Call to action

‘Widget Effect’ report: ‘Meaningless’ teacher evaluations need improvement

picture-1A new report is urging school districts across the country to beef up their methods of evaluating teachers, which the report describes as so slipshod as to be “largely meaningless.” The report, by a nonprofit group that has clashed with teachers unions in the past, describes the poor evaluations as “just one symptom of a larger, more fundamental crisis—the inability of our schools to assess instructional performance accurately or to act on this information in meaningful ways.”

The report is called “The Widget Effect” because accuses districts of treating all teachers alike, regardless of how much they help students learn. It goes on:

This inability not only keeps schools from dismissing consistently poor performers, but also prevents them from recognizing excellence among top-performers or supporting growth among the broad plurality of hardworking teachers who operate in the middle of the performance spectrum. Instead, school districts default to treating all teachers as essentially the same, both in terms of effectiveness and need for development.

The report, conducted by The New Teacher Project, a nonprofit founded by the lightning-rod D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, calls on districts to develop more robust teacher evaluation systems that reward successful teachers and easily identify less successful teachers.

The report comes amid a growing push to improve teaching quality across the country. President Obama has said that teachers who are not helping students learn should be removed from classrooms, and even the national American Federation of Teachers union is working internally to build a new method of evaluating teacher quality.

The report bases its findings on surveys of thousands of teachers and administrators across four states and 12 school districts, plus a scouring of the districts’ evaluation records. New York City was not one of the districts studied.

Many of the districts evaluate teachers based on less than a handful of observations, each of which last under an hour, and in some cases just 15 minutes. Across all districts, almost no teachers are rated unsatisfactory, and virtually none are dismissed for poor performance; in districts that rate teachers either competent or not, the ratio rated unsatisfactory versus satisfactory stands at 1 to 99.

That’s despite teachers’ and principals’ reports, in surveys, that at least one of their tenured colleagues is performing poorly, a statement that 81 percent of administrators and 58 percent of teachers surveyed told The New Teacher Project they agreed with. The percentages of educators reporting that tenured colleagues are not competent rises as a school’s students become more impoverished, as the chart above shows.

In New York City, principals rate teachers as either “unsatisfactory” or “satisfactory” at the end of each school year, based on observations they have conducted during the year. A sense that the system was too perfunctory led the Department of Education to create new teacher data reports last year that look at how teachers affect their students’ test scores. The reports have been criticized for their shaky statistical grounding, and a law lobbied for by the city teachers union prevents principals from using the data reports when making tenure decisions.

The New Teacher Project has been criticized in the past by teachers union president Randi Weingarten, who called its studies of the New York City teacher market biased because TNTP has a contract with the city to help bring new teachers into the public schools. TNTP also is the group behind a report urging the city to save money by terminating teachers who are currently without positions. To write this study, TNTP worked with union leaders and school district leaders in the districts studied, which include Chicago; Toledo, Ohio; Denver, Colo.; and Little Rock, Ark.

In a statement, Weingarten said she embraced the thrust of the new report but noted that it ignores a pioneering method of teacher evaluation, peer assistance and review, that has shown gains where it is being used, most notably in Toledo. “We are excited that TNTP shares our goal of redesigning teacher evaluations, and we look forward to working with TNTP and others to improve the quality of instruction in our schools,” she said.

Detroit week in review

Week in review: The state’s year-round scramble to fill teaching jobs

PHOTO: DPSCD
Miss Michigan Heather Heather Kendrick spent the day with students at the Charles H. Wright Academy of Arts and Science in Detroit

While much of the media attention has been focused this year on the severe teacher shortage in the main Detroit district, our story this week looks at how district and charter schools throughout the region are now scrambling year-round to fill vacant teaching jobs — an instability driven by liberal school choice laws, a decentralized school system and a shrinking pool of available teachers.

The teacher shortage has also made it difficult for schools to find substitutes as many are filling in on long-term assignments while schools try to fill vacancies. Two bills proposed in a state senate committee would make it easier for schools to hire retirees and reduce the requirements for certifying subs.  

Also, don’t forget to reserve your seat for Wednesday’s State of the Schools address. The event will be one of the first times in recent years when the leader of the city’s main district — Nikolai Vitti — will appear on the same stage as the leaders of the city’s two largest charter school authorizers. For those who can’t make it, we will carry it live on Chalkbeat Detroit.

Have a good week!

– Julie Topping, Editor, Chalkbeat Detroit

STATE OF THE SCHOOLS: The State of the Schools address will pair Vitti with the leaders of the schools he’s publicly vowed to put out of business, even as schools advocates say city kids could benefit if the leaders of the city’s fractured school system worked together to solve common problems.

LOOKING FOR TEACHERS: The city’s teacher shortage mirrors similar challenges across the country but the problem in Detroit is exacerbated by liberal school choice policies that have forced schools to compete with each other for students and teachers.

Hiring efforts continue at Detroit’s main school district, which is planning another job fair. Head Start centers are also looking for teachers. Three new teachers talk about the challenges, rewards and obstacles of the classroom.

WHOSE MONEY IS IT? The state Senate sent a bill to the House that would allow charters to receive a portion of property tax hikes approved by voters. Those funds have historically gone only to traditional district schools.

UNITED THEY STAND: Teachers in this southwest Detroit charter school voted to join a union, but nationally, union membership for teachers has been falling for two decades.

COLLEGE AND CAREERS: A national foundation based in Michigan granted $450,000 to a major Detroit business coalition to help more students finish college.

High school seniors across the state will be encouraged to apply to at least one college this month. The main Detroit district meanwhile showed off a technical center that prepares youngsters and adults for careers in construction, plumbing and carpentry and other fields.  

STEPS TO IMPROVEMENT: A prominent news publisher explains why he told lawmakers he believes eliminating the state board of education is the right thing to do. An advocate urged Michigan to look to other states for K-12 solutions. And one local newspaper says the governor is on the right track to improving education in Michigan.

This think tank believes businesses should be more engaged in education debates.

LISTEN TO US: The newly elected president of a state teachers union says teachers just want to be heard when policy is being made. She wrote in a Detroit newspaper that it takes passion and determination to succeed in today’s classrooms.

A PIONEER: Funeral services for a trailblazing African American educator have been scheduled for Saturday.

Also, the mother-in-law of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, died in her west Michigan home.

FARM-TO-SCHOOL:  A state program that provides extra money to school districts for locally grown produce has expanded to include more schools.

BETTER THAN AN APPLE: Nominate your favorite educator for Michigan Teacher of the Year before the 11:59 deadline tonight.

An Ann Arbor schools leader has been named the 2018 Michigan Superintendent of the Year by a state group of school administrators.

MYSTERY SMELL: The odor from a failed light bulb forced a Detroit high school to dismiss students early this week.

EXTRA CREDIT: Miss Michigan encouraged students at one Detroit school to consider the arts as they follow their dreams. The city schools foundation honored two philanthropic leaders as champions for education.

And high school students were inspired by a former college football player. 

Struggling Detroit schools

The list of promises is long: Arts, music, robotics, gifted programs and more. Will Detroit schools be able to deliver?

PHOTO: Detroit Public Television
Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti answers questions at a community meeting in Detroit.

Arts. Music. Robotics. Programs for gifted kids. New computers. New textbooks. Dual enrollment programs that let high school students take college classes. International Baccalaureate. Advanced Placement.

They’re all on the list of things that Detroit schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti told a group of community members assembled in a Brightmoor neighborhood church that he would introduce or expand as soon as next school year.

Vitti didn’t get into the specifics of how the main Detroit district would find the money or partnerships needed to deliver on all of those promises, but they’re part of the plan for the future, he said.

The comments came in a question and answer session last month with students, parents and community members following Vitti’s appearance on Detroit Public Television’s American Black Journal/One Detroit Roadshow. The discussion was recorded at City Covenant Church. DPTV is one of Chalkbeat’s partners in the Detroit Journalism Cooperative.

Vitti has been appearing at community events since taking over the Detroit schools last spring. He is scheduled next week to join officials from two of the city’s major charter school authorizers, Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University, at a State of the Schools address on October 25.

 

Watch the full Q&A with Vitti below.