Monday, February 20, 2012

Firing Teachers based on Test Scores.

Joanne Jacobs noted that Weak teachers fail in New Haven, but not many.

New Haven’s unionized teachers gave up job security for better pay and benefits, writes New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. "With a stronger evaluation system, tenure no longer mattered and weak teachers could be pushed out. Roughly half of a teacher’s evaluation would depend on the performance of his or her students — including on standardized tests and other measures of learning.
Really? Half of my evaluation would be based on how someone else's kids do on a single test? Are those scores any reasonable measurement of teacher quality? Not in my state. 32% of the students passed the state test for RI, VT, NH, and ME with a “proficient” rating. Only 3% passed as “Highly proficient”. Roughly a third passed … Either all of the math teachers in four states suck or this test is inappropriate ... yet Vermont has one of the best education systems in the country and consistently ranks in the top five.

Are we so sure that every state test is perfect? I can't remember a NY teacher who feels the Regents is perfect ... and it's better than the NECAP or the NSRE.

What of the normal variations in the students? My students scores' have been all over the map in the past 30 years or so. Did I improve as a teacher and then get worse, then better, then better, then really worse? Nope. I teach 9th-grade prealgebra and 11th grade consumer math, AP Calculus, and everything in between. In years I taught AP physics and AP Calculus, I was apparently a really good teacher. Other years, the bad years, my juniors hadn't started algebra II when the test occurred and I would be considered "a terrible teacher".

What other "measures of learning" are being used? None. The administrators who couldn't evaluate their teachers before are, I guess, magically better at evaluating them now. I've seen many attempts at evaluation - most of the "new" methods are silly. The only one that works is a comprehensive, across-the-board look at classes, relationships with students, students' future successes. That rarely happens.
Teachers were protected by a transparent process, and by accountability for principals. But if outside evaluators agreed with administrators that a teacher was failing, the teacher would be out at the end of the school year. Last year, the school district pushed out 34 teachers, about 2 percent of the total in the district. The union not only didn’t object, but acknowledged that many of them didn’t really belong in the classroom. Fifty more teachers out of 1,800 in the district have been warned their teaching must improve or they’ll be fired.
What this really shows is that administrators weren't doing their jobs in the first place. How can I say that so definitively? Simple. Those 94 teachers were hired by administrators, had been there for years being evaluated by administrators and were still teaching. Tenure does not protect an incompetent teacher - there is a three year probationary period during which a teacher can be let go - but none of these were. Where was that evaluation system then?
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. of New Haven says that the breakthrough isn’t so much that poor teachers are being eased out, but that feedback is making everyone perform better — principals included. “Most everybody picked up their game in the district,” he said.
What utter blather. "Feedback is making everyone better." Feedback doesn't make people better - feedback pressures people to conform to the will of the commenter. If the commenter is a thirty-year math teacher or even just a thirty-year teacher, then comments matter to me and feedback is useful. If the commenter is a thirty-year-old journalist who's never been in a classroom before, then I couldn't care less.

Here's a few predictions:
  • No more "Literacy across the curriculum."
  • Teachers will retreat into safe-zones and teach only the proscribed methods in only the proscribed ways. There will be no innovations, no change to the "One True Path". Once a method has been shown to work, no one will deviate. Of course, no one will ever seriously stick their neck out to find a better method, so any educational fad promoted by the principal will suffice.
  • Test prep will run rampant because that's the current principal's answer to everything. Topics like Conics will disappear.
  • Schedule rigging will become the new Sport of Kings and those who can't ass-kiss their way to a better roster will be fired. Students will be "failed out" of math classes and shuffled into the classes of those lame-duck teachers who are on their way out anyway. No one will ever see an admin's toady taking the fall. The bottom 50% of the students will become poison pills in a fairly high stakes poker game.
  • Teachers will not propose or take on courses that cater to low-level or poorly motivated students. I will only teach AP or Honors, and nothing below algebra II (because a kid who has made it that far is, by definition, a better student).
  • Mentors and other experienced teachers will be less likely to help a newbie look good. Some will help students they don't actually have in class, but many will not.
Your role-model: Little Boots.
  • Cut-throat competition will win out over cooperation when everyone realizes that it is possible to sabotage other teachers ... $5000 is pretty powerful motivator. "What benefit do I get by doing _____?" will replace "What benefit will the students get if I do ____?" 
  • When you monetize the evaluation, you get worse results for education. If I know that I can get $2000, or $5000 bonus, then I will do whatever it takes, fair or foul, to get that extra cash. Since the outside evaluators have to agree with the admin, the admin will become the focal point of efforts. Anything the admin wants, good or bad or indecent, will become the goal. Teachers will never speak up in faculty meetings or try to improve the system because that would be criticism of the admin and that would negatively impact your chances at a bonus.
  • For now, all of the school energy will be focused on math and English because those are the only courses that matter, but soon this mentality will permeate through all disciplines, including art, history and languages. I'm not worried, though, because I'm a white male math teacher with a degree in engineering. It's the minorities who should worry.
Joanne wraps up this way: "Two percent of teachers were fired. That doesn’t sound like a very tough system. Maybe over time it will make a difference. Am I too bloodthirsty?"

Not now. Wait for it.

The teachers will get bloodthirsty enough.

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