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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? ...

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 ...

In a recent Slate article, Dana Goldstein argues that “Michele Bachmann's growing popularity among the Republican base signals . . . a sea change in the party's education agenda.” I would add the same goes for Rick Perry’s popularity, and for the general abundance of Tea Party affiliated candidates among GOP nomination hopefuls.

Goldstein contrasts the common Republican positions of a decade ago—an era defined largely by George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind—as often bipartisan, and emphasizing standards-and-accountability in order to make America more competitive in the global marketplace. Now, however, Goldstein notes that the GOP has shifted to cater to “the anti-government, Christian-right view of education epitomized by Bachmann, in which public schools are regarded not as engines for economic growth or academic achievement, but as potential moral corrupters of the nation's youth.” ...

Last week I was lucky enough to attend the “Big Ideas Retreat” hosted by the Knowledge Alliance at the Aspen Institute conference center in Wye, Maryland.  The theme for this year’s retreat was Opportunities in the New Normal – Leveraging Knowledge to Move Forward.  In addition to their members, Jim Kohlmoss and his staff at the Knowledge Alliance assembled an exciting group of education thought-leaders, researchers, and practitioners.  In addition to the opportunity to interact with such an interesting and knowledgeable group of professionals, the program also showcased successful educators sharing their experience providing rich educational environments in a time of shrinking resources.  A sampling of what I heard that particularly resonated. ...

For some time I’ve been pondering how those of us who work to strengthen public K-12 education could spend less energy attacking each other (i.e. the “reformers” vs the “establishment”) and more time on problem-solving in a way that would help us serve all students regardless of economic/social/family situation to find success in a complex world.  Of course one thing that would be helpful is if we could collectively acknowledge that a student’s out-of-school situation DOES have a profound impact on school performance—not to use that acknowledgement as an excuse, but rather to factor it into the efforts we design to ensure school success.  ...

Recently the Wall Street Journal featured an interview with Bill Gates in which Gates conceded some missteps in his philanthropic efforts toward public education. $5 billion dollars after his debut into public education affairs, Gates admits “It’s been about a decade of learning.” It’s a common concern that private dollars toward education can actually be counterproductive when they direct attention and commitment to misplaced priorities, and so it’s somewhat gratifying to hear Gates acknowledging this.

Gates offered a more tempered view on education than the WSJ interviewer (who in the article described public education in cities as “dysfunctional urban school systems run by powerful labor unions and a top-down government monopoly provider”), but despite his avowed learning from past mistakes,  he still seems naïve in some respects. ...

Education news coming out of Texas lately seems to depict a large-scale comedy of errors. There are misplaced funding priorities (here, here and here) and hard-fought battles to include mainstream science curriculum. Texas is the lone (star) state to pull out of a significant education council that collaborates on state-directed (optional) common standards, and it does not ascribe to the trend to more specifically delineate student racial demographic information for data and research purposes. But at least the most recent debacle may provide a silver(ado) lining: according to Edweek, in explaining the need for the new Supportive School Discipline Initiative, Attorney General Eric Holder said that the numbers from a recent study finding that 60 percent of Texas school children are suspended or expelled between 7th grade and graduation “are a kind of wake up call,” and that “it’s obvious we can do better.”

In short, the initiative is a joint undertaking by the Departments of Justice and Education, and it targets curbing school discipline policies that push students into ...

In two recent Salon.com articles (here and here) political commentator David Sirota has pointed out key differences between Finland and the U.S. that he believes account for education discrepancies between these nations. It essentially boils down to differences in: 1) systemic equity, 2) incentives for and recruitment and support of teachers 3) focus on standardized testing, and 4) bipartisan support among all relevant stakeholders.

To open Sirota asks, “How has one industrialized country created one of the world's most successful education systems in a way that is completely hostile to testing”—and, I’ll add, that does not even attach consequence-based evaluation to teachers or schools? For answers, he refers readers to the documentary film "The Finland Phenomenon: Inside the World's Most Surprising School System” which paints the picture of an educational system that completely contrasts with what he calls “the test-obsessed, teacher-demonizing orthodoxy of education ‘reform’ that now dominates America's political debate.”

Some background to set the stage:

It’s clear by now that while the U.S. tests students more than any other nation, our students perform significantly worse in math and science than students in other industrialized countries. Nevertheless, Sirota points out that ...

Over the past few years, the idea of paying teachers a bonus based on student performance (typically on standardized tests) has been called into question for a number of reasons. Some education organizations have expressed concern about the focus it puts on tests they are not convinced accurately reflect student learning. They also question the underlying theory: That teachers can be motivated to work harder for more money; in other words, that they are not already working as hard as they can.

Some outside the education industry share this skepticism. Behavioral economist Dan Ariely expresses concern that these pay systems create odd incentives for teachers and points out that “If you teach, you want to focus on teaching and not on how your salary is changing every day. Not on your chance for a bonus.” Business writer Dan Pink questions how they motivate, believing that educators more than most respect the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

Research also challenges the effectiveness of these systems. Last year, in what many considered the first controlled study of the issue, researchers found that Tennessee’s Project on Incentives in Teaching (POINT), which awarded bonuses of up to $15,000 to teachers who raised student standardized test scores, had no overall impact on student performance – “It simply did not do much of anything.”

This week we got further evidence suggesting that perhaps this is not the path to improved student performance, with a new study by RAND.

In evaluating New York City’s Schoolwide Performance Bonus System (SPBP), RAND found no positive effects of bonuses on student achievement (as measured by performance on ...

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