Older Teachers: Is There a War Between the Young and Old? A Fresh Look at Teacher Effectiveness.

There is a war between the rich and poor,
a war between the man and the woman.
There is a war between the left and right,
a war between the black and white,
a war between the odd and the even.

Watch U-Tube of Leonard Cohen.
An added line, a war between the young and old.

Is there a war between the young and old? Is management trying to force out senior teachers?

Do teachers become less effective over time? Is a senior teacher “worth” twice as much as a new teacher?

Education Week points to a number of studies that appear to show that student achievement is not negatively impacted if seniority teachers are encouraged to leave.

Boosting early retirement in cash-strapped districts doesn’t hurt students’ math and reading scores, according to new studies released at the American Economic Association meeting here, but pension-incentive programs may cost schools some of their most effective teachers.

Studies challenge senior-based layoffs and argue for “effectiveness-based” layoffs.

Weighted-student funding, in New York City called fair student funding drives dollars to schools in lieu of a district office assigning numbers of teachers. The “actual teacher salary” rather than an “average teacher salary” is used forcing a principal to take salary as well as effectiveness into account when hiring a teacher. (See detailed description of funding formula here).

The age of principals has declined dramatically over the decade of the Bloomberg/Klein Children First Initiative. Does less teaching and supervisory experience make a principal more effective?

Educators4Excellence, a Gates-funded faction within the teacher union favors layoff by “effectiveness” rather than seniority.

On the other hand the age range of teachers who are union activists is quite wide – from teachers in their twenties to teachers in their sixties.

Value-added measurements of teacher effectiveness are highly unstable – scores vary widely from year to year.

The economists, the psychometricians, the “big data” compilers all make decisions based on standardized test scores.

David Conley, the leading expert on college and career readiness asks us to take a closer look at “cognitive” versus “noncognitive” behaviors of students.

Perhaps it’s time to move beyond our current overly cautious approach to measuring elements of the learning process that extend beyond content knowledge. Perhaps it’s time to think of noncognitive dimensions of learning as forms of thinking, rather than as a process that does not involve cognition.

Are we not observing a higher form of thinking when we see students persist with difficult tasks, such as overcoming frustration; setting and achieving goals; seeking help; working with others; and developing, managing, and perceiving their sense of self-efficacy? Are these qualities not at least as important as knowing how well students recall information about the year in which the Civil War began, or how to factor a polynomial? Might what we observe when we look for noncognitive factors be a more complex form of cognition—a result of executive functioning by the brain as it monitors and adjusts to circumstances to accomplish specific aims and objectives? In other words, might these behaviors be manifestations not of feelings, but of metacognition—the mind’s ability to reflect on how effectively it is handling the learning process as it is doing so?

The American Psychology Association agrees with Conley,

Mom always said that personality and smarts go farther than good looks. And now even psychologists are on her side.

For years, psychologists turned to cognitive ability, brainpower, as a predictor of job performance. Smarter people were considered more likely to succeed on the job. But intelligence is only part of the story.

Other important factors in job performance – creativity, leadership, integrity, attendance and cooperation – are related to personality, not intelligence.

One research camp argues that conscientiousness – being responsible, dependable, organized and persistent – is generic to success.

Interpersonal skills are another predictor of job performance. As the workplace moves toward teamwork and service-oriented jobs, evaluating interpersonal skills becomes increasingly important.

Teaching is an incredibly complex task; it is not simply the transfer of knowledge from teacher to student. Having the ability to motivate students, to teach them what Conley calls “metacognitive learning skills” may be as important, or more important than measuring how kids achieve on a three-hour reading test.

Can the skills learned on a basketball court: teamwork, persistence and leadership predict job success more than a standardized test score grade?

How do we measure “metacognative learning skills” and how do we connect the learning of the skills to a teacher?

Should we look at Value-Added Modeling, parent and students surveys, supervisory observation and peer reviews?

Should teachers in a school be able to design their own assessment? If so, what should it look like?

Perhaps, just perhaps, the teacher assessment discussion is the beginning of a lengthy meaningful discussion.


7 responses to “Older Teachers: Is There a War Between the Young and Old? A Fresh Look at Teacher Effectiveness.

  1. Retired- no longer Public Enemy Number One

    It certainly took perhaps three years for me to feel confident when working with a class- knowing the syllabus is not mastery of the subject, controlling and directing a class is not the same as the intense and positive interaction between a master educator and a class. My skills grew as did my responsibilities and professional commitment, and my list of success stories is certainly one to be proud of.

    Mine was a highly regarded “run” of well over four decades until a new and myopic “wonder” supervisor saved the school some “Bloomberg-Klein dollars” by pushing me out to be replaced by two brand-new and much cheaper “miracle workers.”

    It is easy to see that four decades served may pose new challenges for “both sides” in the classroom. Students do not react the same way for a 23 year old teacher as for a 60 year old in the same classroom, even if all other factors were equal. The teacher has “evolved” gradually and is not always aware of the changes in classroom style, emotional reactions, or overall fatigue. Students evolve in their habits, expectations, and presentations over the decades as well.

    The intensity of the teaching job is changed by personal evolution in ways not unlike the reason that many marriages come to end in divorce. People change. Students are people, and (to the frustration of the Mayor and Chancellor) even teachers are people, and teachers change, too.

    What is to be done? Should be simply “blow off” these teachers with their experience, their ‘bag of tricks,” and their costlier salaries? Surely, the NYC schools benefited greatly from an influx of very highly qualified teachers during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, when teaching became an alternative to combat in Viet Nam. Given the pay scale and working conditions of that time, quite a few very good brains came into the system who would have gone elsewhere had “the times been different.” Now, some forty-odd years later, the Klein tactic was to deliberately expel these talented people, erase all institutional memory, ignore the accumulated wisdom of those dedicated workers, and even deny their often-heroic accomplishments. I’m reminded of that Yul Brynner line in the movie where, as Pharaoh, he decrees that “the name of Moses shall be erased from all pylons and monuments… .”

    Would conditions in our schools today be any different if that pool of resource and knowledge had been somehow urged to contribute instead of encouraged to retire in bitterness or stay on to shuffle data for the “suits?” Who knows?

    There are no guaranteed outcomes in teaching, in marriage, or in any highly complex set of human interactions. Sadly, there seems to be a search for a guaranteed outcome through the mindless manipulation of big data by Tweed- hoping to find a kernel of what is to be regarded as truth, they manipulate numbers and continue to scapegoat teachers, both current and past, as the ultimate loathsome individuals responsible for all that is wrong with the schools.


  2. How typical of a mayor who his whole life until he decided to run for mayor was a businessman has created a system that encourages and tempts principals to value money over effectiveness. It is infinitely more importanT in a democracy that schools produce citizens who can THINK, EVALUATE, AND CREATE! Ask the really significant question- What does a school look like that produces the people necessary to keep our society growing and supportive. Then take a look at those teachers who motivate their students to THINK, identify the strategies that create that culture, disseminate and publicize success, and then see if the “age” of the teacher has any bearing? Then, and only then, can a valid evaluation and discussion of teacher effectiveness be valid.


  3. Conley is raising the questions that have been underpinning much of the controversy over the Bloomberg educational policies. What is an education? Is it merely teaching a set of skills that can be easily tested or is it teaching valuable lessons that go beyond the simple skills.

    I believe that the studies that the educational deformers point at to prove that experience is meaningless are flawed both by their over-reliance on flawed tests and by the failure of the educational profession to insist on and create conditions for continual growth among its teaching corps.
    It is possible for veteran teachers to accumulate a portfolio of lessons and a “bag of tricks” for classroom management and to try to coast. The work is hard enough to make that an appealing option.

    But as Retired points out, students change over time and what worked once may not work as well with a new crop of students.

    Staying fresh and staying ahead of the changes requires time for planning and collaboration with colleagues. That time is not built into teacher schedules. If it were, I don’t think there would be any question about the value of experienced teachers as mentoring colleagues and critical friends to their less experienced peers.

    I am constantly struck by how much the first and second year teachers I am privileged to work with want to learn from a veteran, and also by how often I find myself remembering and, sometimes, inventing ideas to help them reach their struggling students. They tell me, “I wouldn’t have thought of that.” All I can say, is that they shouldn’t expect themselves to think of things that veteran teachers learned long ago.

    Teaching is a complex activity and it takes a long time to master its complexities and to be comfortable in the classroom. What we shuldn’t allow is for anyone to become so comfortable they are coasting.

    Building a system that values teacher collaboration and makes teachers constantly refine their practice will take an investment of time and money. We could start by allowing new teachers to work less than full programs so that they are also shadowing and learning form the master teachers in their building (see How Doctors are trained). We also need to look at who the educational leader sin the building are and if they have the depth and breadth of experience to really serve as mentors to the new teachers and the ability to keep challenging their veteran teachers to improve.


  4. While “Retired” still participates in the discussion and admits to plenty of introspection and self-analysis, Mr. Korashan (a supervisor who has made no observations or analysis or evaluation of “Retired’s” student growth) trots out the same tired accusation- “it is possible for veteran teachers … to try to coast.”

    This evaluation is made in the absence of the kind of data that is the modern supervisor’s daily bread! Back “in the day” we simply called this “ageism.” It is naked discrimination, and it is illegal.

    While the retired teacher is still involved and participates out of a sense of duty to the children of our city, the supervisor’s words illustrate the very problem described. The teacher feels heartache as the students are barely mentioned while the supervisor manipulates spreadsheets.

    Would there have been a different reaction had Mr. Korashan been blindly accused of being a “typical insecure lackey, drunk on power” or something similar?

    This writer knows the identity of “retired… ” and watched admiringly as the children of the students taught early in “retired’s” career were in “retired’s” classes and were also able to learn and grow and become good people who made their families and school and community proud.

    Perhaps the “new way” will keep a lot of supervisors busy, but again, as usual, the students will be the losers. Who will be left to care about all of those young people?

    Long before “administration by spreadsheet,” a suggestion was made to appoint Alfred E. Newman as Chancellor. Then, the same one-word motto could have been carved over 110 Livingston Street as should now be carved, deeply, over the Tweed headquarters. Ecch.


    • I am not and never was a supervisor. Nor do I condone “administration by spreadsheet,” and fought against it as a union rep for many years. My comment on some teachers coasting comes from direct observation, both as a parent and as a colleague.

      The coasters, however, have always been a very small minority of the teaching force, as the very act of showing up in a classroom and having to work with 25 to 35 students tends to push against coasting. I strongly believe the educational deformers count on the fact that teachers will show up and work hard every day. The deformers never taught or taught very briefly (and many, like MIchelle Rhee, admit they weren’t all that good at it). Nonetheless, they claim to know what we should be doing and want to bash us for not making their benchmarks on their very flawed tests for political, not educational, gain.

      The real point of my comment is that as professionals we need to take control of our profession and take the lead in pushing ourselves to be constantly growing in our capacities.


  5. Thanks for this post, I shared it in the ASCD Forum group on ASCD EDge; we are having a discussion about how to define and measure teacher effectiveness: http://groups.ascd.org/groups/detail/141997/ascd-forum/


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