A young teacher in an inner city school asked about the odd hands signals kids were making and the strange symbols painted on the walls of buildings.
“Gang signs,” I told him.
He asked, “Should I speak to the kids and ask them if they’re in gangs?”
I discouraged him. “You’d probably be putting kids in danger.”
The inner city gangs of Brownsville or Watts or Detroit or any of the poverty stricken neighborhoods scattered across the nation have much more in common with the Balkans, or Iraq or Afghanistan or Libya than the middle class neighborhoods a short ride away.
Gangs are kinship groups, long embedded in the community culture. They have their own “rules.”
I keep the 40 cal on my side …
Tuck your chain in cause he might rob ya
Got glocks for sale, red tops for sale
Anything that you need, believe me I’m gon’ lace you Yeah
Just dont, whatever you do, snitch
Cause you will get hit, pray, I don’t face you, Yeah
Or, listen to Mac Dre’s “Stop Snitchin” here.
In spite of poverty, crime, foreclosures, health issues kids come to school. In the early childhood grades teachers are surrogate parents; slowly the streets begin to win out for too many kids. Some kids balance the culture of the inner city and the cultural norms of the wider world and survive, and some prosper. Too many succumb.
If you google “poverty by city by zip code” and superimpose over a map of low achieving schools, guess what?
Either one set of schools, schools in high poverty neighborhoods have less effective school leaders and teachers, or, poverty impacts teaching and learning.
Referring to the DC Value-Added Model, called IMPACT, Sara Garland in the Hechinger Report asks the essential question,
“Are the best, most experienced D.C. teachers concentrated in the wealthiest schools, while the worst are concentrated in the poorest schools? Or does the statistical model ignore the possibility that it’s more difficult to teach a room full of impoverished children?”
Experts differ, William Sanders, a former University of Tennessee researcher who has been studying value-add methodologies for decades,
“With at least three years of test-score data from different academic subjects, he says he is able to hone in on a good prediction of what a particular student’s progress should look like in a given year–and thus, how much a teacher should be expected to teach the student. Adding demographic factors only muddies the picture, he argues.”
Garland reminds us that value-added models do not take into account the makeup of the students in the class. Lower achieving students in classes with higher achieving students do better than in classes when all students are lower achieving.
“A large body of research has found that student achievement is affected not only by a student’s individual circumstances at home, but also by the circumstances of other children in the same school and classroom. Studies have found that students surrounded by more advantaged peers tend to score higher on tests than similarly performing students surrounded by less advantaged peers.”
Value-added models simply ignore this research.
Sanders muses, “It becomes a question of where do you want to put your risk,” he said. “Should school districts risk hiding the fact that high-poverty schools tend to get more ineffective teachers, he asked, or risk rating teachers with high numbers of disadvantaged students incorrectly”
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have a much more nuanced position. They abhor value-added only approach and advocate a three-prong approach to evaluating teachers.
“Instead, teachers should be assessed based on a combination of classroom observations, student feedback and value-added student achievement gains, according to the Measures of Effective Teaching project’s paper, “Gathering Feedback for Teaching.” Educators should be observed by certified raters through multiple, high-quality observations with clear standards”
The authors of the report spell out detailed requirements in order to accurately assess performance,
The authors provide the following six suggestions for minimum requirements in quality classroom observations:
- Choose an observation instrument that sets clear expectations
- Require observers to demonstrate accuracy before they rate teacher practice
- Require multiple observations prior to high-stakes decisions
- Track system-level reliability by double-scoring some teachers with impartial observers
- Combine observations with student achievement gains and student feedback
- Regularly verify that teachers with stronger observation scores also have stronger student achievement gains on average
What if teachers with “strong observation scores” do not have “strong student achievement gains”?
John King, the NYS Commissioner would say Value Added student achievement scores trump observation scores.
Let’s be honest: teacher evaluation is wack!
It is more difficult to teach in communities of poverty. Difficult, but not an excuse for poor performance. Blaming teachers or school leaders for generations of neglect is wack.
Revolving doors in the poorest schools, teachers leaving teaching or moving to more effective schools; wide funding disparities between inner city and suburban schools, charter schools that “skim” students with social capital, all mitigate against the success of schools in inner city neighborhoods.
As Talib Kweli raps, for many of our kids their life is, “Just to Get By.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UVtpXvzzXiA&noredirect=1)