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Improving schools by paying teachers to leave

I read about a school principal who disliked saying she was firing staff. She preferred the phrase "freeing up teachers' futures." That is sort of what Hoover Institution economist Eric A. Hanushek is saying we should do with any new school bailout: use it to pay severance packages for ineffective teachers so they can find their true calling elsewhere.

That is one of several provocative suggestions made by Hanushek on Education Week's [bias alert-I am on their board] latest back page commentary, "Cry Wolf! This Budget Crunch Is for Real."

Hanushek is good at being constructively outrageous, like many scholars strolling among the eucalyptus trees in the shadow of Hoover Tower. I gave a rave review last year to his great book with a terrible title, "Schoolhouses, Courthouses, and Statehouses." This new piece continues his habit of waving uncomfortable realities in our faces, even as we face the prospect of major teacher layoffs.

He summarizes his plan for turning school budget cuts and more federal bailout funds into an opportunity to improve the teaching ranks: "The first-best solution, based on several decades of consistent research findings, is to lay off ineffective teachers selectively while letting class sizes drift up a bit," he writes. "When the bailout ends, schools would be in a stronger financial position because the permanent teacher workforce would be reduced by the slightly larger class sizes, and this workforce would be of higher quality."

Hanushek puts his ideas together in a more elegant way than I have, but you get the idea. My first problem with his solution, as he recognizes, is that we are not really sure which teachers are effective and which are not. Most districts have no dependable way to find out.

I asked some Washington area school districts, nationally regarded for their high performance and sophisticated management, what percentage of their teachers were rated satisfactory in the last evaluation. I subtracted the number they gave me from 100 percent to calculate what portion of their teaching ranks could be considered ineffective. The results:

Fairfax County 0.9 percent, Montgomery County 5 percent, Loudoun County 1 percent, City of Falls Church 0.45 percent, Prince William County 1.7 percent. I could not find a school district in the area that admitted to having more than 5 percent unsatisfactory teachers. Most said the figure was closer to 1 percent. Experts tell me this is common throughout the land. I don't believe the numbers.

The evaluations are usually done by principals and subject specialists. I suppose they could be told to identify the bottom 10 percent, as some companies do, and offer them the severance funds, but as Hanushek points out their union representatives might object to that approach.

"The teachers’ unions have opposed such adjustments," he writes. "First, there would be fewer union members. Second, they do not like the idea of making distinctions among teachers based on effectiveness. They prefer a simple rule—'last in, first out,' or LIFO. After all, the heart of the union is the more experienced teacher.

"The unions can often block the selecting-out of ineffective teachers. If they do, the obvious alternative would be using stimulus funds to induce early retirements, that is, moving to 'first in, first out,' or FIFO. The unions often say disdainfully that this is a plan to replace expensive teachers with lower-salaried teachers. And they are exactly correct.

"One of the most consistent education research findings has been that there is no systematic impact of teacher experience past the first two or three years. The average fifth-year teacher is just as effective as the average 25th-year teacher. Under this policy, then, expected achievement would be unaffected, but the wage bill after the . . . stimulus would be smaller.

"To be sure, there are wide differences in teacher effectiveness at all levels of experience, making this plan clearly inferior to using direct information about teacher effectiveness. But if we are unwilling to make quality judgments, we should go to the second-best solution of making decisions that have no average effect on student outcomes but that save money."

Suggestions that older teachers be shown the door often inspire unkind comments on this blog that the Post for the same reason should get rid of me. Hanushek confesses he is two years older, and I just qualified for Medicare. It might be time for both of us to free up our futures.

Hanushek offers four possible outcomes of the school budget crisis: the economy rebounds without a school bailout and all is well, Congress passes a school bailout and the economy rebounds, Congress passes a bailout but refuses to do any more in a still weak economy, and Congress fails to pass the bailout and the economy fails to improve much. He thinks the fourth alternative is the most likely. In that case, he says, schools are most likely to dismiss their shortest serving teachers and keep their veterans, without any attention paid to effectiveness.

This is probably true. But even unions are endorsing some plans to assess teachers more carefully than we have in the past. We won't see much change in this economic downturn, but the next one may inspire, at least in some districts, a Hanushekian response.

Read Jay's blog every day at http://washingtonpost.com/class-struggle.

Follow all the Post's Education coverage on Twitter, Facebook and our Education web page, http://washingtonpost.com/education.


By Jay Mathews  | May 21, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Trends  | Tags:  Eric A. Hanushek, most districts say nearly 100 percent of teachers are satisfactory, no way to determine which teachers are ineffective, school bailout, use stimulus to buy severance packages for ineffective teachers  
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Comments

Thank-you, Jay, for bringing up this issue.
I have noticed a decline over my 25 year career in education in the amount of help administrators are willing to give to struggling teachers and was particularly surprised at the morale lowering process for teachers who were deemed "ineffective". When a colleague told me about the "2-3 years and then no improvements in effectiveness" research I was totally shocked as I believe that most good teachers, like most students, keep learning and need encouragement and training on a continuing basis.

The article states:

"One of the most consistent education research findings has been that there is no systematic impact of teacher experience past the first two or three years."
Really?? Then everything I learned from year 4 of teaching on doesn't count?

What if a teacher changes grade levels or subject areas, does the 2-3 year limit start over? If I teach elementary school and switch to middle school, aren't I somewhat less effective at the new job my first (fourth) year of teaching?

Evaluation training shouldn't be emphasizing that after 2 years a teacher won't change, therefore: "Give an 'ineffective' to that person, they cost too much anyway." They should be teaching the evaluators to look at many different teachers and to look at student work and to talk to students to figure out what is going on. Take a look at the kids at the beginning of the year, then later. Don't take kids with current major problems (dad arrested last night for heading a prostitution ring or a child with known mental illness acting out)as examples of the normal interactions between teacher and students. Also, learn about the best practices for the subject area you are evaluating. If the teacher is an Art teacher teaching 40 students and the usual class size is 26 and you see that many of the school's "frequent flyers" to the office are in the class, consider that that class is going to look different than the English class down the hall with 26 of the same kids with a special education teacher aide helping out.

I agree that ineffective teachers shouldn't be teaching. I think that equating age with ineffectiveness is detrimental. It is extremely bad for education to fire good teachers just because they are older. Unions shouldn't protect teachers who no longer enjoy teaching, but new administrators coming in shouldn't be threatened by good older teachers and use their age against them.

If you need to save money, save money. But equating age or experience with ineffectiveness is really not good for the system. Experience is a good thing. How twisted is it to equate it to ineffectiveness?

Posted by: celestun100 | May 21, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

I asked some Washington area school districts, nationally regarded for their sophisticated management

Does this include DCPS? I have herd ( sic)that their leader is really on top of school management.

Posted by: mamoore1 | May 21, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I agree with celestun100. There are many very experienced teachers who routinely update their skills as a way of staying fresh in the classroom. Methods change or one can find more effective methods. As a public school music teacher with 34 years experience, I felt I needed a little shot in the arm about 6 years ago. I took a 30 credit program in a specific methodology that totally changed the way I function in the classroom. It was the best thing I ever did. Some people are simply motivated to always improve and some aren't. Age has nothing to do with it.

Posted by: musiclady | May 21, 2010 11:31 AM | Report abuse

I don't believe it is difficult to identify ineffective teachers. I know when I have been effective and when (with a different age group and population) I am not effective.
I can also tell when other people are ineffective. I think that 3% or less of ineffective teachers is about right. I do think that there is a lot of subjectivity that goes into evaluations. Jay, do you think that there are many more ineffective teachers than the districts admit to? Why?

Posted by: celestun100 | May 21, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

For celestun100, I suppose this is a matter of taste, and i would need to be more versed in management studies than I am to be sure of this, but i have been on the planet for a long time and find it hard to believe that 97 percent of people in any organization, including schools, are effective.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | May 21, 2010 6:57 PM | Report abuse

Exactly why does this researcher believe that the best of the teaching profession will stay & remain the best while picking up the work load of their laid off colleagues through increased class sizes? Time and again we teachers have said that respect, support, and working conditions are the elements that decide if we stay in the profession or leave. Why exactly would the "best" of us stay under the conditions described? Perhaps some of these educational researchers need to spend more time in a classroom with real students. I'd be happy to volunteer my 8th grade classes. Oh wait, would any of them be considered highly qualified by the USDOE?

Posted by: mauireader | May 21, 2010 8:29 PM | Report abuse

@maurireader
You have a good point. Are the best still the best if they have too many students? It shows that the researchers don't know anything about actual teaching conditions. They also don't seem to care that the kids get less teacher attention.

@Jay Well, maybe you are right, in fact it is hard to believe that any organization has 97 percent effective people, but that is cynical! Thanks for making me laugh! :)

Posted by: celestun100 | May 21, 2010 9:42 PM | Report abuse

Hmm. How come in one paragraph there's a claim that it is hard to distinguish between effective and ineffective teachers, and then a claim a few paragraphs later that there's no increase in effectiveness after 2-3 years of experience?

What is the thing they can tell about in the studies that can't be applied to distinguish between effective and ineffective teachers?

Posted by: jweissmn | May 21, 2010 10:59 PM | Report abuse

This is all about budget. It's hard to believe it has much to do with teacher quality. Who conducted these studies? Who funded them? How do they define "systematic impact" and "effectiveness"? Whose dog is in this witch hunt?

School districts have always had salary structures designed to encourage teachers to quit after about 7 years. These studies sound like they are designed to provide evidence for those who don't want to pay for experience by making it sound like experience is of no value.

Do you think Finland has such a great education system because they get rid of teachers after three years?

Posted by: aed3 | May 21, 2010 11:49 PM | Report abuse

If we widen the definition of "bad" just a tad, I think I actually agree with the concept despite the fact Districts will undoubtedly misuse funds to get rid of just highly paid teachers...

There are days when I feel like contributing to get rid of "toxic" teachers who block necessary change and stand in the way of school progress while overloading the system with referrals after flunking too many African=American boys because they can't deal with them.

I am sure with some variations, this is true in every school. You can start with an evaluation of test scores, but you need to add classroom control, student progress, collaboration with colleagues, and school activities to the mix. I think so many teachers hide their ineffectiveness behind a wall of seeming mediocrity. How sad this is accepted.

But the idea that you peak after a few years is just silly. Do you want the lawyer, doctor or detective with 5 years of experience or do you want more? It's only your kid. Enough said.

Posted by: hotrod3 | May 22, 2010 12:48 AM | Report abuse

Please define "ineffective."

Teacher evaluations are so subjective, that they are a joke. To often, the Principal "grades" you on whether or not they like you....and how important "they think" your subject matter is to standardized testing.

As an outspoken advocate for teachers in my district, I have often received lower evaluations than I know I deserved, and even been blocked by the Principal from serving as "Teacher of the Year." I started teaching in 1970 and as an art teacher, I have never had a Principal who was a former art teacher....and the evaluation instrument is the same as the math teacher's.

The research I have read states that the average length of time it takes for a teacher to reach their full potential is after 7/8 years. If it is after 2/3 years...what are all these professional development classes about because obviously we are too set in our ways to learn anything new, right? It would also make sense that salaries top out at 3 years....not 30 years.

Finally, we as a society are placing way too emphasis on youth. To think, much less say, that just because you're young, you are a better teacher is ignorant. What about the career switcher program that many "experts" promote?

Many of humankind's greatest ideas and work came from philosophers, artists, scientists, poets, and others after years and years of experimentation and intellectual formulation.

In our attempts to improve education, we are so interested in finding someone to point a finger at, we are overlooking the obvious. We want to take a magic wand, wave it...and have everything better. Well, that magic wand has some kinks that need to be straightened out first. We are quick to blame the worker bees and ignoring how and why decisions are made and how they affect teaching and learning.

Posted by: ilcn | May 22, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

I'm a second year teacher (won't say at what school). I have 2 BAs and am working on an MA. I teach social studies and work incredibly hard to be effective.

Notice the "I" in the previous statement. I have no help from administration - there is no longer any money for mentor teachers or professional development days. Standardized tests? The only way I know how my students did is by going through the results by myself - our district cannot afford a "numbers cruncher". Observations? I've been observed 4 times over the past 2 years - most have lasted a maximum of 20 minutes. Feedback? It's present but unspecific. Benchmarks? We don't have any district-wide ones - I have created my own curriculum and benchmark system.

While my experience is extreme, I think it is a legitimate representation at how little accountability there is in many districts (particularly rural ones). No one in our district is qualified to say whether or not I am effective - because administrators have never really seen me teach!! And so I get distinguished reviews (I do actually think I deserve them) - not because admin legitimately thinks I'm distinguished, but because they don't have the evidence to prove otherwise. If they were to give me a low rating (and I were to fight them on it), the lack of accountability and substantiation at our school would be thrust into the light of day.

If we are ever to take a long, serious look at teacher effectiveness, then we need a huge re-commitment to professional development and admin oversight - and not just of test scores but of classroom practices. Until districts are willing to invest money, time, and manpower in this issue, we will continue to see an unusually high number of "satisfactory" teachers.

Posted by: mtnmeyer2 | May 22, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

"The average fifth-year teacher is just as effective as the average 25th-year teacher," you quote Hanushek saying.

Really? 27 year olds are as likely to identify and remediate rare talents and disabilities as those with a dozen more years of reflective experience? As able to evaluate ways of implementing new policies, identify the balance of benefits and costs of now proceedures? As helpful to peers and supervisors in management of the school and new mandates?

What Hanushek knows is that in the swirl of error variance about mean classroom test scoreson basic tests, he cannot reliably distinguish teachers of some versus considerable experience.

What I will grant Hanushek is that absent available information to teachers on the outcomes of their own and colleagues practices, increasing years of experience isolated in the classroom cannot be as professionally productive as they might be. Treating the students as subjects and teachers as experimenters for the moment, there could be considerable improvement in teachers learning how to be more effective treaters of a wider diversity of students.

Posted by: incredulous | May 22, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

What most people forget is that teachers are dealing with a different set of students each year. So a teacher could be outstanding one year because she/he has students who will learn everything then the following year have a bunch of bozos. The saying goes you can lead a horse to the trough but you can't make the horse drink. Another words the students must want to learn. I don't care if you put the best teacher in front of the classroom the students must want to learn. Are we now gettting so complacent that we will throw the bath water out with the baby. The classroom is a dynamic setting and changes from year to year. If we continue to batter the teachers they will quit the system. Let's support teachers by having our children listen to the teachers. Friends it starts in the home and currently we have no home. Parents have abdicated their responsibilty. The school system can not solve societies ills.
To both of the writers it is easier to complain and write when one hasn't been there.

Posted by: bncfirme | May 22, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

Aside from the truly ineffective teachers, It is troubling to read articles like this that give the impression older workers are not wanted nor worth their while.....it's not said in so many words, but that is the overall impression.
Some years ago (15?)the Post ran an article about the decaying bridges in the area and how expensive it would be to fix them; not only that,the bridges were old enough that no one had thought to retain a few 'oldtimer bridge builders' who knew how to solve some of the more unusual problems - problems that only experienced bridge builders could solve.

To make this an analogy for the teaching profession,it is important to not just retain some of the old hands, but to give some due respect to that experience and knowledge. We have all stood on the shoulders of those who have gone before.

As to the money issue, this is my proposal:
Retain a select number of teachers who are retirement age PART TIME; this would allow a school to have the best of both worlds; still be able to access the wisdom and experience of teachers who may be ready to cut back their hours, and free up some hourly time to hire new teachers who will be needed in any event.

Employers, and especially the public education system,don't like to deal with the complexities of part-time workers, but in these difficult economic times,especially when we can use all the brainpower we can get, it's time to re-evaluate that model.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | May 22, 2010 1:33 PM | Report abuse

Comments on this thread cover several points on the spectrum. But the thrust seems to be: it is still very unclear what effective/ineffective is. (Reminds me of our last president saying everything is "hard.")

So, let's dither years more coming up with a rating system. Every "out" known to womankind and mankind must be named and clung to in order to avoid defining all the things that keep educational activity by teachers during school hours from being measured, not to mention defined as a set of responsibilities.

The "three percent" ineffective notion is breathtaking in its naivite and self-serving slant. And people wonder why so many parents look sideways at so many teachers?

Why not consider--as a hypothesis--a normal, bell-shaped curve. Say, 20 percent excellent and 20 percent ineffective in many occupations. Does this sound too generous or too conservative for DCPS teachers?

To commenter "bncfirme": ok, I accept all of your gratuitous, familiar points; now, what are You going to do--this year--as a teacher in light of all that?

Posted by: axolotl | May 22, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

The "three percent" ineffective notion is breathtaking in its naivite and self-serving slant. And people wonder why so many parents look sideways at so many teachers?
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Is it any wonder that teachers look askance at people who denigrate their acumen while misspelling "naivete"?

Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 22, 2010 3:01 PM | Report abuse

oh, Mrs. Calabash11--Thanks for the correction. Look at the comments of self-identified teachers on Washington Post blogues and the other ones. Most suffer serious problems with grammar, syntax, usage and other flaws. Keep your eyes on the big issues. And it is nice to hear from an 85-year old Jimmy Durante fan.

Posted by: axolotl | May 22, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

oh, Mrs. Calabash11--Thanks for the correction. Look at the comments of self-identified teachers on Washington Post blogues and the other ones. Most suffer serious problems with grammar, syntax, usage and other flaws. Keep your eyes on the big issues. And it is nice to hear from an 85-year old Jimmy Durante fan.
---------
Not nearly 85, honey. And it's "blogs". Get a dictionary and use it for something besides a doorstop.

Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 22, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

Axolotl the intellectual says: To commenter "bncfirme": ok, I accept all of your gratuitous, familiar points; now, what are You going to do--this year--as a teacher in light of all that?
____________

Even at the advanced age of at least 4 decades away from being 85, I'm aware that one doesn't capitalize "you" unless it's someone's name or is found at the beginning of a sentence.

Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves, axo. You don't have the chops to focus on the "big issues" if you aren't even able to follow simple rules of usage.

If you want to criticize teachers, be sure you aren't living in a glass house.

Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 22, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are (another Durante reference--you proved I may be older than you): you embed your reputation in thinking small if a capitalization faux pas fouled me out. I hope (but don't expect) that you agree with Hanushek's conclusions, in which case, you might be, say, 15 years or so past your prime.

Posted by: axolotl | May 22, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are (another Durante reference--you proved I may be older than you): you embed your reputation in thinking small if a capitalization faux pas fouled me out. I hope (but don't expect) that you agree with Hanushek's conclusions, in which case, you might be, say, 15 years or so past your prime.
-----
Even if I were "past my prime", I'd be a far better educator than you'll be at the top of your game, dear.

Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 22, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

axolotl, even if I were a doddering crone, I'd be a better educator than you'd be at the top of your game. Your assumption that someone with more experience and education is simply too old to be a master teacher is beyond idiotic. You have nothing in the way of facts to bolster such an argument, and your own writing indicates you're not exactly qualified to judge anyone else's capabilities in any field.

Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 22, 2010 8:04 PM | Report abuse

The concept that teachers are not any more effective after 20 years than after 5 would seem to be the same as with other profession. Are lawyers no more effective after 20 years? Doctors? Managers?

I personally think that about 10% of teachers are ineffective, a similar number to other professions. As for the hypothesis of a bell curve, that would assume a normal distribution which is not usually the case in these situations.

Posted by: williamhorkan | May 22, 2010 9:13 PM | Report abuse

like to know the science behind ""One of the most consistent education research findings has been that there is no systematic impact of teacher experience past the first two or three years." i know in my case it is non science. my test scores are consistently 5 to 10 percent above my colleagues with 10 years less experience. i am not an exception. maybe redo the research now that we are having test scores tracked to our classes. another example of age discrimination. sad!

Posted by: agra09 | May 22, 2010 10:18 PM | Report abuse

Axolotl believes that you can accurately measure teacher effectiveness. Teachers aren't designing, building or selling widgets. Any acknowledgment of the circumstances which affect learning outcomes are viewed as "outs" and excuses. Too many management seminars for you, Axolotl.

I wonder what "axolotl" does for a living?
By the sheer volume of her posts one might conclude that she gets paid to evangelize.

She has an opinion about everything concerning education and especially teacher effectiveness; however, her espoused perspective makes it seem as though she has no clue about the reality of everyday teaching in a classroom.

The public is duped. The corporate model works great for investors, but not so well for workers. The public is being fed the line that educator are somehow a new aristocracy because they have (relative) job security and benefits that have been stolen from most other workers except those that have a key to the executive wash room.

Don't believe the hype.

Posted by: stevendphoto | May 22, 2010 10:19 PM | Report abuse

Mrs. C. -- if you are a professional educator, I would certainly hope you would be a better one than me. We parents and taxpayers pay for you do you your job. We do other things.
But we don't have to hang around classrooms a lot to know if teachers are doing an effective job. Whoops, there's that word again that offends so many teachers. They really don't like to be measured, by anyone in any way. Problem is, almost all teachers on this blogue shun taking any responsibility for teaching outcomes, and have the longest list of excuses why they can't be held accountable. Again, this attitude generates a lot of the deep concern the public has about teachers.
stevendphoto: no, the public is not going to cease requiring that teacher effectiveness be measured just because it is hard to do. Should we stop doing it for healthcare, engineers, lawyers, garbage collectors, oil companies? As an American worker, get used to being judged, disciplined, having no lifetime job, being competed with, and having to work in an imperfect world.

Posted by: axolotl | May 23, 2010 7:51 AM | Report abuse

Oh, and Mrs. C --read Hanushek's work. It is very solid and clear and respected on the subject of teacher experience. I know it hurts, but that is not the point. It is just something school officials, parents and citizens and taxpayers need consider when it comes to recruiting, judging the effectiveness of, and paying the generous compensation given to teachers.

Posted by: axolotl | May 23, 2010 7:55 AM | Report abuse

Gee, there's that word again, axo: "blogue". Some student you are. You've already been corrected on the spelling once, yet you seem to require remediation. Perhaps you suffer from a learning disability. If I were you, I'd look into that.

I've read Hanushek's work. "It is...respected on the subject of teacher experience," you say. By whom? Those who don't actually teach? You? Sorry, you're not qualified to decide such matters.

You are simply incorrect in your silly assertion that teachers don't wish to have their effectiveness measured. Any teacher worth his or her salt values the MEANINGFUL feedback that comes from MEANINGFUL measures of effectiveness. Pretending that test scores are an adequate measure of effectiveness is absurd. If you can identify precisely what you consider effective teaching, please go ahead and do so. Why not tell everyone how you plan to measure it? How will you be objective and still take into account the factors that have significant bearing on the "outcomes" you mention? Do you have the secret formula? Why hide your light under a bushel, then? Spill it.

Oh, and as for the "generous" salaries (that's what really sticks in your craw, after all), let me ask you: what do you do? What are your degrees? What do you expect to earn after, say, 2 decades of work in your profession, after you've earned an advanced degree?

Now, just in case you've forgotten again, repeat after me: it's "blog", short for "weblog", honey.

Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 23, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Axo the briliant: Mrs. C. -- if you are a professional educator, I would certainly hope you would be a better one than me. We parents and taxpayers pay for you do you your job. We do other things.
But we don't have to hang around classrooms a lot to know if teachers are doing an effective job.
---------
By the way, sweetie, it's "better one than I", just for your further edification. And it appears you have some difficulty with reading comprehension. You claim that "we don't have to hang around classrooms a lot to know if teachers are doing an effective job." Is that so? Then why did Jay say that "My first problem with his solution, as he recognizes, is that we are not really sure which teachers are effective and which are not. Most districts have no dependable way to find out."?


Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 23, 2010 11:42 AM | Report abuse

One of my Montgomery County colleagues who teaches in Potomac commented: "One of my team mates is an incredible teacher. She's one of the most effective teachers I've ever seen. I wonder if she would still be effective if she taught in the ghetto in Baltimore City?"

Interesting observation. There are too many variables that affect one's effectiveness in the classroom. It doesn't mean that one stops trying to become more effective, however. One advantage to being an experienced teacher is that one learns what not to waste their time doing. One learns what efforts give the biggest bang for the buck, so to speak. The first few years of teaching are often spent trying different things in the classroom to find out what works. After a while you have a better sense of what to do and what not to do. Perhaps this is why some researchers say that it takes 3 years before a teacher can really stand on their own in the classroom.

I would suggest that experience for teacher is looked down upon simply because it tends to be more expensive. Experience in other professions is prized. If teachers did not receive some sort of pay differential for experience, no one would be able to afford to go into the profession. I did the math for my starting salary. If I only received COLA's and no experience step increases, after 34 years, I would make about what a first year teacher makes. I would not be able to afford a home or pay for my kids' college. My salary, for a family of 4 would barely be above the line of poverty for the area I live in.

Who would teach under these circumstances? The fact is that good experienced teachers not only have a lot to offer in the classroom, they have a lot to offer to their less experienced colleagues. This is as it should be.

Posted by: musiclady | May 23, 2010 11:48 AM | Report abuse

I assert that it is fairly easy for either an educator or a parent to gauge whether or not a teacher is doing a "good" job; however, measuring effectiveness is an entirely different concept. It's pretty easy to tell if a teacher is organized, knows their subject matter content and relates to the students by observing a classroom's environment and interactions for a few minutes. The problem is that "good" teaching doesn't always translate into "successful" teaching; there's the rub. Look at the test scores from a mainstream class and an accelerated class taught by the same teacher. Surprise, surprise, the teacher's accelerated class will outperform her mainstream students every time. That's why unions resist tying evaluations to test scores. The statistical analysis of "value added" measures is just smoke and mirrors. Now I see why Axolotl posts so frequently; it's fun to argue even when you know you're not winning any converts. I am having fun writing this even though I know that only the "choir" will accept my assertions.

Posted by: stevendphoto | May 23, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

@stevendphoto

The choir consists of teachers. They agree with you and you happen to be correct. Good job!

I would suggest that if only the Axotls of the world post, then the rational opinions won't be heard.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 23, 2010 4:03 PM | Report abuse

I second celestun's comment. The disgruntled axolotls of the world will carp about every dime they pay in taxes and criticize all whose jobs are paid for by those monies (and will consistently and conveniently ignore the fact that teachers are hardly exempt from paying taxes themselves). Predictably, they always pretend to know all about teaching and teachers simply because they once spent time in a classroom. I suspect axolotl also tries to pretend she's knowledgeable about medicine and the career of a physician because she's been a patient.

Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 23, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

The more I think about this article and its origins, the more troubled I become.

I believe I became more effective with experience but maybe a little less energetic. However, I also became more cynical.

Years and years of no pats-on-the-back or "thank you's" for a job well done has taken its toll. Years and years of incompetent Principal's has also taken its toll along with a bureaucracy that listens to no one in the classroom and considers being placed back into a classroom a demotion.

Years and years of hat-in-the-hand begging for a piddly salary increase becomes tiresome...

When being, an advocate for better working conditions and respect for teachers gets you branded as "hating children," eventually takes its toll...

Seeing colleagues bullied, takes its toll...

Being a member of a pretend union that has growing membership as its only goal, takes its toll....

For sure, hypocrisy takes its toll....if that translates into ineffective, then school divisions have no one to blame but the person sitting in the Superintendent's office, state and local politicians, the media, and taxpayers. The person sitting at the classroom desk, minus the apple, is only doing what they were told to do.

Posted by: ilcn | May 24, 2010 7:35 AM | Report abuse

The 5-year factor is no surprise to compensation managers in the "real world."
For decades, companies subject to market forces have utilized salary ranges that generally assume employees add little more value to the organization after 5-7 years in the job. This "assumption" is supported by real world research, based on studies of employee performance and development. So what compensation managers do is give employees larger merit increases for the first five years or so, then slow them down once they reach the 5-year "control point" (and stop them when they reach the top of the salary range). This is standard practice in most businesses (although there are many variations and alternatives out there).

This is completely consistent with Hanushek's conclusions, and counters the only model used by public education, which assumes (without any scientific research to back it) that employees get better every year for infinity. This single-model compensation structure is especially counter-intuitive when you consider how valueless most professional development really is and how little recertification requirements actually add to performance.

If teachers really think about it, they experience this with student performance. If we graded students the way we pay teachers, then we would presume that every student would continue to increase their grade average forever. In other words, even though we define mastery as a 100, this would make it possible for students to add 5% or so to their grade every semester or year or whatever forever, even though once they reach 100 we deem them as having reached their full mastery. No teachers awards a student an average of 556 based on a 100 point scale.

Teachers risk being disingenous by declaring themselves as capable of infinitely continuous performance growth, based on both science and behavior: research doesn't support it and the "real world" knows this, and less than 25% of all teachers believe they need additional development once they get into the job.

Posted by: JDunning | May 24, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

So you think that no worker will ever continue to improve past a certain point? What research supports this? You and others claim there is such research, but I have seen none of you produce a link to any. Can you provide one?

I don't think anyone is saying that teachers "continue to improve every year for infinity". What they ARE saying is that assuming that a teacher can't or doesn't improve after 5-7 years simply based on what the business world believes is simply not the case. I know I'm a far more effective teacher than I was at 27 or 30. I have studied various approaches to teaching my subject, and continue to attend workshops, observe other teachers, and glean new ideas. My teaching now bears no resemblance at all to that of my early years.

I would guess that the jobs you're describing are largely "churn and burn" entry-level positions, such as those in outside sales. Those jobs have little in common with teaching and drawing parallels between them is not valid.

Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 24, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I would also like to see the source of your claim that 25% of teachers believe they don't need additional development once they're hired. Where does that number come from? And does it take into account the kind of teacher development that is available and/or required? Teachers become disillusioned when the courses they are required to take have no relationship to the subjects they teach and do little or nothing to improve their skills.

Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 24, 2010 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Oh, Mrs. C., we can hear you braying in the stall from down the hall, correcting papers and asserting you are the best. Love it! It is easy to guess what parents' and kids' take is on you. You could have been great, but you're a legend in your own mind, a gasbagged know-it-all, who has every reason to feel insecure in your mind. But indeed you are above the DCPS average in a number of respects, and you should stay, even if your Impact ratings are low. We need more of you to do the educating that others may not be doing. Hooray for Mrs. C!! (BTW, the Hanushek research is revered at HGSE, Vanderbilt, Stanford and Columbia TC. And it is a virtual bible at big systems around the country. Many smaller ones, too. )

Posted by: axolotl | May 24, 2010 12:38 PM | Report abuse

It may be a virtual bible to some. However, arguing that teachers are ineffective because they are expensive is dishonest.

Schools with high turnover rates have problems keeping experienced teachers. Are they somehow better off when their good, experienced teachers move on to better places?

Experience matters in the classroom. "Research" that says people don't improve after 2-3 years is a ridiculous claim.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 24, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

I am a better teacher now, 29 years in, than I was a the beginning. Like baseball players and many other athletes though, I sometimes have a better or worse year.

If you want to know who the best teachers are in any school ask 50 students, 10 parents and 10 colleagues. You'll have a list of names that will overlap dramatically. This is the "knowable but unquantifiable" that is evident in such certainties as Shakespeare being a greater writer than Zane Grey.

This trick of asking 50 students 10 parents and 10 colleagues who the worst teachers are doesn't work as well (though it works somewhat) because some weak teachers really do work well with some kids and so there is wider variation.

Posted by: dmcmahon1 | May 24, 2010 3:24 PM | Report abuse

To add to dcmahon1's point, I would guess also that some very good teachers are tough graders. If teachers give low grades, sometimes they might get ranked as "worst" teachers by parents and students.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 24, 2010 3:28 PM | Report abuse

I, too, am curious about the statement made that 25% of teachers feel they don't need additional staff development. I've taught for 34 years and most of my colleagues, regardless of their age or level of experience, feel that they can learn more in order to become more effective. The problem for many of us is that many administrators will make their teachers attend staff development sessions that have absolutely no relevance to their content area or experienced teachers are forced to sit through trainings they've already had. This is a waste of time.

Most smart people know what they don't know and they search out staff development in those areas which they believe will make them more effective in the classroom. To suggest that staff development past the 5 year mark has no effect is just not true.

I know that I studied three summers to learn a particular teaching method in my content area which literally changed my classroom performance for the better and this was when I had almost 30 years of experience!

I think what frustrates most teachers is the assumption that if the kids aren't performing up to par then the teachers need to be retrained. This is a simplistic solution and it may not be what is needed in a particular situation. There are just too many variables which affect student achievement.

Posted by: musiclady | May 24, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

I want to go a step further regarding Mrs. Calabash. Especially in light of the early departure of some principals, Mrs. C should be appointed to a suitable principal position. She could whip any school into shape.

Posted by: axolotl | May 24, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like Mrs. Calabash really hit a nerve!

Posted by: d_minier | May 24, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Don't be sore, axolotl.

Had I sent out a notice with the errors your posts contained, I'd have been torn a new one by parents who think teachers are ignoramuses who don't have the slightest command of the English language. How can you be annoyed when your posts receive the same treatment you and your ilk would give mine?

If you can't take it, don't dish it out.

Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 24, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse

Mrs. C.--for your best view of DCPS teacher English skills, read just about any entry in a blogue called the Washington Teacher, where a lot of heartfelt, good info is posted. You obviously have a higher standard of English than your colleagues. And I mean what I say: you really should take over one of those empty principal slots. If nothing else, you would proofread and correct the English of all teachers in the school. And while that may not be the big-picture need of DC public education needs....it would be a nice contribution from you just the same. If you can coach the mentor the teachers, rather than rule them, as is the DC tradition, that would be nice, too. I hope you are interested, because your name is going into the hat.

Posted by: axolotl | May 25, 2010 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Whatever gave you the idea that I teach in DCPS? I don't, and have no desire to be a principal. (The idea that principals spend their days proofreading and correcting what teachers write is really pretty funny, though.)

Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 25, 2010 9:19 AM | Report abuse

Mrs. C -- Kep up the gud work,, nontheles.

Posted by: axolotl | May 25, 2010 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I love this discussion. It is clear that we are stuck for the moment with measuring teacher effectiveness by value added measures, mostly rise of test scores. Thoughtful people are looking at other ways, like the English Inspectorate system, but that will take a while to jell. The discussion pushes me further away from the notion of putting great weight on individual teacher effectiveness and toward whole school effectiveness, with the principal given power to hire or dismiss all staff, and be vulnerable to removal if significant gains don't occur in her school. Her staff would share in any rewards that come from the whole school's effectiveness increasing, by whatever measure we decide works best.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | May 25, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I read an idea on a blog the other day. Why not reward principals who lower teacher turnover rates? That would give principals a concrete reason to keep their good teachers and to create collegial atmospheres where teachers can share with one another about what works.

I think if schools with at-risk kids had stable teaching staffs we might see more improvements.

But the way things are right now in urban education, you have to be a saint(extremely altruistic) to want to work there. Poverty, crime, low attendance, families in crisis and incredible pressure about test scores. I can handle all the poverty issue problems, but when you add non-supportive principals and school district leaders to the mix, it is a total turn off.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 25, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

This is a great column Mr. Matthews although the going back/forth between Axoloti and Mrs. Calabash11 was pretty interesting as well.

Regarding the topic -- My company recently offered a similar package to our staff. Many took advantage of the buyout, to include those the company wanted to release. We also lost seasoned employees as well but they were replaced immediately by those of equal caliber and qualifications. We currently have a more unified workforce because those who were doing the bare minimum, while others are busting their A** are gone.

But the back/forth between these two very engaged individuals provides another example of what’s happening in our schools. Involved Parents v. Teachers. I am so very happy to see that parents are speaking up for students and their rights to be provided an effective education.

And also I agree with Axoloti that teachers that post will not provide solutions nor what they are willing to be held accountable to provide their students.

Involved parents question, inquire, and probe when it comes to our kids and what they are suppose to receive in classrooms. We do our part at home. We send our kids to school to be educated.


I cannot give my employer a list of reasons why I'm not an effective employee according to the standards my organization expects exemplify. The list of reasons will only permit an early exit from payroll.

We (parents) truly want and are willing to work with teachers because next to our children, we (parents) are the stakeholders.

Teachers do not, I repeat do not, like to be challenged or questioned when it comes to curriculum or methods of instruction.

Teachers do not, I repeat again, do not, like when parents are more aware of public education policy/procedures then they are themselves, especially when it comes to what they are suppose to be providing students, per school system policy and procedure.

When defense mechanisms kick in instead of problem solving resolutions relating to our children and challenges within classrooms, the possibility of productive dialogue and/or solution becomes nonexistent.

And the kids are the ones who loose...again.

Posted by: TwoSons | May 25, 2010 2:40 PM | Report abuse

I think Jay's point about measuring the effectiveness of schools as opposed to trying to find the effectiveness of individual teachers has real value. In fact, the principal being responsible for the faculty and staff composition is how virtually every private school does work. Education is a shared responsibility in good schools--vertically within departments and horizontally along age-appropriate and developmentally appropriate lines with everyone talking to each other about pedagogy, content, and kids. Now, about those pesky socio-economic factors and home-related issues....

Posted by: dmcmahon1 | May 25, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

In districts where the principals have the power to hire they usually pick people who have similar visions or philosophies of education. Everything might still be top down, but you wouldn't even notice it because you share the basic ideas about what needs to be done and how to do it. New teachers are also finding out about the principal and school at the interview and can tell if it will be a good fit.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 25, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

As a parent in a high-performing school district, I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that tenure is the enemy of quality education. My son has had some wonderful teachers, most who are fine, and more than a few who are just phoning it in. (I haven't noticed any correlation with age or experience.) Rather than ranting, I will share one small example: my son struggles with math and got a D on the last report card. I emailed his teacher to ask how he was doing and if he had turned in all his assignments. No answer. The next week, I emailed her again, with the same questions phrased differently. Third week, I emailed her again and she finally answered. Too bad about the time lost, I guess.
That sort of "dropping the ball" would be seriously frowned on in any other profession! Unfortunately, the same thing has happened to other parents I know (with other teachers). Perhaps the possibility of losing one's job would promote more accountability.
I'd love to hear what the educators here have to say about this sort of thing -- and how I should handle it in the future.

Posted by: karen2311 | May 25, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

karen2311 says: "I'd love to hear what the educators here have to say about this sort of thing -- and how I should handle it in the future."

As a teacher, I find the fact that your son's teacher failed to return your emails to be appalling. What level of experience did this teacher have? Who knows why this has occurred, but there is really no excuse for it. I also don't believe that tenure can be blamed for this type of thing. Teachers are evaluated on a number of things and how they relate to the community beyond the students themselves is one area that is considered. The bottom line is that if an administrator is aware that the teacher is not doing their job and that it is a pattern of behavior, then that information can be used in the teacher's evaluation. Contrary to popular belief, tenured teachers can be fired or asked to resign if there is documented evidence of the teacher not doing their job properly. That is part of a school based administor's job. Tenure just guarantees the teacher due process.

Experienced teachers typically know that getting parents on their side is very important in helping students achieve at higher levels. Students know when their parents and teachers work together and will typically respond positively. Quite honestly, I've had a teacher or two of my kids behave the same way. I would suggest that this is not typical. I would also bring your concerns to the administration.

TwoSons--Teachers don't mind being questioned about practices in the classroom. They don't like being attacked. What is frustrating is when someone thinks that the methods for instruction in all content areas are the same. As a music teacher, I find it annoying when people expect me to use the same instructional methods as the math or reading teacher. Administrators often do this because they know little about my content area.

What I do appreciate is when parents, as stakeholders, communicate their concerns with me and advise me of any special needs their child may have that will help their child to achieve at a higher level.

Posted by: musiclady | May 25, 2010 6:39 PM | Report abuse

Two Sons: Teachers do not, I repeat do not, like to be challenged or questioned when it comes to curriculum or methods of instruction.
-----------
Don't you think that's a bit of an exaggeration? Do you really think ALL teachers are defensive when a parent asks them about the curriculum or the approach they use? I'm thrilled when a parent asks me about how I teach a particular element of my subject and shows an interest in helping his/her child improve performance in my class! What I don't appreciate is a parent who has no experience teaching and understands little or nothing about the subject I teach, or bases his assumptions about methods on the way HE was taught 20 years ago, but proceeds to tell me I'm doing it all wrong.

Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 25, 2010 7:06 PM | Report abuse

And Jay, while your idea of evaluating whole-school effectiveness sounds great, look at the demographics of the individual schools that perform best on standardized tests, which is the only measure that counts at the moment. Almost invariably, the schools that consistently perform well are in areas of the districts in which parents are well-educated and relatively wealthy. There may be some outliers, but by and large, the wealthier the school's "clientele", the better the students do on standardized tests.

Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 25, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Thank you for your comment musiclady.

I do agree that teachers shouldn't be or feel attacked by a parent or administrator.

I'm speaking about experiences that occur in a classroom such as yelling at students, making demeaning statements to kids or create an educational environment that makes a child (or parent) feel unreasonable levels of anger and frustration.

If a child needs help, help should be provided. If a child consistently does not do well in certain areas or curriculum then a teacher should not only reach out to the parent, but especially thier student.

It's VERY rare that classwork or test scores come home in a timely manner anymore especially in ES schools. By the time it does, the class has moved on to the next chapter.

Our CHILDREN NEED eachers to provide effective education.

Parents are DEPENDING on teachers to the same.

Posted by: TwoSons | May 25, 2010 7:16 PM | Report abuse

**corrections, please***

Our CHILDREN NEED Teachers to provide effective education.

Parents are DEPENDING on teachers to provide the same.

Posted by: TwoSons | May 25, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

Two Sons, I don't know where your children attend school, but I can tell you that every night, most of the ES teachers I know take home papers to grade so they can return them in a timely manner. But many teachers are simply overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks that must be completed every day, especially when they have little planning time in which to accomplish them. Some teachers I know receive as many as 12 to 15 e-mails daily, must spend a planning period attending a meeting to discuss what interventions should be used with one of their 27 students, and so on. Your child is not the only one in that teacher's class. You are not the only parent he/she must respond to.

Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 25, 2010 7:35 PM | Report abuse

Two Sons: Teachers do not, I repeat do not, like to be challenged or questioned when it comes to curriculum or methods of instruction.
-----------
Don't you think that's a bit of an exaggeration? Do you really think ALL teachers are defensive when a parent asks them about the curriculum or the approach they use? I'm thrilled when a parent asks me about how I teach a particular element of my subject and shows an interest in helping his/her child improve performance in my class! What I don't appreciate is a parent who has no experience teaching and understands little or nothing about the subject I teach, or bases his assumptions about methods on the way HE was taught 20 years ago, but proceeds to tell me I'm doing it all wrong.

******

Ms. Calabash, your proving my point in that you seem to be very closed minded to anyone, parents included, that does not think your way is the only (correct) way.

Sometimes shared ideas can benefit all listeners, albeit teacher or parent that benefit students.

Sometimes shared observations by a parent that may have occurred in another school could be helpful as well.

Did I say ALL teachers? No I did not.

There also seems to be a contradiction...teachers lately have expressed "parents are the first teachers" but Ms. Calabash states "What I don't appreciate is a parent who has no experience teaching and understands little or nothing about the subject I teach"

So I guess when we read to our children, help with word pronunciation, spelling and definition; purchase flash cards and work books to assist with math, we are "parent(s) who has no experience teaching and understands little or noting about the subject..."

Gotcha.

Posted by: TwoSons | May 25, 2010 7:38 PM | Report abuse

Two Sons, I don't know where your children attend school, but I can tell you that every night, most of the ES teachers I know take home papers to grade so they can return them in a timely manner. But many teachers are simply overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks that must be completed every day, especially when they have little planning time in which to accomplish them. Some teachers I know receive as many as 12 to 15 e-mails daily, must spend a planning period attending a meeting to discuss what interventions should be used with one of their 27 students, and so on. Your child is not the only one in that teacher's class. You are not the only parent he/she must respond to.

_____________________

You're presuming Ms. Calabash; I'm not speaking about my children. My sons are no longer in ES.

I'm speaking about overall student and parental frustrations that occur inside and outside the classroom.

I spend a great deal of time supporting teachers and their classroom needs so I'm well aware of work load.


Posted by: TwoSons | May 25, 2010 7:43 PM | Report abuse

So I guess when we read to our children, help with word pronunciation, spelling and definition; purchase flash cards and work books to assist with math, we are "parent(s) who has no experience teaching and understands little or noting about the subject..."

Gotcha.
----
No, dear. I don't teach reading or math. If I did, I'd welcome the reinforcement you're providing. My subject is not one in which many parents are proficient, and one which is taught quite differently than it was even 20 years ago.

You are the one who said, and I quote: Teachers do not, I repeat do not, like to be challenged or questioned when it comes to curriculum or methods of instruction.

I don't see any distinction in your comment between "all" and "some". If I said that "Parents do not like to hear criticism of their child's performance", would you not take offense?

Furthermore, if you do not have any children in elementary school, how do you know that: "It's VERY rare that classwork or test scores come home in a timely manner anymore especially in ES schools."?

Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 25, 2010 8:27 PM | Report abuse

Teachers and parents have to work together to help the kids. Parents who do all that Twosons mentions are the great ones and their kids will usually do well no matter where they go to school. Teachers are very busy and have larger and larger classes these days. It is hard to keep up with everyone.
@karen2311 Check edline if your school uses that for grades. You don't say how old your son is. Request a conference, if you can't go in to see the teacher, have a phone conference. Explain that you expect higher than a D and that your son needs help. Your son might have to have you sign off on homework every night. Maybe he isn't doing the homework. Maybe he is feeling lost. How is his classroom behavior? Is he talking and missing out on instruction? (Not that uncommon in May)He is your son, so advocate for him. It is good you emailed. I wouldn't wait a week between each one. You have to find a way to get your son more help in math. Since you don't say how old he is, I can't help you specifically, but really, you should get a response and some suggestions to help your child.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 25, 2010 9:06 PM | Report abuse

@karen2311

One more thing, if he is really struggling for whatever reason (the teacher, sitting near friends, not completing homework, the teacher is having a breakdown) you might want to consider a tutor. In a class like math, once you fall behind it is hard to catch back up, so that even if he makes progress his grades won't reflect it.
You probably also know that math is one of those subjects where what you learn one year effects the next year.

If he is really behind, the teacher has 25-30 students and she can't sit down with him everyday for the 30 minutes he needs of one on one time. You will have to do it or find someone who can help if the school doesn't have an extra math help day after school.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 25, 2010 9:14 PM | Report abuse

Two Sons: Our CHILDREN NEED Teachers to provide effective education.
----------
This circles back to the original issue: how does anyone measure whether a teacher is "effective"? As Jay has already stated, most school systems have not found a good way to determine whether a teacher is effective or not. Those who believe teachers are simply "making excuses" when the students in their classes do not meet the standards as measured on a standardized test, let me ask you: do you think that a student's performance is not affected by socioeconomic background, by innate intelligence, by learning disabilities, by sporadic attendance, by nutrition, by psychiatric problems, by family problems, by parental involvement, by lack of sleep, and so on?

Posted by: MrsCalabash11 | May 25, 2010 9:43 PM | Report abuse

TwoSons writes: "I'm speaking about experiences that occur in a classroom such as yelling at students, making demeaning statements to kids or create an educational environment that makes a child (or parent) feel unreasonable levels of anger and frustration."
-------------
I couldn't agree with you more. In my school, this type of behavior on the part of teachers tends to be the exception rather than the rule. It makes me cringe when it does occur. Honestly--this is where useful staff development can take place rather than shoving more of the same test taking skills instruction down our throats. It's a shame that teachers are feeling such stress that they can't step back and remind themselves that they are dealing with kids who are doing things that kids do.

The thing that worries me about the type of top down decision making that is being proposed in RTTT is that it will put teachers in the "cover your behind," mode. Teachers pushing kids to produce test scores out of fear of loss of salary or employment can only be destructive to the learning process. When I listened to my own children talk about their favorite teachers or those whom them felt to be the best teachers, the common theme seemed to be that of teachers who were enthusiastic and who truly loved their subject matter as well as teachers who thought of creative ways to present content so as to reach the greatest number of students.

Sadly--these are the very qualities that will be destroyed as we move toward teachers teaching under a veil of fear rather than out of love of the classroom. It is truly sad.

Posted by: musiclady | May 25, 2010 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Well said , musiclady.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 26, 2010 9:27 AM | Report abuse

Mrs. Calabash: let's say all those factors you cite are operative. Then what should teachers be responsible for in the classroom, educationally speaking?

Posted by: axolotl | May 26, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Calabash, not “dear” or “honey” because I will respect the identity that you’ve chosen to utilize while posting.

How do I know classwork/test scores do not come home? I may not have children in ES but did at one time; fairly recently as a matter of fact. I do have siblings that have children of ES age. I also have close friends that have children in ES schools as well.

Reqarding my quote above, it is my (and other parents) observation and experiences, that I’ve stated. You seem require a distinction but chose to be presumptuous (again). That's your choice and nothing anyone can do about what you’ve decided as interpretation or requiring distinction.

None of that is the point nor what the more important issues are. The fact of the matter is that classwork/test scores do not come home in a timely manner for whatever reasons.

Ms. Calabash inquired: do you think that a student's performance is not affected by socioeconomic background, by innate intelligence, by learning disabilities, by sporadic attendance, by nutrition, by psychiatric problems, by family problems, by parental involvement, by lack of sleep, and so on?


Ms. Calabash, the same can be said or asked about a teacher’s performance.

Does socieoeconomic background make a difference and quantify a teachers ability to provide instruction to students?

Does a teachers home life such as separation, divorce, sick child or relative, spouse losing job, impact frame of mind while providing instruction?

Do teachers suffer from lack of sleep sometimes as well?

The same or similar homelife/social issues that impact a child's ability to learn are similar social issues that could impact teachers ability to provide instruction.

Finally, no I did not state nore presume that you were a language arts or math teacher. I mentioned reading and math because I do realize that they are CORE subject areas that require at least proficiency levels for a child to move forward during primary and secondary education years.

As a parent, I do not welcome criticism about my children and their performances. BUT what I DO WELCOME are conversations centered around any level of concern my kids' teacher(s) may have relating to my sons progress or lack thereof. We've shared dialogue and worked together to put together a "plan of work" that will not only help my sons but to explore options that could help them (teachers) while they are in their presence.

We may not come from a "wealthy neighborhood" but we are blessed to have teachers that work hard and we parents work hard WITH them.

Ms. Calabash, you seem to look down your nose at parents that may not have formal educational experiences or that live in a certain neighborhood.

You're elitist attitude probably alienates parents that you've engaged. And that's too bad because Parents can be your biggest asset and advocate for you and your colleagues, on behalf of their children and your students.

Posted by: TwoSons | May 26, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

For MrsCalabash11-- You are exactly right. We instinctually and formally rate schools by the level of test scores, which means the more affluent kids, the better we think the school is. That is why I developed a rating system for high schools that does not look at test scores at all, but rates on the basis of which have the most kids trying college level courses and tests, like AP and IB. On that list, there are many schools with poverty rates over 50 percent in the top 100. It is a measure not of family income (that helps, but the richer schools dont do as well as they think they should, and tell me the list is meaningless) but of staff energy and determination to give as many kids as possible a taste of college learning.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | May 26, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

@ celetun100

I agree that it's important for parents to be involved and to work with teachers. What you've shared were viable options/solutions to another persons concern regarding her son.

Unfortunately, way too many teachers can care less about a student failing and will never reach out to a struggling student or parent to offer suggestions, assistance, or plan of action. It's just seems so much easier to give out failing grades and most certainly less time consuming.

@ musiclady,

Standardized testing is needed to assure students are at proficiency levels and making adequate progress. Without testing OUTSIDE of classrooms, we've had a host of illiterate graduates for a very very long time. These are contributing factors of our socioeconomic disparities, increased numbers within our juvenile system, increased criminal activity by minors, and increased applicants seeking welfare system assistance.

We can no longer afford to graduate students that are not at least proficient in math or language arts. Our society pays as a whole.

Posted by: TwoSons | May 26, 2010 1:02 PM | Report abuse

TwoSons writes: "Standardized testing is needed to assure students are at proficiency levels and making adequate progress. Without testing OUTSIDE of classrooms, we've had a host of illiterate graduates for a very very long time."

I don't think anyone refutes that standardized testing is needed. What teachers object to is for standardized testing to be the only measure of what is taught. Testing tends to only cover a fraction of what should be taught. Even worse is to use standardized testing as the only measure of a teacher's performance. We are so much more than that.

I'm in a unique position in that I teach all the classes in grades 1 through 5 at my school. I can teach the exact same lesson to two classes in the same grade level with completely different results. Obviously, I must modify my instruction for those classes that may not respond as I would like. For a classroom teacher to be evaluated as superior one year only to be judged ineffective the next year due to having students that are totally different is not a true assessment of that teacher's performance in the classroom. There are a lot of complexities that affect test results which is why teachers are advocating multiple measures to be used in their evaluations which include but are not limited to standardized test scores. Contrary to popular belief, they aren't trying to duck accountability. They are just requesting that a fair and accurate measure of their accountability be used.

I would suggest you read the following blog entry on the InterAct blog: http://accomplishedcaliforniateachers.wordpress.com/2010/04/07/do-you-understand-my-job/ where a high school English teacher breaks down in detail just how much of what is taught in class is actually tested. It's quite an eye opener.

In other professions, the practitioners of those professions are consulted when policy is being made. When health care reform was in the works, doctors and the AMA were consulted. Not so with teachers. Non educators are making policy about our work with no first hand knowledge of how that work is done. Actual input from dedicated educators could be a valuable piece of Education Reform if those in charge allowed it to.

Here's a quote from Diane Ravitch: "Can teachers successfully educate children to think for themselves if teachers are not treated as professionals who think for themselves? Can principals be inspiring leaders if they must follow orders about the most minute details of daily life in classrooms? If a get-tough policy saps educators of their initiative, their craft, and their enthusiasm, then it is hard to believe that the results are worth having."

Posted by: musiclady | May 26, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

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