New York

What Counts as Teacher Experience?

A few years ago, after more than 20 years of full-time college teaching, I taught a course on survey research methods for the first time.  Was I a novice teacher?  Not at all, from the standpoint of having taught well over a thousand students and around 75 courses over that period.  Yes, certainly, in the sense that I was teaching this subject matter at this level for the very first time.  Some of what I had learned from my teaching experience, such as how to organize a class, or assess student learning—what we might call general pedagogical knowledge—would readily transfer to this new teaching setting.  And I felt that I knew the subject matter of the course quite well.  But I was still a novice in discerning which course topics students might struggle with, or what the best way to present a particular topic might be—what Lee Shulman and others have called "pedagogical content knowledge."  The next time I taught the course, I felt that the experience gleaned from the first time around gave me much more insight into how to sequence the material, which topics needed additional time to master, and when an informal explanation was more useful than a technical one. If my teaching experience at the time I first taught this class were being gauged by administrative records, or a paper-and-pencil survey, it's very likely that I would have been recorded as having more than 20 years of experience.  And yet I was a novice at teaching this subject at this level of schooling.  We might get a different picture of the distribution of teaching experience in a population of teachers if we looked at how much experience a teacher has teaching a particular subject—e.g., math, or reading—at a particular grade level—e.g., second grade, or sixth grade.  There's some recent evidence on this in the technical report for the Teacher Data Initiative, the NYC Department of Education's effort to generate a value-added measure for individual teachers' contributions to their students' performance on the state math and ELA exams.  The technical report shows the distribution of years of teaching overall for fifth-grade teachers in New York City, as well as the distribution of the number of years of experience teaching math at the fifth-grade level and reading at the fifth-grade level.  I wouldn't place too much stock in the precise numbers for experience teaching a particular subject at the fifth-grade level, as they were produced specifically for the Teacher Data Initiative from teacher course-assignment data from 2000-01 to 2007-08, and these course-assignment data are a work in progress.  In contrast, the overall years of teaching experience are from the DOE's human resources records.  There are experience data for 95% of the teachers.
New York

No guarantees, TFA tells corps members, but keep hope alive

Teach for America is reassuring its 2009 corps members assigned to New York City public schools that they'll likely have spots come September — despite a hiring freeze that prohibits most Department of Education principals from hiring new teachers. The assurances came in an e-mail message to people who were hired to join schools via Teach For America in September. "Despite some of the uncertainty that exists currently across the city, the NYCDOE and our charter partners continue to provide us with enough evidence to suggest that placing 230 corps members in district schools, and the remaining 100 in charter schools, will be possible," Jemina Bernard, the executive director of Teach For America's New York City branch, wrote in the e-mail. The hiring freeze, announced earlier this month, prohibits principals at district schools that have operated for more than three years from filling vacancies with new teachers. A tight budget situation has already inspired Teach For America to scale down the number of people it recruited to work in New York City, and Teach For America is now sending more of its corps members to city charter schools, which are exempt from the hiring freeze. Bernard's e-mail message explains exceptions to the freeze, and it tells prospective teachers that the majority of them cannot be hired "unless and until the restrictions are lifted." The Teach For America corps member who sent the message to me said many corps members were calmed by the note. "There's no evidence to suggest that we can't hold them to their word," the corps member said. "If they were going to screw this up, they would know by now." But the email's sender was skeptical and thought Teach For America was being overly optimistic.
New York

A week after criticism, city expands its parents bill of rights

When City Council Member Bill de Blasio criticized the Department of Education's bill of rights for parents as being too limited last week, it was the first many of us had ever heard of such a document. Now, just a week later, the document has expanded, ballooning to an eight-page list of 57 enumerated rights divided into four sections. That's up from five one-sentence rights published on a single Web page. A spokesman for de Blasio said school officials alerted his office to the new bill of rights yesterday, the same day the document appeared on the department's Web site. In a statement, de Blasio said he is encouraged by the expansion, but not satisfied. The new version outlines a litany of specific rights for parents, including the right to receive their children's full instructional schedule, the right to have meetings about their children's educational record, and the right to communicate with teachers. The original bill of rights, which is also still published online, in English and a slate of other languages, was more vague, affording parents the right to things like "a free public school education" for their children and to "be actively involved in the education of their children." The new version does not include one of de Blasio's recommendations, though: the right to attend a zoned school in their neighborhood. De Blasio called that omission "troubling." His full statement is below the jump. UPDATE: A spokeswoman for the department, Nicole Duignan, said school officials have actually been working on the expanded document for two years. She said the family engagement and advocacy office built it "based on input and experience from parents who wish to play an active role in their children's education." "We always welcome ideas and suggestions from elected officials to promote and improve parent involvement in our schools," Duignan said.