Tag Archives: Danielson

Getting It Right: Building a Research-Based Teacher Assessment System

A couple of years ago I was participating in a Danielson Training Workshop, two Saturdays in a room filled with principals and network support folk. We watched a video of part of a lesson – we were told we were watching a first year teacher in November in a high school classroom.

Under the former Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory rating system the lesson was clearly satisfactory. The Danielson Frameworks (Read the 115-page NYSED document here) requires that teachers are rated on a four-point scale (Distinguished, Proficient, Basic and Unsatisfactory) while New York State also requires a four point scale (Highly Effective, Effective, Developing and Ineffective). The Frameworks divides the teaching process into four domains, 22 components and 76 elements.

The instructor asked us to rate the lesson: at my table we were all over the place. For a teacher in the third month of her first year of teaching the lesson was excellent – clearly “proficient.”  Others argued the time in teaching was irrelevant, you had to rate her against all other teachers regardless of experience – at best, she was “developing.” Inter-rater reliability was absent.

Decades ago the union sent me to an Educational Testing Service conference on teacher assessment; about thirty experienced superintendents from all over the Northeast, and me, one union guy. We began by watching three 15-minutes videos of lessons: one an “old-fashioned” classroom, the kids sitting in rows, the kids answered teacher questions, the kids stood when they answered; the questions were at a high level although a small number of kids dominated the discussion. In the other video kids were sitting at tables, the teacher asked a question, gave the kids a few minutes to “huddle,” and one of the kids answered for the group and the teacher followed up with a few clarifying questions, in the third classroom the kids were at stations around the room, it was noisy, the noise was the kids discussing the assignment, the teacher flitted around the room, answering, clarifying and asking questions.

We were asked to rate the lesson on a provided checklist.

The result: the superintendent ratings were all over the place.

I was serving as the teacher union rep on a Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) team – we were visiting a low performing school. We were told to wait, the principal was busy, four of the 50 teachers were absent and there were three vacancies, the principal was assigning classroom coverages.

At the initial get acquainted session a team member, considering the staffing issues asked, “What are the primary qualities you look for in assessing teacher quality?” The principal blurted, “They come every day and blood doesn’t run out from under the door.”

A colleague was touring a school with very high test scores.  As he walked the building with the principal, he saw uniformly “mediocre” instruction – teacher-dominated, no student engagement. He mentioned the low quality of instruction to the principal, who shrugged, “Why mess with success?”

Once again, there is no inter-rater reliability.

In a number of school districts across the state almost all teachers received maximum observation ratings.

The State Ed folk simply accept the observation ratings of principals and school districts.

Charlotte Danielson, in her other book, Talk About Teaching  (September, 2015), discusses the complex role of the principal as rater as well as staff developer: how can a principal, who is the summative evaluater honestly engage with teachers who they rate?

In an excellent article from the Center for Educator Compensation Reform, Measuring and Promoting Inter-Rater Agreement of Teacher and Principal Performance Ratings (February, 2012), the authors parse the reliability of teacher observation ratings. There are a number of statistical tools to assess reliability – the state uses none of them.

In New York State 60% of a teacher rating is made up of the teacher observation score, and, we have no idea of the accuracy of the rating.

In the pre-Race to the Top days, the Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory rating days, the entire rating was dependent on the observation – in the last year of Bloomberg term 2.7% of teachers in New York City received Unsatisfactory ratings, under the current far more complex system that incorporates student tests scores and other measures of student growth only 1% of teachers were rated ineffective (Read a description of the plan:  APPR 3012-c).

Under the newest  system the other 40% is a combination of Measures of Student Learning and Student Learning Objectives, the use of state test scores is suspended until the 2019-20 school year.

Read a detailed description of the current APPR 3012-d teacher evaluation law here and a lengthy Power Point here.

In May, 2015 the Regents convened a Learning Summit and asked a number of experts to discuss the use of student growth scores (VAM): Watch the lengthy, sometime contentious discussion  here.

With one exception the experts criticized the use of student growth scores (VAM), the VAM scores did not meet the tests of “validity,” “reliability” and “stability.”

There have been glaring errors in the system. In the Sheri Lederman law suit  a teacher had very high observation scores and due to the composition of her class, very low student growth scores. The judge ruled the use of the growth scores, in the individual case, was “arbitrary and capricious.”

The APPR plan negotiated in New York City, on the other hand, allows for appeals by a neutral third party, and, the “neutral” has overturned appeals in which there was a wide disparity between the observation and VAM scores.

The current plan, created by the governor and approved by the legislature has been rejected by teachers and parents. Teachers are convinced that their score is dependent on the ability of the students they teach, not their competence. Parents feel schools are forced to “teach to the test” due to the consequences facing principals and teachers.

Angry parents, angry teachers and principals and a governor and a legislature looking for a way out of the box they created.

And, a cynicism from elements among the public – if two-thirds of kids are “failing” state tests how is it possible that only one percent of principals and teachers are rated “ineffective?”

The Board of Regents has been tasked with finding the “right” plan.

There has been surprisingly little research and public discussion of teacher attrition – in high poverty schools staggering percentages of teachers, 30%, 40%, 50% or more leave within their first few years.

The December, 2015, Cuomo Commission Task Force, in a scathing report, tasked the Regents with “correcting” what has been a disastrous path. Partially the governor creating an incredibly complex teacher evaluation matrix and partially the Commissioner King rushing to adopt the common core, common core testing and teacher evaluation simultaneously.

Can the Regents separate political decisions from research-based and guided decisions? Can the Regents move from the John King path, an emotion-guided political path to actually following “what the research says”?

On Tuesday the new Research Work Group, chaired by Regent Johnson will convene for the first time.

The roadmap for the State Ed Department and the Board of Regents are the twenty-one recommendations of the Cuomo Common Core Task Force. A number of the recommendations: untimed testing, an in-depth review from the field of the standards, greater transparency of the test items, alternatives to the use of examinations for students with disabilities, and, the beginning of an review of teacher evaluation are already in progress.

The Commissioner and the Regents have to regain a lost credibility: from policy emanating from the Gates Foundation and the so-called reformers to policies guided by scholarship and supported by parents and educators.

Killing the Zombies: Why the “Bad Teacher” Canard Refuses to Die

Who is Clay Christensen and what is disruptive innovation in education?

Christensen is a professor in the Harvard Business School and the intellectual force behind the current education reform movement. The professor proffers that education has been basically unchanged for decades, a traditional classroom model, very little has changed including little improvement in achievement. Christensen acolytes argue that the traditional model must be “disrupted.”  A wide range of examples: placing schools in competition; public, private, charter, parochial and home-schooling through a voucher system. Traditional instruction must be replaced by an iteration of personalized learning in the form of computer-based learning and, impediments to removing “bad” teacher removed.

The “disruptors’ include the political leadership, from the White House to state capitals.  The $4.4 billion in competitive state grants, the Race to the Top (RttT), is a prime example. The lure of federal dollars to disrupt the traditional systems; RttT required the creation and expansion of charter schools as well as creating a student test score-based teacher evaluation system.

The New Teacher Project (TNTP), an advocacy organization, a “disrupter” organization, conducted a survey of school districts and a report – The Widget Effect. The findings:

Effective teachers are the key to student success, yet our school systems treat all teachers as interchangeable parts, not professionals. Excellence goes unrecognized and poor performance goes unaddressed. This indifference to performance disrespects teachers and gambles with students’ lives.

The 2009 report, surveyed fifteen schools districts across four states points to the absence formalized evaluation systems resulting in virtually all teachers rated satisfactory with few classroom observations.  For the TNTP there was no sorting of teachers by ability, no one is fired and no one is identified as being an exemplary teacher.

In districts that use binary evaluation ratings (generally “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory”), more than 99% of teachers receive the satisfactory rating, Districts that use a broader range of rating options do little better; in their districts, 94% of teachers receive one of the top two ratings and less than 1% are rated unsatisfactory.

Since the release of the report the reformers, the “disruptors,’ have been successful, enormously successful, in convincing, coercing, luring states into highly structured teacher evaluation systems; to identify the high performers (merit pay) and prune away the low performers.

As part of their winning Race to the Top proposal New York State designed a multiple measures teacher evaluation system: 60% of a teacher score would be supervisory observations based on a rubric selected by the school district (Danielson, Marzano, Marshall and others), 20% based on a student growth data (VAM) on state grades 3-8 test scores and 20% on a locally negotiated metric – which could be test scores or other measures of student learning (MOSL). The data is pumped into a dense, extremely dense mathematical algorithm and all teachers receive a score that translates in a letter grade on the HEDI spectrum: Highly Effective, Effective, Developing and Ineffective. The teacher evaluation plan, called the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) has been amended a number of times – the current plan prohibits the use of student test scores for four years, is called the “matrix.”

The inclusion of a value-added measurement, the student test score algorithm has been sharply criticized by a range of scholars as well as teacher organizations, and, a state court, in a non-precedent setting decision, found the use “arbitrary and capricious.”

Millions of dollars to create a multiple measures teacher evaluation plan and the result: 1% of teachers are ineffective – the same as the Widget Effect report.

In 2009 The New Teacher Project bemoaned that only 1% of teachers were rated “unsatisfactory” and seven years later the New York State APPR plan found, you guessed it: once again, only 1%.of teachers rated “ineffective.”

Millions of dollars to create a teacher evaluation system, a host of “experts,” the application of dense mathematical formulations and the percentage of teachers rated ineffective is unchanged.

This couldn’t possibly be right!! … so say the disruptors.

In a recently released report, The Widget Effect Revisited: Teacher Evaluation Reforms and the Distribution of Teacher Effectiveness  (February, 2016), the authors conducted surveys of  newly designed teacher evaluation plans across a number of states and interviewed principals.

On the new plans, “… less than 3% of teachers were rated below Proficient”

The raters, the principals, also reported,

“…evaluators perceive more than three times as many teachers in their school as below Proficient than they rate as such.”

In lengthy interviews the principals expressed the reasons for not rating more teachers as below Proficient.

* Time constraints (“It takes too much time away from running a school”)

* Teacher potential and motivation (“Fear of the discouraging of teachers”)

* Personal discomfort (“I have a difficult time telling teachers they’re failing”)

* Racial tensions (“Very difficult for a White principal to rate Black teachers poorly”)

* Quality of replacements (“I can’t find adequate replacements”)

* Voluntary departures (“I rate them Proficient and they leave – a deal is made”

* Burdensome dismissal processes (“The process is too complex and time consuming”)

Is the “problem” too many “below Proficient” teachers or “below Proficient” principals?

What the authors failed to investigate, admittedly not the purpose of the study,

* Inter-rater reliability: do the raters from school to school use the same rubrics, and, are they competent to assess teacher performance?

* The bell-curve conundrum: is the lowest rated teacher in the school “below Proficient” when compared with all other teachers in the district?  In other words, is it “arbitrary and capacious” to establish a system that guarantees that the lowest performer in a school must be below Proficient? After all, they may be more proficient than teachers in other schools in the district.

A second baseman on a major league team may be the “least proficient” among major leaguers and in the top 1% of all second baseman across colleges and minor leagues.

I know the idea is disquieting – perhaps only 1% of teachers actually are ineffective.

Prospective teachers must be accepted by a college and meet standards set by the Council on Accreditation of Teacher Preparation (CAEP), teachers must pass a number of nationally recognized pre-service exams, pass interviews by principals/hiring committees, teach a demonstration lesson and serve a probationary period as an at-will employee.  It should not be surprising that very few teachers who survive the rigorous pre-screening end up as “below Proficient.”

Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman coined the term zombie idea: a zombie idea is “a proposition that has been thoroughly refuted by analysis and evidence, and should be dead — but won’t stay dead because it serves a political purpose, appeals to prejudices, or both.”

The disruptor “bad teacher” solution to increasing student achievement is an example of a zombie idea – in spite of reams of evidence the idea refuses to die.

What is so depressing is when compared to teacher attrition the “bad” teacher argument pales – in the lowest achieving, highest poverty schools about half of all teachers leave within five years, and, we have a pretty good idea of why they leave: the way they’re treated.

Susan Moore Johnson, at the Next Generation of Teachers Project at Harvard examines the issue of teacher attrition in the highest poverty schools in detail.  Yes, teachers commonly leave to wealthier, whiter schools; however, they are not fleeing the students, they are fleeing the working conditions.

If we know how to make significant differences (“Improve working conditions in the poorest school”), if we’ve identified the core problem (“Teacher morale and treatment”), why don’t we address the solution?

Those zombies are tough to kill off.

Guest Blog: An Alternative to Tests for Measuring Student Growth That Can Also Facilitate Teacher Growth

(Marc Korashan is a frequent commenter on this blog. Marc instructs first and second year NYC Teaching Fellows at a local college,  taught seriously at-risk youth in public schools and worked as a teacher union organizer.)

An Alternative to Tests for Measuring Student Growth That Can Also Facilitate Teacher Growth

Ed asks a number of important questions in his column, “VAM, the Lederman Decision and the Misuse of Statistical Tools.” that have been neglected in the teacher evaluation debate. “If a particular teacher over a number of years consistently receives high scores … what is that particular teacher doing? What instructional practices is the teacher utilizing? Can these practices be isolated and taught to prospective teachers in college teacher preparation programs [or] in school and district-based professional development? Or, are these practices unique to the individual teacher?”

In almost every school there is a teacher whom every parent wants their child to have.  S/he is recognized as getting the best out of their students from year to year; creating a classroom where students thrive and making school a positive experience for her/his students.  Administrators have to fend off parent requests for their child to be assigned or transferred to that class, and that teacher is often given the opportunity to select students for next year’s class (making her/his success a self-fulfilling prophecy as s/he rarely selects the known “problem students” and those students with the least parental support at home have no one to lobby for their placement in her/his class).

The Lederman decision makes it clear that the VAM algorithms don’t work when evaluating these teachers.  The results are “arbitrary and capricious” precisely because of the instability and unreliability of individual scores and the grade level ceilings on the tests that mitigate against growth measures for students who continually excel, If, however we use these teachers as a starting point, we can begin to look for the classroom management and teaching practices that are working in that school in that community.

It is possible to talk about teaching techniques, “what that teacher is doing,” (I do this regularly in my work with first and second year NYC Teaching Fellows), but this conversation must be grounded in both research and tailored to the individual style of each teacher.  I have been privileged to work with teachers who are naturally gifted at doing the two things that any “great” teacher must be able to do; convincing each student that you care about her or him and have their best interests at heart.  If students believe that (even, and maybe especially, the seriously emotionally disturbed students that I worked with), then one can talk about how to use the techniques the research has validated.

Techniques like Functional Behavioral Analysis to understand what needs a student’s inappropriate behaviors are serving can be taught.  Developing Positive Behavioral Interventions for that student so s/he can meet those needs without being disruptive requires a teacher who really likes and wants to understand that student and can get beyond a list in a textbook of things that worked for other students to create something unique.

This is the dilemma at the heart of any discussion of “good” teaching and “measuring teacher performance.”  We teach in a system that creates groups, classes, grades, schools, but we teach individuals.  The original intent for annual student evaluations was to look at how districts and schools were using Title One funds; data was analyzed on a school and district level.  The tests were never designed, and I can argue can never be adequately designed, to reliably and validly measure individual student performance.  Nor do rubrics (that are too often turned into checklists) like Danielson’s really look at the decisions that teachers made to meet the needs of the students in front of them, in that community, in that class, on that day.

If we want to develop a system that measures student performance and growth over time or a system that looks at what teachers are contributing to student progress, then we have to do two things.  We need to invest time and effort into building “growth portfolio” practices linked to standards.  The standards define what students are expected to know and be able to do and we can set up portfolios where students submit work that demonstrates their accomplishments including a brief description of why the student thinks a given piece of work meets the standards and what the student is working on to improve her/his performance.

This kind of portfolio can be started for students in first grade and continue through their graduation from high school.  It could even be used in lieu of Regents to deem students to have achieved meaningful mastery in subjects like English, or Math.  To be both valid and reliable teachers need to have time to meet and discuss what kind of content the portfolio needs to have and to develop analytic rubrics for evaluating the quality of the content.  Rubrics have to be shared with students, preferably in lessons where they apply them to grading exemplars across a range of quality levels.  The system also has to allow for students to add to or redefine the descriptions within the rubric so that they, the students, have some real ownership in the process and their education.

The second thing that needs to happen is to support these practices with meaningful in-service professional development on the standards, at how the standards are written and whether they can be made more meaningful and transparent for students, and on how to write and rewrite rubrics that will effectively measure student growth.  Teachers will need time in their work days to meet and have these discussions and, to the extent that these practices are new, teachers will need time to learn and practice with them and schools will need to have staff developers who can facilitate this work and teach the basic skills.

This kind of process will provide better outcomes than the current reliance on standardized and norm referenced tests.  As it will take place in individual schools, the portfolios, rubrics and the entire process will reflect the needs of the communities that schools are located in.  Different communities may emphasize different skills in earlier grades, but all schools and communities will ultimately be holding students accountable for meeting the agreed upon standards, be they Common Core or Pittsburgh or some new iteration yet to be designed.  Employers will be certain that students with earned degrees will have the skills embodied in those standards.

This kind of model will make it easier to talk about the expected outcomes for students; make it possible to see how teachers are trying to get to those outcomes and allow for more discussion among teachers within a school about what is and isn’t working.

In the end teaching is a craft, a mixture of art and science that cannot be completely captured in a rubric or reduced to set of principles or a recipe.  Teaching comes, first and foremost, from the desire to reach out and connect with students, a desire to share one’s enthusiasm for a subject or love of learning, and only secondarily is it about the more mundane topics of how to manage classrooms and how to plan lessons.  Those are important skills for teachers to learn, but they must be learned by each individual teacher in ways that reflect her/his personality.  The practices are not unique, but they are effective only when students see them as a genuine reflection of the teacher’s personality and her/his concern for the students.

A Conundrum: How Do You Create a Teacher Evaluation Process That Satisfies Teachers, Principals, Parents, the Legislature and the Governor? (Hint: With Difficulty)

No one’s life, liberty or property is safe while the New York State Legislature is in session.” Anonymous, 19th century.

Diane Ravitch convened her third annual Network for Public Education conference in Raleigh with hundreds of teachers, parents and public school advocates.  The attendees do not represent organizations; they dug into their own pockets to meet with like-minded public education devotees from across the nation. I met a band director from Fort Worth, a second-career math teacher from Jacksonville, a literacy coach from North Carolina; we chatted and shared experiences, we all face incredible challenges and legislatures and privateers intent on eroding the public in public education.

We stood and cheered as Reverend Barber, the leader of the North Carolina NAACP, called a modern day Martin Luther King, preached and taught us – both a history lesson and a sermon.  Bob Herbert challenged us to vote, and emphasized that while coming to the polls in 2008 and 2012 elected Barack Obama, staying away from the polls allowed the Tea Party to seize control of the House, the Senate and state legislatures in 2010 and 2014. A subtle message to the Bernie voters – staying away from the polls in November could lead to a Trump presidency.

Fifty workshops allowed us to meet together in smaller groups. One theme was teacher evaluation: in school districts across the nation student test scores play a significant role in the evaluation of teachers; a Report  by the Network for Public Education is summarized,

72% of respondents also reported that the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluation had a negative impact on sharing instructional strategies.

Over 41% of black and 30% of Latino/a educators reported racial bias in evaluations.

About 84% of respondents report a significant increase in the amount of teacher time spent on evaluations.

84% of respondents said that the new evaluation system in their state had negatively changed the conversations about instruction between their supervisors and themselves.

75% of respondents stated that these new evaluation systems incorrectly label many good teachers as being ineffective.

Nearly 85% of respondents stated that these evaluation systems do not lead to high-quality professional growth for teachers.

Nearly 82% of teachers reported that test scores are a significant component of their evaluation.

Opposition to the use of student test data to rate/measure/assess teachers has united teachers from across the nation.

At the conference one of the sessions pitted Jennifer Berkshire, aka EduShyster against Peter Cunningham, the Executive Director of Education Post. Jennifer and Peter are on opposite ends of the teacher evaluation spectrum – forty-five minutes of thrust, parry and riposte – spellbinding!!

Critics pointed to research that avers teachers only account for 14% of a student’s test score, family and income account for the largest percentage, therefore, rating teachers by test scores is invalid, Cunningham responded that teachers are the crucial factor in student achievement, we cannot change a family or income, we can change teachers and highly effective teachers have significant impacts on children, as other research shows. Meeting with teachers from across the nation was invigorating; listening to the anti-teacher stories from state after state was discouraging.

A week earlier the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT) annual convention took place in Rochester, Teachers from hundreds of school districts across the state met to debate and set policy for NYSUT. The state is incredibly diverse, New York City and the Big Four (Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers), the high tax, high wealth suburban districts, the hundreds of rural low tax, low wealth districts, facing sharply different problems. The delegates representing the teachers within the state university system, (SUNY) and the teachers in the city university system (CUNY); CUNY teachers have not had a raise in six years.

Speeches from Karen Magee, the leader of NYSUT as well as Randi Weingarten, the AFT president and a rousing in-person speech by candidate Hillary Clinton (Watch and listen to Clinton’s speech here). The most vigorous debate: teacher evaluation. Although the state is in the first year of a four year moratorium on the use of student test scores to assess teacher performance the debate was hot and heavy.

Watch videos of convention speeches: http://www.nysut.org/resources/special-resources-sites/representative-assembly

From the NYSUT website,

“Sending a strong message to Albany that more needs to be done to stop the harmful over-testing of students, some 2,000 delegates approved resolutions calling for a complete overhaul of the state’s grades 3–8 testing program; swift implementation of the Common Core Task Force’s recommendations; and new assessments that are created with true educator input to provide timely and accurate appraisals of student learning.”.

A few days after the NYSUT convention the UFT Delegate Assembly held its monthly meeting; a thousand or so delegates, elected in each school by staffs, meeting to listen to a report by UFT President Mulgrew and debate and set policy.  Mulgrew gives updates on the national scene: retired teachers were ringing doorbells in Pennsylvania supporting Hillary; the California Supreme Court reversed the lower court decision in the Vergara case, supporting tenure and reminded delegates that while the US Supreme Court deadlocked on the anti-union Fredericks decision attacks from the right will not end. Mulgrew criticized the use of test scores to rate teachers; however, he reminded teachers that under the Bloomberg administration principals had the sole voice in teacher assessment. In the last year of Bloomberg 2.7% of teachers received “unsatisfactory” ratings, under the current multiple measures system only 1% of teachers received “ineffective” ratings. Almost all schools in New York City use Measures of Student Learnings (MOSL), dense  algorithms that assess student growth attributed to each teacher – there are hundreds of algorithms  to account for the many different school situations. The system, that includes an appeal process, melds principal observations and MOSLs appears to work well.

At the first meeting of the Board of Regents under the leadership of new Chancellor Betty Rosa a lengthy discussion over teacher evaluation took place. Chancellor Rosa appointed Regent Johnson to chair a Work Group to link research to policy decisions.

The 700 school districts in New York State are currently negotiating teacher evaluation plans under the four year moratorium, the use of grade 3-8 test scores are prohibited.  A few members of the Board suggested asking the legislature to clarify exactly what they wanted the Regents to do in reference to teacher evaluation, others argued that the decision was given to the Regents members and it would be wrong to punt back to the legislature. Clearly, the newly constituted Board has a ways to go to reach consensus.

Even Charlotte Danielson, the doyen of teacher assessment has her doubts about the current policies across the nation,

The idea of tracking teacher accountability started with the best of intentions and a well-accepted understanding about the critical role teachers play in promoting student learning. The focus on teacher accountability has been rooted in the belief that every child deserves no less than good teaching to realize his or her potential.

But as clear, compelling, and noncontroversial as these fundamental ideas were, the assurance of great teaching for every student has proved exceedingly difficult to capture in either policy or practice…

There is also little consensus on how the profession should define “good teaching.” Many state systems require districts to evaluate teachers on the learning gains of their students. These policies have been implemented despite the objections from many in the measurement community regarding the limitations of available tests and the challenge of accurately attributing student learning to individual teachers.

I strongly urge you to read the entire Danielson essay: http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2016/04/20/charlotte-danielson-on-rethinking-teacher-evaluation.html

There are a few schools that have created teacher assessment processes that are valuable because they both assess teaching and encourage teachers to grow in their profession. There is insightful research; unfortunately we do not know how to “scale up.”  There is no inter-rater reliability, in some districts every teacher received a “highly effective” score, which also means so did the rater. Teachers in high wealth, high achieving districts receive higher scores than teachers in low wealth lower achieving districts. (Check out research studies  from the Chicago Consortium on School Research here  and here).

Getting teacher evaluation/assessment right is exceedingly complex in a highly emotional climate.

The Regents have a challenging task.

The Regents/Commissioner Agenda: Grappling with the Future of Education in New York State

The Board of Regents meets monthly beginning on a Monday morning with a webcast full board meeting in the historic Regents Room, lined with portraits of former chancellors dating into the 19th century.  The February 24th meeting began with detailed description of the new federal law, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act now called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  (Read the federal description here and the State Ed Power Point explanation here  and watch the archived webcast here which included many questions and many unresolved issues).

The Board moves to a series of committee meetings with presentations by the commissioner and her staff, education leaders from around the state and other invited guests. (The committee meetings are not webcast)The presentations sometimes relate to a topic for discussion that will evolve into policy and at other times an informational topic. Policy issues move to votes, a period for public comment, back to the committee and, if approved by the committee on to the full board for a vote.

On Monday the P-12 Committee spent the morning listening to a lengthy presentation, “Revision and Implementation of the New ELA and Mathematics Standards,” (Watch Power Point here) by the commissioner. The survey posted by State Ed garnered thousands of comments about the Common Core and pointed to a number of specific areas that practitioners thought required revisions. The state will convene stakeholder meetings, just about every constituency imaginable (including Content Advisory Panels and Standards Review Committees), and move towards a revision of the Common Core. At the end of the process, about three years, the next generation of state tests will reflect the revisions; a caveat, someone must provide the dollars to fund the process: BTW, the Common Core will be renamed Aim High NY.

Make sure you click on and watch the Power Point above; the areas for suggested revision are specific.

The P-12 Committee moved into a discussion of Academic Intervention Services/AIS. School districts are required to identify and provide targeted services to a cohort of students; the state determines the targeted students.  Should the targeted group be defined as all students who score below proficient on state tests (below 3.0)?  Or, all students who score below 2.5?  Should school districts be permitted to use multiple measures to identify AIS students?  Two educators, one from upstate and one from New York City described the local processes – a lively discussion ensued, especially among the Regents who were former superintendents, (Watch Power Point here). The commissioner will return to the board with a specific recommendation that will move through the comment period to adoption of recommendations binding on school districts. The sharp decline in scores under the Common Core tests doubled the pool of AIS eligible students potentially sharply increasing the cost to the district and/or reducing the student per capita spending.

In the next session the Regents received an update on creating formal policy regarding increasing the numbers of students in “least restrictive environments” that will be forthcoming in the fall.  Some school district prefer to place students with disabilities in self-contained classrooms, others prefer to place students in integrative, co-teaching classes. The discussions, as they emerge later in the year, should be lively.

The approval of a number of charter schools, usually pro-forma resulted in animated discussion around the New York Times video of a “model teacher” berating a third grade child who could not answer a question. Success Academy charter schools are authorized by SUNY, not the Board of Regents; do the Regents have any authority to investigate the pedagogy in schools that they do not authorize?  Clearly, the Regents were quite upset and four Regents refused to vote on the approval of the charter schools on the agenda.

The NYS Permanent Judicial Commission on Justice for Children presented a policy paper (Read here) and a Power Point, “Promoting School Justice Partnerships to Keep Youth in School and Out of Court” which began with the statements:

Myth: There is really no evidence that the “school to prison pipeline” really exist.

Bottom Line: Suspension often is the first step in a chain of events leading to short and long term consequences, i. e., incarceration.

Are the Regents and the Commissioner moving in the right direction? 

Correlation does not equal causation.

The discussion around AIS service and suspension are typical of “parachute” answers – solutions dropped in from the heavens.

Schools typically purchase an AIS program, we’re talking remediation, for example Read 180.  Schools monitor the implementation of the program, not the basic level of the instruction and the emotional needs of the student. Are the dollars and time spent on the AIS program more effective than the classroom instruction? Would the use of the funding and time be better spent in counseling and attending to the basic physical/emotional needs of the child?  And, the overall question: do AIS services improve student outcomes?

Are suspensions the first step leading to incarceration or are the basic behaviors of the child preceding the act that led to the suspension event the first step to criminal acts?

The core of education is the teacher and the curriculum.

There are no magic bullets; we aren’t hiding large numbers of wonderful teachers in some cave or some secret sauce that improves math skills.

We don’t do a good job of recruiting prospective teachers, we could prepare teachers a lot better and we can certainly support new teacher much better. Teaching is the only profession with such high attrition rates.

We know that trauma has adverse impacts on children, the research is overwhelming (Read some of the research findings here), yet the powers above pour dollars into remediation rather than the health and social services that address the underlying reasons for difficulties in school.

Yes, the teacher is the core, the building block of our entire education system. The fatally flawed teacher evaluation system (APPR) neither measured teacher effectiveness nor discriminated among teachers.

Getting better as a teacher is a career-long trek.

For example, a recent research is troubling, and hopefully will result in teacher introspection.

New research shows that black and white teachers give very different evaluations of behavior of black students. When a black student has a black teacher that teacher is much, much less likely to see behavioral problems than when the same black student has a white teacher.

New research by Adam Wright, “Teachers’ Perceptions of Students’ Disruptive Behavior: The Effect of Racial Congruence and Consequences for School Suspension,” documents that black teachers have much less negative views of black student behavior than do white teachers.

Are white teachers less able to “relate” to students of color?  Can teaching be described by the Danielson Frameworks or is culturally responsive pedagogy essential to be an effective teacher?

Looking for that magical fairy dust that can be sprinkled over the students who are not progressing in literacy and numeracy is a chimera. The better question is why that school a few blocks away with the same kids is doing so much better?  There are high and low suspension schools; once again, why?  I don’t object to restorative justice practices, they are time consuming and can be expensive. Collaborative and demanding school leaders, a team approach, schools in which teachers, together, strategize about kids, are more likely to achieve better academic outcomes and fewer suspensions.

The answers are blowing in the wind, we have to catch them.

An Experienced Teacher Tells the Chancellor: It’s About Instruction, Not Structure

Marc Korashan is a career Special Education teacher, has been an instructor at Brooklyn College, a mentor to First and Second Year Teaching Fellows and a frequent commenter on this blog.

Chancellor Farina’s appointment is a kept promise: she is an educator; however, it needs to be more to truly invigorate the school system. There are many questions that she will have to address to reinvigorate and renew our school system.

This Chancellor knows, as none of the last four did, that education takes place in the classroom, in the relationship between the teacher and the student. The pundits, who were never in a classroom except as a student, will continue, as Ed in the Apple writes, “… to talk about the symbolic issues that grab the headlines, and rarely impact classrooms.” Will the Mayor and new chancellor be able to change the conversation to focus on classrooms and the elements of good teaching that are really central to student success?

The questions that come to mind for me start with whether she will allow teachers to teach the children in front of them even if this means moving away from the “workshop model” and “social engagement” where it isn’t working, to more direct instruction. I know teachers who want to move away from group instruction, it may be more effective to put children in rows and do more direct instruction, but they can’t because administration won’t allow it. Will Chancellor Farina empower these teachers to take the risk to do what they think will work better even where it challenges the Danielson and Klein imposed orthodoxy?

It is so much easier for politicians and pundits to talk about governance than teaching. Teaching is a truly complex activity that can’t be reduced to a formula (or a rubric) that fits all classes, all students, and all situations. Those of us who have spent time in classrooms and have lived with the complexity of trying to teach many individuals at once know this and value seeing teachers who do it well even when they do it in ways we didn’t or wouldn’t have predicted would work. Will the new Chancellor end the lockstep use of the Danielson rubrics or checklists to evaluate teachers who are effective in their own creative ways? Will she champion changes in the Teacher Evaluation (APPR) law and make it truly about improving teaching, retaining good educators and helping those who shouldn’t be in the classroom to recognize that and make a graceful exit?

Will the new Chancellor use the upcoming contract negotiations to revisit the professional periods and the extra time in the school day to make that time available for meaningful professional development activities? Will she hold schools accountable for the quality of the PD and how will she measure the effectiveness?

The Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott era is famous for reorganizing the school bureaucracy many times. Will the Mayor and new Chancellor be able to end the ineffective networks and replace them with a structure that truly supports teachers in classrooms? Will they take steps to ensure that principals cannot, as they do too often now, leave classrooms vacant (on the specious grounds that they can’t find a teacher even though there is a pool of ATRs who need jobs)?

Finally, as a Special Education teacher, I can’t help but wonder if the new Chancellor will take steps to make Special Education a meaningful option for those students who are truly disabled? Will she take steps to make the Alternative High Schools a real alternative for students who need them by finding metrics for evaluating those schools that recognize they must be different from typical high schools? Will she find ways to create CTE programs that work (as CoOp Tech which is being closed to allow for real estate developers to make money did) and create opportunities for students to enter the work force in trades that pay more than minimum wage (welding, HVAC, elevator repair, auto repair, electrical installation, plumbing, etc.)?

These are the questions that the Bloomberg/Klein/Walcott administration failed to address and the answers that the deBlassio/Farina administration comes up with will determine their impact and legacy. This is what the pundits and the press should be watching.

Will the New Mayor/Chancellor Feign a New Path or Offer True Collaboration? Can the Union Move from Confrontation to Collaboration?

The announcement of the new chancellor is imminent … a few days.

Mayor de Blasio, the new chancellor, the teacher and supervisor union presidents Mulgrew and Logan and recognizable parent leaders will be standing on the podium. The newly selected chancellor will use the occasion to set a new path, the “right” statements about working together, the required platitudes, a new direction for a new administration.

Within a week or two the mayor and the chancellor will make “bold” announcements turning around a few of the Bloomberg initiatives. As I have written previously, maybe a freeze on co-locations and the end of the ATR pool, a number of concrete symbolic steps that tell the workforce we intend to turnaround the twelve years of Bloomberg.

Does turnaround mean devolving to the pre-Bloomberg past or setting a new path to the future?

For teachers the past is appealing, it’s familiar: geographic school districts, powerful superintendents, policy set from Central, a paramilitary structure, and a noblesse oblige attitude toward teachers. The Klein administration came to power and imposed a new structure; moving from 32 community school districts to five regional K-12 regions; over the years the Bloomberg regency morphed to four “knowledge” networks, to quasi-independent empowerment schools, eliminated the position of deputy chancellor for teaching and learning and established sixty affinity-based 25 school networks, it was dizzying. Bloomberg/Klein were purposefully disruptive, the goal to destroy the past, in essence “burn the books.” burn the memories.

Where will the new chancellor take us?

Mike Petrilli, a the incoming president of a the Fordham Foundation, a conservative think tank, in the NY Daily News, urges,

… de Blasio needs to come to grips with a simple truth: Any gains provided by a massive new investment in preschool will quickly fade away if he doesn’t also tackle New York City’s mediocre elementary schools.

What makes them mediocre? It’s the curriculum, stupid — or the lack thereof. When Bloomberg and Joel Klein exploded on the scene in the early 2000s, they were famously agnostic about what kids actually learn in the classroom day-to-day. To Klein’s credit, he eventually came to see the errors of his ways, and in his last years as chancellor he embraced the Core Knowledge program — a coherent, content-rich curriculum that is a model for what kids in New York, and nationwide, need if they are going to become strong readers.

What’s so special about content knowledge? As scholar and Core Knowledge creator E.D. Hirsch, Jr. has argued for 30 years — and as more recent cognitive science has confirmed — knowledge is the building block of literacy. Once students learn to “decode” the English language, their ability to comprehend what they read is all about what they know.

Should the new chancellor “require” an elementary school curriculum, be it Core Knowledge or another curriculum? How many decisions should come from on high? If curriculum is decided by the school district leaders, if classroom instruction methodology is also mandated, as it is in requiring the Danielson Frameworks, do we squelch innovation?

Should the new core principles be developed with the participation of the stakeholders?

Should the new school district leader, as Joel Klein did, embrace a curriculum for the entire city? Bring coherence; create a rigid Chancellor’s District approach for every school?

Or, is Eric Nadelstern right? “The more authority you share, the more influential you become.”

Jonathan Molofsky, a nationally recognized professional developer avers, “The answers are in the room.” The answers are not in the distant aeries of Boards of Education, the answers are not in selecting the “right” reading program or in hiring the “right” consultant, the answers in are in the hearts and minds of each and every teacher. The challenge is to move teachers from benign followers of the ukases from on high to instructional partners, partners with colleagues working under the direction of a strong leader.

Randi Weingarten, in the Winter, 2013-14 issue of the American Educator writes,

Students and educators benefit greatly from effective partnerships between teacher unions and school districts … unfortunately, without partners on both sides of the labor-management equation willing to put students in the forefront of their concerns, significant progress will be impeded, if not impossible.

Frankly collaboration is harder than confrontation. Many people are more comfortable with the us-versus- them posture … While some see collaboration as capitulation what it does is the seeding of trust and good will, not the ceding of authority and responsibility. It’s not easy, but it is effective.

For some inside the ranks of the union, collaboration does mean capitulation, and the firmest defenders of every comma in the union contract are frequently the union activists.

Will the union leadership willing to negotiate a new contract based on collaboration?

There is abundant research to support a culture of collaboration. Glen Anrig in “Cultivating Collaboration: The Science behind Thriving Labor-Management Relationships,” points us to a study by the highly regarded Chicago Consortium on School Research,

“… the most effective schools, based on test score improvement over time, …developed an unusually high degree of ‘relational trust’ among stakeholders [and] developed five key organizational features,

1. A coherent instructional guidance system, in which the curriculum, study materials and assessments are coordinated within and across grades with meaningful teacher involvement;

2. An effective system to improve instructional capacity, including making teachers’ classroom work public for examination by colleagues and external consultants, and to enable ongoing support and guidance for teachers;

3. Strong parent-community school ties, with an integrated support network for students;

4. A student-centered learning climate that identifies and responds to difficulties any child may be experiencing; and.

5. Leadership focused on cultivating teachers, parents and community members, so that they become invested in sharing overall responsibility for the school’s improvement.”

The tendency will be to follow the lead of John King, the State Commissioner, and issue regulations and requirements and press releases and declare victory, to see the principals and teachers and their organizations as “special interests” and simply move forward, after all that’s what school district leaders have been taught to do.

There is an opportunity in New York City to do what no chancellor has done, to change the direction of a school system with the union as a partner. It is risky for the union.

Perhaps begin by carving out a space – a collaboration zone with a “thin” contract?

After the press conferences fade and the initial elation ebbs, will the stakeholders engage? Will the new chancellor seek to engage with the union? Will the union take the risk of dragging along recalcitrant members?

From Washington to state capitals to Boards of Education, from the Broad Academy model, from Los Angeles to New York City the script has been the same: school choice, aka charter schools, school closings, accountability, aka testing and evaluating teachers based on dense algorithms, the Common Core, the denigration of senior teachers, aka Teach For America, and, generally viewing teachers and their unions as obstacles to progress.

Will de Blasio and his new chancellor break the mold and will the unions take the risk of moving to a collaborative model?

A new mayor with new ideas offers the possibility of institutional change, offers the possibility of creating new school cultures; windows for change are only open for a while.

FLASH: Newspapers and twitter announce de Blasio has chosen Carmen Farina as the new chancellor.