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Posted at 8:56 AM ET, 11/15/2010

'Highly effective' teachers postscript

By Bill Turque

My Sunday story about the distribution of "highly effective" teachers -- as assessed by IMPACT -- obviously tapped a nerve. Many of you seemed to think that the underlying premise of the piece was that IMPACT is an infallible means of determining who is a good teacher. That was not my assumption, and I tried to make that clear by raising the exact point you've been making: that effective IMPACT scores may be tougher to achieve because of the conditions in high poverty schools. I obviously didn't make it clear enough.

The story was simply an attempt to push out some data that I found to be revealing--the merits or flaws of IMPACT not withstanding. By the way, for those who asked, I got the data by requesting it. There was no FOIA involved.

I would only add that the questionable distribution of teaching talent is an issue larger than IMPACT. Last year my colleagues Michael Alison Chandler and Daniel de Vise found that students across the Washington region's poorest neighborhoods are nearly twice as likely as those in the wealthiest to have a new or second-year teacher.

You can read about it here.

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By Bill Turque  | November 15, 2010; 8:56 AM ET
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For as long as I remember children in the poorest neighborhoods have gotten the teachers with the least experience. This is the "status quo" that no one talks about. Even in this recession when DC could have hired teachers with proven track records of success for its most challenging schools, many first year teachers were still hired. Why?

Hopefully Mr.Gray will defeat the status quo and insist on fully qualified, experienced teachers for poor children of color. Parents and other citizens need to insist on this. Just this one change would be huge for the children.

And keep a close eye on the money. It should go to classrooms and not "agencies" or "managers."

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | November 15, 2010 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Linda RT --

Isn't your own career an "exception" to your observation. You have told us countless times how you worked in the inner city in relatively "bad" schools over a long career in the LA area.

Like most readers, I surmise you were a likely a successful teacher. What gives? Were you the only one?

Posted by: axolotl | November 15, 2010 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Wow, touched a nerve is right. The assumption that Highly Effective Teachers west of the park have it easy or easier just isn't so. This perpetrates a long standing prejudice that simply is not accurate. Have worked in both high and low performing schools and my caseload is much higher at the high than lows.
The pressure and challenges of maintaining the high performance and levels of instruction/learning is extremely challenging. Did you ever think that perhaps teachers work in the schools where they are best supported, where they are able to do their best work rather than being treated like students themselves? Know you are more enlightened than this Mr. Turque, please don't fall for perpetrating these old stereotypes that hold us back vs move us forward. Every school has its challenges, every student has theirs. Lets stay focused on educating our community rather than pitting one part of the city against another. Are you even aware that there are schools across the city that are partnering together to achieve success? Why not focus on that?

Posted by: Peppered | November 15, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse


I'm glad you asked that question. When I applied to an "inner-city" school in 1966, I had little else but a bachelor's degree, but I knew that "anyone" could get a job in the urban district. Sure enough, when I showed up for the "interview" the personnel clerk whipped out a map of the city and asked, "Where would you like to go?"

When I think of the mistakes that I made in those first two years, I cringe. I still remember a fifth grade boy named "Harley" who couldn't read a word or write a word, even though he seemed normally intelligent. Now, of course, I realize he probably had dyslexia, but at the time I had no idea of how to help him, nor did anyone else at the school. Just last year I looked Harley up, wondering if anyone ever helped him. I wish I could apologize to him, but was it really my fault?

Some of the experienced teachers at that school were excellent, but most teachers were young clueless white girls like me or young clueless white boys who were teaching in the inner-city as an acceptable way to avoid the Viet Nam war.

I DID care about the children, though, and went on to graduate school to learn how to teach reading. After that I went on to teach middle class children in Iowa and then working class (and Spanish speaking) children in CA, where I spent most of my career. Yes, I eventually became a good teacher, enjoyed every minute of it, and even wrote a book on reading methodology. In retirement I continue to advocate for equal education for all children. Like you, I believe effective teachers are crucial, but we're not going to get them with insults and bashing.

I want to say a few words about Teach for America. This program was started at a time when it was almost impossible to hire good teachers for inner-city schools. Many of the students in those schools had one substitute teacher after the other for the entire year. TFA sought to solve that problem by recruiting intelligent college grads to teach in urban schools for two years. This was a laudable goal. Unfortunately these teachers, who have little training, and no experience, are now being hired in place of successful and experienced teachers. I'd like to know why, although I suspect the answer is fairly obvious.

At the present time, DC has the opportunity to attract and hire successful and fully qualified teachers from all over the country. Perhaps TFA can help to find these teachers. If not, perhaps they can use their money to offer fellowships to people who want to prepare to become urban teachers.

Let's stop the shameful practice of placing the least experienced teachers in our most challenging schools. Nothing has hurt poor children of color more than this practice.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | November 15, 2010 11:13 AM | Report abuse

Bill, what about the job classification distribution of Highly Effective teachers.
The teachers named in the paper who were honored at the Kennedy Center are mostly teaching non tested subjects.
Can you find out the positions of those who were IDed as Highly Effective and see if the percentage matched the percentage of the DCPS teaching staff?

Posted by: edlharris | November 15, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the clarification, Bill.

Peppered - It certainly is a hot subject. You're still getting mad at Turque for writing about it even though he's now clearly stated that: "...effective IMPACT scores may be tougher to achieve because of the conditions in high poverty schools."

Maybe Valerie Strauss should write about it - unlike Turque, who focuses on investigative reporting, Strauss writes columns in which she expresses her own opinions.

Posted by: efavorite | November 15, 2010 11:53 AM | Report abuse

I read the article and I thought it was clear.

Posted by: celestun100 | November 15, 2010 3:18 PM | Report abuse

I would still like to know how many of those "Highly Effective" teachers were in the Group 1 Value added category. Not a single Group One teacher at my school received a "Highly Effective" rating despite test scores that demonstrated more growth than the mathemagical "students like yours"group (yes, I said mathemagical). We were all "Highly Effective" before test scores, so I wonder if this rating is realistic for most Group One teachers.
I don't need the classification of HE because I know I'm doing my job well and I still love it after 8 years. I don't need the bonus because I would have turned it down anyway due to the numerous strings attached. What I would like is for this nauseating commotion about "Highly Effective Educators" to stop. I mean nothing against the HE folks and believe that passionate and capable teachers should be rewarded. IMPACT is, however, a poor metric by which to determine this, especially since it resulted in my amazing colleagues being overlooked despite the fact that I consider all Group One teachers at my school "Highly Effective".

Posted by: still_love_teaching | November 15, 2010 5:34 PM | Report abuse

What I heard (but no one downtown will confirm) is that the Group I teachers "value added" scores were normed with a mean of 2.5 and a STd. Deviation of .5. If that is true, then half of all group I teachers got minimally effective or not effective on that portion, and only 2.5% would have gotten "Highly effective".

Of course if they normed the scores, that would defeat the whole point of IMPACT, since you would be comparing DC teachers to each other, rather then some objective standard...

Posted by: Wyrm1 | November 15, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

I am and always have been an highly effective teacher before Rhee ever came to DCPS. I didn't accept the money cause my dignity and pride cannot be bought. I have always taught in lower performing schools by choice. I have had offers at the best schools but I have turned them all down. When I look at my students I see me at their age. If I leave them who will help them? I had good teachers who stayed east of the river and helped me be successful. Thats why I became a teacher to help those who need help the most. That is why I am still there. Mr. Turque my problem with your articles are that you do not demand from dcps to tell the public how many teachers took the money. How the whole reception was a joke, how many who received the rating of highly effective were actually class room teachers who had 5 observations 2 from outsiders. Counselors, instructional coaches, and attendance officers even received the honor of being highly effective and recived the bonus. They were only observed by their administrator. They were not in the trenches with the teachers. That is what the majority of the teachers want to know! Show the public that there were not suppose to be stipulations on 2009-2010 school year. The stipulations started for 2010-2011 school year. Show how Rhee grandfathered in the impact plus clause. Use your column to unite teachers not to divide us. Show how impact is unfair and that the teachers were lied to about last years impact. The impact stated if you receive between 3.50 and 4.00 you would receive a monetary award. It didn't say sign your life away for the rest of your time in DCPS if you want to receive a bonus for doing well. There were several teachers who received highly effective and were excessed and were displaced this past school year. Those are issues you need to investigate. We are too smart for the divide and conquer trick.

Posted by: helluvateacher | November 15, 2010 9:11 PM | Report abuse

I thought the whole Teach for America thing was putting "young, energetic teachers" into the classroom. Now you're saying having inexperienced teachers is NOT a good thing. Can't have it both ways.

Posted by: chicogal | November 15, 2010 11:17 PM | Report abuse

Chicago gal says, "Now you're saying having inexperienced teachers is NOT a good thing. Can't have it both ways."

It's Rhee and other reformers who say TFA is a good thing, not the journalist.

He is simply reporting, among other things, that youth and enthusiasm are not necessarily enough to really help children learn.

What this reaction suggests to me, though, is that people are really pissed about this baseless experiment.

It's about time. Maybe something good can come of that, for The Children.

Posted by: efavorite | November 15, 2010 11:45 PM | Report abuse

I'm told that in Germany only "the best" experienced teachers are placed in the most needy urban schools. These excellent teachers are then honored with prestige and higher salaries. Under this paradigm, the TFA crowd would be placed in the "nice" schools with lavish parental support to work their way up to the more challenging students. Again, I don't know if this is true but it is an interesting concept. Imagine a system where working in the most challenging urban classrooms becomes a professional goal that is respected and esteemed rather than being viewed as the domain of the "minimally effective" based on a biased, flawed, and subjective evaluation structure. If there are no "ineffective teachers" to be found, then all the "Master Educators" are out of a very nice job. In such a structure, you will find what you are sent out to find.

Posted by: mrpozzi | November 16, 2010 4:24 AM | Report abuse

I thought Turque was clear enough in his article. What he neglected, however, is that IMPACT was created by the "reform" crowd to create more business fot Rhee and Kopp's TFA, now that budget cuts and the recession have all but eliminated the "teacher shortage" of the 1990's. Letting the teacher recruiters decide what current teachers are "highly effective" is like letting the undertakers decide which doctors are highly effective. Just a little conflict of interest.

Posted by: mcstowy | November 16, 2010 5:44 PM | Report abuse

efavorite pines for the good ole days, when teachers got respect (and assumed some responsibility for education) and were not evaluated. What she really wants is a many-year study to come up with the theoretically best eval system. The longer the better. What about The Children's welfare as students during that period? And -- distant second, of course -- what would be used to reward the teachers?

Posted by: axolotl | November 16, 2010 7:34 PM | Report abuse

Who else finds the postings of axolotl repetitive and boring, sounding like the whine of a mosquito on a hot summer night.
All she/he/they does/do is come on this blog(ue), as well as those of Mathews and Strauss, and engage in derisive and personal attacks.
Nothing constructive.

Posted by: phillipmarlowe | November 16, 2010 10:44 PM | Report abuse

My principal liked my lesson and all that great stuff, said it was "masterful". Nonetheless I was penalized for three students, one who is special education and has difficulty with rigor; a girl who put her head down, she had a headache, and the third student just would not wake up. These are factors out of my control. Moreover, my ratings from last year have varied from this year. The fundamental factor in this change is a new principal. With IMPACT you never know how the cookie is going to crumble, it is a very subjective evaluation tool. For example a friend of mine got a lousy evaluation from the master educator this year, last year she was getting good scores. The change in scores occurred due to a change in the master educator. I heard a rumor from someone who works at the central office. I can't prove it but I believe it. Some of the master educators who left were fired for giving to many good scores. These master educators had a head hunting quota.

Posted by: marylight | November 17, 2010 5:09 AM | Report abuse

Marylight - thanks for telling us about your experience. I think when management has established a pattern of unfairness and of maligning its employees publicly, employees are naturally going to distrust its actions. It's human nature and common sense.

Philipmarlowe - I appreciate your comments too.

Posted by: efavorite | November 17, 2010 8:00 AM | Report abuse

Phillip -- all the stuff about your church that you bring to this blogue is perhaps the most prominent example of irrelevance, personal attack (more on yourself than anyone else), repetition, etc.
Please get the help that you need and leave all of us here out of the loop. We truly wish you the best in any case.

Posted by: axolotl | November 18, 2010 8:15 PM | Report abuse

I am an experienced teacher in a Title I school who has many colleagues who like myself have NBCT certification, graduate degrees, awards for good teaching and years of experience. Our school has very low turnover and many experienced teachers are willing to drive extra miles to work here. You may ask why this is true and I can tell you that the main factor has nothing to do with current school reform ideas. Its about the school community and the support that teachers receive from each other and from administrators. Its about a group of people who support and value each other and work together to provide the children in our school community every opportunity not only for educational support but also emotional support that so many children in poverty need in order to succeed and physical help so they don't go through the day hungry or in pain because of lack of medical care. We work together constantly to make sure every child who comes to school feels safe and valued. Our campus is beautiful and secure and we have the supplies we need to teach. And surprise, surprise this culture actually filters down into the classroom like all leadership does. Teachers are allowed feedback at our school and are actually listened to when they report a child has told them they are suicidal or being bullied or they see a child is not placed in the right reading class, there is actual response from administrators to remedy the problem. The top down systems I hear described in your columns Bill do not allow these kinds of things to happen. Somehow in the new world order of school reform what the people standing in front of the children every day observe and are concerned about is no longer valued. And that information is absolutely essential if we want to teach a whole child to be a happy productive citizen. On the other hand if all we desire are test bubbling automatons I think we can make that system last a few more years.

Posted by: kmlisle | November 20, 2010 9:28 AM | Report abuse

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