National PTA's Sherri Wilson shares resources to engage families in minimizing summer learning loss.
There's been a lot going on with Baltimore City Public Schools lately. The district recently received the CUBE Award (Council of Urban Boards of Education). It has made remarkable progress over the past three years in test scores (especially of minority students), increasing public support and cutting the number of students dropping out of school. A couple examples: Special education students in grades three to eight have improved reading scores on state tests by nearly 30 percentage points—and math scores by nearly 28. English language learners in those grades have improved reading scores by 39 percentage points—and math scores by 39, too, outperforming their English-speaking peers in that subject.
But it's not just what has happened in Baltimore that's exciting--it is also what is to come. For example, a revolutionary new teachers contract. The proposed contract eliminates the “step” pay increases that compensate teachers based solely on their years in the workforce and degrees obtained. It incorporates effectiveness, identified in a number of ways, and also creates a career ladder that gives lead teachers the potential to earn up to $100,000.
And the contract isn’t just about pay and evaluation. It also includes “school-based options.” So teachers at a school, with an 80% majority, can determine school-level working conditions not outlined in the general contract, such as a longer working day or more planning time. It puts teachers at the center of transforming schools.
Remarkably, considering what is included, these contract negotiations went smoothly. The union and district quietly went about ...
"When we make decisions we think we’re in control, making rational choices. But are we?"
In his best-selling book Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, behavioral economist Dan Ariely challenges the basic assumptions of our economic system, exploring the powerful tricks that our minds play on us and showing that actually, we humans are far from rational.
Of course, irrationality is not always bad. His follow-up, The Upside of Irrationality, offers another look at the irrational decisions that influence our lives, as well as some of the positive effects that such irrationality can have.
Ariely recently spoke with us about his work and its implications for education reforms involving teacher compensation and school choice.
Public School Insights: You are a behavioral economist. What does that mean?
Ariely: My Ph.D.s are actually not in economics. I have a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, and I have a Ph.D. in business administration. But what I do lies between psychology and economics.
I ask questions that economists would ask, but instead of assuming straightaway that people behave rationally, I just observe how people behave. So think of it as something that has no assumption; it's just observational in its nature. That's the basic story.
Public School Insights: You've written a couple of books, Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality. Could you briefly describe them?
Ariely: Yes. In Predictably Irrational, I talk about how people think, mostly about financial decisions. The things that we buy. One chapter asks the question, "How do we decide how much something is worth?" Economic theory has a very simple assumption about this. But I ask the question, "How do we really do it?"
Or I ask the question, "What happens when the price of something drops to zero?" People get overly excited about it, usually. But is it just because ...
I am a DC resident, and I am very interested in the politics that have been going on in the District over the past couple of days, especially as they relate to school reform. But I am not going to write about that, at least not directly. Rather, I want to highlight the results of EducationWorld.com's informal teacher survey on school climate.
Nearly 99% of teachers believe that school climate has a significant impact on student performance. And in general many of them are satisfied with key aspects of the climate in their school--for example, nearly 75% say their principals always or often involve staff in decision making, nearly 70% say they have the instructional materials needed to do their jobs and about 75% work schools that are in good repair. Overall, about 66% think that their school is a pleasant place for students and teachers to learn and work.
The problem is that then the reverse of each of those numbers is then true as well. So over 30% of teachers have needs for instructional materials that are not being met. And nearly a ...
No one would deny that having a high-quality teacher in every classroom is important. Research confirms that effective teaching improves student achievement. So it stands to reason that very few would deny that it’s important for all teachers to have access to high-quality professional learning. After all, research confirms it is a significant pathway to more effective teaching.
Yet as evidenced by a recent report from Learning Forward (formerly the National Staff Development Council), the National Education Association, American Federation of Teachers and Council of Chief State School Officers, far too few states and school districts ensure that their educators have access to effective professional learning activities.
Advancing High-Quality Professional Learning Through Collective Bargaining and State Policy takes an in-depth look at the professional learning policies of six states. The conclusion? Professional learning does not have a significant place in policy and collective bargaining language. But there is hope—the report offers recommendations and examples of collectively bargained language, legislation, regulations and administrative guidelines to inform the development of policy language that can strengthen the quality of professional development in the future.
To learn more about the report and its implications, we spoke to three individuals who each brought a unique perspective to this issue: Joellen Killion (Deputy Executive Director of Learning Forward), Linda Davin (Senior Policy Analyst at NEA) and Joyce Powell (now serving on the NEA Executive Committee after four years as the president of the New Jersey Education Association and decades in the classroom).
Public School Insights: Why is it important to do address professional development through collective bargaining and state policy?
Killion: At Learning Forward, we believe that if there are strong policies in place that set clear expectations, then there will be improved practice. So when collective bargaining language addresses with clarity the importance of the opportunity for teachers to engage in professional development, and when state policy simultaneously provides resources, guidelines and expectations for effective professional development, we believe that the practice of professional development will be improved.
Davin: I couldn’t agree more. Although we know that we can have high quality professional learning in districts where it is not included in collective bargaining language, we also know that ...
Editor's note: Our guest blogger today is Matt Brown, who can typically be found blogging on education issues over at Relentless Pursuit of Acronyms.
Reading through recent stories about the worth (or worthlessness) of teaching experience reminded me of one of my old college roommates.
I’m not normally that into video games, but during college, I made an exception for the NCAA Football series. While I technically have a degree in Political Science, I suspect I completed enough hours on our PlayStation for at least a minor in video game football. It didn’t matter if you wanted to run a spread offense, the option, Wishbone, whatever. Any of my dormmates knew if that if you fancied yourself a good NCAA guy, you needed to see how you matched up against Matt (I wasn't Mr. Brown yet).
But one of my roommates decided that he wanted to be the new floor champ. He was pretty good at a bunch of other video games, and he was a casual football fan, so he figured he could pick up the game pretty quickly. He thought that when I left the room to go to work or class, he’d play online, learn the secrets of the game, and then challenge me.
Sadly for him, playing video games online is not for the faint of heart. Only the best of the best plunk down the money for a subscription to play, and they take great pride in ...
All over the country, policymakers are calling for systems that tie teacher evaluation to student performance. And from Florida to Colorado, Maryland to Louisiana, they are defining student performance as standardized test scores.
Few would argue that current teacher evaluation systems are adequate. And using standardized tests seems a cost-effective way to define performance, an important consideration in times of fiscal crisis. But are evaluation systems based on those tests valid? Can student performance on standardized assessments accurately identify effective teachers?
A new brief from the Economic Policy Institute reviews the evidence. The conclusion? Taken alone, student test scores are not a valid or reliable indicator of teacher effectiveness.
The brief discusses the lack of evidence that test-based accountability improves student learning, statistical concerns with using standardized tests to evaluate individual teachers and practical concerns with systems that do so, including the difficulty of attributing learning gains to one individual. It also raises concerns about the unintended consequences of these systems, including a narrowing of ...
Imagine you open your newspaper in the morning to find a story about dietary supplements. The story includes a throw-away line or two noting that supplements aren't subject to FDA approval and that the research on supplements is mixed. It then proceeds to extol their virtues, list the ailments each is said to cure, and offer links to discount suppliers. I'm guessing you wouldn't think very highly of your paper.
In some respects, the recent LA Times story on teacher effectiveness isn't all that different from my hypothetical story. The authors mumble a few words about problems with the methods it used to rate 6,000 L.A. teachers. They then launch into full-throated advocacy for the approach. They even publish names and pictures of the city's "worst" teachers.
"No one suggests using value-added analysis [of test scores] as the sole measure of a teacher," the authors write. They then proceed to use value-added analysis as the sole measure of 6000 real teachers in real schools. They brand one as "least effective," name him, and print his picture in the paper. Then they supply a database of 6,000 teachers rated solely by test scores. A few words about the limits of value-added measures won't blunt the overall effect of the article. Those teachers have been marked.
The authors note that "ineffective teachers often face no consequences and get no extra help." While I'm pleased that the Times has considered the need to help struggling teachers, I'm sorry to see that thought get swept away so quickly by stronger, darker currents. Regardless of what the authors ...
A couple of days ago NCES released a new report on teacher attrition and mobility. Among many interesting findings, the report shows a 20-year trend—the percent of public school teachers leaving the teaching profession is steadily rising. The report, which is based on the 2008-09 Teacher Follow-Up Survey, doesn’t go into the reasons behind this trend. But thanks to some of the recent debates here on Public School Insights, I wondered how it related to the average age of our public school teachers. It could be due to the aging of the workforce—the number of teachers retiring. Or maybe the young, TFA-type teachers—in the profession for two years and then out—are playing a role.
So I went back to an earlier version of the survey, the May 1994 report based on the 1991-92 Teacher Follow-Up Survey. Of the six such surveys over the last 20 or so years, this one showed the lowest percent of teachers leaving the profession—5.1% that year (compared to ...
Eagle-eyed Larry Ferlazzo found this modest proposal in Slate Magazine: Fire 80 percent of new teachers every two years. The authors of the study Slate describes admit that their idea might not be practical. (Larry's response: "Ya think?") They see it as a "thought experiment." But here's my question: Could such thought experiments, like Frankenstein, overwhelm their creators and wreak havoc in the wider world?
Such experiments don't tend to stay in the laboratory. They get picked up by the papers and start to change the way people across the country think about teaching and teachers. Papers like Slate admire the bravado of the wonks and economists who float extreme ideas--the bolder, the better--and they love the crazy headlines. But they don't always put things into context.
Slate offers a case in point. It praises Teach for America but fails to note that TFA produces only 4,500 new teachers a year--a drop in the bucket. The article claims that great teachers are "born, not made" and then says nothing at all about staff development.
The Slate article doesn't ask a very important question. Who would want to go into teaching if you have an 80 percent chance of getting the axe in two years? I can see the logic of raising the bar almost impossibly high if we manage to make teaching one of the most alluring jobs in America. Give teachers movie star status, support them in their jobs, and make the job as rewarding as ...
Young teachers aren't buying it, either. That's one of the main findings from a recent Public Agenda poll of teachers from three generations. "Generation Y" teachers are very skeptical of ideas that dominate current debates on school reform. This finding does not bode well for the reform agenda. It suggests that policy makers and pundits may be alienating the very people who must carry out the reforms.
The poll results tell us that resistance to some of the big reform ideas is by no means confined to old union stalwarts. The younger folk don't believe test scores should be the main determinant of teacher pay. They believe it should be easier to remove bad teachers, but they don't think tenure should go the way of the dodo.
It's at least as interesting to note what the young 'uns do want. They want staff development, help with discipline, constructive feedback on their teaching, and the chance to collaborate with their peers. In other words, they want the support and the conditions they need to do their jobs well. Those issues seem largely absent from national discussions of school reform.
Another finding of the Public Agenda poll struck me: Young teachers plan to stick around. Almost seven in ten planned to stay in classroom for more than a decade. The notion that those kids ...
A VISION FOR GREAT SCHOOLS
On this website, educators, parents and policymakers from coast to coast are sharing what's already working in public schools--and sparking a national conversation about how to make it work for children in every school. Join the conversation!