Monthly Archives: June 2014

Jamming Square Pegs into Round Holes: Arne Duncan Sets Sights on Special Education

United States Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced a new focus on special education on Tuesday of this week.  The federal government will shift its resources for monitoring state compliance with the Individual’s with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA) from examining procedural compliance and begin looking at “outcomes” for students with disabilities using a new framework called “Results-Driven Accountability (RDA).  This new framework will include participation in state curriculum assessments and data on reading and mathematics achievement for disabled students using the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) the examination sponsored by the DOE every two years to gather a snapshot of national trends in education.  According to the Washington Post:

To calculate how states stack up under the new criteria, the department is using a complex matrix that weighs several factors, including how well students with disabilities perform on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, a test the federal government gives to a sampling of students in every state every two years.

NAEP is designed to offer a snapshot of academic performance. This marks the first time the government has tied NAEP scores to consequences.

Duncan brushed aside the suggestion that the new approach adds to a climate of high-stakes standardized testing. “I wouldn’t call it high-stakes,” he said.

Given that the federal government allocates 11.5 billion dollars a year to the states to assist with special education, that assurance is likely to ring hollow to state and local officials charged with compliance.

I will give Secretary Duncan credit for one factual observation in his conference call with reporters;  most students who qualify for an individualized education plan (IEP) do not have cognitive disabilities that severely limit their ability to engage with a challenging curriculum.  But pretty much every other underlying assumption of this shift to an RDA compliance system is problematic.

Let’s start with the existing compliance of states under previous federal guidelines.  The DOE notes that under previous compliance guidelines, 38 states were in compliance with IDEA and under the new guidelines that number will drop to 15. I would suggest that if previous compliance standards which focused upon procedural compliance told the federal DOE that 38 states were in compliance with no need of assistance or intervention then those procedural guidelines were hideously flawed.  The Bay Area NBC station found over 10,000 families in California went to court over disputes with districts over special education services, and that number represents only the fraction of families that had the resources to pursue their dispute to that level.  Even Massachusetts, a state that pioneered services for disabled students and which meets the new requirements, is not precisely immune from being sued for noncompliance.  While states are rated on their compliance, it is up to actual districts and schools to implement the provisions of special education law, and many districts, suffering from budget restraints and state aid cuts, have to be sued in order to even begin an evaluation process for a potential special needs learner. Secretary Duncan made some deal about the DOE’s 11.5 billion dollar commitment to special education in the country, but with 6.5 million students eligible for services, that amounts to an underwhelming $1,769.23 per student nationwide, and the Council of Exceptional Children (CEC) notes that in 40 years, the federal government has NEVER fulfilled its promise to fully fund IDEA.

If Secretary Duncan wants to improve services for special education students, he could start by endorsing full funding of IDEA and actually determine if states are even in procedural compliance with far better measures than currently employed.

Another flaw of this plan resides directly in the use of state assessments and the NAEP for purposes of assessing state compliance and, eventually, adding punitive measures for states whose disabled students do not make regular improvement on those exams.  Placing this requirement on the NAEP would be tremendous mistake for several reasons.  NAEP is designed to provide a snapshot of the educational landscape in the United States, and part of its usefulness is tied the lack of any significant stakes attached to it.  By potentially tying special education compliance to the NAEP, the incentive will exist for states and districts to make special education students’ education consist of test preparation.  Mr. Duncan can breezily dismiss that concern all he wants, but the best way to assure that special education students across the students find themselves in self contained classrooms aimed at test preparation is to measure compliance this way.  We have some idea about how this unfolds from NCLB already.

Secretary Duncan also made major mistakes in his assessment of special education students’ “rising to the challenge.”  I must emphasize again that he is partially correct:  classified students CAN and, in fact, DO achieve within materials similar to or identical to their general education peers.  Very few of the students who qualify for IEPs under federal law are significantly cognitively disabled, and it is an article of faith among professional teachers that “all children can learn”.

BUT — that article of faith comes with an important caveat: All children can learn to the degree of their ability when provided with appropriate accommodations and when measured in a manner that allows them to demonstrate their understanding.  In a way, this corollary applies to all children, but general education students are more likely to cluster around a set of skills and capacities that distribute normally on a standardized examination.  By definition, many students with disabilities do not, and this does not mean that they are incapable of learning.

It means we are often incapable of measuring their learning in a fair and accurate way via a paper and pencil standardized test.

This does not require a lot of imagination.  Picture a child with severe dyslexia or ADHD.  This is certainly a child who is capable of learning, and a skilled general education teacher working with a child study team and following a well designed IEP can create assessments of learning and supplemental experiences in the classroom where that child demonstrates substantial learning.  That same learning may not be on display during a paper and pencil standardized examination that requires hours of time in a seat.  This can apply to a child with sensory issues or a behavioral disorder.  It is not that schools should or do abandon such a child to not learn within the goals of a general education curriculum: it is that the entire process of special education is meant to serve accommodations that allow the child to engage the material and demonstrate learning in appropriate ways with input from experts on learning.

Mr. Duncan, do you have a standardized exam that does this?

But this is the problem with the federal DOE under Secretary Duncan.  Having committed to big data sets as the be all and end all of understanding what is going on in education and having determined that standardized test scores are the most important measure of educational accomplishment, we now have a special education compliance policy that is going to try to force the most square of pegs into Secretary Duncan’s round hole of test based accountability.

Image from Toothpaste for Dinner:

Image from Toothpaste for Dinner:

Before ramming 6.5 million special education students into test based accountability, I would suggest several alternative approaches:

1) Vigorously advocate for the CEC’s proposal to FULLY fund the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act.

2) Monitor GENUINE procedural compliance with the provisions of IDEA.

3) Add new compliance measures such as parental satisfaction surveys with special education services provided.

4) Assist states with creation of qualitative measures of special education students’ progress.

5) Add federal assistance to community agencies that help connect families in poverty to special education services

NAEP data can remain what it ought to be: a snapshot of student skills that can inform the creation of further policy, but not be linked to consequences.

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Filed under Data, politics, schools, teaching, Testing

Campbell Brown — the next hero of corporate reform

Following the Vergara decision in California where a judge declared that teacher labor protections violated students’ rights to a quality education, former NBC news and CNN personality Campbell Brown announced she would help bring a similar suit to New York State.  This is not Ms. Brown’s first foray into anti-union activism aimed at teachers.  In 2012, she unleashed a series of tweets that attacked New York City’s United Federation of Teachers for allegedly placing protection of accused sexual predators over children, and she penned an editorial for the Wall Street Journal demanding that the New York City Chancellor of schools be given absolute authority to fire teachers so accused without the use of an independent panel. Brown provided no evidence for accusations that this was a significant and mounting problem as she portrayed it, preferring a classic line of argumentation that any outcome a large number of people can agree is potentially wrong must mean the entire system needs to be turned upside down.  In this case,  the UFT defended maintaining due process rights for teachers accused of misconduct, which prompted Brown to insist they wanted genuine sexual predators returned to the classroom — without Brown bothering to examine details such as what percentage of accused teachers were actually cleared of wrong doing or what percentage were fired and prosecuted.

Brown portrayed herself at the time as simply a mother of two who was concerned about the effects of union job protections on children, but other sources have demonstrated she has a deeply personal conflict of interest that may be influencing what causes she is championing.  Ms. Brown is married to Dan Senor who was the chief spokesman for the provisional authority following the invasion of Iraq, and in 2012, he was a senior adviser to Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney.  Further, Mr. Senor sits on the board of StudentsFirstNY which is a part of Michelle Rhee’s network that expressly fights against teacher unions.  In response to union supporters and other journalists noting her apparent personal stake in making teacher unions a source of public outrage (a Romney administration certainly would have helped Mr. Senor’s career), Brown took the pages of to sarcastically express her surprise at the push back and to take a little dig at her critics.

It is two years later, and Campbell Brown is delighted at the Vergara decision, and she is now partnering with high profile former Obama administration officials to craft similar lawsuits elsewhere beginning in New York.  The outcome is uncertain even though the Vergara case was based on exceptionally poor reasoning: many of the plaintiffs could not demonstrate that they have had “grossly ineffective” teachers, the judge misused the expert testimony and relied upon highly controversial research findings to determine the scope of damage that can be tied to a student having a poor teacher.  Brown, now allied with Obama spokesmen Robert Gibbs and Ben LaBolt, given pro bono legal services from former Bush administration adviser Jay Lefkowitz and presumably bankrolled by Michelle Rhee and her corporate allies, will likely bring a sharper and slicker case to New York.

This case is the apotheosis of corporate reform of our schools.  Teacher unions, while not perfect, stand as a safeguard that the people closest to the children in the classroom can negotiate for fair compensation and work with knowledge that they have due process in employment despite the highly public and sometimes contentious nature of their work.  Moreover, the teachers who make up their unions are the people, after parents, most connected to the individuality of the children entrusted to their care.  But corporate reform insists that looking at individual factors and looking at community factors is “making excuses” and that what you need are common standards, high stakes testing associated with those standards, teacher evaluation based upon test scores and then firing the “right” teachers based on those measures.  Corporate reform is decidedly uninterested in discussions about poverty and rising income segregation and insists that every problem in school can be laid at the feet of “bad teachers”.

The only major, organized, groups in the way of that are unions.

Rhee’s “Students First” organization should really be renamed “Teachers Last” because the main purpose of its legislative and litigation strategy is to put parents against teachers and to capitalize on America’s 30 year labor decline to break the AFT and NEA.  Michelle Rhee is a formidable organizer and fund raiser, but she is also under scrutiny for lacking real substance behind her thinking and for the practical outcomes of her approach to school system management.  After her politically strained tenure as Chancellor of D.C. public schools that contributed to the defeat of the mayor who recruited her, Rhee is not a public face for corporate reform who can go to the cameras without getting scrutiny.

In steps Ms. Brown as a fresh face for corporate reformers.  By now, many of the players are well known.  If you are talking about attacking teacher unions, you are talking about Michelle Rhee.  If you are talking about Common Core State Standards, you are talking about Bill Gates.  If you are talking about standardized testing, you are talking about the Pearson Corporation.  If you are talking about mass data mining and technology, you are talking about Rupert Murdoch.  We know this by now, and even some mainstream media sources are making the connections.

Campbell Brown presents herself as a media savvy personality who is in this fight as a “concerned mother” while Rhee and other anti-union forces provide the strategy and financing.

But when you see Campbell Brown, you see Michelle Rhee.  And when you see Michelle Rhee, you see Eli Broad.  And that just isn’t a pretty sight for teachers.


Campbell Brown

Campbell Brown

Michelle Rhee

Michelle Rhee

Eli Broad

Eli Broad

This gives me nightmares to be honest...

Brown-Rhee-Broad — This face keeps me up at night….

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Filed under Activism, Funding, politics, Unions

Eva Moskowitz’s “Success”

The founding class of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy chain of “no excuses” charter schools graduated from eighth grade last week.  Of the original class of 73 students who enrolled in 2006, 32 made it to last week, and, according to Juan Gonzalez of the New York Daily News, despite 27 of those students sitting for the entrance exams to New York City’s highly selective public high schools, no Success Academy graduate qualified for admission.  Moskowitz has widely touted her schools’ closing of the achievement gap between racial demographics on state issued standardized tests, and while the city’s elite high schools are rightly criticized for their low enrollment of black and Latino children, Gonzalez notes that the overall 12% acceptance rate for black and Latino students taking the test should have given as many as 3 acceptances from Moskowitz’s school.

This is not news that should produce any satisfaction even among Ms. Moskowitz’s most fierce critics, nor should any criticism be aimed at the young children involved.  Despite my serious reservations about the atmosphere and techniques employed by Ms. Moskowitz’s charter chain, I have no doubt that the young people who have been at Success Academy 1 since 2006 are admirable and hard working young people, and it is my sincerest hope that they have bright futures ahead of them.  Nor do I want my criticism of Moskowitz’s methods and self promotion to second guess the parents who have sought out and appreciated her schools’ focus on discipline and raising test scores.  However, Ms. Moskowitz has applied to the state for another 14 Success Academies and under the current state budget deal approved in Albany, New York City will have no say in granting these charters and will have to provide space for the schools or pay Moskowitz’s rent in another facility.  The sharp decline in the enrollment of her first graduating class and her curriculum’s inability to place graduates in the city’s most selective high schools (despite her claims of closing the achievement gap) requires the asking of some sharp questions.

And it is well beyond time that Ms. Moskowitz answer questions of the public that is required by law to pay for her schools.

Ms. Moskowitz is not controversial merely for her confrontational manner nor for her refusal to let the state examine how her chain uses the substantial sums it gets from taxpayers.  Success Academy is part of the “no excuses” camp of education reform that insists if you fire the right teachers, insist upon extreme personal rigor and focus upon the “basics” that you can close the historic achievement gap between white and Asian students and their black and Latino peers. The school of thought has powerful advocates among the likes of Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein and demonstrably has the ear of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the rest of the Obama administration.  It has a certain appeal if you do not think about it too hard.  These critics decry those who focus on anti-poverty and anti-racism efforts as “excusing” bad teaching and claim that if people just work hard enough, historic gaps in academic progress, and presumably economic progress, would close.  In doing so, however, they take up two exceptionally pernicious implied arguments.  The first is that the well-demonstrated deprivations of poverty do not matter so long as the school demands enough out of its students.  The second is that the existence of children who demonstrate the desired perseverance proves that others are just slacking and could overcome if only they just worked hard enough.  Both of these beliefs diminish genuinely complex issues to slogans and side step societal responsibility to address poverty.

Moskowitz’s schools take this to extremes.  The New York Times reported in 2011, when the Success chain had only 7 schools, how children who do not fit into its very narrow mode find themselves subjected to excessive punishments and ongoing suggestions that they should leave.  In less than a month of Kindergarten at Success Academy 3, Matthew Sprowal was subjected to so much pressure and punishment (he has ADD) that he was throwing up most mornings, and his mother received direct communication from Moskowitz herself strongly implying her son should be at another school.  This is not an isolated case.  In 2010-2011, Success 1 suspended a fifth of its students at least once.  Public schools in the same neighborhood suspend 3% of students in a typical year.  Further, evidence exists that the schools place special pressures on the parents of disabled students to seek different schools.  A parent at Upper West Success taped school officials saying they could not properly accommodate her Kindergarten student’s IEP and offering to find him a public school placement.

Charter schools like Success Academy take students from a lottery, and in theory, that lottery ensures that they are not selective like exclusive private schools, but practices like those reported by former Success Academy families demonstrate that the schools do not abide by a spirit of inclusiveness (and may actually violate state and federal law).  Moskowitz repeatedly tells the media that she is succeeding with the city’s neediest children, but her schools clearly enroll far fewer children on free and reduced lunch, fewer children with disabilities and fewer children who are second language learners than her neighboring district schools, and the pattern of those students who leave the schools in the early grades is not random.

It is true that Success Academy students get higher than average scores on state tests, but this is coming from a population of students who have already had those most likely to struggle on the tests weeded out — and it comes with the cost of extreme test preparation rolled in the curriculum.  A Success Academy teacher, writing on terms of anonymity, gave the following account to NYU’s Dr. Diane Ravitch:

“Custom Test Prep Materials: I think many schools use practice workbooks from publishers like Kaplan, etc. We have people whose job it is to put together custom test prep packets based on state guidance. Much more aligned to common core and closer to the test than the published books I’ve seen. Also, teachers are putting together additional worksheets and practice based on what we see in the classroom. Huge volume of practice materials for every possible need (and we use it all, too). Also many practice tests and quizzes that copy format of the test.

“Intensive organization-wide focus on test prep: For the last months and weeks before the test, everyone from Eva on down is completely focused on test prep. Just a few examples….

“We have to give kids 1/2/3/4 scores daily. Kids are broken up into small groups based on the data and get differentiated instruction. If they get a 1, they stay back from recess or after school for extra practice.

“Thousands of dollars spent on prizes to incentivize the kids to work hard. Some teachers have expressed concern about bribing them with basketballs and other toys instead of learning for the sake of learning. The response is “prizes aren’t optional.”

“We get daily inspirational emails from principals with a countdown, anecdotes about the importance of state tests, and ever-multiplying plans for “getting kids over the finish line” (these get old fast).

Excessive test preparation is a concern for all New York City schools, and the teacher evaluation incentives implemented as part of Race to the Top have not helped.  The New York legislature passed a law this Spring mandating that test preparation can take up no more than 2% of instructional time in public schools.  Charter schools were exempt, which is a relief for Ms. Moskowitz’s schools who would apparently lose months of their planned curricula.

In a follow up message, the same teacher forwarded a message to Success Academy teachers from a senior administrator giving his ideas on why they have been “attacked” in the media.  The message contrasts their work to the work of “failure factories”, claims to have found the “solution” to urban education, claims that people are jealous of their schools and frames Success Academy, which can raise over 7 million dollars in a one night fundraiser, as victims of teacher unions.

Missing in the self congratulatory rhetoric and the extreme test preparation?  The children pressured and forced out of the network’s schools for reasons no public school could ever employ.  There is no “solution” for urban education that involves losing over half a graduating class of students between first grade and eighth.  There is no “solution” for the challenges of educating students with learning disabilities, behavioral disabilities or who are learning English that includes pushing them off on to other schools.

Which brings me back to the first graduating class of eighth graders at Success Academy 1.  I genuinely wish them well, and I certainly admire the qualities they must possess to thrive in an environment like the one described above.  But the children Ms. Moskowitz failed to mention in her address to her first class of “scholars” are the ones she failed to get to that day.  Those are the children she refused to accommodate and whose education she washed her hands of.

And she should be made to account for every single one of them before New York grants her a single new classroom.

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Welcoming a New Cohort of Future Teachers

Yesterday, my program got an early chance to meet members of our incoming Class of 2018.  I had a series of hand outs with critical planning information for their next four years, but more important than reading to them action items that they can read for themselves, I and my colleagues wanted them to get to know each other and begin to see each other as people who can be relied upon.  This is not only good for them as they enter a four year program together, but also it is good for their future practice in schools.  Teachers who collaborate and seek out ideas from a variety of trusted people are more able to seek solutions to questions about teaching than teachers who close the door of their classrooms and try to not be seen.  It also helps our incoming students start to see how people with different backgrounds and reasons for being in a school can quickly come together to collaborate and learn about each other.

These new future teachers are entering their university preparation for teaching at a difficult time.  The Common Core State Standards movement was sweeping along as fait accompli until questions about its quality, purposes and the speed of implementation have hit mainstream.  New mass high stakes testing is still scheduled to roll out over the next few school years, but it is meeting with increasing teacher and parental resistance.  Communities across the country will soon see their students, teachers and school assessed by those exams, and teachers will face potential career consequences based on value added modeling of their teaching using test data.  These policies are not being tested carefully in small settings; they are being rolled out simultaneously in classrooms affecting 10s of millions of students.  Mass disruption is the order of the day.

Teaching as a profession is under higher scrutiny.  “Reformers” such as Michelle Rhee have advocated for years that the solution to nearly every problem facing education is to fire “ineffective” teachers and to use test scores to determine teacher effectiveness.  To accomplish this, they not only needed mass testing, they also needed to diminish teachers’ workplace protections and that has meant stripping away traditional union rights.  Court cases like the recently (and controversially) decided Vergara case are likely to increase in number. At the same time, traditional teacher education is coming under attack via the partisan think tank National Council of Teacher Quality (NCTQ) which has taken it upon itself to “rank” all teacher preparation programs in the country.

The contradictions of the self-styled education reformers are evident and troubling.  They have pushed for complicated standards and testing regimens at a time when states and school districts around the country are cutting budgets and personnel.  They have demanded that teachers be held to higher standards of performance using measures of their performance that experts in statistics say are poorly designed for that purpose.  They have demanded that teachers work with fewer protections for their employment while dramatically raising their stakes of their work.  The same “reformers” who bemoan the quality of university based teacher education are enthusiastic backers of Teach for America’s five week training model and of charter schools which are contemplating setting up their own teacher training “graduate schools” that resemble computer delivered workplace training rather than a serious professional education.

And yet, we still are able to welcome a group of young people enthusiastic about becoming teachers and eager to take up the challenges of learning to teach.

Young people have historically been attracted to teaching as a profession for various reasons.  In the early decades of the Common School movement, teaching was seen as an appropriate occupation for young, educated women until they found husbands and had children of their own.  For some portions of the teacher population, teaching was a way for a first college educated generation to take a place in a middle class profession with a reasonable salary and benefits.  As more white, middle and upper middle class women have sought careers in previously restricted fields like law and medicine, more minorities have taken up teaching (although proportions still lag behind the percentage of students who are minorities).

There are, however, reasons that teachers teach which go well beyond labor economics.  Decade after decade, talented young people seek out careers as teachers for reasons that are best labeled as affective, meaning they speak not to rational calculations of risk and reward, but that they speak to rewards that defy measurement.  Since 1975, researchers have repeated affirmed Dan Lortie’s observation that teachers rely upon “psychic rewards” rather than extrinsic compensation for affirmation of their purposes in school.   Ask a teacher about the greatest satisfactions of teaching, and you will almost certainly hear about how making a difference in child’s life matters or a specific instance of reaching a particular student with a lesson that made difficult content interesting and exciting.  Teachers consistently report that they revel in the ability to connect with students academically and personally and that a “good class” provides personal and professional satisfaction (just as a “bad class” provides personal and professional angst).  There is no external measurement of this, but it is a major part of the difference between a teacher who is happy on the job and one who is not.

Similarly, teachers tend to be people who found at least some enjoyment from school and wish to impart some of that experience to their own students.  Lortie referred to this characteristic as “continuity” meaning that teachers generally wish to continue experiencing that which was pleasant in their own education.  This can take many forms, and it should not be construed to mean that all teachers wish to be uncritical of schools and schooling.  In my years as a teacher educator, every student I have taught can point to an example of someone that he or she does NOT want to be, but the powerful visions of teaching come from those teachers they wish to emulate.  It takes time to dig down into what it actually was that made those great teachers exceptional (most of my students rely initially upon affect), but once understood, that former teacher is an even more powerful role model.

The reality is that the new class of future teachers I greeted yesterday began their teacher education many years ago when the narrative of their own education began.  That narrative is wrapped up in a 15,000 hours of time spent in classrooms from Kindergarten to 12th grade and involves all of the work done as students and impressions of work done by teachers.  Much of what they learn from this “apprenticeship of observation” is facile, and it takes a lot of hard work being introduced to the teacher’s side of the desk to understand what it means to academically and socially manage the workings of a classroom.  However, this narrative is still very precious because it contains the initial commitment a future teacher makes to her or his future students.  Without that narrative, they would not want to teach in the first place.  It is here that words like “vocation” become equally if not more important than words like “profession” when discussing how teachers learn to teach.

It is, therefore, vitally important that we keep our eyes not merely on what schools and classrooms achieve on standardized tests, but also we keep our eyes focused squarely on what kinds of places schools and classrooms are and what kinds of experiences teachers can craft for the children entrusted to them.  I know of no truly dedicated teacher who is afraid of using some data as a tool to both analyze and communicate about her or his work.  But I know many people who are rightly concerned that we have spent far too much time in the past ten year using data from high stakes standardized tests in ways that reach far beyond their utility.  I know people who are concerned that we have incentivized administrators and teachers to value test performance over genuine learning.  I know people who are concerned that the risk taking and uncertainty that accompanies real teaching is becoming too risky for teachers who are evaluated as if they are producing manufactured goods tested within tight tolerances.  I share those concerns.

We do not need to simply demand more of our teachers; we need to demand more of ourselves and of our vision for a public education.  Schools need to be places where uncertainty, risk taking and messing around with ideas is both encouraged and instructive.  Teachers need to be able to inspire their students to create meaning rather than merely fill in bubble sheets because the narrative of schooling and learning that we create for those students today does not just impact how they learn, it impacts how those among them who wish to teach will envision the role of a teacher.  How many powerful examples of passionate commitment to students, content and learning will those students encounter and incorporate into their constructs of the work and craft of teaching?  How many of them will see intangible rewards for teaching that offset the difficulty of the job and inspire them to share their love of learning with the generations that follow them?

The next generation of teachers is in our public schools right now.  We owe it to them and to the 100s of millions of students they will teach to envision schools as places of joy and passion.

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President Obama: We Must Strengthen Unions

President Obama says unions must be strengthened. Meanwhile Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has openly praised the Vergara decision…which deprives California’s unionized teachers of due process rights:

Empty lip service on a Friday makes me grumpy.

Diane Ravitch's blog

This is one of the strangest stories of the week or month or year. President Obama spoke in Pittsburgh about the importance of strengthening unions.

Unions are under siege and have been for several years, but I can’t remember when the President stepped up to defend them.

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What Does It Really Take To Evaluate a Teacher Preparation Program?

The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) is back in the news having released their second report on the quality of teacher preparation in America.  To the surprise of nobody, they found that university based teacher preparation remains dismal.  Just last year, NCTQ described teacher education as “an industry of mediocrity” in a report so riddled with errors, it would have been reasonable to assume that they would fade away – if not permanently, then at least for a few years.  My favorite of their many mistakes was how they gave credit to Teachers College for having “highly selective” standards for admission to their undergraduate teacher preparation programs.  Friends and colleagues affirmed how selective these programs are — they have never admitted a single student because they do not exist.  Alas, the fade away did not happen, and they are back this year.

In order to understand how NCTQ could purport to make a serious contribution to teacher education while making such glaring errors and then putting them in view of the public, it is necessary to understands that the organization’s flaws are both methodological and philosophical.  NCTQ is an organization that was established by the Thomas Fordham Institute and has an expressed purpose to “shake up” traditional teacher preparation.  Given that they are generously funded by a laundry list of corporate reform advocates (The Gates Foundation, Edythe and Eli Broad, Carnegie Corporation, etc.) and given the presence of people like Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein on their advisory board, it stands to reason that they are looking for faults.  But more important is the preposterous methodology employed by NCTQ to “evaluate” programs for evidence of “quality”.  Even before schools of education, looking at their bias and their proposed methods, declined to actively cooperate with them, NCTQ proposed that they would evaluate all teacher preparation programs in the country by not visiting a single program and by not speaking to or surveying a single graduate.  Instead, they examine web sites and publically available documents such as course catalogs and syllabi for “evidence” of the programs covering topics that they consider essential.  When programs decline to turn over internal documents for their examination, NCTQ is not above using deception to acquire them.

Such “methodology” has been aptly compared to writing a review of a restaurant by reading an online menu and making conclusions about the quality of the food preparation.  NCTQ misses how instruction is delivered and evaluated in every meaningful way, but they do not seem especially concerned about that given that a number of programs have tried to correct NCTQ’s errors only to see them published anyway.  This would be comical if the organization was not given uncritical coverage in influential publications.  Last Fall, both Joe Nocera and Bill Keller took to the opinion pages of the New York Times and cited NCTQ’s ratings without any indication that the group is both politically biased and rife with errors.  This year’s report is not being met with quite so much attention, but NPR did a very friendly interview with NCTQ President Kate Walsh with little focus on the organization’s methodology.  NPR did ask one pertinent question and it was why, if teacher preparation is so dismal, don’t principals and superintendents sound the alarm that new teachers are not able to teach?  Walsh replied:

“There’s a great hesitancy of public school educators to stand up to higher ed,” Walsh explains. “They’ve almost been bullied by them, and one of the things (NCTQ) is trying to work on with districts is to get them to be more assertive about their needs and to say ‘I’m not going to hire from you until you teach effective ways of reading instruction.’ “

I would like to challenge Ms. Walsh to come to New Jersey and try to find a single high school principal who is willing to admit, even off record, that he or she is intimidated by me.  Go on.  I’ll wait.

More seriously, that claim is bizarre because while a handful of institutions may offer grants and opportunities that are attractive to school districts, the reality is that for quality teacher preparation, I need schools more than they need me.  I need partners who are willing to open up their experienced teachers’ classrooms for student teachers and for clinical internships and who are willing to mentor teacher candidates in ways that make a strong connection between their studies and their developing practice.  To suggest that relationship is so lopsided as to see school districts as cowed beneath the Teacher Preparation Industrial Complex is simply strange.

I would never state that teacher preparation does not need improvement.  There is always something new to learn, and there will always be an effort to make meaningful connections between theory and practice and to situate prospective teachers in classrooms where they learn from skilled mentors able to discuss practice meaningfully.  But I would like to offer what it looks like to really examine and evaluate your work and to subject it to meaningful outside examination and rating.  My teacher preparation program is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), formerly the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. Such bodies are recognized by state departments of education as having high standards for the review of teacher preparation programs and for having rigorous methods of evaluation.  In preparation for their review, I have to prepare a report about our secondary students studying to become high school English teachers and submit it for review to the National Council of Teachers of English to determine how well we prepare students who are specifically seeking to be English teachers (other content areas submit similar reports to other content specialty associations).  In this report, I provided complete data portraits of three cohorts of graduating candidates that showed that they knew English content, that they knew pedagogy for teaching English and that they knew how to assess students’ needs, design instruction to meet those needs and evaluate the effectiveness of their instruction.  The report drew data from their coursework, lesson planning in courses, evaluations from field internships prior to student teaching from university supervisors and cooperating teachers, evaluations from their semester long student teaching experience and a Teacher Work Sample capstone project in their student teaching seminar.

The report was submitted directly to the National Council of Teaches of English where multiple reviewers read it and granted our program National Recognition as meeting high quality standards for the preparation of English teachers.  This is only one of many reports written by my colleagues and represents only our preparation for an eventual site visit by CAEP where the entire unit will be evaluated.  Such work is time consuming, but I have to admit that to a degree, I actually enjoy it because it helps, indeed it requires, that I take a step back from my own practice and examine artifacts that are indicative of its success or failures.  The process means that I have to propose ways to use what I have learned from the evaluation process to make improvements for following cohorts, and it pushes all of us to not merely rely upon impressions of success and failure but to have substantive reasons for those assessments.

When I began teaching in 1993, I said to myself that the day I figure that I have nothing left to learn is the day that I should quit teaching.  Substantive internal and external evaluation helps assure that I keep looking for things to learn.

Of course, even this is not the be all and end all of effective teacher preparation.  Data driven assessment is very useful, but it also contains the danger of becoming reliant on data to the point that teaching is treated as merely a technical performance that is neatly mapable onto standards, which is untrue.  There are qualities to teaching and to learning to teach that are aesthetic and which require a qualitative approach.  Most teachers have a narrative of their reality in mind when they commit to becoming teachers, and they need to constantly revisit and revise that narrative in ways that allow them to understand others’ purposes and to challenge themselves and their sense of purpose.  These qualities, championed by Maxine Greene, are critical for prospective teachers AND the teachers of prospective teachers, so we should embrace the role of data in our work as a tool of continuous improvement.  But we should not raise it so far above all other matters that we ignore their importance as well.

Which is why in addition to the substantial work I have put in to demonstrating my program’s quality to actually qualified experts, there is another testimony that is not being currently examined by any agency in a way that captures their real importance.  I know a large group of early career teachers who are simply outstanding young educators and who are doing fantastic work, both quantitatively and qualitatively, with 1000s of students across the country.  They came to my classes from diverse backgrounds and with varying ideas about the critical importance of public education, but they all left having had shared experiences in university courses and in lengthy field assignments that taught them what it really means to move from being a student to being a teacher.  They are remarkably interesting and talented, and they balance deep understanding of how to transform content into pedagogically powerful experiences with their students with the aesthetics of classroom community and student motivation.  I am lucky to have worked with them and to continue to know of them and their teaching.

If you want to evaluate the quality of a teacher preparation program, you need to speak with and observe the teachers they graduate.

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A Conversation With My Oldest Child

The older of our two children initiated this conversation with me last week.  As a follow up to Father’s Day, it seemed appropriate:

“I never really understood the purpose of homework.”

“Well, sweetie, some people think that it helps you practice what you’ve learned.”

“Well, why can’t we practice in school?”

“Some people think it helps you remember better if you do it at home.”

“That’s so not true.”

“Maybe, but it is true that when you are older you will have to do some things on your own in order to be ready for school and the next lessons.”

“So why can’t we wait until high school?”

“Some people think that’s when homework should begin. I think it probably makes sense to wait until at least 5th grade.”

“Yeah. You should tell Ms. H*** that.”

“I think I should probably let your principal do her job herself.”

I have to confess that there is something both poignant and a bit tragic in this conversation.  It is very important to my wife and I that we offer support to the teachers and school our children attend, but it is also important to tell the truth to them as best as is appropriate for their very young ages.  The truth is that I have complained (my wife might say ranted) about homework policies since our children began in New York City public schools because I can think of no actual developmental advantage at all to beginning homework in KINDERGARTEN.  While there is some lively debate among childhood development experts about when to begin and how much homework is appropriate (some suggest it is never appropriate), I know of no research that suggests 20 minutes of seat time an evening does much of anything.  And I can think of a number of reasons why it is counter productive.

For some children, this is not an exceptionally big deal.  They enjoy worksheets.  They have unusual focus.  They are also outliers.  My older child is a bit of a homework resister, has a mind that enjoys wandering and making up stories about just about anything.  Things get very creative, but they do not get speedy.  Seat time at home, unsurprisingly, stretches out regardless of the approach we take as parents, and in the spirit of telling the truth, I personally struggle with offering a cheerful and enthusiastic “Let’s finish your homework!” in contrast to “Let’s play with some Lego!”  Playing with Lego offers a child a chance to practice decision making, planning, eye hand coordination.  It invites experimentation and revision.  It offers a chance to interweave narrative into the process of building.  When done with another person, it requires compromise and negotiation.  In pretty much every conceivable way, 30 minutes of such play is vastly more enriching for a young child than 30 minutes of worksheets.

Even though I am not an early childhood development expert, I think that, if asked, I could in short order create a “homework” program for early grades that requires that parents and children sit down twice a week and the children use work that they’ve done in school to explain to parents what they have been learning.  The idea behind that would be to foster greater awareness among parents of what their children’s teachers are doing and reinforce the message to families that an education is a partnership.  And I’d leave it at that at least through all of elementary school because children need unstructured, free play.  This is not even up for argument as the research is very clear.  Unstructured play is a vital component of growing up, and it nourishes a range of skills that children need if they are going to be competent adults who know how to think creatively, problem solve, make decisions and work cooperatively.  A bucket of Legos, a box of costume clothes, a set of Matchbox cars, paint and paper — all of these represent genuine opportunities to stretch and enrich the mind.

And we are, more and more, taking them away from children.  An elementary school student who spends 8:15am to 3:15pm in school, who then goes to music, dance or sports classes every day of the week and then comes home to seat work is an eight year-old whose entire day is filled with activities that others have chosen for her.  They may be fun and interesting, and the people with whom she comes in contact may all be outstanding at what they do.  And there isn’t a real consensus among experts about where the line between “healthy enrichment” and “neurosis prone stress case with no planning skills” exists (hint: it is going to be different for every child).  But those caveats do not diminish the importance of “down time” without structure or goals.

And when homework becomes an accepted norm in early elementary school, we’ve just bitten another chunk out of available time for play.

This wound, by the way, is almost entirely self-inflicted.  While we are hearing occasional stories about elementary schools curtailing recess so their students can prepared to take their “College and Career Readiness” tests as part of the Common Core reforms, it would be disingenuous to suggest that middle class parents have not be hurtling along this path of less and less free time for their children for some time now.  David Labaree of Stanford University has written extensively about the pitfalls of “credentialism” in education.  The idea is that when parents assess that the purpose of school is for their children to gain the credentials necessary for them to move up an increasingly competitive ladder of educational and then economic rewards, the pressure increases to do anything that differentiates their children from their peers — who are viewed more and more as competitors rather than playmates.  We don’t just see this in after school activities.  We see it in endlessly seeking things in school that will “look good” on a college application, including looking for a portrait of a school community that will send out the message that everything is “rigorous” and appropriately time consuming.  Does it matter if the school’s curriculum is really teaching planning and problem solving skills, so long as people nod their heads approvingly that all of the honors students have hours of homework a night that is squeezed in between school newspaper, orchestra, at least one sport and a bedtime that doesn’t allow a healthy 8 hours a night?  We used to point in horror at that stereotypical Little League Father who screamed at coaches for not playing their kids enough — it turns out they were trend setters among parents of college bound children.

All of which loops back for me to my conversation with my child.  I think the teachers that I have met so far understand all of this, but they are part of a system whose most involved stakeholders have demanded more and more the appearance of rigor without understanding that the substance of learning in both formal and informal settings is a lot more messy than an ledger sheet.  We don’t need to eliminate these things from our children’s lives, but we most assuredly need to seek better balances.  And we need to rethink our values.  Growing up and becoming a capable adult requires time, and that time cannot just be packed if we really expect our children to learn from it.


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Leonie Haimson: Come to NYC Hearings to Fight for Class Size Reduction

Leonie Haimson: Come to NYC Hearings to Fight for Class Size Reduction.

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My Argument With the Director/Producer of the Fauxcumentary “The Cartel”

You may have missed that National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released another report recently, this one taking aim at teacher absenteeism.  It being an NCTQ report, it is not an exceptional work of scholarship, and they try to discuss policy implications absent any real statistical analysis.  This is par for the course from an organization that purports to seriously investigate the quality of teacher preparation in this country, but which does so by sitting in their offices looking at course descriptions online and calling up schools of education demanding materials and, failing that, trying to deceive schools into giving them those materials.  Needless to say, their errors are both shocking and laughable (my personal favorite is that Columbia got recognition for how selective its undergraduate teacher preparation programs are — those programs don’t exist, so they are VERY selective), but they are less laughable when you realize that influential people take them at face value.  It just goes to show that sometimes all you need to do is to put the letter “N” in your acronym to be considered serious.

This current report is perhaps not as egregious, but it is also not exceptionally interesting, mainly because all NCTQ does is provide a national overview of descriptive statistics  regarding teacher attendance and then claim that they have proven something.  Two problems:  First, the descriptive statistics are not complete.  NCTQ spends most of the report providing bar and pie graphs and a lot of averages, but they do not appear to have calculated means, medians, modes or standard deviations.  Consider that they divide teachers into attendance categories of “excellent”, “moderate”, “frequently absent” and “chronically absent”.  How many standard deviations separate a “chronically absent” teacher from a teacher with “excellent” attendance?  Damned if I know, and NCTQ provides no indication that they know either.

Second, NCTQ tries to draw conclusions from these data without demonstrating that they have analyzed them thoroughly using statistical inference.  For example, contrary to previous research from academics at Harvard and Duke, NCTQ claims there is no connection between the poverty characteristics of a district and teacher absenteeism.  In fact, they said:

Given the existing research on teacher attendance, an increase in teacher absenteeism was expected as school poverty levels increased. Surprisingly, there was no significant increase in these districts. The difference between the average days absent in the highest and lowest poverty schools was under one day and was not statistically significant.

How did they prove that?  Well, from the report, they lined up some bar graphs, and that appears to be it.  The report appendices claim use of a significance test that did not apply to poverty characteristics and a use of a variance test that did, but these results are not provided in the text of the report.  Readers are, supposedly, to look at the bar graphs, nod their heads and agree.  Such appeals to “obviousness” are a good way of avoiding doing sophisticated analysis (NCTQ does not mention any statistical testing that uses sophisticated methods capable of capturing poverty effects), but they are also a way of thoroughly deceiving lay people with no knowledge of statistical reasoning.

Such a lay person turned up on my Twitter feed. Looking for any news on the NCTQ report, I came across this tweet from a Mr. Bob Bowdon:

Not knowing who he was, I replied:

I thought that was it, but a few days later, he responded:

This is a typical strategy when given a reference that poses serious questions about something: take a little bit of it and use that to defend what you like against the rest of the article.  So I gave it another try:

I decided at this point to figure out who @BobBowdon actually is, and in short order found out that he is the director and producer of the “fauxcumentary” film “The Cartel” wherein he takes a hard look at education in New Jersey and decides that everything that is wrong with our schools can be traced back to and directly blamed upon…you guessed it: teachers’ unions.  He is a practitioner of a form of “advocacy journalism” that looks like what would happen if you blended Michelle Rhee and James O’Keefe.  Unsurprisingly, his work is riddled with errors in assumption and fact, points amusingly documented by Rutgers Professor Bruce Baker, here, here, here, and here.  I suppose he was feeling confident given that the NCTQ report came with numbers and graphs, so he replied again:

And I replied:

What I got back seemed defensive (and clueless):

Trying to be nice one last time, I responded:

There’s a stance in his comment that I find fascinating, however.  It is one that is impervious to even considering a critique and relies heavily on ignorance to bolster a position that is not especially strong.  I have no idea if Mr. Bowdon has no working knowledge of the difference between descriptive and inferential statistics, but he displays no interest in finding out here.  Further, he retreats into calling my objections “convenient” rather than inquiring after their substance.

His next tweet:

Ah, yes, “apologists” – boilerplate anti-union talk wrapped up in a thorough lack of understanding of how research is conducted whether deliberate or otherwise.  His complaint here is instructive, however.  Saying “any study can be called ‘incomplete'” covers the fact that the NCTQ report can barely be called a “study” because it really has no research questions but it tries to make inferences from the incomplete descriptive statistics that it employs.  Calling teacher “absences” “hard objective stats” is, I suppose, some attempt to claim there is no ambiguity in the data and any inferences we want to make from them can be made by appealing to “obviousness”.  This is how someone thinks when they truly do believe that you can make “statistics say anything” but it not anything that would be said by any honest person who understands reasoning with statistics.  For example, the NCTQ data suggests that teachers are absent more than the workforce average, and from that, they infer a need for policy interventions.  But without knowing the REASONS for teachers being absent, or if such absence rates are actually significant, it is impossible to make any informed comments on existing or possible interventions.  What if teachers are absent more than average because they work in close contact with children and get sick more often than the rest of the workforce?  What if teachers are more absent because the teacher workforce is still largely female and women still bear a disproportionate share of child care duties in American families?  Policy interventions for either of these circumstances would be radically different, but Mr. Bowdon is obviously only interested in blaming teachers specifically and unions generally.

So I took out the teacher in me:


Okay, fine, that’s a lot to read, but I was surprised that he tried to as if I hadn’t just written to him like he was capable of understanding my points:

I admit that baffled me.  But I have been teaching for twenty years, and I think that even the most obstinate of students is capable of a breakthrough:

Mr. Bowdon was still pretty oblivious:

Sometimes you have to throw in the towel:

Mr. Bob Bowdon is not an isolated case of low information punditry trying to stake out ground as a “thought leader” in education.  He calls his website a national “hub” for online information about education reform, but his bias in that space is obvious, where he actively champions education “reformers” seeking to increase testing, spread charter schools and curtail teacher unions and where he labels people who oppose such efforts as the education “establishment”.  Mr. Bowdon finds the NCTQ report important not because it reveals interesting and important insights into the teacher workforce (it doesn’t), but because he can use it to argue that unionized teachers abuse the “perks” of their employment. This is similar to no end of billionaire-funded efforts to fundamentally change the way we offer schools without a public vote and which dare to call themselves civil rights movements.

It may be momentarily fun to demonstrate how low knowledge many foot soldiers for corporate reform are, but it is also entirely serious.

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What Really Worries Me About the Vergara Decision

On June 10th, California Judge Rolf M. Treu declared that teacher tenure laws in California deprive students of their right to an education and declared them unconstitutional.  The provisions that were specifically targeted were the time frame for awarding tenure to California teachers, seniority rules on firing of teachers colloquially known as “last in, first out” and rules for due process before removing a teacher after the initial probationary period.  Judge Treu grandly compared his decision to Brown v. Board of Education and sent shock waves through the mainstream teacher community.

I do not think the ruling is likely to survive a challenge.

First, the evidence that Judge Treu said “shocks the conscience” and was presented by the plaintiffs is not precisely rock solid.  Relying heavily upon the work of Professor Raj Chetty of Harvard University, the plaintiffs claimed that even one “grossly ineffective” teacher had long term lasting harm on student’s achievement and future economic success, and they claimed California’s tenure laws subjected students to such “grossly ineffective” teachers.  The problem here is not that there are not a discernible portion of teachers who ought to be removed, but that the Chetty research, indeed most of the research used by the plaintiffs is, to put it mildly, disputed.

Dr. Audrey Amrein-Beardsley of Arizona State University writes the blog Vamboozled to discuss research and policy around the use of value added measures of teacher performance (VAMs), and she has taken on the flaws of Dr, Chetty’s work on numerous occasions, notably here and here. Dr. Amrein-Beardsley links to critiques from other scholars as well, and the obvious message that Judge Treu missed is that this scholarship “shocks the conscience” most powerfully when one thoroughly ignores that does not represent a professional consensus among education researchers.  Indeed, it is easy to portray the handful of researchers who insist that single teacher impacts can be measured this way as outliers.  So with appeals in the works, it is hard to believe that Judge Treu’s wholesale ignoring of contrary evidence will be replicated by every judge who reviews the evidence.

Second, as Dr. Diane Ravitch of New York University explains here, the plaintiffs in the Vergara case are of questionable standing.  If the argument is that “grossly ineffective” teachers have damaging lifelong impacts on students, it would stand to reason that the plaintiffs could clearly demonstrate that they had been subjected to such teachers.  Not so much.  In fact, some of them apparently claimed that a given teacher was bad at teaching when those same teachers were widely recognized as excellent:

One of the plaintiffs (Monterroza) said that her teacher, Christine McLaughlin was a very bad teacher, but McLaughlin was Pasadena teacher of the year and has received many awards for excellent teaching (google her).

Dr. Ravitch refers to briefs by the defense that go on to note how none of the plaintiffs could tie any of the supposedly poor teachers to the specific statutes that were challenged in the lawsuit.  Appeals attorneys were certainly make use of this, and given judges more inclined to consider all the evidence, they may have successes.

I am, therefore, tentatively hopeful that this case will die or be substantively altered on appeal.  But I am still worried, and the reason is that the case provides a much desired legal win for a coordinated set of interests that have teacher unions firmly in their sights.  The plaintiffs were sponsored by the group “Students Matter” which is funded by Silicon Valley technology entrepreneur David Welch and is financially allied with charter school funders and Michelle Rhee’s “Students First” organization that similarly attacks teachers’ union protections.  Given the partisan position of the lawsuit’s backers, it was extremely troubling, if not surprising, to see Secretary of Education Arne Duncan welcome a decision that greatly undermines teachers’ workplace protections:

With strong financial backers like Welch, Rhee and organizations like the Walton Family Foundation and tacit approval from the administration, we can expect similar lawsuits in pretty much every state over the next few years.  It fits one of the favorite narratives of the education “reform” camp:  that everything hinges on teachers and if we only fire the right teachers, schools, everywhere, will improve dramatically

brace yourself

This is pernicious for a number of reasons.  First, it relies of the very shaky and often laughable claim that all it takes to close the achievement gap is enough “great teachers” in a row.  Michelle Rhee loves to repeat this claim, but the claim does not stand up to very strong scrutiny, most notably that the research basis for the claim merely extrapolated from one year gains in classrooms with an identified effective teacher instead of studying students over time.

Further, we should question the value of the metrics used to rate teacher effectiveness in the first place.  As I have written previously, the American Statistical Association’s statement on the use of VAMs warns that only 1% to 14% of student variation on test scores can be attributed to variation in teacher quality. The does not mean, by the way, that teachers have no effect, but that statistically tying the achievement gap among students as measured by standardized testing to variability in teacher quality is looking at a very narrow slice of that gap’s origins.  What else can account for persistent gaps in student test scores?  Los Angles has a Residential Income Segregation Index of 51. 54% of children in the central city live in povertyThe impacts of poverty on children are by now well documented and cannot be excluded when considering school performance. Classrooms in Los Angeles are overcrowded, sometimes to a shocking extreme. California’s woeful education expenditures place it in the company of Arkansas and below West Virginia.  But according to the proponents of the Vergara case, the only thing that matters is teacher effectiveness as rated by the test score gains made by their students, regardless of all of the other factors that may effect those scores.

And this is painful ground for teacher and student advocates.  It sounds like I am saying that teachers have little impact, but what I mean to say is that teachers matter, but not in ways that are effectively measured by the value added models based on standardized testing.  Professor Jesse Rothstein’s review of the Measures of Effective Teaching study funded by the Gates Foundation demonstrated that teachers who did very well in their value added measures did far less well in measures of students gaining higher order thinking skills, so it is highly possible that the measures favored by Vergara’s so-called expert witnesses improperly favor the wrong teachers.  Anecdotally, such measures of effectiveness miss the realities of how teachers work with students.  The worst teacher of my entire life was my seventh grade mathematics teacher who was a bully and the most demotivating individual I have ever known in my life.  However, in a community where 95% of high school graduates went on to four year colleges and universities, the depths of his ineffectiveness would have been masked by the external advantages of his students.  Influence and impact upon students can frequently be hard to see in any numbers, but they are real regardless.  I have had former students contact me via social media to express appreciation for the role I played in their development towards adulthood, and not all of those students were long term academic successes (they are, however, remarkable people…testing misses that).

That is because an effective teacher is not merely a person who extracts a pre-determined gain in a standardized test over the course of one year.  Effective teachers inspire students to take risks that may result in messy but instructive failures.  Effective teachers help student manage social and emotional challenges to become more skilled at collaboration and leadership.  Effective teachers challenge students to, as Maxine Greene phrased it, “stir” themselves and see the world in different and transformative ways.  Effective teachers may simply convince a struggling student to stay in school for the stability it provides in his or her life.

As we prepare to challenge the Vergara decision and to brace ourselves for the flood of similar suits that the likes of Michelle Rhee are undoubtedly planning, it is vital that we not only confront the highly flawed assumptions of test based teacher competence, but also that we uplift a better vision of the importance of skilled and experienced teachers.


Filed under Media, politics, schools, Social Justice, Testing, VAMs