"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"...no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." – Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Too Many Effective Teachers?


Indiana released an analysis of school staff performance evaluations recently...and some people don't, can't or won't believe the results.

Indiana school board members say teacher ratings unfair
“I find it hard to believe that a system of evaluation where only a handful of people are said to need improvement is accurate or effective,” at-large board member Gordon Hendry said. “Clearly, the system failed.”
State school board member Gordon Hendry is upset because too many teachers in Indiana are doing a good job. His point seems to be that there can't possibly be that many good teachers in Indiana, so the system must be flawed.

In other words...we know that there are bad teachers, but our method of catching them didn't work.

To be fair, Hendry isn't the only board member who questioned the results of teacher evaluations.
Indiana districts that haven’t raised salaries in years could have felt pressure to rate teachers higher to make sure they were eligible for an increase this year, board member Cari Whicker said.

“We have a system set up where it’s punitive,” she said. “There’s a feeling of, we have to give everyone a good score so that people finally get a cost of living adjustment.”
Whicker, a public school teacher, also seems to doubt the results -- at least according to this story. Her attitude seems to be that we've forced schools/principals/evaluators into cheating -- giving teachers higher scores than they deserve -- because educators need a raise.

The implication is that there must be more bad teachers out there. Everyone knows there are more bad teachers, right? All you have to do is read the papers to know that there are bad teachers everywhere...Michelle Rhee says there are. Arne Duncan says there are. Everyone knows it. If our evaluation system didn't catch all the thousands (millions?) of bad teachers out there then there must be something wrong with the evaluation system.

One assumption is that bad teachers are responsible for low test scores, therefore low test scores are proof that there are bad teachers.

The director of a state "reform" group, Stand for Children, a group in favor of privatizing public education, thinks the evaluation system is wrong, too. Why? Since so many kids didn't pass the test it must be because their teachers aren't any good?

Making the grade
The state director of Stand for Children, an education reform group, points to passing rates on ISTEP+ as evidence that Indiana’s new teacher evaluation systems are flawed. Justin Ohlemiller asks how 87 percent of teachers are rated effective or highly effective if one in four students didn’t pass the standardized test.
Since 75% of Indiana's students passed the test only 75% of Indiana's teachers are "good" -- is that it? So where are all the bad teachers?


Isn't it possible that most of the teachers who are in our classrooms are doing a good job? Do there have to be more bad teachers than 13% of our state's teaching staff?

Maybe the bad teachers are among the nearly 50% of teachers who leave the profession within their first 5 years?

Maybe the bad teachers are among the 15% of teachers who leave the classroom every year. Maybe they were fired, were counseled out, were asked to resign, quit, or retired?

The teacher turnover rate is a growing and expensive problem for school systems. In 2011 the turnover rate for teachers was 16.8%...20% in urban schools. Maybe the bad teachers are among the ones leaving.

Finally, I would never claim that there are no bad teachers in Indiana's public schools. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is room for improvement among even the best teachers in the state. We can all improve, no matter what we do.

So maybe some of the bad teachers are the ones who only had 5 weeks of training before they were dumped in a classroom. Maybe some of the bad teachers have alternative licenses and entered their classrooms with content knowledge, but no knowledge of how children learn. Maybe some of the bad teachers received good evaluations because of administrative incompetence.

Maybe we need to quit misusing standardized tests for teacher evaluation and evaluate teachers using something more appropriate.


Maybe there's something else at work here. Glenda Ritz, the Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction, and a National Board Certified Teacher, found an interesting correlation.

7 of 8 Indiana educators effective, state finds
Ritz did raise one alarm – noting when comparing the data by A-F school performance grades, there is an increase in the percentage of educators who fall within the improvement necessary and ineffective categories.

“There is a marked decrease in the percentage of highly effective educators between schools that receive an A and those that receive an F. Thirty-two percent of teachers in A schools are rated as highly effective, in comparison to just 11 percent in schools that received an F,” she said. “Highly effective educators are vital to school turnaround and my Department will be working to address this gap moving forward.”

Locally, in Southwest Allen County Schools only one educator was found ineffective out of 456 staff members. About 92 percent were found to be effective or highly effective.

Fort Wayne Community Schools reported 83 percent effective or highly effective, with 2.6 percent needing improvement and less than 1 percent ineffective.

And Northwest Allen County Schools had about 95 percent effective or highly effective.
So, there are more bad teachers in F schools than in A schools. How did that happen? Are F schools failing because of the bad teachers or because of something else?

What makes a school an A or an F school, anyway? Steve Hinnefeld in his blog, School Matters: K-12 education in Indiana, has some answers.

Indiana school grades align with poverty
Indiana’s A-to-F school grades may say a little about whether schools are effective, but they appear to say a lot more about how many poor children attend the schools.

The 2013 grades, approved recently by the Indiana State Board of Education, track pretty closely with the percentage of children who qualify for free and reduced-price school lunches. The fewer poor kids, the higher the grades, and vice versa.
Not just schools, but school systems, too.

Indiana school corporation grades align with poverty too
The Indiana State Board of Education approved A-to-F grades for public school corporations this week and – no surprise – the grades reflect poverty, just like the grades for individual schools do.

Among the state’s 289 school corporations, most low-poverty corporations got As and Bs. But nearly three-quarters of high-poverty corporations got a grade of C or worse.
We have known for years that the effects of poverty have a huge impact on a child's achievement...much more than their teacher or school. We also know that there are things we can do to offset the effects of poverty.

Instead of trying to blame low test scores on unidentified bad teachers maybe Mr. Hendry, Ms. Whitaker and Mr. Ohlemiller will be willing to help us lobby the governor and state legislature to
  1. reduce class sizes, especially in high poverty areas and in early childhood classrooms
  2. ensure that schools have a full curricula including fine arts and physical education, a full school library staffed by professional, and time for recess.
  3. provide wraparound services for students who need them, such as counselors, nurses, school psychologists, and social workers.
  4. provide age-appropriate preschool and early childhood education without hours and hours of inappropriate tests
  5. require professional preparation for public school teachers including training in pedagogy and child development
  6. fully fund public education
(h/t to CTU)

Teachers get the blame for the failure of politicians, pundits and policy makers to solve the problems associated with America's poverty epidemic. How are we going to fill our classrooms with great teachers if the teaching profession is blamed for all the ills of society? Who will want to teach with no job protections and no professional autonomy? Are teachers the problem, or is it the fact that America leads the developed world in child poverty? Who is accountable for the condition of our schools, the resources they receive, and the neighborhoods the children live in? Diane Ravitch, in Reign of Error, wrote,
...public schools are rooted in their communities. They exist to serve the children of the communities. If they are doing a poor job, the leadership of the school system must do whatever is necessary to improve the schools -- supply more staff, more specialists, more resources -- not close them and replace them with new schools and new names. Accountability must begin at the top, with the leadership of the school system. It is the leadership that has the power to allocate resources and personnel to needy schools, and it is their responsibility to do so.
Accountability begins at the top...I like that. Let's start there. What are the governor, our legislators, and the members of the state school board doing to make learning easier for struggling students...I mean, besides blaming teachers?


All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

Stop the Testing Insanity!


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