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Last week I read two stories about large public education systems that have stuck with me for days. One story, on page one of The Washington Post, profiled the work of Chris Lloyd, the vice president of the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA), the teachers’ union representing the 12,000 classroom professionals employed by Montgomery County, MD Public Schools. It detailed the positive progress a district can make when its professionals at all levels work together to support good teaching and counsel poor performers out of the profession.  The second story, a posting on the blog Teacher in a Strange Land by Nadia Zananiri, an AP World History teacher in the Miami-Dade Public Schools, describes the tragic consequences of education policies that unfairly and inaccurately “rate” teachers using “value-added” data and publicly rank schools and the professionals who work in them by publishing those ratings in the popular press. Since both districts are large urban-suburban districts with a diverse student population, I’m puzzled by why the Florida district can’t learn from the Maryland district’s success.

For more than a decade, Montgomery County Public Schools has used a program called Peer Assistance and Review (PAAR) to evaluate, support, and improve classroom instruction.  The program was developed in partnership with the MCEA, the principals’ organization, and central office administrators with the support of the school board and focuses on providing mentoring for new teachers and ongoing feedback to experienced teachers to insure that the students in the district are successful. When a teacher’s practice doesn’t improve after ...

In this year’s Metlife Survey of the American Teacher there’s good news and there’s bad news.

In the good news column, parent engagement has increased in the past 25 years, though it still remains a challenge for many schools.  The bad news exposed that teachers are less satisfied with their careers and that in the past two years there has been a significant decline in teachers’ satisfaction with their profession.  In one of the most dramatic findings of the report, teacher satisfaction has decreased by 15 points since the survey measured job satisfaction two years ago.  It has now reached the lowest level of job satisfaction seen in the survey series in more than two decades.

This troubling news should be a wakeup call for all of us, especially since in addition to the low morale problem, the number of teachers who indicated they will be leaving their jobs for both retirement and other fields has markedly ...

Yesterday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan hosted a town hall meeting to launch the RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching) Project, a proposed $5 billion program included in the Obama Administration’s 2013 budget. Typical of this administration’s education initiatives, this program is competitive and challenges states and district to work with teachers, unions, colleges of education and other stakeholders to comprehensively “reform” the field of teaching. 

I would have preferred that the Secretary used language that was more in line with “support and strengthen” the field of teaching since the word “reform” has been coopted by every harsh critic of public education, most of whom have  little interest in exploring solutions that could strengthen the complex nature of teaching and learning.  Having said that, the initiative provides much to celebrate and works to move the conversation around the important work of supporting public schooling to the strategy level in which all interested parties (which should be all of us) are involved. ...

Updated 1/31/12

In the State of the Union, President Obama made several references to education, reiterating its importance to his administration and to a healthy economy. 

While k-12 education was not a primary focus of the speech, he did touch directly on a few major education issues. He pointed out that nearly all states have raised their academic standards in recent years. He also made one very specific policy proposal: He called on all states to keep students in school until they either graduate from high school or turn 18.

In addition, the President emphasized the importance of good teachers. As he put it:

Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.

What did the education community have to say about this speech?

Gayle Manchin, president of the National Association of State Boards of Education, was pleased that ...

1/19/12 Update: NEA Today has the latest on the situation in Chester Upland.

Educators in Pennsylvania’s Chester Upland School District were forced to make that very difficult decision recently, when the district announced that without an infusion of new cash from the state, it would not be able to make payroll starting January 18.

But members of the Chester Upland Education Association and the Chester Upland Education Support Personnel Association are doing all they can to keep schools running as long as possible. These educators and education support personnel have passed a resolution vowing to stay on the job for as long as they are individually able, even if the district fails to pay them in the near future.

Why? Commitment to students. As elementary school teacher Sara Feguson said in The Philadelphia Inquirer, ...

Today the largest teachers’ union in the US, the National Education Association (NEA), announced an action plan to strengthen the teaching profession and invest in the development of teacher leaders whose advocacy for and support of effective classroom practitioners will result in improved student learning and stronger public schools.  The recommendations made today are based on the work of an independent Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching made up of accomplished teachers and educational leaders that looked at best practices from effective teachers across the country. These recommendations will result in an increase in the quality of teacher candidates before they reach the classroom; ensure that teachers remain at the top of their game throughout their careers; and improve student achievement by improving the profession.

The NEA Action Agenda has three major components:

  • Raising the Bar for Entry—advocating to strengthen and maintain strong and uniform standards for preparation and admission to teacher preparation programs
    • Every teacher candidate should have one full year of residency under

Too often when discussing the challenges public K-12 education faces, sweeping generalizations are made that in addition to being inaccurate, unfairly categorize professional educators and public schools as uniformly unsuccessful or at best inadequate.  For instance, there is no proof that charter schools are guaranteed to produce better results than traditional public schools. In fact, the best research to date suggests that just 17% of charter schools outperform traditional public schools – and that 37% of them actually perform worse, though that is a statistic that is rarely acknowledged in some camps. There are great public schools and great charter schools, and then there are struggling schools in both categories. There are great teachers and there are bad teachers. Would we all like great teachers, great schools, and well-educated students? ...

Last week I had the interesting and mostly pleasant experience of attending two events showcasing issues in public preK-12 education on the same day:  one sponsored by the Institute for a Competitive Workforce (ICW), the education arm of the United States Chamber of Commerce, and the second hosted by the National Association for Elementary School Principals (NAESP) honoring America’s National Distinguished Principals.  As one would expect, the two organizations have very different perspectives on the status of public schools and the people who work in them.

With the exception of Steve Brill’s closing luncheon speech, the ICW meeting was generally balanced and featured interesting panel discussions around the event’s theme, “Race to the Top:  Are We There Yet?” (Never mind that we’re barely a year into the competitive, federally funded, state administered large scale initiative.  It’s lucky the first checks are in the mail much less that we’re “there”, wherever that might be.)  A couple of the panelists, Dan Cruce from the Delaware Department of Education and Pat Forgione from ETS in particular, provided reality based presentations on state department collaborations that work towards effective change management. ...

If the mainstream press reporting on public schools wasn’t important, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post.  But, the fact is that the general public gets its information about public education (and private education) from the mainstream press both in print and online, so how our work is depicted is key to the support we get from the public we serve.  Last week, Jay Matthews, the education reporter/columnist for my home town newspaper, The Washington Post, not only misrepresented how successful school districts operate, he also got his facts wrong. ...

This week, the American Education Research Association and National Academy of Education hosted Getting Teacher Evaluation Right: A Challenge for Policy Makers, which highlighted concerns of education researchers with using value-added modeling (VAM, a model that measures a teacher's contribution to student test scores) in teacher evaluations.

The consensus of the research community: Most believe VAM is not appropriate as a primary measure for evaluating individual teachers. The standardized test score data used in these models is just not reliable, given issues with the small sample size of classrooms, the nonrandom assignment of students to classrooms, and the fact that while a student might, for example, work on reading skills with a teacher, a parent, a tutor and a paraprofessional, the only one who gets credit (or blame) is the teacher.

Two studies were cited that I found particularly disturbing: One found that 27% of teachers who get an “A” rating one year on a VAM-based system get a “D” or “F” rating the next – and that 30% of “F” teachers get an “A” or “B” the next. Another found that these models predict the influence of a 5th grade teacher on their students 4th grade test scores – scores received prior to the teacher even meeting the students.*

Despite the concerns of the research community, districts all over the country are including VAM in teacher evaluations – and ...

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