human capital

Klein: ratings are useful for the worst and best teachers

For parents of students in the “average” city teacher’s class, learning the teacher’s rating may not tell them very much, Chancellor Joel Klein wrote in a letter to principals today.

In his email, Klein explained the city’s decision to release teachers’ effectiveness ratings and the teachers union’s move to block this from happening. He noted that the ratings, which measure teachers against estimations of how much their students’ test scores ought to rise, would be most useful in identifying very high and low performing teachers. He wrote:

One indication will never tell the whole story, and sometimes it is hard to discern definitive evidence from data alone — such as with a teacher who is “average” according to these numbers, for example. But where teachers have performed consistently toward the top or the bottom, year after year, these data surely tell us something very important. Namely, we need to retain and reward the great teachers, and we need to develop the low-performing teachers. And those who don’t improve quickly need to be replaced with better-performing teachers.

Klein’s full letter:

Dear Colleagues,

As you have likely heard or read, several media outlets recently issued Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to the City, requiring the Department to share the Teacher Data Reports we provide schools and teachers in grades 4 through 8 each year. These reports use a method called “value-added data” that seeks to predict student performance based on factors outside of a teacher’s control (high levels of poverty, for example), and then determines whether a given teacher’s students exceeded or fell short of these predicted examination scores (teachers may always access their reports at http://schools.nyc.gov/Teachers/TeacherDevelopment/TeacherDataToolkit/GetYourReports/default.htm). By controlling for factors beyond a teacher’s control, it is the fairest system-wide way we have to assess the real impact of teachers on student learning. And while the City’s particular value-add method is not etched in stone, this is why the State passed legislation this spring, endorsed by the teachers’ unions, committing to using value-added data for all teachers. It is also why value-added data is increasingly being used throughout the nation as part of a comprehensive system of teacher evaluation.

In the past we have provided the numeric value-added data to the press with no indication of the identity of individual teachers. I am writing to you today because media outlets, prompted by similar data being published by the Los Angeles Times, have requested the names of individual teachers, not just the statistics. As it is the City’s legal interpretation that we are legally obligated to provide the media this information, it is our intent to provide the data as requested.

In the time since we informed the UFT that we intended to comply with the FOIL request, the union has sued the City to prevent the release, and we have agreed to delay any release until at least November 24, when a court hearing will be held. So no data have yet been released. But I want to make sure that, as you read about these events in the newspapers, you understand the circumstances and you understand my view on the issue overall.

Our most important task is to ensure that every one of our students has a great teacher. It is critical, therefore, that when we have indications of a teacher’s proficiency, we use that indication to do what’s right for kids. One indication will never tell the whole story, and sometimes it is hard to discern definitive evidence from data alone —such as with a teacher who is “average” according to these numbers, for example. But where teachers have performed consistently toward the top or the bottom, year after year, these data surely tell us something very important. Namely, we need to retain and reward the great teachers, and we need to develop the low-performing teachers. And those who don’t improve quickly need to be replaced with better-performing teachers.

Secretary Arne Duncan last week said it best when he said, “I give New York credit for sharing this information with teachers so they can improve and get better.” More than anything, these data demonstrate that we need a better, more comprehensive system of evaluation than the one we have now. That’s why the State legislature and the unions supported an evaluation system that uses value-added data. Now it’s time that the DOE and UFT together build a new system that gives teachers an honest sense of how well they’re doing and how they can improve.

In the end, this is about real people. On one hand, for too long, parents have been left out of the equation, left to pray each year that the teacher greeting their children on the first day of school is truly great, but with no real knowledge of whether that is the case, and with no recourse if it’s not.

But this is also about teachers. They take on the hardest work there is, and they deserve our respect. If anyone sees these data as an opportunity to scapegoat public servants, that is a mistake. Doing what’s right for children means making hard decisions; it has nothing to do with personal attacks.

We’ve made huge strides for our kids over the last eight years. That’s because we’ve been willing to face hard facts. It’s also because we have made kids’ best interests our shared priority. My hope is that we approach this issue with both of those thoughts in mind, ensuring fair treatment for adults, but always keeping children first.

Sincerely,

Joel I. Klein

money matters

Report: Trump education budget would create a Race to the Top for school choice

PHOTO: Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead
President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos participate in a tour of Saint Andrews Catholic in Orlando, Florida.

The Trump administration appears to be going ahead with a $1 billion effort to push districts to allow school choice, according to a report in the Washington Post.

The newspaper obtained what appears to be an advance version of the administration’s education budget, set for release May 23. The budget documents reflect more than $10 billion in cuts, many of which were included in the budget proposal that came out in March, according to the Post’s report. They include cuts to after-school programs for poor students, teacher training, and more:

… a $15 million program that provides child care for low-income parents in college; a $27 million arts education program; two programs targeting Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian students, totaling $65 million; two international education and foreign language programs, $72 million; a $12 million program for gifted students; and $12 million for Special Olympics education programs.

Other programs would not be eliminated entirely, but would be cut significantly. Those include grants to states for career and technical education, which would lose $168 million, down 15 percent compared to current funding; adult basic literacy instruction, which would lose $96 million (down 16 percent); and Promise Neighborhoods, an Obama-era initiative meant to build networks of support for children in needy communities, which would lose $13 million (down 18 percent).

The documents also shed some light on how the administration plans to encourage school choice. The March proposal said the administration would spend $1 billion to encourage districts to switch to “student-based budgeting,” or letting funds flow to students rather than schools.

The approach is considered essential for school choice to thrive. Yet the mechanics of the Trump administration making it happen are far from obvious, as we reported in March:

There’s a hitch in the budget proposal: Federal law spells out exactly how Title I funds must be distributed, through funding formulas that sends money to schools with many poor students.

“I do not see a legal way to spend a billion dollars on an incentive for weighted student funding through Title I,” said Nora Gordon, an associate professor of public policy at Georgetown University. “I think that would have to be a new competitive program.”

There are good reasons for the Trump administration not to rush into creating a program in which states compete for new federal funds, though. … Creating a new program would open the administration to criticism of overreach — which the Obama administration faced when it used the Race to the Top competition to get states to adopt its priorities.

It’s unclear from the Post’s report how the Trump administration is handling Gordon’s concerns. But the Post reports that the administration wants to use a competitive grant program — which it’s calling Furthering Options for Children to Unlock Success, or FOCUS — to redistribute $1 billion in Title I funds for poor students. That means the administration decided that an Obama-style incentive program is worth the potential risks.

The administration’s budget request would have to be fulfilled by Congress, so whether any of the cuts or new programs come to pass is anyone’s guess. Things are not proceeding normally in Washington, D.C., right now.

By the numbers

After reshaping itself to combat declining interest, Teach For America reports a rise in applications

PHOTO: Kayleigh Skinner
Memphis corps members of Teach For America participate in a leadership summit in last August.

Teach for America says its application numbers jumped by a significant number this year, reversing a three-year trend of declining interest in the program.

The organization’s CEO said in a blog post this week that nearly 49,000 people applied for the 2017 program, which places college graduates in low-income schools across the country after summer training — up from just 37,000 applicants last year.

“After three years of declining recruitment, our application numbers spiked this year, and we’re in a good position to meet our goals for corps size, maintaining the same high bar for admission that we always have,” Elisa Villanueva Beard wrote. The post was reported by Politico on Wednesday.

The news comes after significant shake-ups at the organization. One of TFA’s leaders left in late 2015, and the organization slashed its national staff by 15 percent last year. As applications fell over the last several years, it downsized in places like New York City and Memphis, decentralized its operations, and shifted its focus to attracting a more diverse corps with deeper ties to the locations where the program places new teachers. 

This year’s application numbers are still down from 2013, when 57,000 people applied for a position. But Villanueva Beard said the changes were working, and that “slightly more than half of 2017 applicants identify as a person of color.”