Educate All Students, Support Public Education

June 11, 2015

Wisconsin Rapids Principal Schools Legislature on Qualified Teaching

Filed under: Educational Practices,Teaching,Wisc Budget Bill — millerlf @ 12:02 pm

Education: An endeavor to help build better lives

By Matt Renwick June 6, 2015
There are lots of occupations out there that do not demand a bachelor’s degree, including governor of Wisconsin. But teaching shouldn’t be one of them.

I was a classroom teacher for eight years, and now a school principal for just as long. Teaching is an incredibly complex and challenging craft. In my estimation, it takes at least three years of classroom experience beyond completed college experience for a teacher to become very good at his or her work. The foundational learning that occurs in undergraduate courses and during student teaching is essential. It is also only the beginning. Teaching truly is a profession that one learns as one does it, and the learning never ends.

Recently, I observed a teacher facilitate a math lesson on arrays (rows and columns of tiles to convey an equation or to form a shape). An uneducated bystander without the requisite background knowledge to understand teaching and learning would observe this lesson and probably think it was fine.

But that bystander would have no idea why. With a highly trained eye, here is what I saw:
■The intent of the lesson was clearly stated in writing, verbally and visually.
■The teacher kept the students active, allowing them to get up every 10 minutes or so between activities. This is pedagogically sound (How many people without a degree in education could accurately define “pedagogy”?).
■She used formative assessment, such as observing answers on held whiteboards, to guide her instruction and ensure that all students with a wide variety of abilities were ready for the next step.
■Small actions by the teacher avoided bigger problems with the students. For example, she used thoughtful language that focused on the positive of a student’s actions, instead of pointing out his faults and possibly causing a major behavior disruption. One wrong word could have led to 10 minutes of lost instruction.
■Wait time was given for a student who was struggling to process an answer and share it aloud.
■A clear segue between arrays and formal geometry was conveyed by the teacher only when every student was ready to cognitively make that transition.

This is only a snippet of the positive work I saw in her classroom and shared with her later that day. At our post-observation conference, I asked her how she thought she did. “Well, I wish my questions I presented for the students would have been more open-ended. I wanted to help them get to a deeper understanding of the math concept,” she said. Does this sound like someone who is less than a professional?

Teaching is a special vocation, reserved only for the very best and brightest. It takes both intelligence and empathy, a rare combination that appears regularly in our school and in many, many others in the state. To reduce our profession to something anyone can do clearly shows the ignorance of the policy-makers who somehow saw sanity in a decision they had no business addressing.

Attaining a license to teach in schools, whether public or private, shouldn’t be as easy as staying at a Holiday Inn Express. You don’t just wake up and become a highly qualified educator. It takes years of study, experience, reflection and collaboration to get to a point of excellence. Those who attempted to reduce our status as professionals did not succeed. We know better. All they did was to continue to set up public schools for failure in order to ensure privatization of public education gains momentum in Wisconsin. Education is more than just a job — it is a powerful endeavor to help build better lives.

Matt Renwick is principal of Howe Elementary School in Wisconsin Rapids.


January 1, 2014

D.C. schools gave 44 teachers mistaken job evaluations

Filed under: Educational Practices — millerlf @ 10:59 am

By Nick Anderson, Published: December 23

Faulty calculations of the “value” that D.C. teachers added to student achievement in the last school year resulted in erroneous performance evaluations for 44 teachers, including one who was fired because of a low rating, school officials disclosed Monday.

School officials described the errors as the most significant since the system launched a controversial initiative in 2009 to evaluate teachers in part on student test scores.

Half of the evaluations for the 44 teachers were too high and half too low, said Jason Kamras, chief of human capital for D.C. Public Schools.

Those affected are about 1 percent of about 4,000 teachers in the school system. But they comprise nearly 10 percent of the teachers whose work is judged in part on annual city test results for their classrooms.

Kamras said the school system will leave unchanged the ratings that were too high and will raise those that were too low. He said the school system is seeking to reinstate the fired teacher and will compensate the teacher — whose identity was not revealed — for lost salary.

“We will make the teacher completely whole,” he said.

In addition, Kamras said, three teachers whose ratings are being revised upward will shortly receive bonuses of $15,000 each.

The evaluation errors underscore the high stakes of a teacher evaluation system that relies in part on standardized test scores to quantify the value a given teacher adds to the classroom. The evaluation system, known as IMPACT, has drawn widespread attention since it began under former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. It remains a centerpiece of efforts to raise the performance of long-struggling schools in the nation’s capital — and a flashpoint in the national school-reform debate.

Backers of IMPACT say it is essential to hold ineffective teachers accountable for poor results and reward those who are highly effective. Critics say efforts to distill teaching outcomes to a set of numbers are misguided and unfair.

Elizabeth A. Davis, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, said the disclosure of mistaken teacher ratings for the 2012-13 school year was disturbing.

“IMPACT needs to be reevaluated,” Davis said. “The idea of attaching test scores to a teacher’s evaluation — that idea needs to be junked.”

Davis sent a letter to D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson demanding more information about the errors and the evaluation system.

Kamras said school officials moved to rectify the errors as soon they learned of them from Mathematica Policy Group, the research firm the city hired to crunch numbers used in the evaluations.

“We take these kind of things extremely seriously,” Kamras said. “Any mistake is unacceptable to us.”

The value-added calculations are complex. The first step is to estimate how a teacher’s students are likely to perform on the citywide D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System, based on past test results and other information. Then the predicted classroom average is compared to the actual classroom average. The difference is what school officials call the value that a teacher adds.

The value-added formula applies to English language arts teachers in grades four through 10 and to math teachers in grades four through eight — about 470 instructors in all. Kamras said the faulty calculations were the result of a coding error by Mathematica.

Under IMPACT, all teachers are evaluated based on classroom observations and other metrics. The value-added formula accounts for 35 percent of the evaluation for teachers in affected grades and subjects.

Teachers are given one of five ratings — ineffective, minimally effective, developing, effective or highly effective. Those rated ineffective are subject to dismissal. The same is true for those rated “minimally effective” two years in a row or “developing” three years in a row.

Kamras said that for the 2012-13 school year, 30 percent of DCPS teachers were rated highly effective, 45 percent effective, 19 percent developing, 5 percent minimally effective and 1 percent ineffective.

Of the 22 teachers whose ratings are being raised, Kamras said, three are moving to the highly effective rating; 12 to effective, six to developing and one to minimally effective. The latter is the teacher who was fired mistakenly.

In October, researchers from the University of Virginia and Stanford University who have examined IMPACT reported that its rewards and punishments were shaping the school system workforce, affecting retention and performance. The study found that two groups of teachers were inspired to improve significantly more than others: those who faced the possibility of being fired and those who were on the cusp of winning a substantial merit raise.

Emma Brown contributed to this report.

January 23, 2012

Linda Darling-Hammond on New NCLB Proposals

Filed under: Charter Schools,Educational Practices,NCLB — millerlf @ 8:48 am

Why Is Congress Redlining Our Schools?

Linda Darling-Hammond

January 10, 2012   |     The Nation.

With the nation’s public education system under siege, the need for qualified teachers who are committed to creating exciting and empowering schools is more urgent than ever.

Today a new form of redlining is emerging. If passed, the long-awaited Senate bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) would build a bigger highway between low-performing schools serving high-need students—the so-called “bottom 5 percent”—and all other schools. Tragically, the proposed plan would weaken schools in the most vulnerable communities and further entrench the problems—concentrated poverty, segregation and lack of human and fiscal resources—that underlie their failure.

Although the current draft of the law scales back some of the worst overreaches of No Child Left Behind, the sanctions for failing to make “adequate yearly progress” that have threatened all schools under NCLB are now focused solely on the 5 percent of schools designated as lowest-performing by the states. As we have learned in warm-up exercises offered by the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative, these schools will nearly always be the ones serving the poorest students and the greatest numbers of new immigrants. In many states they will represent a growing number of apartheid schools populated almost entirely by low-income African-American and Latino students in our increasingly race- and class-segregated system.

In the new vision for ESEA, these schools, once identified, will be subjected to school “turnaround” models that require the schools to be closed, turned into charters, reconstituted (by firing nearly half the staff) or “transformed,” according to a complicated set of requirements that include everything from instructional reforms to test-based teacher evaluation. The proposed array of punitive sanctions, coupled with unproven reforms, will increasingly destabilize schools and neighborhoods, making them even less desirable places to work and live and stimulating the flight of teachers and families who have options.

Meanwhile, the most important solutions for these students and their schools are ignored by NCLB and the proposed new bill, as well as by current federal policy in general, leaving their most serious problems unaddressed.


December 12, 2011

Multicultural Curriculum Needed for Students to Connect

Filed under: Curriculum and Instruction,Educational Practices — millerlf @ 9:49 pm


Larry Miller Published in

Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Crossroads section ran a thoughtful article ( about schools’ failures in educating African-American youth. The author, Tamiko Jordan-Obregon of the Milwaukee Center for Leadership Development, addresses the fact that many African-American youth do not connect with curriculum in our schools.

Jordan-Obregon quotes Carter G Woodson about the need for schools to be relevant. She correctly describes how many schools focus on what I call “white presidents’” history and leave African-American history to only passing mention.

Jordan-Obregon suggests that instead of doing a “deep dive” into Shakespeare’s works, African-American children should study the history and culture of African people.

While I fully agree with these concerns, I also know you cannot simply replace the study of, for example, Shakespeare. The canon that students must know to get into and to be successful in college is too often a Eurocentric constructed curriculum. African-American students must know this canon in order to compete.

What we need is a truly multicultural approach. Teachers must learn and invest in the cultures of other people’s children. They must learn the history and culture of the students they teach and connect whatever they’re teaching to the students’ lives. For example, in teaching literature, comparisons can be made between August Wilson’s work and Shakespeare’s. But to do this, teachers must be grounded in works by Wilson or James Baldwin, Alice Childress, Langston Hughes and a host of other African-American authors. As with all curriculum, this work must be engaging, lively and critical.

It is the responsibility of educators to give students a foundation in their community’s cultural and historical development. We can do this while also critiquing the dominant culture and those power relationships. History curriculum should be based in a people’s history that explains the complexity of how we got to where we are today.

The wealth of materials available now offer an great opportunity for teachers to connect what students are studying to their own lives, including the use of popular culture. I learned a lot from Adam Bradley’s Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip-Hop, where he offers a dissection of hip-hop lyrics while comparing them to other forms of poetry. Or take the anthropological study The Birth of African-American Culture by Sidney W. Mintz and Richard Price, which gives a framework for the historical development of African-American culture in the US. These connections can and should be made throughout students K-12 education.

While K-12 schools should absolutely provide courses of African American history and culture (along with other people’s history and culture), they should also bring this curriculum into the established core curriculum. To do this, teachers must be trained in the history and culture of the students they teach. This, by the way, should be the approach in all schools, even where fewer or no people of color reside. At this time, what is taught, and whose history, culture and literature dominates K-12 instruction is far from being multicultural, equal or fair.

December 4, 2011

Privatization of School Food Service: Unhealthy for Kids and Little Cost Savings

Filed under: Educational Practices,MPS,Privatization — millerlf @ 2:07 pm

How the Food Industry Eats Your Kid’s Lunch

Heather Ainsworth for The New York Times

By LUCY KOMISAR  Published: December 3, 2011 NYTimes

An increasingly cozy alliance between companies that manufacture processed foods and companies that serve the meals is making students — a captive market — fat and sick while pulling in hundreds of millions of dollars in profits. At a time of fiscal austerity, these companies are seducing school administrators with promises to cut costs through privatization. Parents who want healthier meals, meanwhile, are outgunned.

Each day, 32 million children in the United States get lunch at schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program, which uses agricultural surplus to feed children. About 21 million of these students eat free or reduced-price meals, a number that has surged since the recession. The program, which also provides breakfast, costs $13.3 billion a year.

Sadly, it is being mismanaged and exploited. About a quarter of the school nutrition program has been privatized, much of it outsourced to food service management giants like Aramark, based in Philadelphia; Sodexo, based in France; and the Chartwells division of the Compass Group, based in Britain. They work in tandem with food manufacturers like the chicken producers Tyson and Pilgrim’s, all of which profit when good food is turned to bad.

Here’s one way it works. The Agriculture Department pays about $1 billion a year for commodities like fresh apples and sweet potatoes, chickens and turkeys. Schools get the food free; some cook it on site, but more and more pay processors to turn these healthy ingredients into fried chicken nuggets, fruit pastries, pizza and the like. Some $445 million worth of commodities are sent for processing each year, a nearly 50 percent increase since 2006.

The Agriculture Department doesn’t track spending to process the food, but school authorities do. The Michigan Department of Education, for example, gets free raw chicken worth $11.40 a case and sends it for processing into nuggets at $33.45 a case. The schools in San Bernardino, Calif., spend $14.75 to make French fries out of $5.95 worth of potatoes.

The money is ill spent. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has warned that sending food to be processed often means lower nutritional value and noted that “many schools continue to exceed the standards for fat, saturated fat and sodium.” A 2008 study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that by the time many healthier commodities reach students, “they have about the same nutritional value as junk foods.”

Monica Zimmer, a Sodexo spokeswoman, said that “much has changed” since those studies, pointing to the company’s support for “nutrition education to encourage young students to eat more fruits and vegetables.”

Roland Zullo, a researcher at the University of Michigan, found in 2008 that Michigan schools that hired private food-service management firms spent less on labor and food but more on fees and supplies, yielding “no substantive economic savings.” Alarmingly, he even found that privatization was associated with lower test scores, hypothesizing that the high-fat and high-sugar foods served by the companies might be the cause. In a later study, in 2010, Dr. Zullo found that Chartwells was able to trim costs by cutting benefits for workers in Ann Arbor schools, but that the schools didn’t end up realizing any savings.

Why is this allowed to happen? Part of it is that school authorities don’t want the trouble of overseeing real kitchens. Part of it is that the management companies are saving money by not having to pay skilled kitchen workers.

In addition, the management companies have a cozy relationship with food processers, which routinely pay the companies rebates (typically around 14 percent) in return for contracts. The rebates have generally been kept secret from schools, which are charged the full price.

Last year, Andrew M. Cuomo, then the New York State attorney general, won a $20 million settlement over Sodexo’s pocketing of such rebates. Other states are following New York and looking into the rebates; the Agriculture Department began its own inquiry in August.

With the crackdown on these rebates, food service companies have turned to another accounting trick. I found evidence that the rebate abuses are continuing, now under the name of “prompt payment discounts,” under an Agriculture Department loophole. These discounts, for payments that are often not prompt at all, are really rebates under another name. New York State requires rebates to be returned to schools, but the Sodexo settlement shows how unevenly the ban has been enforced.

The food service companies I spoke with denied any impropriety. “Our culinary philosophy, as a company, is to promote scratch cooking where possible and encourage variety and nutritionally balanced meals,” said Ayde Lyons, a Chartwells spokeswoman. “We use minimally processed foods whenever possible.”

There are economic and nutritional consequences to privatization. School kitchen workers are generally unionized, with benefits; they are also typically local residents who have children in public schools and care about their well-being. Laid-off school workers become an economic drain instead of a positive force. And the rebate deals with national food manufacturers cut out local farmers and small producers like bakers, who could offer fresh, healthy food and help the local economy.

Children pay the price. Dr. Zullo found that privately managed school cafeterias offered meals that were higher in sugar and fats and made unhealthy snack items — soda, cookies, potato chips — more readily available. The companies were also less likely to use reduced-sugar recipes. Linda Hugle, a retired school principal in Three Rivers, Ore., told me that when her district switched to Sodexo, “the savings were paltry.” She added, “You pay a little less and your kids get strawberry milk, frozen French fries and artificial shortening.”

Advocates who fight for better food face an uphill battle. Dorothy Brayley, executive director of Kids First, a nutrition advocacy group in Pawtucket, R.I., told me she encountered resistance in trying to persuade Sodexo to buy from local farmers. (Sodexo says it does buy some local produce and has opened salad bars in many schools.) Donna D. Walsh, a former school board president in Westchester County, N.Y., told me she worked with a supportive superintendent to get Aramark to stop deep-frying food and to open a salad bar. But after a new superintendent came in, she said, the company went back to profit-driven menus of pizza and bagels.

The federal government could intervene. The Agriculture Department proposed new rules this year that would set maximum calories for school meals; require more fruits, vegetables and whole grains; and limit trans fats.

Not surprisingly, the most committed foes of the rules are the same corporations that make money supplying bad food. Aramark, Sodexo and Chartwells, as well as food processing companies like ConAgra, wrote letters arguing, among other things, that children may not want to eat healthier food.

Any increase in fruit and vegetables might result in “plate waste,” wrote Sodexo. A protein requirement at breakfast, Aramark said, would hamper efforts to offer “popular breakfast items.” Their lobbying persuaded members of Congress to block a once-a-week limit on starchy vegetables and to continue to allow a few tablespoons of tomato sauce on pizza to count as a vegetable serving. Thanks to that cave-in, children will continue to get their vegetables in the form of potatoes for breakfast and pizza for lunch.

One-third of children from the ages of 6 to 19 are overweight or obese. These children could see their life expectancies shortened because of their vulnerability to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Unfortunately, profit, not health, is the priority of the food service management companies, food processors and even elected officials. Until more parents demand reform of the school lunch system, children will continue to suffer.

Lucy Komisar is an investigative reporter and author, who received support from the Investigative Fund, a project of the Nation Institute, for the reporting of this essay.

June 27, 2011

U.S. Teachers’ Hours Among World’s Longest

Filed under: Educational Practices,Teachers,Teaching — millerlf @ 5:10 pm
 June 25, 2011 Wall Street Journal

By Phil Izzo

1,097: Average number of hours U.S. teachers spend per year on instruction.

Students across the U.S. are enjoying or getting ready for summer vacation, but teachers may be looking forward to the break even more. American teachers are the most productive among major developed countries, according to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development data from 2008 — the most recent available.

Among 27 member nations tracked by the OECD, U.S. primary-school educators spent 1,097 hours a year teaching despite only spending 36 weeks a year in the classroom — among the lowest among the countries tracked. That was more than 100 hours more than New Zealand, in second place at 985 hours, despite students in that country going to school for 39 weeks. The OECD average is 786 hours.

And that’s just the time teachers spend on instruction. Including hours teachers spend on work at home and outside the classroom, American primary-school educators spend 1,913 working in a year. According to data from the comparable year in a Labor Department survey, an average full-time employee works 1,932 hours a year spread out over 48 weeks (excluding two weeks vacation and federal holidays).

Despite the amount of time that teachers spend working, student achievement in the U.S. remains average in reading and science and slightly below average in math when compared to other nations in a separate OECD report. That remains a concern as education is one of the most important ways a country can foster long-term economic growth.

“Education is a large item of public expenditure in most countries. At the same time, it is also an essential investment for developing the long-run growth potential of countries and for responding to the fundamental changes in technology and demographics that are reshaping labor markets,” the OECD wrote.

March 16, 2011

ENSJ Antiracist Teaching Conference April 2

Filed under: Educational Practices,Racism,Teaching — millerlf @ 3:07 pm

ENSJ Community,
The annual antiracist teaching conference is fast approaching! Join educators from all over the area and the country Saturday, April 2 for our fourth annual Antiracist/Antibias Teaching Conference. Chicago-area educator David Stovall is providing the keynote this year and lunch once again will be available from Alterra. ENSJ members will facilitate useful workshops on antiracist teaching practices, address our ongoing struggle for educational justice, and respond to the fight for teacher rights and worker democracy in Madison. Together, we can create better learning conditions for our students and better working conditions for our colleagues.
Read descriptions for over twenty of the conference panels here:
Register for the conference by downloading, filling in and mailing this form:
   (please note that the lower early registration cost has been extended to March 24!)
More information about the conference can be found on the ENSJ site here:
Please invite others interested in social and educational justice to the conference by sharing the registration form and directing folks to the site.
We’ll see you April 2!
Thank you,

Royal Brevväxling
for the Conference Program Committee
Antiracist*Antibias Teaching Conference
Educators’ Network for Social Justice
1001 E Keefe Ave
Milwaukee WI 53212

October 16, 2010

Superintendent of Sacramento Schools Gives Different Reform View Than Superintendent’s “Reform Manifesto”

Filed under: Education Policy,Educational Practices,School Reform — millerlf @ 12:43 pm

October 13, 2010, Washington Post-The Answer Sheet

A different vision from a different superintendent

This open letter was written by Supt. Jonathan P. Raymond of the Sacramento City Unified School District. Dated Oct. 7, the message portrays a vision of how to improve schools that is far different from the one presented in the “reform manifesto” signed by 16 school superintendents and chancellors — including Washington D.C.’s Michelle Rhee and New York City’s Joel Klein — and published in The Washington Post. That document is large on rhetoric and empty of substance. Raymond’s vision is a whole lot clearer.
Dear Colleagues:
From magazine covers to movie screens to MSNBC’s Education Nation, public schools are a growing topic of national discourse. This interest is understandable. With economic recovery slow, unemployment high and a barrage of data about how American students stack up against their global counterparts, many across the country worry about the status of public education.

On Saturday, I attended a screening of the documentary “Waiting for Superman” and participated in a panel discussion that followed. The film tells the story of five families fed-up with low-performing schools in their neighborhoods and their attempts to enroll their children in higher-performing charters.

I came away from the movie with an overwhelming sense that we have to stop blaming teachers for problems that have multiple causes, ranging from poor administrative oversight and accountability to a lack of parent engagement. I know how hard teachers work to educate every child and challenge students at their ability level. We need to work equally hard to give our teachers the tools and supports they need to be successful. Let’s stop scapegoating and come together to find solutions that work.

The other takeaway, for me, in “Waiting for Superman,” is the idea that innovation is crucial to improving public schools. This is why charters can be an important part of a district portfolio: Charters have certain freedoms to innovate and those ideas can be borrowed and replicated.

But we have to remember that innovation isn’t exclusive to charter schools.

Last week, 80 educators from across Northern California gathered at Health Professions High School for a site visit and to observe a “salon” session, an innovative, teacher-organized, teacher-led approach to improving student learning.

During a salon, teachers work together to find best practice strategies that all faculty can then apply in their classrooms. At last Monday’s session, teachers collaboratively hammered out what an effective collegiate-level research paper should look like – a desired outcome that creates a standard for the school.

The educators who observed the salon in a fishbowl activity assumed that Health Professions, with its other ground-breaking approaches to high school curriculum, was a charter. In fact, when Health Professions was proposed there was discussion about whether to make it a charter.

It is not. Health Professions is a school at the edge of a federally funded housing project. It serves mostly low-income students (66 percent qualify for a free- or reduced-price lunch) and mostly underrepresented minorities (35 percent African American; 37 percent Latino). And it grew 24 points on the Academic Performance Index last year. Of its 2010 graduates, 100 percent are enrolled in college. Additionally, about a third of those students received a “diploma of excellence,” meaning they put in 100 hours of community service or more during their four years in high school.

If we want to counter the notion that only charters hold the key to the future of public education, we must be willing to embrace successful innovations and push ourselves to do better.

Finally, while charters are an option for some, the overwhelming majority of children in this district attend traditional public schools. These are the schools that serve foster kids and homeless kids, kids whose parents are in jail, kids who themselves have been in jail.

That’s not an excuse for failure. But that’s reality. Those are the kids that come through our doors. To quote one of our teachers, “the real Superman – and Superwoman — is the teacher who educates these kids.”

Waiting for Superman” gets its title from Geoffrey Canada, CEO of the Harlem Children’s Zone, a 97-block area in New York City that includes two respected charter schools. As a kid in the Bronx, Canada was crushed the day he learned that Superman is fictional. Canada says: “I was crying because no one was coming with enough power to save us.”

There is no magic bullet to our problems, no easy answers. But collectively and collaboratively, I believe we have enough power to change the lives of the children we serve. And for that, we all deserve a cape.

Jonathan P. Raymond

August 23, 2010

New York City Progress on Racial Acheivement Gap Fading

Filed under: Educational Practices,Mayoral Control — millerlf @ 8:48 am
August 15, 2010

Triumph Fades on Racial Gap in City Schools

Two years ago, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and his schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, testified before Congress about the city’s impressive progress in closing the gulf in performance between minority and white children. The gains were historic, all but unheard of in recent decades.
“Over the past six years, we’ve done everything possible to narrow the achievement gap — and we have,” Mr. Bloomberg testified. “In some cases, we’ve reduced it by half.”
We are closing the shameful achievement gap faster than ever,” the mayor said again in 2009, as city reading scores — now acknowledged as the height of a test score bubble — showed nearly 70 percent of children had met state standards.
When results from the 2010 tests, which state officials said presented a more accurate portrayal of students’ abilities, were released last month, they came as a blow to the legacy of the mayor and the chancellor, as passing rates dropped by more than 25 percentage points on most tests. But the most painful part might well have been the evaporation of one of their signature accomplishments: the closing of the racial achievement gap.
Among the students in the city’s third through eighth grades, 40 percent of black students and 46 percent of Hispanic students met state standards in math, compared with 75 percent of white students and 82 percent of Asian students. In English, 33 percent of black students and 34 percent of Hispanic students are now proficient, compared with 64 percent among whites and Asians.
“The claims were based on some bad information,” said Michael J. Petrilli, a vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a research group that studies education policy. “On achievement, the story in New York City is of some modest progress, but not the miracle that the mayor and the chancellor would like to claim.”

July 28, 2010

More on Michelle Rhee’s Firing of 241 D.C. Teachers

Filed under: Educational Practices,Michelle Rhee — millerlf @ 9:43 pm

Published on Saturday, July 24, by Valerie Strauss 2010 by The Washington Post

The Problem with How Rhee Fired Teachers

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee was entirely correct when she said that “every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher” in every classroom.

But if Rhee really thinks that her IMPACT evaluation system of teachers is going to get the system there, then she is fooling herself, and everybody else who agrees with her.

And this is a problem not only for 165 teachers she fired Friday after they received poor appraisals under the system, but for the rest of the teaching corps in D.C. public schools who have yet to go under the IMPACT scalpel.

Rhee, tough as ever, fired a total of 241 teachers; the others were let go because they did not have the proper licensing, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind law, my colleague Bill Turque wrote in a Washington Post story Saturday.

It may well be that all 165 teachers fired because of bad evaluations under IMPACT were bad at their jobs, but IMPACT isn’t designed well enough to tell, according to a number of teachers and other educators.

According to Turque, about 20 percent of the District’s classroom teachers — all of them reading and math instructors in grades 4 through 8 — were evaluated on student improvement in scores on the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System, or DC CAS. Those were the only grades and subjects for which there is annual test score data from DC CAS. “Value-added” — a misnomer that ranks with the best of them — will constitute 50 percent of their evaluation.

Judging teachers on the test scores of their students is all the rage in school reform these days — thanks so much, Education Secretary Arne Duncan — but, frankly, this is unconscionable for several reasons, not the least of which is that DC CAS wasn’t designed to evaluate teachers. That’s a basic violation of testing law. Ask any evaluation expert.

Think back to an important test you bombed because you were tired, sick or just got brain freeze. How would you like your pay linked to the results?

But there’s more to the evaluation system than mere test scores, and this makes almost as much or, rather, little sense.

Under IMPACT, all teachers are supposed to receive five 30-minute classroom observations during the school year, three by a school administrator and two by an outside “master educator” with a background in the instructor’s subject.

They are scored against a “teaching and learning framework” with 22 different measures in nine categories. Among the criteria are classroom presence, time management, clarity in presenting the objectives of a lesson and ensuring that students across all levels of learning ability understand the material.

A number of teachers never got the full five evaluations, apparently because a number of master teachers hired to do the jobs quit, according to sources in the school system.

But even if they all were, let’s look closely at this: In 30 minutes, a teacher is supposed to demonstrate all 22 different teaching elements. What teacher demonstrates 22 teaching elements — some of which are not particularly related — in 30 minutes? Suppose a teacher takes 30 minutes to introduce new material and doesn’t have time to show. … Oh well. Bad evaluation.

In a 2009 story, Turque wrote: “IMPACT documents suggest that no nuance will be left unexamined in the 30-minute classroom visits. Observers are expected to check every five minutes for the fraction of students paying attention. Teachers are supposed to show that they can tailor instruction to at least three ‘learning styles’ (auditory, visual or tactile, for example). They can lower their scores by ‘using sarcasm that visibly hurts or decreases the comfort of one or more students.’ Among the ways instructors can demonstrate that they are instilling student belief in success is through ‘affirmation chants, poems and cheers.’ ”

And there’s more, which you can see for yourself here.

IMPACT is actually a collection of 20 different evaluation systems for teachers in different capacities and other school personnel. One thing teachers say it does not do is provide enough support for teachers found wanting to improve.

The overall impact of IMPACT is not only unfair but not likely to do the job it is supposed to do: Root out bad teachers. Some great teachers are likely to be tossed out, and others, who know how to play along when the observers come in but don’t do much when they aren’t, could get a pass.

Of course, every school system should fire bad teachers. But they need a sophisticated and fair system to do that, and so far, D.C. doesn’t have one.

© 2010 The Washington Post

Valerie Strauss writes the Answer Sheet blog for the Washington Post.

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