Am I a geek or a nerd?


standards schmandards, or why teachers and leadership matter more

I have a colleague (a super crazy bright kind of colleague) who is currently doing some work with a School Improvement Grant recipient district. The district turn around agent has asked to her to review the social studies curriculum with teachers, observe these teachers implementing the curriculum, and provide PD to help teachers meet the standards outlined by the curriculum.

 

The teachers have been a bit hostile toward her and the process, and told her to observe them first period if she really wanted to see what’s what. (She would describe the teachers are mixed bag of dedicated high fliers and folks who couldn’t hired elsewhere.)

 

So she did. And she shared the pictures with me. Of course, I’m not sharing them here, but I will describe what she saw and heard. The bell rang for first period in the class she selected to observe. Four students were present. She took a picture. After several minutes she went into the hallway. Dozens and dozens of students in the hallways, mingling with the security staff, talking at their lockers, none moving toward a classroom and no one asking them to. She took several more pictures. Back in the classroom, students begin to arrive. All have a yellow pass in their hands. This pass is from the office, it shows that you checked in late and the teachers must admit you and provide your missed work. She asked a student about the pass. The student said you just tell the office staff you need one and they give you one. No hassle, no guff, no repercussions.

 

What’s a curriculum specialist to do? Well, she wrote up her daily report and included pictures and quotes and sent it to the principal and the superintendent. She also pointed out that all the PD on curriculum wasn’t going to do a damn thing if students didn’t attend class. I’ll give you one guess what the principal said.

 

“who authorized you to take pictures”

 

Really.

 

This is just more proof of what the Brookings Institution found in their recent report about standards:

States have had curricular standards for schools within their own borders for many years. Data on the effects of those standards are analyzed to produce three findings. 1) The quality of state standards, as indicated by the well-known ratings from the Fordham Foundation, is not related to state achievement. 2) The rigor of state standards, as measured by how high states place the cut point for students to be deemed proficient, is also unrelated to achievement… 3) The ability of standards to reduce variation in achievement, in other words to reduce differences in achievement, is also weak.

 

Having standards means nothing if teachers don’t teach to them and students aren’t present or able to master them. Consider my relationship with my triathlon coach. Since having a baby we are starting from scratch with my training and I’m not even a little bit close to being the athlete I was. I tried to train without a coach; I’d spent years training, you’d think I’d have learned something. But my efforts were poorly planned and poorly executed as I tried to reach a standard I’d previously held. My coach understands that I can’t hit those targets right now; she gives me an attainable plan and we measure improvement based on where I started during this round, not on where I was 2 years ago (Team USA anyone?).  But I need to show up. I have to complete the workouts. All the standards in the world won’t matter if the student isn’t present or prepared.

 

The superintendent has a much bigger hurdle than curriculum and PD for teachers; he needs to change the culture of the schools (and possibly his high school principal).

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Is this a dead horse I’m beating?
February 19, 2012, 8:53 pm
Filed under: education law, evaluation | Tags: , ,

I belatedly finished Diane Ravitch’s Death and Life of the Great American School System (I link to B&N because I have a Nook…we actually have three Nooks in this house…for two people who are able to read…and a tablet…and a netbook…heavens…) and while I’m pretty sure I knew the basics of much of her position, that she provides citations and research to debunk myth and illustrate our dangerous ways makes this a nerdy/geeky delight.

Read it yourself for the full poop; I’m still thinking about the prospect of using student test scores to evaluate teachers. Ravitch provides much info, but the piece I’m most struck by is this study: “Error Rates in Measuring Teacher and School Performance Based on Student Test Score Gains.” In short, the USDE commissioned a study that found that error rates in determining effectiveness of individual teachers range anywhere from 25 to 35 per cent depending the variables (number of years scores are collected for example). This was released in July 2010. One year prior to this study Race to the Top was announced and in part required states to use student scores to evaluate teachers. Hmm. I poked through the study document and found citations dated 2010, so my assumption is that this was commissioned sometime in 2010. So USDE demanded an action of states and at the same time paid for a study to see if that action was really effective. Then it turns out that the action doesn’t seem to be a great option but they keep on keepin’ on with the demands.

I get that scores will just be one part of evaluation for teacher here in NY, and I get that we don’t have a great system in place now (see here, here, here and I’m sure I’ve mentioned more than that and for some other great links and commentary on this, here), but I really don’t think I want any part of any evaluation to have an error rate of 25%.

I’m still trying to be unsurprised by the blindness of everyone barreling down this road.



Everything I could say about RTTT in NY has been said…almost.
January 26, 2012, 9:41 pm
Filed under: assessment, education law | Tags: , , , ,

Here

God bless the New York Times, this article sums up all of my questions and concerns better than I ever could. That said, I have something to add. The author questions the role of State Ed in determining how well 700 school districts are assessing students for growth in non-state tested subjects given the budget cuts at the state level and the number of students and teachers and assessments that would need independent review.

 

I think I know what’s going to happen. The assessment/evaluation police aren’t going to show up. In fact, its likely that no one will ever look closely at how districts meet the mandate. Experience tells me this. While working in Michigan as a Social Studies Consultant the state adopted k-12 Social Studies expectations where there had previously been very little required, but the state also had just one Social Studies Supervisor for the entire state and when she retired she was not replaced. State Ed funding and personnel were dramatically reduced. No one checked what you were teaching, or if you had created a curriculum that was freely available to parents, or if you were assessing students on the new expectations. Some schools even refused to align their grade level subjects to those required by the state. Because, really, what was the limbless state ed going to do about it?

 

I suspect RTTT in NYS will result in similar behavior in schools; do enough to make it look like you’re doing what they want, create a paper trail, but don’t really change much of anything in the end.

 

 

 

 



So I took a year off; everyone deserves a break!!
January 22, 2012, 11:11 pm
Filed under: education law | Tags: , ,

A break, sure. Resigning, moving back to NY, having a baby, surviving said baby’s colic, selling two houses, buying one house, and trying to lose 70 pounds of baby weight (what, doesn’t everyone gain that much?!) make up my 12 months of edu-blogging non-blogging. For the record, I’m 10 pounds away.

While I’m no longer working full-time with one county as a Social Studies Consultant, I have been contracted by AtotheB and Oakland County to continue work on the MC3 curriculum; primarily writing US History and editing grades 5,6 and 7. I’d love to think that the end is in sight for this project, after four years of writing, but our complete overhaul of middle school as well as lack of unit and course ending assessments means I could probably milk this cow for several years or until Oakland Schools decided to stop paying for curriculum in Social Studies. I won’t hold my breath.

Now that I’m back in NY and likely to try to work in a real office with actual people in a nearby school district I figured it was time to brush up on NY’s Race To The Top brew ha ha regarding teacher evaluations, assessments, and Cuomo’s promises/threats of withholding funds (see my previous post on RTTT here and evaluation here and here). So I started where any Social Studies geek/nerd would start; the law itself. I went straight to the horse’s mouth and discovered that the horse has marbles in his mouth…Education Law 3012-c is not a scintillating read (are any laws?) and leaves me with several questions.

Here’s my basic interpretation:

1. Teachers and Principals will be evaluated and categorized in to the incredibly descriptive and clear Highly Effective, Effective, Developing and Ineffective. AKA Awesome; Pretty Good; You’ve Got Potential Kid; and Sucks.

2. Some teachers (grades 4-8 ELA and Math or common branch subjects) will participate in this beginning in the 2011-12 school year (so now) while others (everyone else) will be held to this law beginning in the 2012-13 school year.

3. Prior to the development of  value added measurements,  20% of the teacher eval will be based on student growth as measured on an approved assessment and 20% will be based on local selected measures of student growth. Basically, a kid’s score last year is compared to his score this year. (I’m going to reserve my question as to how one compares growth when the content assessed isn’t the same…)

4. When value added measurements are in place, the numbers are 25% and 15%.

5. If you suck, you get an improvement plan.

Anyone following this or teaching in NY can tell you the laundry list of questions/concerns with these things while at the same time agreeing that something other than the current drive by evals is needed. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to this.



If PD isn’t effective, is a Master’s Degree?
November 23, 2010, 1:35 pm
Filed under: Nerd, professional development | Tags: , ,

According  to an article in the Huffington Post earlier this week, it isn’t. I don’t think anyone is surprised by this; just because I went to school longer doesn’t automatically make me better at my job. Reading the comments section, filled with responses from teachers, I’m left thinking maybe all those master’s degree’s mean nothing. Comments that claim the studies (there are more than one) wrong, that common sense would say more education is good, that ‘you can’t tell me what works until you’re a teacher too,’ that accuse everyone of trying to take something away from teachers.

But the point of the article is that districts pay teachers with graduate level course work more than those without. Even if you went to grad school for your teaching certificate and had no undergrad training in education, you get paid more than the teacher whose bachelor’s degree is in education. These teachers are not paid more because they are better, they are paid more because they went to school longer. The argument can be made that in many fields candidates with advanced degrees are more desirable and while that is true, if the candidate stinks at the job he may not make more; he may even get fired.

Look, I was a teacher too and I still work in a public school system under a contract that pays me more because of my degree and gives me more money every year simply because I’m here. I get it. Its cushy system. But if we want to be taken seriously and treated as professionals then its time we start acting like it. We should be demanding more evaluation from our employers and pay that goes with those evaluations, not just pay because we lived another year. We should want a system that rewards the best, advanced degree or not. And we should really stop complaining about our pay, most teachers earn more than the average American and work less days per year. I know, summer’s aren’t really off, and we don’t get vacation days when we want them, but not many people get to completely check out from work for even 2 weeks during the year; I don’ t know a single teacher who doesn’t give themselves at least that much time off every summer.

Public school systems are looking for ways cut costs because they have to. In many districts, personnel is more than 80% of the expenditure every year. Where else can they look? I don’t want a pay cut either, but I sure don’t want the guy who doesn’t do his job very well to get rewarded at the same rate that I am if my employer knows that I’m better at my job.




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