Teachers

???Teacher effectiveness??? has made its way to the top of the education policy agenda, supplanting the focus on ???highly qualified??? teachers from No Child Left Behind and treading into the dangerous (but necessary) territory of measuring effectiveness, in part, with student test scores. President Obama and Secretary Duncan's decision to use the language of teacher ???effectiveness??? in the application for the federal $4.35 billion Race to the Top grants (with student growth a ???significant factor??? in measuring teacher effectiveness ) was no small shift. We'll find out soon how serious Obama and Duncan are about ensuring ???great teachers and leaders??? ??? the RttT category worth almost a third of the application points -- as first round finalists will be announced next week.

Meanwhile, Bill and Melinda Gates have their sights set on the concept of teacher effectiveness as well, investing $290 million in four cities that are developing ???groundbreaking plans to improve teacher effectiveness.??? And just to be sure we all know what effectiveness means, they're pumping another $45 million into the Measures of Effective Teaching project, an initiative that will gather data on 3,700 teachers and try to create a more precise definition of effective teaching. (The MET project will use a variety of data including student surveys, teacher surveys, and videotaped teacher observations ??? sounds a lot like the teacher training program at Hunter College that was formed...

Ohio State University President Gordon Gee has been in the press lately for his ideas to ???reinvent??? higher education (including changes to the way professors are awarded tenure). Gee probably isn't unique in recognizing the perverse incentive structure inherent to the university tenure process, as reflected in this quote??in the LA Times:

The traditional formula that rewards publishing in scholarly journals over excellence in teaching and other contributions is outdated and too often favors the quantity of a professor's output over quality.

But Gee is exceptional in his willingness to swim against the current, by openly speaking against the holy grail of postsecondary and K-12 education alike ??? educators' tenure. In fact, it's probably the only time you'll read the words ???bold??? and ???tenure??? and the name of an Ohio education leader in the same sentence.

Admittedly, arguments for and against tenure differ dramatically at the university and K-12 level (there are legitimate reasons to incentivize non-teaching work in universities) and it's important not to conflate them. But the sentiment behind what Gee is doing ??? suggesting dramatic changes to the status quo and probably ruffling a lot of feathers in the meantime ??? is something that K-12 leaders would do well to emulate.????

The National Council on Teacher Quality, in its recent State Teacher Policy Yearbook (a look at state laws, rules and regs over the teaching profession), gave Ohio a D+.?? Our inability to ???exit ineffective teachers??? is one area...

The Education Gadfly

Watch our debate on school turnarounds vs. closures, and don't miss insightful and provocative comments from the panelists, including this one from Andres Alonso, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools:

My friend Michelle Rhee, who I'm sure you all know here in DC, I've heard her say that she's heard from Warren Buffet, I think, that the quickest way to fix public schools is to get rid of private schools. Because then it would not be acceptable for half the kids not to graduate. It wouldn't be acceptable.

The Education Gadfly

???Shining a spotlight on those teachers and those principals who are doing a great job, rewarding them, learning from them--cloning them, if possible--is part of the solution.???

--Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education

"Duncan Vows Tough Love for Schools," Politico

$4800

The maximum annual scholarship amount available to students in Alaska under the proposed Governor's Performance Scholarship

"Alaska Ed. Chief Defends Merit-Based Scholarships," The Associated Press

An article in yesterday's Columbus Dispatch delivered two important reminders regarding teacher performance-pay. First, even in cities that have experimented with it for several years (Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, Cincinnati) the results are incredibly difficult to measure. (Recall that even Texas, which has some of the oldest and most comprehensive performance pay plans, has mixed results.)??

Second ??? and most salient on everyone's minds ??? is the fact that performance-pay is very expensive. Districts relying on grant funding from programs like the national Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) or the Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) eventually need to use their own funds to supplant grant money. The Dispatch provides an example:

The four Columbus schools that have been trying TAP the longest -- Easthaven and Parkmoor elementary schools, Champion Middle and South High -- are no longer funded by the grant, which means the district is picking up the tab. The grant for the four other schools -- Fifth Avenue and Lindbergh elementary schools, and Clinton and Starling middle schools -- will run out at the start of the next school year???. The district also must cut its budget by millions, a promise made by the school board in its 2008 levy campaign. There's no guarantee that TAP will continue.

With so many Ohio districts facing sizeable budget deficits (not to mention the tidal wave of costs resulting from Gov. Strickland's ???evidence-based??? mandates), maintaining ??? let alone expanding ??? performance-pay programs...

Last week I, and others, took the Dayton Education Association to task for its decision to scuttle the district's participation in the state's Race to the Top application. To understand this criticism, consider that the union rejected RttT funds in the face of a $5 million budget shortfall caused by rising home foreclosures and delinquent property taxes.

Further, Dayton's school district has seen 10,000 students flee for charters and other places in the last decade (shrinking from 24,000 students to about 14,000 students) and enrollment in the DEA has dropped from 2,000 in 1998 to about 1,100 in 2008. During this time the union has steadfastly resisted any serious reform, despite real efforts by different superintendents and school boards over the last decade. Dayton is perennially ranked as one of the lowest performing districts in Ohio, battling the likes of Cleveland and Youngstown for the dubious distinction of worst in the Buckeye State.????

If any urban school district in America needs reform, it's Dayton, and the reforms embedded in RttT are steps in the right direction. When asked why the DEA rejected RttT funding, here is what the union president had to say:

How would you like your job to be based on criteria over which you had no control? Let's say you are an editorial writer for a city newspaper. How would it be for your evaluation to be based on how many ads your paper sold? Understand, you are not...

After the release last month of The New Teacher Project's Cincinnati-focused human capital reform report (see Jamie's take here), both district and union leadership seemed genuinely intent on using their upcoming contract negotiations to work together toward improving the district's schools.???? Education-reform-wise, things seemed to be looking up in the Queen City, a place where I've long been optimistic about the potential for improving education, given the city's dynamic school choice market and the fact that the district is one of the few in the Buckeye State to actually shut down persistently failing schools. But now with district-union contract negotiations just around the corner, my optimism is waning.????

The Cincinnati Enquirer's Ben Fischer reports that in the first few months of the school year, the union filed 51 grievances against the district for low-level contract violations and asked the State Employee Relations Board to investigate an unfair labor practice charge related to the superintendent's plan for addressing persistently failing schools. The number of grievances isn't unusually high, but the unfair labor practice charge puts at risk the district's attempt to close and redesign its worst schools. If the district can't do that, and if the new collective bargaining agreement is more of the same-old, same-old and not informed much by TNTP's findings, Cincinnati's education reform efforts might be doomed to suffer the same fate as its beloved Bengals.????????

- Emmy Partin...

OhioFlypaper

Check out this special edition of the Ohio Education Gadfly, a look back at the decade's most significant education events in Ohio. 2010 bring new opportunities for K-12 education in Ohio, but let's not forget the impact of things like DeRolph, the Zelman voucher case, Strickland's "evidence-based" funding model, charter legislation, value-added measures, and more, and their potential to shape (for better or for worse) education reform in the Buckeye State in years to come.

When Emmy returned from a Midwest REL conference on educator compensation in October, she brought with her a Center on Education Reform report on "alternative compensation terminology." Not the most scintillating title, but the paper had some persuasive takeaways. Educators and policy makers have far too many expressions denoting alternative compensation (merit, pay, alternative compensation, differentiated pay, pay for performance, etc), and terminology should be streamlined. "Merit pay" especially has negative connotations leftover from its use in the 1980s and 90s and therefore should be discontinued (the term is outdated and brings to mind the system of paying teachers based on potentially biased principal evaluations).

Okay. I can see the need to evolve our vocabulary. Every since reading this report, I've made a conscious effort to be more precise when referencing alternative compensation.

But my conscientiousness can only go so far. When it comes to discussing the impact teachers make on student performance, I will not refer to "context-adjusted achievement test effects" in lieu of "value-added." Sorry, Center for American Progress. Their newly released report, "Adding Value to Discussions about Value-Added," argues that:

"...the conventional language used to discuss productivity today- especially the term "value-added"-is well-suited to that sector of the economy. In elementary and secondary education, however, the use of the term value-added has proved problematic. Although widely embraced by researchers and policymakers to denote estimates of teachers' productivity, typically referred to as effectiveness, the term value-added ???sends chills down the spine' of...

The Education Gadfly

Our latest report, "Tracking and Detracking: High Achievers in Massachusetts Middle Schools ," analyzes the implications of tracking, or grouping students into separate classes based on their achievement.??It takes a look at Massachusetts middle schools - both those that have retained tracking and those that have moved away from it (detracked). Among the report's key findings: detracked schools have fewer advanced students in mathematics than tracked schools. Read the full report here .

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