Archives for category: Teachers and Teaching

Colorado has one of the most punitive teacher evaluation systems in the nation, passed in 2010. It was written by State Senator Michael Johnston, ex-TFA. Contrary to the conclusions of the American Statistical Association, the American Educational Research Association, and eminent researchers such as Linda Darling-Hammond and Edward Haertel of Stanford, Colorado’s SB 191 bases 50% of teachers’ evaluation on student test scores. This creates tremendous pressure to narrow the curriculum only to what is tested and to teach to the test. Senator Johnston vainly insisted that his legislation would produce “great teachers” and “great schools.”

Pauline Hawkins, a teacher in Colorado, explains here why she is resigning as a teacher in Colorado. The environment she leaves with regret was created by George W. Bush, Arne Duncan, and Michael Johnston.

Hawkins writes:

Dear Administrators, Superintendent, et al.:

This is my official resignation letter from my English teaching position.

I’m sad to be leaving a place that has meant so much to me. This was my first teaching job. For eleven years I taught in these classrooms, I walked these halls, and I befriended colleagues, students, and parents alike. This school became part of my family, and I will be forever connected to this community for that reason.

I am grateful for having had the opportunity to serve my community as a teacher. I met the most incredible people here. I am forever changed by my brilliant and compassionate colleagues and the incredible students I’ve had the pleasure of teaching.

I know I have made a difference in the lives of my students, just as they have irrevocably changed mine. Teaching is the most rewarding job I have ever had. That is why I am sad to leave the profession I love.

Even though I am primarily leaving to be closer to my family, if my family were in Colorado, I would not be able to continue teaching here. As a newly single mom, I cannot live in this community on the salary I make as a teacher. With the effects of the pay freeze still lingering and Colorado having one of the lowest yearly teaching salaries in the nation, it has become financially impossible for me to teach in this state.

Along with the salary issue, ethically, I can no longer work in an educational system that is spiraling downwards while it purports to improve the education of our children.

I began my career just as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was gaining momentum. The difference between my students then and now is unmistakable. Regardless of grades or test scores, my students from five to eleven years ago still had a sense of pride in whom they were and a self-confidence in whom they would become someday. Sadly, that type of student is rare now. Every year I have seen a decline in student morale; every year I have more and more wounded students sitting in my classroom, more and more students participating in self-harm and bullying. These children are lost and in pain.

It is no coincidence that the students I have now coincide with the NCLB movement twelve years ago–and it’s only getting worse with the new legislation around Race to the Top.

I have sweet, incredible, intelligent children sitting in my classroom who are giving up on their lives already. They feel that they only have failure in their futures because they’ve been told they aren’t good enough by a standardized test; they’ve been told that they can’t be successful because they aren’t jumping through the right hoops on their educational paths. I have spent so much time trying to reverse those thoughts, trying to help them see that education is not punitive; education is the only way they can improve their lives. But the truth is, the current educational system is punishing them for their inadequacies, rather than helping them discover their unique talents; our educational system is failing our children because it is not meeting their needs.

I can no longer be a part of a system that continues to do the exact opposite of what I am supposed to do as a teacher–I am supposed to help them think for themselves, help them find solutions to problems, help them become productive members of society. Instead, the emphasis on Common Core Standards and high-stakes testing is creating a teach-to-the-test mentality for our teachers and stress and anxiety for our students. Students have increasingly become hesitant to think for themselves because they have been programmed to believe that there is one right answer that they may or may not have been given yet. That is what school has become: A place where teachers must give students “right” answers, so students can prove (on tests riddled with problems, by the way) that teachers have taught students what the standards have deemed are a proper education.

As unique as my personal situation might be, I know I am not the only teacher feeling this way. Instead of weeding out the “bad” teachers, this evaluation system will continue to frustrate the teachers who are doing everything they can to ensure their students are graduating with the skills necessary to become civic minded individuals. We feel defeated and helpless: If we speak out, we are reprimanded for not being team players; if we do as we are told, we are supporting a broken system.

Since I’ve worked here, we have always asked the question of every situation: “Is this good for kids?” My answer to this new legislation is, “No. This is absolutely not good for kids.” I cannot stand by and watch this happen to our precious children–our future. The irony is I cannot fight for their rights while I am working in the system. Therefore, I will not apply for another teaching job anywhere in this country while our government continues to ruin public education. Instead, I will do my best to be an advocate for change. I will continue to fight for our children’s rights for a free and proper education because their very lives depend upon it.

My final plea as a district employee is that the principals and superintendent ask themselves the same questions I have asked myself: “Is this good for kids? Is the state money being spent wisely to keep and attract good teachers? Can the district do a better job of advocating for our children and become leaders in this educational system rather than followers?” With my resignation, I hope to inspire change in the district I have come to love. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “All mankind is divided into three classes: Those that are immovable, those that are movable, and those that move.” I want to be someone who moves and makes things happen. Which one do you want to be?

Sincerely,

Pauline Hawkins

In this post, New Jersey high school teacher Dan Ferat reflects on how many tests he is now required to give to his students, as compared to ten years ago.

 

Here is a sample, read it all:

 

So, in only ten years, we have gone from students taking five exams per year (six for juniors with the HSPA) to 34 exams per year (30 for seniors) with many more in sight because there will be a PARCC for EVERY SUBJECT supposedly because there are CCCS for every subject except electives (plus those PSAT/SAT/ACT tests which I’m not even counting).

 

Forget the amount of time teachers will have to spend grading all these exams and writing them and adjusting them over the years. Honestly, that’s beside the point when it comes to education. It’s true we don’t get enough time “on the clock” as it is, but the real issue is the students. See, I always thought education was about LEARNING a subject in a classroom from readings, teachers, and experiences (like labs). But with all this testing, there will be less learning and more studying for tests. We teachers are evaluated on how well our students do on all the tests, so of course we’re going to teach to them. One would be a complete moron not to since one can wind up fired if one gets too low scores in two years. This will narrow curricula, which means less information and fewer skills learned. It will standardize curricula more, which means fewer choices for students and less of a need for EXPERIENCED TEACHERS, who share so much of their insight and experiences with students to bring their subjects to life. But if everything is just straight out of a book, like a script, all you need is a warm body to watch the kids and lead them through the standardized curriculum.

 

If parents understood this, they would not be happy. They would begin to recognize what the legislators and the federal government are doing to undermine genuine education and to dampen students’ ardor for learning as well as to demoralize teachers.

 

 

Jack Schneider, a historian of education at the College of Holy Cross, deconstructs the claim that the biggest problem in education today is the quality of teachers. The clarion s of the Status Quo never tire of telling us that “great” teachers can turn every student into college-bound scholars. For a time, they said that the teacher was the most important influence on student test scores. Then, as social scientists reminded them, again and again, that the family has far greater influence than the teacher, the Status Quo shifted gears and began saying that teachers were the most important factor inside schools, which is true. Economists say that the family accounts for about 60% of academic outcomes, the teacher about 10-15%. The Status Quo doesn’t like to put those numbers out because it might persuade the public that our society should do more to improve the lives of families, communities, and children. Bit it is so much simpler to complain about teachers. They are an enticing target.

Schneider says, contrary to the conventional wisdom of the Status Quo, that we have a good corps of teachers:

“If assertions about the poor academic preparation of American teachers were accurate, the policy fix would be easy. But such hysteria is generally unfounded. Teachers go to legitimate schools, they get decent grades, and the overwhelming majority of them possess degrees in the subject they teach. More than half possess graduate degrees. Consequently, there’s very little low-hanging fruit to pick.”

Actually, the biggest problem we face is not how to attract Ivy League graduates into teaching (there being no evidence that Ivy League graduates make better teachers than graduates of state universities), but how to stop the relentless attacks on teachers that are driving out so many good veterans. It has been documented many times that a sizable proportion of those who enter teaching–40% or more– will leave within five years because the working conditions are so poor and stresses of the job are so hard. No other profession has this exodus of trained personnel. Far fewer people are entering the profession now than in the recent past, no doubt because of the attacks on teachers that have become commonplace in the media. Teach for America advertises its success as if to prove that five weeks of training is sufficient and that teaching is a stop-gap enroute to one’s real profession, not a career choice.

The biggest problem in teaching today is that the profession has been demeaned for years, especially in the past five years. The Status Quo crowd seems determined to prove that first-year and second-year teachers are best, and to drive away experienced educators, perhaps to save on salaries or pensions.

States and districts should have higher standards for entering teaching. Once people become teachers, districts and schools should give them the support they need to succeed. Incompetent teachers should be removed as quickly as possible, with a fair hearing if they have due process rights.

Schneider shows that teaching as a profession needs the same respect as other professions, the same professional opportunities for growth, the same time to work together and learn from research.

An editorial in the Los Angeles Times says that experienced teachers get better results than inexperienced teachers!

It might seem too obvious to be a headline, but the fake reformers have railed against “last-in-first-out” and veteran teachers for years. Those “reformers” insist that the veterans are burned out while the new teachers are great on Day One.

There is even a lawsuit in Los Angeles to eliminate tenure.

Will wonders never cease!

Peter Greene, high school teacher in Pennsylvania, read Anthony Cody’s article about teachers taking action, and he remembered why he had been reluctant when he should have spoken out. Then he realized that the time had come to speak up and not allow his profession to be diminished by uninformed critics.

In this post, he gives practical advice about how teachers must overcome their reluctance and become warriors on behalf of their students and their profession.

He boils it down to four principles:

Trust your judgment.

Network.

Speak.

Act.

To fill in the details, read his post.

Paul Thomas follows Anthony Cody’s previously cited post by describing the unrelenting attack on teachers, which has intensified with the use of statistically inappropriate measures.

He writes:

“As Cody notes above, however, simultaneously political leaders, the media, and the public claim that teachers are the most valuable part of any student’s learning (a factually untrue claim), but that high-poverty and minority students can be taught by those without any degree or experience in education (Teach for America) and that career teachers no longer deserve their profession—no tenure, no professional wages, no autonomy, no voice in what or how they teach.

And while the media and political leaders maintain these contradictory narratives and support these contradictory policies, value-added methods (VAM) of evaluating and compensating U.S. public teachers are being adopted, again simultaneously, as the research base repeatedly reveals that VAM is yet another flawed use of high-stake accountability and testing.”

Thomas cites review after review to demonstrate that VAM is inaccurate and deeply flawed. Yet the evidence is ignored and VAM is being used as a political weapon by the odd bedfellows of the Obama administration and rightwing governors as well as some Democratic governors, like Andrew Cuomo of New York and Dannell Malloy of Connecticut, to attack teachers. President Obama made a point of praising the Chetty study in his 2012 State of the Union address, not waiting for the many reviews that showed the error of measuring teacher quality by test scores.

Thomas writes:

“The rhetoric about valuing teachers rings hollow more and more as teaching continues to be dismantled and teachers continue to be devalued by misguided commitments to VAM and other efforts to reduce teaching to a service industry.

“VAM as reform policy, like NCLB, is sham-science being used to serve a corporate need for cheap and interchangeable labor. VAM, ironically, proves that evidence does not matter in education policy.”

Kim Cook, a first-grade teacher in Florida, received a bonus of $400. She donated it to the Network for Public Education to fight the failed ideas of corporate reform, which prevail in her state.

She is the second teacher to donate their bonus to NPE to fight fake reforms that demean teachers and distort education. Not long ago, Kevin Strang, an instrumental music teacher from Florida, donated his $800 bonus, awarded because he teaches in a school that was rated A.

On behalf of NPE, we thank Kim and Kevin. We hope other teachers will follow their lead. We pledge to fight for you and to advance the day when non-educators and politicians stop meddling with your work and let you teach.

I asked Kim to tell me why she decided to do this. This was her reply:

“Hi Diane,

“Yes, I donated $400. I am a first grade teacher in Alachua County, Florida. I was inspired by Kevin Strang’s donation last month. I, too, received bonus money, not because I work at an “A” school, but because my school’s grade went from a “D” to a “C.”

“Here’s the catch: I don’t teach at the school that determines my school’s grade. I teach at Irby Elementary School in Alachua, Florida, which only serves grades K-2. My school’s grade is determined by students at the grade 3-5 school up the road.

“I have only been working at Irby Elementary for three years, so I have never met–never even passed in the hall–the fourth and fifth grade students whose FCAT scores determined my school’s grade. Even if I had, I completely disagree with high-stakes testing and tying teachers’ bonuses, salaries, and evaluations to those scores. I am donating my bonus money to NPE because I am fighting the failed policies of education “reformers” in every way that I can. Thank you for providing me an avenue through which to do that!

“Here is some background information on me. I am the Florida teacher that received an unsatisfactory evaluation based on students I had never taught at the same time I was named my school’s teacher of the year. My story made it into Valerie Strauss’ The Answer Sheet.

I am also the lead plaintiff in Florida Education Association/NEA’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of VAM.

With deep appreciation and respect,

Kim Cook

The central feature of the Obama administration’s $5 billion “Race to the Top” program was sharply deconstructed and refuted last week by the American Statistical Association, one of the nation’s leading scholarly organizations. Spurred on by the administration’s combination of federal cash and mandates, most states are now using student test scores to rank and evaluate teachers. This method of evaluating teachers by test scores is called value-added measurement, or VAM. Teachers’ compensation, their tenure, bonuses, and other rewards and sanctions are tied directly to the rise or fall of their student test scores, which the Obama administration considers a good measure of teacher quality.

Secretary Arne Duncan believes so strongly in VAM that he has threatened to punish Washington state for refusing to adopt this method of evaluating teachers and principals. In New York, a state court fined New York City $150 million for failing to agree on a VAM plan.

The ASA issued a short but stinging statement that strongly warned against the misuse of VAM. The organization neither condemns nor promotes the use of VAM, but its warnings about the limitations of this methodology clearly demonstrate that the Obama administration has committed the nation’s public schools to a policy fraught with error. ASA warns that VAMs are “complex statistical models” that require “high-level statistical expertise” and awareness of their “assumptions and possible limitations,” especially when they are used for high-stakes purposes as is now common. Few, if any, state education departments have the statistical expertise to use VAM models appropriately. In some states, like Florida, teachers have been rated based on the scores of students they never taught.

The ASA points out that VAMs are based on standardized tests and “do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes.” They typically measure correlation, not causation. That means that the rise or fall of student test scores attributed to the teacher might actually be caused by other factors outside the classroom, not under the teacher’s control. The VAM rating of teachers is so unstable that it may change if the same students are given a different test.

The ASA’s most damning indictment of the policy promoted so vigorously by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is:

“Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.” The ASA points out: “This is not saying that teachers have little effect on students, but that variation among teachers accounts for a small part of the variation in scores. The majority of the variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, and unmeasured influences.”

As many education researchers have explained–including a joint statement by the American Educational Research Association and the National Academy of Education– the VAM ratings of those who teach children with disabilities and English language learners will be low, because these children have greater learning challenges than their peers, as will the ratings of those who teach gifted students, because the latter group has already reached a ceiling. Those two groups, like the ASA agreed that test scores are affected by many factors besides the teacher, not only the family, but the school’s leadership, its resources, class size, curriculum, as well as the student’s motivation, attendance, and health. Yet the Obama administration and most of our states are holding teachers alone accountable for student test scores.

The ASA warns that the current heavy reliance on VAMs for high-stakes testing and their simplistic interpretation may have negative effects on the quality of education. There will surely be unintended consequences, such as a diminishment in the number of people willing to become teachers in an environment where “quality” is so crudely measured. There will assuredly be more teaching to the test.. With the Obama administration’s demand for VAM, “more classroom time might be spent on test preparation and on specific content from the test at the exclusion of content that may lead to better long-term learning gains or motivation for students. Certain schools may be hard to staff if there is a perception that it is harder for teachers to achieve good VAM scores when working in them. Over-reliance on VAM scores may foster a competitive environment, discouraging collaboration and efforts to improve the educational system as a whole.”

For five years, the Obama administration has been warned by scholars and researchers that its demand for value-added assessment is having harmful effects on teachers and students, on the morale of teachers, on the recruitment of new teachers, and on the quality of education, which has been reduced to nothing more than standardized testing. Secretary Duncan has brushed aside all objections and pushed full steam ahead with his disastrous policies, like Captain Ahab in pursuit of the great white whale, heedless to all warnings.

Based on the complementary statements of our nation’s most eminent scholarly associations, any teacher who is wrongfully terminated by Duncan’s favorite but deeply flawed methodology should sue for wrongful termination. What is not so clear is how the nation can protect our children and our public schools from this administration’s obsessive reliance on standardized tests to rank and rate students, teachers, principals, and schools.

What if we have been looking for the wrong qualities in teachers?

What if test scores matter no more than non-cognitive behaviors, skills, and learnings?

Kirabo Jackson of Northwestern University has published a study showing that test scores may not be the most important measure of teaching.

Consider the findings of this North Carolina study in 2012:

This paper presents a model where teacher effects on long-run outcomes reflect effects on both cognitive skills (measured by test-scores) and non-cognitive skills (measured by non-test-score outcomes). In administrative data, teachers have causal effects on test-scores and student absences, suspensions, grades, and on-time grade progression. Teacher effects on a weighted average of these non-test score outcomes (a proxy for non-cognitive skills) predict teacher effects on dropout, high-school completion, and college-entrance-exam taking above and beyond their effects on test scores. Accordingly, test-score effects alone fail to identify excellent teachers and may understate the importance of teachers for longer-run outcomes.

 

 

A teacher in Syracuse writes, in response to comments by another teacher:

Teaching has lost its joy and spontaneity. It has become “all work and no play, which makes Johnny a very dull boy.” (that goes for teachers too)!

At least one third of the teachers in my elementary school are now looking for work outside the profession. My kinder class is doing literacy curriculum with imaginative play completely phased out and only 20 minute recess daily. It is a stressful, rigid, boring environment that causes children and teachers to lose their spirit.

There is very little opportunity for social interaction between the children, since most of their CCSS worksheets are designed for independent work. There is no opportunity for relaxed conversation or spontaneity in our classroom, since our rigid schedule is demanding and inflexible. I don’t really have an opportunity to get to know my students on a personal level, since we are expected to maintain our detached business like atmosphere. We do have one art/music/pe class weekly, but when those go away it will be very depressing. The atmosphere of our school has become gelotophobic.

As a teacher, I feel restricted and controlled in everything I do. I have no freedom to use my own creativity in designing lesson plans, which causes me to think I could easily be replaced by a computer. Maybe that is the goal of CCSS and the reformers?

Your choice of the word “eerie” is true: ” It’s eerie to see CCSS stamped on all current material and resources. Education has been branded like cattle.”

That is a good description because the hostile corporate takeover is turning schools into systems of management like those used for livestock! It is all about “conditioning” children to “perform for tests”, like little workaholics who can follow commands, but cannot think for themselves or be creative. Work and boredom has become normal.

I think it is “eerie” to see children who have blank stares and work in silence most of the day without spontaneity, imagination, or play. I think the reason Pearson designed CCSS materials to be confusing and frustrating is part of the plan to dismantle public schools. The more parents recognize their children are having anxiety and depression, the more they will be inclined to put them into private or charter schools.

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