“If we could only get rid of the worst kids, we spend so much time dealing with the bottom 5%, it eats into working with the good kids. This school would be so much better.”
The fallacy: there is always a 5% … if you somehow disposed of the bottom 5% the moaning and hand wringing would be about the next lowest 5%.
The Obama-Duncan scrie is the same, if we could only get rid of the lowest five percent, those “persistently lowest achieving schools.” They ignore the same conundrum, there will always be schools at the bottom of the list. The Bush-Spelling mantra was all kids on grade level by 2014, derisively called the “Lake Woebegone” effect (“where all children are above average”) to the Obama-Duncan 5% solution. The current “solution,” the four models: close, transform to charter, redesign or transform, none of which has any compelling evidence that points to success.
One core element of the plan is to base teacher evaluation and remuneration on student achievement data, so called value-added. Jesse Rothstein, in a carefully research article raises serious questions and bursts the value-added bubble (see article and Kim Gittelson’s analysis here).
The “fire the teachers and improve the school” crowd is just as loud and just as wrong.
A 2006 Brookings Institution report, for example, concluded that “schools could substantially increase student achievement by denying tenure to the least effective teachers.” To be fair he praises AFT leader Randi Weingarten,
In an important speech in January, the American Federation of Teachers’ president, Randi Weingarten, acknowledged the inadequacy of current systems of evaluating teachers. She called for replacing brief teacher observations by principals (which she termed a “perfunctory waste of time”) with “constructive and robust teacher evaluation” and “the creation of a system that would inform tenure, employment decisions, and due process proceedings.”
A look at actual data, 31.2% of teachers entering New York City public schools in the 2005-06 school year left by the end of the 2008-09 school year. Of teachers entering in 2002-03, half have left. In low performing schools the numbers are much higher, and if we add in teachers who leave to move to higher achieving schools the numbers are staggering.
Can I digress, people, and say that while it’s important to make teachers accountable, telling them their jobs could hinge on their students’ grades on one test is a terrible idea? The women and men who go into teaching tend, as a group, to be both extremely dedicated and extremely risk-averse. The stability of their profession is a very important part of its draw. You do not want to make this an anything-can-happen occupation, unless you are prepared to compensate them like hedge fund traders.
Teacher and teacher union-bashing has become the sport of the day. From the New Jersey Governor comparing teachers to drug dealers, to President Obama making firing teachers a core component of his education platform, and, of course, the NYC Department of Education finger pointing that the teacher union stands in the way of school “transformation.”
Based on our research and work with schools, we know that trust-based partnerships can be effective in addressing the problems of failing schools—if some ground rules are observed. First, all parties must agree to “own” the problem …. All stakeholders, with their differing perspectives, need to participate in decisions about what will work to improve young people’s learning and development. This includes students, whose interests must be at the center of any reform…
Second, those charged with reform should be clear that restructuring requires investment. Changing personnel and/or governance will only bring substantive improvement if there are also changes in curriculum, instruction, and working conditions. Teachers need tools and supports that enable them to raise their students’ achievement levels, especially for English-language learners and recent immigrants. These tools include new classroom materials, new instructional methods, new technology, and professional development tailored to the needs of individual teachers.
Third, reform measures should be evidence-based and sustainable …. administrators, teachers’ unions, and community leaders can improve their schools when data—rather than assumptions and conflict—guide advocacy.
Afterwards, …. most policies with a major impact on teaching and learning—such as those concerning curriculum, data access and availability, and school governance and staffing—are controlled by districts and states. If these larger-scale policies are not changed, even drastic restructuring of individual schools will have a limited reach.
Finally, even major changes to the academic process in a traditional school setting will not be enough to help the students there succeed. Young people, especially in historically underserved schools, need a high-quality, comprehensive network of learning and youth-development opportunities and supports, one that is available at many times and in many places—at school, at home, and in the community. We call such networks—high-functioning districts linked to civic and community partners—“smart education systems.” And the turnaround movement should be about building them.
Unfortunately the leadership in the New York City school establishment thinks that nasty, vitriolic articles placed in the local tabloids, threats of layoffs and the abolition of tenure, test result-based salary schedules and the unbridled expansion of non-unionized charter schools will somehow convince teachers to roll over and cry uncle. Mais non! The unintended consequence is to embolden and empower teachers.
Professor Simmons is correct, it through partnerships that include teachers, their unions, parents, students, the entire spectrum of the education community that progress is possible.
Lopping off the bottom five percent ignores the number one fairy tail rule: that monster’s head always grows back.