Teachers

The Times' Room for Debate blog tackles teacher evaluations today, in particular the news that New York City plans to introduce a dozen new tests in order to gather data for said evaluations. Participants include Linda Darling-Hammond, Kevin Carey, Marcus Winters, and yours truly, among others. Here's my submission; read the whole package here. [quote]

Improving teacher evaluations is one of the most important reforms encouraged by the federal ?Race to the Top? initiative ? and one of the central components to making our schools better. No one can defend today's evaluation systems which, by and large, find every teacher to be above average (if not superior) even as our student achievement results lag our international competitors.

If pay and employment decisions are to be based on teacher performance, at least in part, we need evaluations that can stand up to scrutiny (and to lawsuits). Simply put, we won't make much progress in terminating our least effective teachers (either for cause or because of budget pressures) until we have evaluation systems that are fair, trustworthy and rigorous. And it's only common sense that one element of those evaluations should be an assessment...

In a lengthy essay for the Washington Post New York State Regent Roger Tilles provides more evidence for why the Empire State has slipped so badly educationally in the last couple of decades: the tendency to fiddle while Rome burns.? Tilles was one of three members of the state's Board of Regents to vote no on proposed principal and teacher evaluation regulations. (See here.) Luckily, he was in the minority (14 Regents voted Yes), but his dissent is worth noting as it illustrates some of what perpetuates the institutional aversion to improvement.

?I support a rigorous system of evaluation,? writes Tilles, who has great credentials, including service on two state Boards of Education, teaching at education schools of three universities, and being on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. ?It is imperative that we develop a system that is effective and fair and that will lead to better student learning. Unfortunately, the regulations ? which link 20-40 percent of a teacher's evaluation on the results of student standardized test scores ? don't have some of the elements necessary to make them either fair or effective.?

Tilles raises legitimate concerns about the use of these...

Amy Fagan

Fordham Institute President Chester Finn, has an interesting op-ed in the NY Daily News today. He writes about the prospect of teacher layoffs in NYC due to budget woes. I'll highlight a few of his points here.

Finn says no one likes to see teachers lose their jobs, since most are ?hardworking, committed, decent individuals who care about kids.? He notes, however, that salaries and benefits constitute at least 70% of every school system budget, and most of those paychecks go to teachers, so it's nearly impossible to attempt serious budget cuts without looking in that direction.

If layoffs do have to happen, much hinges on which teachers are let go, Finn warns. Classroom effectiveness ?should be the main criterion,? he writes.

He also writes that when it comes to the issue of class size, ?there is no persuasive evidence that smaller classes yield higher student achievement. Class size doesn't begin to compare with teacher effectiveness.?

Finn says much more. Get the full picture by reading the piece here....

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder is a new name in education circles, but not to me. Having lived in the state my whole life, I proudly supported him from the days his popular, ?One Tough Nerd,? ads started popping on TV in early 2010. In the August primaries he pulled a shocking upset and went on to win the general election by a landslide. But since taking office, his efforts to erase deficits through drastic budget cuts have left him a villainous figure to many Michiganders. These are many of the same people you hear decrying his new education plan. By introducing these reforms while trimming the state's K-12 education budget by 4%, Snyder is hoping to do more with less. Personally, I couldn't be more in favor of the breath of fresh air he's blowing into the Michigan education system, but there's a lot more at play.

Snyder's plans, while promising, will take time to enact; schools, on the other hand, must act on his budget restrictions immediately. In Michigan, a state where union membership is mandatory for public school teachers, archaic ?last hired ? first fired? policies are still controlling who gets laid off....

Unions are not to blame for the severity of public pension shortfalls, but that doesn't mean that taking a hard look at collective bargaining is a bad idea. Matthew Di Carlo at Shanker Blog called yesterday for pols and commentators to stop blaming the nation's public pension issues on collective bargaining. He has a point, but I can't run with his conclusions here:

I find little evidence that the unionization of public employees has any effect ? whether positive or negative ? on the fiscal soundness of state pension plans. This, along with the fact that we already know why pensions are in trouble, and it has little to do with unions, once again represents strong tentative evidence that the push to eliminate collective bargaining is misguided, and the blame on unions is misplaced. States with little or no union presence are, on average, in no better shape.

Pensions are far from the only issue at hand. The Pew report cited by Matthew shows that, in addition to the $660 billion gap in pension systems, there is a $604 billion shortfall to pay for generous health benefits for public-sector retirees. This gap has little to do with...

I've already weighed in on Alfie Kohn's ?pedagogy of poverty? article that appeared in Ed Week last week. (See here.) The debate sparked by Kohn's article rages on?in blogs and on Twitter?and my colleague, Mike Petrilli, weighed in today, arguing:

The question of whether affluent and disadvantaged kids need a different kind of education?different instructional strategies, different curriculum, maybe even different kinds of teachers?is a serious one. This discussion is easily demagogued (particularly on Twitter). But it's not racist to say that poor kids?who generally come to school with much less vocabulary, exposure to print, and much else?might need something different?more intense, more structured?than their well-off, better-prepared peers.

On some level, we're overcomplicating this. In the end, the ?achievement gap,? as we now call it, is really little more than a practice gap. And schools that are succeeding in closing it are simply better at creating a culture that makes time for that practice.

In his bestselling book, The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that, across divergent fields (athletics, music, business, academia), the people who rose to the top had two things in common:

  1. They had been exposed to and given the opportunity to learn,
  2. ...

A few days ago Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari, founders, according to their official ID, of the 826 National tutoring centers and producers of the documentary ?American Teacher,? wrote an essay for the New York Times titled The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries. (We know that Eggers also happens to be author of the bestseller A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.)? Unfortunately, the headline doesn't do justice to their argument, which is that we have to ?make the teaching profession more attractive to college graduates? by, among other things, better training and recruiting ? but the headline also highlights the problem with their analysis: they can't leave the ?low pay? shibboleth alone.

What is refreshing about Eggers and Calegari's approach is that it picks up on some of the more important findings of the recent McKinsey report (released last fall), which was also devoted to the question of attracting and retaining more ? and more better! ? teachers. ?Their summary of McKinsey's findings comparing the treatment of teachers in three high-performing countries ? Finland, Singapore, and South Korea ? ?and is, more or less, apt:

First, the governments in these countries recruit top graduates to the

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