Teachers

It may not be obvious at first blush, but the political fight happening in New York right now over teacher evaluations has implications for Ohio. Governor Cuomo has proposed increasing the weight of a student’s test scores to 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, made possible by a proposed decrease in the weight of a principal’s observations. Ohio Governor John Kasich hasn’t proposed any significant changes to teacher evaluations this year, but consider this: both Ohio and New York do a poor job of objectively evaluating teachers  who don’t have grade- and subject-specific assessments, both states allow the unfair option of shared attribution, and stakeholders in each are questioning whether teacher evaluations give rise to extra hours of assessments that aren’t meaningful for students. This leads to a big question: Is there a way to fix these problems?    

Enter Educators 4 Excellence  (E4E) and their alternative teacher evaluation framework. E4E is an organization comprised of former and current teachers. Its mission is to magnify teacher voices in policy and legislative arenas where educator views are often overlooked—despite the fact that ensuing decisions significantly impact the day-to-day lives of teachers. E4E supports teacher evaluations that are “fair and rigorous,” and the organization published a paper in 2013 that made suggestions for how to improve the evaluation system in New York. In light of Governor Cuomo’s proposed reforms, they’ve recommended an alternative framework—which just so happens to solve most of the issues with...

Was Phil Jackson really a great coach? Despite his reputation as the Zen master of hoops, I’ve never been convinced. After all, Kobe, Shaq, and His Airness would have made any coach look like a genius, and there’s never been a natural experiment quantifying Jackson’s impact.

Inside the classroom, a similar question lingers. In a recent study of district evaluation systems, Grover Whitehurst, Matthew Chingos, and Katharine Lindquist found that teachers with high-performing students were far more likely to be rated highly by observers than those with low-performing students. Moreover, this pattern was not the result of better teachers being matched with better students. Rather, observers were biased towards teachers with higher-performing students—the Phil Jacksons of the teaching world.

As the authors of the study make clear, eliminating this bias by adjusting for student background characteristics is relatively straightforward. So why aren’t we doing this already? A few weeks ago, Luke Kohlmoos of the Tennessee Department of Education argued against such adjustments, suggesting they were a “disservice to students and teachers” that would take us back to the bad old days of lower expectations for black and brown students. According to Kohlmoos, if we “systematize” lower expectations through classroom observations, teachers and students will stoop to meet them.

Obviously, we don’t want “lower expectations” for teachers or students, but when it comes to adjusting observation scores, it’s worth asking how those expectations are communicated and whether they are really “lower” in any meaningful sense.

Start with teachers: Why...

Since its birth in 1990, Teach For America (TFA) has been one of the most scrutinized education reform programs on record. Not without reason: TFA takes a bold, innovative approach to teacher selection and preparation. Instead of having aspiring teachers slog through the conventional education school coursework before setting foot in a classroom, TFA recruits young people from selective universities, provides a five-week training program, and places them in high-need schools, including in Northeast and Southwest Ohio. The research evidence on TFA teachers’ impact has been mainly positive—particularly in math in the higher grades. But somewhat less known is the impact of TFA in the earlier grades. This study analyzes TFA teachers’ effectiveness in grades PK–5, employing “gold standard,” random-assignment methodology. Researchers randomly assigned 2,153 students to 156 teachers—sixty-six TFA and ninety comparison teachers—in thirty-six high-poverty schools, most of which were located in the urban South. The study compares students’ reading and math outcomes from the 2012–13 school year along the Woodcock-Johnson III achievement test for grades PK–2 and state tests for grades 3–5. The main finding: Across grades PK–5, no differences in average math and reading outcomes were detected between students taught by a TFA versus non-TFA instructor. In other words, elementary TFA teachers were just as effective as their traditionally trained counterparts, who had an average of about fourteen years of classroom experience. But when the researchers broke down the research results, they discovered that PK–2 TFA instructors had a positive impact on...

Ohio has been a hotbed of education reform in recent years, but two policy areas remain mostly virgin territory: teacher preparation and licensure. I tackled the former previously; now let’s examine three significant problems with Ohio’s approach to the latter.

1. Lack of content tests for early childhood licenses

According to NCTQ’s 2014 State Teacher Policy Yearbook, Ohio is one of only four states in the nation that doesn’t require all elementary teachers to pass a content test prior to licensure (see here for the Ohio details). A list of required assessments shows that early childhood (PK–3) teachers are only required to pass the Assessment of Professional Knowledge: Early Childhood (which tests pedagogical knowledge) and Early Childhood Education assessments. The second of these tests is intended to assess a candidate’s content mastery, but closer inspection reveals that the only core content with its own, separate part of the test is language and literacy development. Math, social studies, and science content are smaller parts of “Domain III” which itself only accounts for 36 percent of the test. This 36 percent is divided among music, drama, creative movement, dance, visual arts, health, safety, and physical activity in addition to science, math, and social studies. No one is going to argue that language and literacy aren’t important enough to have their own section, but aren’t science, math, and social studies important enough to be separate too?

To put it bluntly, Ohio has no way of knowing...

Not much in the way of fireworks, but rather many points of agreement emerged during last week’s Education Speakers Series event on teacher evaluations. Ohio Federation of Teachers President Melissa Cropper and Students First Ohio’s State Policy Director Matt Verber began at the same point: teachers are the most-important in-school factor in student achievement. But when, how, and how much teachers should be evaluated were all matters of discussion. Both panelists felt there were questions to be resolved about the possible use of “shared attribution” for evaluating teachers. The question of whether student surveys should be used in evaluations generated no consensus. And the question of how evaluation data should be used – development vs. removal – proved a predictable bone of contention.

We appreciate the time and contribution of both our panelists in this important discussion, and thank our audience for their valuable questions and comments. If you missed the event, check out the full video:

 

And look for future events in our Education Speakers Series coming soon. Anything you want to see? Drop us a line: jmurray@edexcellence.net

Joshua Dunn

In “Collective Panic,” Martha Derthick and I argued that teachers’ unions dodged a major blow in Harris v. Quinn (2014) but that they should hold off on popping the champagne.

The court’s decision in Quinn indicated that a prized precedent, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education (1977), might soon be overturned. Under Abood, public sector unions could collect “agency fees” from nonmembers, but those funds could not be used for ideological or political purposes. The logic of Abood was that unless public sector unions could collect those funds by compulsion, nonmembers would “free ride” on the collective bargaining efforts of the unions.

Some have always questioned this logic. It’s not free riding if you never wanted the ride. It’s more like being clubbed in the head, tied up, and thrown in the trunk. Regardless, without the ability to punish these potential free riders, union membership would collapse. As Daniel DiSalvo has noted, “In nearly every state that permits agency fees, more than 90 percent of teachers belong to unions. In states that don’t allow agency fees, only 68 percent of teachers are unionized.” Since agency fees cost nearly as much as a full union membership, individuals see little reason not to join the union. Losing Abood would be a “crippling blow” for public sector unions.

In Quinn, Justice Alito argued that Abood created an “anomaly” that at best rested uneasily with First Amendment principles. Because public sector unions are public, all of their bargaining is political. Negotiating with the government means negotiating with taxpayers’ representatives. Thus, it is specious to draw a...

When Governor John Kasich released his proposed budget bill (House Bill 64), it generated immediate buzz in the Ohio education arena. Most of the conversation focused on charter reform and the proposed funding formula. What’s gotten less attention are the policy proposals related to teachers. Here’s a quick look at the most impactful provisions.

Easing requirements for consistently high-performing teachers

HB 64 mandates that by July 2016, the state board must not only define the term “consistently high-performing teacher,” but must also adopt rules to exempt said teachers from completing additional coursework for renewal of their licenses. The provision goes on to also exempt these teachers from any requirements prescribed by professional development committees—committees in local districts that are responsible for determining if coursework and professional development meet state requirements for renewing teacher licenses. This seems like a decent idea for rewarding our best teachers for their talent and hard work, particularly since professional development has a bad reputation and the coursework in education programs is equally questionable. That being said, an inadequate definition from the state board of a consistently high-performing teacher could make this provision troublesome.

Changes to the Ohio Resident Educator Program

As defined by the Ohio Department of Education, the Ohio Resident Educator Program is a four-year induction program that provides ongoing support to Ohio’s newest teachers. The program includes professional development, mentoring, and a performance-based assessment (called RESA) that requires teachers to submit online a portfolio...

Greg Harris

Greg Harris is Ohio state director for StudentsFirst.

Despite fierce efforts to derail the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System midway through its first year of implementation (the 2013–2014 academic year), it survived. Now the results are in, and preliminary analysis suggests that 90 percent of Ohio teachers fared well. More importantly, a cultural shift is underway that is pushing more principals to observe and interact with teachers—and placing far greater emphasis the impact of teachers on kids.

In December 2013, the Ohio Senate unanimously passed SB 229, which sought to exempt teachers rated in the top two categories (“Accomplished” or “Skilled”) from annual evaluations under the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES). Proponents argued that by exempting the best teachers, schools could focus their energies on developing less effective teachers.

While the bill was reasonable on its face, a deeper look showed cause for concern. Historically, the vast majority of Ohio teachers had been rated in those top two tiers and would be exempted from evaluation if trends held. This promised a sharp reduction in annual OTES participation.

Such a reduction in participation would prove especially unfortunate in light of the fact that OTES represented the first time in Ohio history that teacher evaluation has been linked to student outcomes. Thus, a genuine effort to improve teacher quality in Ohio required the full participation of its...

NCTQ has been tracking the health of the nation’s teacher pension systems annually since 2008. It was a bad year to start—the Great Recession was heading for its nadir—but surely in 2014 things are starting to look up, right? Not so much, say the authors of the latest edition of Doing the Math on Teacher Pensions. In 2014, the overall debt load of teacher pension funds in the fifty states and the District of Columbia reached $499 billion (an increase of more than $100 billion in just the last two years). An average of seventy cents of every dollar contributed to the systems goes toward paying off the accumulated debt rather than paying into upcoming benefit needs. The folks at NCTQ, while not above some “sky-is-falling” rhetoric, report on the status of seven reforms that they believe would help to avert the pension disaster that has been looming for years, including full portability of plans, reasonable contribution rates for employers and teachers, and fair eligibility rules. The overall average state grade for teacher pension policy in 2014 is a lowly C-. Mountains of debt, overly long vesting periods, backloaded benefits, and lack of portability were the main sticking points this year. One state received an F (Mississippi); one an A (Alaska). The latter squarely hits five of the seven reforms, making a sustained effort to pay down its accrued pension debt after shutting down its previously mired defined benefit plan. The news in Ohio is mostly good. The...

Luke Kohlmoos

Recent research has shown that it may be more difficult for teachers of students with certain background characteristics (i.e., low achieving, poor, minority) to score highly on teacher observations. However, Whitehurst, Chingos, and Lindquist’s conclusion in Education Next that we adjust teachers’ observation scores is a disservice to students and teachers alike.

Introducing a score adjustment explicitly lowers the expectations for low-income, minority children. The adjustment Whitehurst describes is based on demographic information which correlates with achievement but does not determine achievement. This is the opposite of what we aspire to as an education system, which is to achieve a system in which the questions of who your parents are, which zip code you were born in, and the color of your skin do not determine how well you perform and how you are treated. What is being communicated is that black and brown children can't have classrooms like white children. If we not only believe that but actually systematize that belief into how we observe classrooms, there is no reason to believe teachers and students will do anything other than meet those lower expectations.

We must ensure that the standards we hold for all students and teachers remain consistently high. This means using the same rubrics, being scored on the same scale, with the same level of transparency.

We know students of all backgrounds are capable of growing quickly, but it is not always easy for observers to recognize that growth comes in different packages. Making sure that observers...

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