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Future of Teaching
Examining the divisive push to rate, reward, improve, and remove teachers
November 9, 2011
State charter schools group draws a line on teacher evaluations
The UFT isn’t the only group concerned that some schools are under inappropriate pressure to adopt new teacher evaluations. The state’s charter schools association…
November 7, 2011
What Charlotte Danielson saw when the UFT came calling
Before union leaders blasted off an angry letter to the Department of Education to complain about teacher evaluation abuse last month, they had to confirm that their complaints were warranted. To do that, they went straight to the woman who designed the evaluation model the city favors: Charlotte Danielson. Danielson’s "Framework for Teaching" has been adopted for evaluation purposes at 33 struggling schools. But the union was receiving reports from chapter leaders that principals in at least one other network of schools were using a checklist based on the model to evaluate teachers. When the UFT obtained a copy of one of the checklists, it shared it with Danielson herself to get her thoughts. Danielson was troubled by the checklists and disapproved of them, union officials said. With that endorsement, UFT Secretary Michael Mendel wrote a letter to the DOE and demanded an immediate end to the practice. He even threatened to cut off negotiations toward a larger evaluation deal that is required by the end of the school year. In a follow-up phone interview last week, I asked Danielson about the checklists in question while she was out on the road pitching her framework to teachers and administrators in Oregon and Washington. (This week, Danielson is in Chile, where schools are using a model based on her framework.)
October 20, 2011
Citing "abuses," teachers union says it is wearying on eval talks
The teachers union is threatening to curb its efforts toward new teacher evaluations if the Department of Education doesn't remind principals again that the old evaluation system is still in place. The threat comes at the end of an angry letter sent by UFT Secretary Michael Mendel sent to the DOE yesterday. In the letter, Mendel says that UFT members report some principals are preparing to use the Danielson Framework, an evaluation model that the DOE favors, to rate teachers — even though the union hasn't agreed to the change. City officials dispute the charge, saying that Danielson is being used only in ways that the union has approved: in most schools, to give teachers information to help them improve. The model is being used to rate teachers only in 33 "persistently low-achieving" schools where the city and UFT agreed to new evaluations in order to land federal school improvement funds, the officials say. But despite a joint reminder from the UFT, DOE, and principals union last month, the union is charging that some principals still haven't gotten the message that the Danielson rubric shouldn't be used to rate teachers. At a meeting for members of the UFT's governing body last night, UFT officials said they had obtained documents showing that some networks, the groups that support principals, had devised evaluation checklists based on Danielson's criteria, according to a union member who was there. The officials did not share the documents, the union member said. Mendel told GothamSchools that teachers have reported getting official reprimands based on Danielson-influenced observations and that many administrators do not seem to have had adequate training before starting to test the new model. Mendel said the union won't break state law and pull out of negotiations altogether. But he said confusion and the sense that some principals are pushing Danielson prematurely have made the union less willing to collaborate with the DOE.
October 5, 2011
Some thoughts on teacher effectiveness
I finished Steven Brill’s popular (infamous?) book about the school reform drama, “Class Struggle,” about a month ago. No, I don’t plan on offering my take on the narrative. Enough bytes have already been expended on that. But even though I finished it and have read several other books since, one small, virtually inconsequential paragraph continues to resonate with me. Brill describes a major frustration Eva Moskowitz, the brilliant creator of the Success Charter Network in NYC, experienced as a student at Stuyvesant High School: Stuyvesant is New York’s star high school, from which an outsize portion of students, like Moskowiz, cruise into the Ivy League. But to Moskowitz, many, if not most, of the teachers were anything but stars. She thought half of the teachers were incompetent and vividly remembers math and science classes where “the students, who were all gifted, literally carried the class. The teachers were cruising on the students’ talent,” she says. “I remember one of the kids taught the rest of us physics, while the teacher sat there drunk . . . It was easy to be a teacher there.” This stuck with me because, as a Stuyvesant alum myself (who did not go onto the Ivy Leagues), I totally agree. I don’t think any of my teachers were drunk in class, but my high school memories are also littered with teacher experiences that demonstrate either severe incompetence or gross neglect. Either way, I can’t think of any way to justify why these individuals were allowed to be instructing in any classroom.
September 15, 2011
New York's Race to the Top setbacks more extreme than most
Many of the 12 Race to the Top winners are facing implementation challenges, according to Education Week, but none so striking as New York, where a judge last month overturned a key element in the state's teacher evaluation plans. From EdWeek: U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said he would withhold funding from states that do not live up to their Race to the Top plans. But [State Education Commissioner John King] said he believes New York state and its union could avoid that fate. The regulations “are entirely consistent” with the 2010 state law, he said, adding: “I remain extremely optimistic that we’ll find a way forward. Inevitably, there are moments of disagreement, but I’m confident about the long-term direction.” King's argument is the same that Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch made last month during the "On Education" panel that I helped moderate. I had asked whether New York is keeping its Race to the Top promises and whether it has the capacity to execute planned reforms, given the teacher evaluations decision, which had been handed down just the previous day. Panelists didn't really deal with the big-picture question, but they projected confidence about rolling out new teacher evaluations, the piece of New York's application that most helped the state land $700 million in federal funds.
September 7, 2011
P.S. 40 teachers prep for tougher evaluations by simulating them
Chancellor Dennis Walcott with PS 40 teachers during a training session. Teachers at Manhattan's P.S. 40 played students this morning, engaging in role plays, "turn-and-talks," and "sharebacks" to learn about the new way they will be evaluated this year. Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott joined the teachers for a training session about Charlotte Danielson's "Framework for Teaching," the teacher evaluation model that principals are supposed to start using this year. Without an agreement between the city and teachers union on new teacher evaluation rules, teachers will still be judged as "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" at the end of the year. But the city has instructed principals to follow Danielson's framework — which divides teachers into four categories, from "highly effective" down to "ineffective" — when they conduct observations throughout the year, in conjunction with the rollout of new "common core" curriculum standards. “We’ve worked out some pieces with the UFT around the evaluation, but right now, my goal is to make sure we're having the training take place around the Common Core,” Walcott said. A group of five P.S. 40 teachers acted out a scripted classroom scene, with one “teacher” pushing her “students” to think critically about a nonfiction reading on Polynesian settlement in Hawaii. Walcott and the rest of the staff watched on and consulted yellow photocopied evaluation rubrics to see if the “teacher” should be judged highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective.
August 24, 2011
Tripping on city's spring break, state moves test dates earlier
Two years after sending state tests to the end of the school year, the state is moving them earlier again, but its motives for doing so – to move forward on teacher evaluation plans – hit a road block today. The 2011-2012 school year testing schedule published by the State Education Department this week has state tests for students in grades 3 through 8 starting April 16 and being graded by May 3. Last year, the tests began May 3, and scoring didn't end until May 26. The new dates might not be set in stone, because April 16 is the first day that students in New York City and many other school districts return from spring break. But the test scores will definitely be available earlier next year, state officials promised. The earlier timing is necessary for state to put new teacher evaluation requirements in place, Commissioner of Education John King told district superintendents in a letter, sent Monday, that implored them not to be distracted by policy debates. The evaluation plan sets at least 20 percent of a teacher's rating to be based on student test scores, but local districts still need to negotiate with unions if it wants more, according to a court ruling today. Two years ago, the state moved test dates from January and March until May in part to make it possible to attribute a student's performance to his teacher that year. A side effect is that scores came out later — this year, not until mid-August. That timeline meant that had the evaluation plan been online, teacher ratings couldn't have been completed. It also meant that for the second straight year, the city had to send students to summer school based on predicted scores, which were sometimes wrong.
August 24, 2011
Partial win for state union on evaluations, but appeal is likely
A State Supreme Court Judge partially sided with the state teachers union today over how big of a role standardized state test scores should play for teacher evaluations. Overturning a key state regulation that was approved by the Board of Regents in May, Judge Michael Lynch ruled that local districts could only double the weight of test scores in evaluations – from 20 percent to 40 percent – if the local union signs off on the arrangement. The judge upheld a different regulation, which will allow districts the option to increase testing emphasis, so long as it is through collective bargaining. The New York State Education Department criticized the judge's reversal and pledged to appeal it, further complicating the future of an evaluation system that was originally slated to take effect this year. The decision came in response to a lawsuit filed by New York State United Teachers in June. In the suit, NYSUT lawyers argued that the Regents were circumventing a carefully negotiated state law that set the weight of test scores at 20 percent.
August 2, 2011
More U-ratings given out as evaluation overhaul looms ahead
For at least the sixth straight year, principals rated more teachers as unsatisfactory. Last year, 2,118 teachers received unsatisfactory ratings, setting them along a path that could lead to termination. That number, making up 2.7 percent of all teachers, was 16 percent higher than in 2010 and more than twice the number of U-ratings handed out five years ago. In the 2005-2006 school year, just 981 teachers received unsatisfactory ratings. About 80 percent of the teachers who received unsatisfactory ratings were tenured, according to Department of Education data. And about a quarter — 511 — received the scarlet rating last year as well. The numbers suggest that principals are responding to the city's sustained push to usher more weak teachers out of the system, and the city says 86 of the U-rated teachers have already resigned, including 41 who were denied tenure. But they hardly reflect a sea change in the way that principals rate teachers. For that, the city is counting on a new teacher evaluation system that will do away with the binary satisfactory/unsatisfactory rating choice altogether. State law now requires districts to enact evaluation systems that use student test scores as a component and sort teachers into four categories from "highly effective" down to "ineffective."
July 29, 2011
Mulgrew: Mayor's tenure tone not conducive to evaluation talks
Far from living up to its promise, the city's tenure reform in fact amounts to a quota system for teacher evaluations, UFT President Michael Mulgrew said today. Mulgrew was responding to comments made by Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott during Bloomberg's weekly radio address this morning. They said they expect the number of tenure denials to rise next year. Mulgrew questioned how they could predict more denials when evaluations for teachers up for tenure next year have not yet happened. He said that Bloomberg's comments signal that the city has set up a quota system for teacher evaluations rather than using them as a tool to help educators improve. "If it's more about setting up a set of numbers for political reasons ... then what they’re doing is wrong," Mulgrew said. "If they're already predetermining they’re setting this up with quotas, that’s absurd." The number of teachers who receive poor ratings could change when an evaluation system mandated under state law goes into effect. That is supposed to happen in September, but first the union and the city must agree on the system's terms. Mulgrew said they are nowhere near an agreement, even after reaching a deal for 33 low-performing schools two weeks ago.
July 27, 2011
Bloomberg to tout results of toughened tenure procedures today
All indications suggest that the city is pleased with the results of its concerted effort to make tenure more difficult to receive. Mayor Bloomberg is announcing details about how many teachers received — or didn't receive — tenure this year during a midday press conference today at Tweed Courthouse, the Department of Education's headquarters. In the past, the city has released tenure details by email. The fanfare comes on top of reports from teachers and principals that tenure was awarded far less readily last year after Bloomberg vowed to make the protection tougher to receive. For many years, receiving tenure has been an almost automatic step that happens at the end of a teacher's third year in the system. But as part of a sweeping bid to toughen teacher evaluations, the city unveiled a new tenure evaluation rubric last year. The rubric separates teachers into four categories and the city told principals to recommend tenure only for those falling into the top two. At the end of the year, principals said the new evaluations had made it difficult for them to recommend tenure for some teachers they felt deserved it, particularly if a teacher's value-added Teacher Data Report, based on student test scores, said he was below average.
July 20, 2011
Special ed teachers need 'tweaked' evaluations, advocates say
Advocates are worried that the city's new evaluation system could penalize teachers of students with special needs. The nonprofit organization Advocates for Children of New York recently released a fact sheet calling on parents to ask how the new system, which will be piloted in more schools next year, will affect those teachers. Sixty percent of the new evaluations is based on subjective measures like principal observations, and the other 40 percent is based on student test scores. AFC's concern is that teachers who work with high-needs students will be at a disadvantage because they likely won't see the gains in test scores that other teachers will. That will make it more difficult to earn a high evaluation score, lowering the incentive for teachers to take on students with disabilities and English Language Learners. "Teachers are basically going to be looking at lower test scores, and lower evaluations because they're so heavily reliant on test scores," said Maggie Moroff, special education policy coordinator for AFC. "We're worried that they will be teaching more to the test in those classes."
July 15, 2011
Mulgrew says he wants time before striking full evaluations deal
Today's partial teacher evaluation deal shows that the city and teachers union can reach an understanding on one of the thorniest issues they face right now. That's good, because they have more negotiating to do. Today's agreement applies only to the 33 schools that are set to receive federal funding to help them improve, not to the nearly 1,500 other schools operated by the city Department of Education. The city and union haven't even started discussing how evaluations should be done in those schools, according to UFT President Michael Mulgrew. Federal authorities didn't require any teacher evaluation commitments, but the State Education Department told the city in May it wouldn't forward the city's application for improvement funds without a teacher evaluation plan. At the time, city officials accused the state of trying to "change the ground rules" by using the $65 million in federal funds as a carrot to get them talking about evaluations. But ultimately the worry of missing out on the windfall in a tight budget year propelled the city and union to follow the state's instructions. In the course of hammering out a limited agreement, the city and union established that teachers have the right to a meeting with their principal to discuss the observations. That had been a sticking point in negotiations this spring. "We have all come to an understanding that it is important to have a verbal discussion, especially if it will help them help children," UFT President Michael Mulgrew said.
July 13, 2011
One firsthand account of how teachers could soon be observed
The fight over the state's new teacher evaluations has focused on the 40 percent to be based on student test scores. But the other 60 percent, based on subjective measures like principal observations, could be just as tough. That's according to one teacher reporting from a school piloting the city's stricter guidelines for classroom observations. Commenting in our Community section yesterday, a reader posting as HS Biology Teacher said that system "seems to be designed to make it extremely easy to rate any teacher ineffective if the principal wants to." The DOE has drafted a rubric for rating classroom observations, but it is very tough. To be rated effective (3), you need to really hit every competency on the rubric during each full-period observation... and that is extremely difficult given the language of the rubric.
June 8, 2011
Multiple measures in multiple venues
Several recent intersecting conversations lead me to this post: The North “credit recovery” issue, increasing discussions about using performance funding for Colorado higher ed and/or K12, evaluations of ProComp and other teacher incentive pay programs and Alex Oom’s valuable recent post. If we want to incentivize or reward educational performance in some form (and we do), we need to pay careful attention to how we do that. Nearly any output or outcome measure can potentially be “gamed” or cheated. We see this with No Child Left Behind, where state tests are the key to school evaluation. As a result, states have produced considerable improvement on those tests, while not showing much improvement on NAEP, the national test that was not “dumbed down” to show greater proficiency of students. It is also true that no single measure comes near being perfect. In addition to cheating or gaming, reliance upon a single measure (and test scores are the one that most of us would lean towards), makes the assumption that this measure is capturing appropriately what we want to capture. Currently, for state tests like CSAP, this is not the case, and we clearly need to find more, better tests. In some ways, this is an obvious point – who can oppose multiple measures of evaluation?
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