’ confidence and erode performance, employers are asking managers to ease up on harsh feedback. “Accentuate the positive” has become a new mantra at workplaces like VMware Inc., Wayfair Inc., and the Boston Consulting Group Inc., where bosses now dole out frequent praise, urge employees to celebrate small victories and focus performance reviews around a particular worker’s strengths—instead of dwelling on why he flubbed a client presentation.

 

The shift may annoy leaders who rose in a tough-love era in business, but executives say hard-edge tactics simply do more harm than good these days.

 

When employees’ flaws are laid bare, “there’s that mental ‘ugh’ and shrug of, ‘This is who I am,’ ” says Michelle Russell, a partner at BCG.

 

Bit by bit, the consulting firm has changed the way managers evaluate employee performance. For years, those discussions focused largely on employee missteps and where they needed to improve.

 

“We would bring them in and beat them down a bit,” says Ms. Russell. After the reviews, she observed some employees left the company as their confidence and performance slipped; others seemed rattled days or weeks later.

 

Now, managers are expected to extol staffers’ strengths during reviews and check-ins, explaining how the person can use his or her talents to tackle aspects of the job that come less naturally.

 

Bosses are advised to mention no more than one or two areas that require development, Ms. Russell adds…..

 

The rising popularity of tools like Gallup’s StrengthsFinder, which is designed to measure a person’s talents in any of 34 areas, suggests how many more companies are taking a positive tack. About 600,000 people used the tool each year from 2001 through 2012, says Leticia McCadden, a spokeswoman for Gallup.

 

Since 2012, the number of users has jumped to 1.6 million a year. As of last year, StrengthsFinder was used by 467 members of the Fortune 500.

 

Facebook, one of the best-known users of StrengthsFinder, has crafted a new management style attuned to the needs of 20- and 30-somethings that comprise most of its staff….

 

VMware has borrowed techniques from marriage counselors, such as increasing the ratio of positive to negative comments in the workplace and encouraging employees to celebrate their wins.

 

“You’re really trying to get them in the moment where they’re reliving the joy they felt,” says Jessica Amortegui, a former VMware talent development executive.

 

 

 

David Greene, a veteran educator, reflects on the meaning of respect and wonders why our society no longer respects teachers–and if it ever did. He certainly respected his teachers. They changed his life. Yet he recounts a dinner where one young upstart dropped a condescending comment about teachers having “common and ordinary intellects.”

 

Students need respect too. He writes:

 

For kids, respect is as important as motivation, often more so. I am not talking about their respect for teachers. They respect those who respect them. They want structure and authority. The teachers they are most successful with are those who enforce the code of the school yet, at the same time, show respect for them.

 

They know that the best teachers understand what Elijah Anderson calls their “code of the street” in his 1999 book of the same name. Whether that street is urban, suburban, or rural, respect from their peers, who they have to live with outside of class and school, becomes critical. “Even small children test one another, pushing and shoving…ready to hit other children over matters not to their liking.” Why? To maintain respect.

 

The state of New York shows its disrespect for teachers by imposing phony evaluation systems (APPR) and discarding teacher-made state curricula for off-the-shelf curricula from vendors. What does the state do?

 

We get APPR. The Annual Professional Performance Review is a return to the use of Frederick Taylor’s scientific management of the early 20th century. Then, corporate robber barons used scientific management to attempt to make their industrial factory workers more productive. Today, new robber barons pay the NYS Department of Education to turn college-educated teachers into low-level industrial employees that productively churn students out as if they were manufacturing Model T’s.

 

Here are 3 examples of the negative effects of APPRs based on predominantly flawed data from flawed tests with manufactured cut scores.

 

“A teacher of the year, i inherited a gifted class whose collective score was 3.2 out of 4.0. For me to be graded as a competent teacher my following year’s class, had to average 3.7. However, my new gifted students only averaged 3.5…so even though the scores improved i ‘needed improvement’.”
“This year i taught students who have IQs from 56-105. One third of my students were non-readers. What are my chances of being “effective”? More importantly, who is going to want to teach these students under those conditions?”
“Ninth grade algebra teachers have higher reported student scores on their regents exams than do global studies teachers and thus have better APPR But does that mean they are better teachers? On the august 2011 integrated algebra “regents,” test results were weighted so that a student only needed to get 34% of the questions correct to pass with a 65%. On the unweighted august 2011, global history regents a student needed to get 72% of the multiple-choice questions correct plus at least 50% on the short answer and essay questions to get the same 65% passing grade.” How is that equitable?
We get EngageNY, NYS’s version of the common core. The state decided that the long time, top rated, and nationally renowned teacher developed k-12 syllabi were not good enough and so created EngageNY.

 

Who prepared this huge website filled with everything from policy to modules (curricula) and resources? The site says it is “in house”. Here is what I found:

 

NYS says:

 

“Engageny.org is developed and maintained by the New York State Education Department to support the implementation of key aspects of the New York State Board of Regents reform agenda. This is the official web site for current materials and resources related to the regents reform agenda.”

 

The three real writers: commoncore.org, http://www.elschools.org and coreknowledge.org

 

NYS says: “the Regents research fellows planning will undertake implementation of the Common Core Standards and other essential elements of the Regents reform agenda. The Regents fellows program is being developed to provide research and analysis to inform policy and develop program recommendations for consideration by the board of regents.”

 

The reality: these 13 research fellows (none NYS teachers) are paid as much as $189,000 each, in private money; at least $4.5 million has been raised, including $1 million donated by dr. Tisch.” Other donors include bill gates, a leader of the charge to evaluate teachers, principals and schools using students’ test scores; the national association of charter school authorizers and the Robbins Foundation, which finance charter expansion; and the Tortora Sillcox Family Foundation whose mission statement includes advancing “Mayor Bloomberg’s school reform agenda.” Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Gates are expert at using philanthropy in a way that pressures government to follow their private public policy agendas.”

 

I respectively submit that they believe we teachers of “common and ordinary intellect” are no longer capable of curricula planning.

 

 

 

Audrey Amrein Beardsley, a national authority on teacher evaluation, reviews here the latest scholarly research on value-added measurement” or VAM. This is the practice of evaluating teachers by changes in their students’ test scores. It was made into a national issue by Race to the Top, which required states to make VAM a significant part of teacher evaluation. In granting waivers to states from the Draconian sanctions of NCLB, Arne Duncan required states to adopt VAM.

The research keeps building against the usefulness of VAM. The latest study concludes that VAM is highly unreliable. Children are not randomly assigned, and teachers face widely varying challenges.

Beardsley writes:

“In a recent paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Education Finance and Policy, coauthors Cassandra Guarino (Indiana University – Bloomington), Mark Reckase (Michigan State University), and Jeffrey Wooldridge (Michigan State University) ask and then answer the following question: “Can Value-Added Measures of Teacher Performance Be Trusted?…

“From the abstract, authors “investigate whether commonly used value-added estimation strategies produce accurate estimates of teacher effects under a variety of scenarios. [They] estimate teacher effects [using] simulated student achievement data sets that mimic plausible types of student grouping and teacher assignment scenarios. [They] find that no one method accurately captures true teacher effects in all scenarios, and the potential for misclassifying teachers as high- or low-performing can be substantial.”

She adds:

“They found…

“No one [value-added] estimator performs well under all plausible circumstances, but some are more robust than others…[some] fare better than expected…[and] some of the most popular methods are neither the most robust nor ideal.” In other words, calculating value-added regardless of the sophistication of the statistical specifications and controls used is messy, and this messiness can seriously throw off the validity of the inferences to be drawn about teachers, even given the fanciest models and methodological approaches we currently have going (i.e., those models and model specifications being advanced via policy).

“[S]ubstantial proportions of teachers can be misclassified as ‘below average’ or ‘above average’ as well as in the bottom and top quintiles of the teacher quality distribution, even in [these] best-case scenarios.” This means that the misclassification errors were are seeing with real-world data, we are also seeing with simulated data. This leads us to more concern about whether VAMs will ever be able to get it right, or in this case, counter the effects of the nonrandom assignment of students to classrooms and teachers to the same.

“Researchers found that “even in the best scenarios and under the simplistic and idealized conditions imposed by [their] data-generating process, the potential for misclassifying above-average teachers as below average or for misidentifying the “worst” or “best” teachers remains nontrivial, particularly if teacher effects are relatively small. Applying the [most] commonly used [value-added approaches] results in misclassification rates that range from at least 7 percent to more than 60 percent, depending upon the estimator and scenario.” So even with a pretty perfect dataset, or a dataset much cleaner than those that come from actual children and their test scores in real schools, misclassification errors can impact teachers upwards of 60% of the time….

“In sum, researchers conclude that while certain VAMs hold more promise than others, they may not be capable of overcoming the many obstacles presented by the non-random assignment of students to teachers (and teachers to classrooms).

“In their own words, “it is clear that every estimator has an Achilles heel (or more than one area of potential weakness)” that can distort teacher-level output in highly consequential ways. Hence, “[t]he degree of error in [VAM] estimates…may make them less trustworthy for the specific purpose of evaluating individual teachers” than we might think.”

At a hearing in Albany, NYC Chancellor Carmen Farina disagreed bluntly with Governor Cuomo ‘s proposal to base 50% of teacher evaluations on student test scores and 35% on the judgement of independent evaluators, people from outside the school.

“I think 50 percent based on tests is too much,” Ms. Fariña told state legislators at a budget hearing on Tuesday, in comments that were echoed by representatives of other large school districts. “We need a human touch any time we evaluate anyone for anything.”

She also objective to the “independent evaluators.”

“Ms. Fariña said that teachers needed to be observed over time, watched for things like whether they engaged with parents or gave special attention to students who needed extra help, and that “flybys” could not replace that.”

And she added:

“There’s so many other things,” Fariña said. “I was a teacher for more than 20 years and if I was only measured in test scores, that would only have been a little bit of my work…..”

“I absolutely believe that holding teachers accountable only on test scores and outside evaluators is not a good idea,” Fariña said in response to questions about Cuomo’s plan.

Cuomo told the Buffalo News that:

“The test is really the only easy answer because it is objective numerical data and it was the same test with the same demographic,” Cuomo told a group of reporters and editors from The Buffalo News on Tuesday.”

The difference between Farina and Cuomo is that she has been a teacher, a principal, a superintendent, and now Chancellor. She is a veteran educator who knows teaching and learning. Cuomo has no experience in education but insists that he knows how teachers should be evaluated.

It is clear that he is over his head. He doesn’t know that most teachers don’t teach tested subjects. How does he propose to evaluate teachers of the arts, physical education, foreign languages, teachers of K-2, and high school teachers. It is a shame that he is unfamiliar with the extensive research on test-based accountability and VAM.

This is a balanced and fair assessment of Josh Starr’s tenure as superintendent of the Montgomery County, Maryland, public schools.

Starr seeks collaborative relationships with parents and staff. He is no fan of high-stakes testing. He has directed more funding to schools that enroll more students with high needs than to those with fewer such students.

“Starr says he is focused on making sure all MCPS students receive the same quality education and has begun programs to help them get ready for college, including one with Montgomery College and The Universities at Shady Grove. He is also pushing for the expansion of “project-based learning” programs in high schools that incorporate hands-on learning and real-world projects to teach students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers.

“He has put in place a data-driven, early-alert system to identify students who are at risk of failing, and has told principals and teachers to focus on understanding the needs of each child in their classrooms. He has also revised the discipline policy to lower the number of out-of-school suspensions, which had disproportionately affected minority students.

“Despite these efforts, Starr’s critics say he isn’t doing enough—or moving quickly enough—to close the achievement gap and address pressing issues. Some, including parents, board members and elected officials, describe Starr as a remote technocrat who is more easily understood through his frequent tweets than when he tries to explain something in person.”

Starr has drawn criticism for showing interest in the NYC Chancellor’s job (he was not selected). Critics also complain that he hasn’t closed the achievement gap. To be fair, if that is the criterion for success, most superintendents would be unemployed

“An acolyte of the progressive education movement, Starr is also focused on helping students succeed in life beyond school. “The line I always use is that I want my kids to be straight-A students and I want them to be great people,” Starr says. “But if I have to choose, I would rather that they are average students and great people.”

“To that end, Starr is stepping outside the traditional role of a superintendent by seeking ways to improve access to social services for students. He has been talking with officials of county departments about providing services for students whose parents can’t make it to a parent-teacher conference because they are working, or who lack Internet access at home, or who come to school exhausted because they work after school to help their families survive.”

Nothing in this article explains why his contract should not be renewed. He sounds like a leader on the right track.

Despite the lack of evidence for tying teacher evaluation to student test scores, despite the hundreds of millions spent to implement it without success, this is Arne Duncan’s line in the sand. He insists on mandated annual testing, because without it, his idea of teacher evaluation crashes. He doesn’t care that most teachers don’t teach tested subjects. It is not the annual tests he loves, it is the teacher grades based in annual test scores.

 

In this thoughtful article in Education Week, Alyson Klein explains the dilemma of states. They need an NCLB waiver, but to get it they must follow Duncan’s orders on teacher evaluation. If the new Congress reauthorizes NCLB, all of this might be swept away. So the US DOE is trying to lock states into plans that last until 2018, long after this administration is gone. Once Duncan is gone, most states will abandon his mandates if they can.

 

 

Klein writes:

 

 

Congress is moving full steam ahead on a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act that could undo nearly of the Obama administration’s K-12 policy priorities, including state goals for student achievement, dramatic school turnarounds, and evaluating teachers through test scores—and maybe even the tests themselves.

 

But, even the most optimistic prognosticators don’t expect the final legislation to make it across the finish line until the summer.

 

That means states with waivers from the No Child Left Behind law—42 plus the District of Columbia—will still have to negotiate the finer points of their accountability plans with the department for waiver renewals that could last through 2018-19, well beyond the end of the Obama administration.

 

Already states, including Texas and Maine, have been told they need to make changes to their teacher rating systems—or provide the department with much more information—before submitting their renewal applications at the end of March. Neither state’s waiver has been put on high risk status just yet. (More below.)

 

The administration, though, may be entering into the waiver-renewal process with a severely weakened hand, especially when it comes to holding states’ feet to the fire on the policy that seems nearest and dearest to its heart: crafting teacher evaluation systems that take state test scores into account, and align with the administration’s vision.

 

“I think there’s going to be so much state pushback on that that the department may have to be open to negotiations on what states put in for teacher evaluation,” said Terry Holiday, Kentucky’s education commissioner who, coincidentally enough, is testifying at a Senate NCLB reauthorization hearing on Tuesday on teacher quality…

 

What’s more, once the waivers are a thing of the past—either because NCLB has been reauthorized or because a new president has gotten rid of them—states aren’t likely to continue with teacher evaluation through outcomes on assessments, Holliday said.

 

I think we’d all quickly abandon all the work on tying teacher evaluation to test scores,” he said.

William Cala, superintendent of schools in Fairport, Néw York, wrote a scathing critique of Governor Cuomo’s plan to increase charter schools, fund “tax credits” for private and religious schools (vouchers), and increase the importance of test scores in teacher evaluations.

 

This is what he wrote:

 

Dr. Bill Cala
Superintendent, Fairport Central School District

 
Good Morning!
This week’s State of the State address by Governor Cuomo was what most of us expected. It was an all-out assault on public education, teachers, children, families and local control. It appears that breaking teachers is his solution to poverty, income inequality and inadequate school funding.
As we have experienced on a first-hand basis over the past few years, the APPR system is indeed a fatally flawed proxy for genuine evaluation done at the local level. The governor’s solution is to up the ante by increasing the tenure period to 5 years and making state test scores 50% of a teacher’s evaluation. Given the already bogus cut score setting process for the state exams, we are assured of a whole new wave of unreliable ratings designed to crush teachers, close schools and open the door to his other “reforms,” such as lifting the cap on charter schools and creating a tax credit for private schools and charters and increasing the amount the state gives charters per pupil. This last item of increasing charter aid is especially interesting as there are no strings attached. The regular public schools will only get an increase in aid if the legislature approves all of his draconian measures mentioned above. Two major studies have demonstrated with great clarity that charters perform worse than public schools and only 17% of charters perform equal or better to publics (CREDO 2013). Apparently, that’s fine….they get increases in spite of their failing performance.
Let’s be clear that the governor’s agenda has nothing to do with what is good for kids. Far from it. It is what is good for his financial supporters: the corporations who are making billions of dollars on the tests, the texts, the technology, the corporate professional development and the data collection, retrieval and distribution.
As this country gets poorer and poorer and the few get richer and richer the pride of our nation, its public schools, are being disassembled while Bill Gates, The Walton’s, The Koch Brothers, Eli Broad and other scavengers are feasting at the table of greed.
While the situation may seem hopeless, I believe parents are able to bring this tyranny to a screeching halt. Assessments should be used only for the benefit of students…..nothing else. Last year over 60,000 parents in New York refused the 3-8 tests. This year it is expect that number will triple. The refusal movement will indeed collapse the evaluation system and the governor’s plan to dismantle public education.
Parents will play a critical role. What role will we play? How will we speak out? This is our profession. These are our children. This is our responsibility.
Action and activism takes courage. Last week I spoke of my hero Rosa Parks. Let her courage and actions inspire us. I will close with the wisdom and inspiration of Frederick Douglass.
Where justice is denied; where poverty is enforced; where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress,; rob and degrade them; neither persons nor property will be safe.
Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground.
Time to start plowing.
Peace,
Bill

Anthony Cody has been a persistent critic of the hubris of the Gates Foundation. Not long ago, he managed to get an agreement from the foundation to engage in a debate about the foundation’s agenda, what it is and what it should be. That debate became the basis for Cody’s recent book The Educator and the Oligarch. Cody wants the foundation to pay more attention to experienced educators, not so much to economists and theoreticians who don’t know much about the realities of classrooms today.

 

In this post, he holds out hope that the foundation might display a new humility because of the recently expressed views of its new CEO, Sue Desmond-Hellman, who taught for two years in Uganda. She was quoted saying,

 

On a very practical level, that time in Uganda was a lesson about what it takes to work successfully in a different culture. “I learned about what it really takes to work at scale in a poor country. As a western academician, as a Gates Foundation person, the first thing you should be doing is listening and learning. And have a huge sense of humility about what you don’t know,” she said.

 

I googled Dr. Desmond-Hellman, and I must say, she has an extraordinarily impressive resume. I think her appointment signals that the Gates Foundation will review and increase its investments in public health, especially in impoverished nations.

 

It is not clear where she might take the foundation’s top-down, heavy-handed education agenda, which has so far produced no results and tremendous hostility towards the foundation. Bill Gates said in 2013 that “It would be great if our education stuff worked, but that we won’t know for probably a decade.” It seems that the many teachers and principals who have been fired, the wreckage caused by the foundation’s love of standardized testing and data, are simply collateral damage while Mr. Gates waits to figure out, a decade from now, whether “our education stuff” is working.

 

I am betting on Sue Desmond-Hellman. Something tells me that her life experience is broad enough and deep enough to warn her away from evidence-free experimentation with people’s lives. I may be wrong, but I will take a wait-and-see attitude and hope for the best. Sue, I’m counting on you.

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