Tuesday, January 27, 2009

New teacher evaluation system...the devil's in the details

On January 16, City Council Chairman Vincent Gray organized a full-day hearing on the state of human capital development in DCPS. National experts and eloquent DCPS teachers testified for 11 hours before the full Council. Councilmembers heard different perspectives, but a powerful critique emerged of a lack of support for high quality teaching in the school system, and a teacher work force largely on their own under very difficult conditions. We offer here, and to the right, snapshots from some who testified before the council because it was a day of tremendous insight about what to do and what not to do in the system’s reform effort.

National author and researcher, Thomas Toch, who has studied the strengths and weaknesses of evaluation systems across the country, warned of the dangers of tying teacher evaluation to student test scores. Jason Kamras, who is developing the new evaluation plan for DCPS, should take heed. Rather,

“Evaluations should be based on clear, comprehensive standards of strong teaching practice that have emerged in recent years. And they should encompass multiple observations by multiple evaluators, with a substantial role going to teams of trained school system evaluators free of the inclinations to favoritism and conflicts of interest that have plagued evaluations by principals-and that led to the rise of credential- and seniority-based pay scales in public education 80 years ago.”
“… Most school systems waste millions of dollars on random workshops rather that focusing on improving teachers' specific strengths and weaknesses, because they evaluate teachers so superficially that it's nearly impossible to learn what teachers are good at and what they need to improve.”
“...Comprehensive evaluation systems signal to teachers that they are professionals doing important work, and in so doing help make public school teaching more attractive to the sort of talent that the occupation has struggled to recruit and retain.”
For the full testimony see the link to the right.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What are DCPS’ priorities?

Right before the holiday break I received an e-mail inviting me to be a teacher in this year’s 2009 Saturday Scholars program. After looking at the details provided, it seems like the program is going to be a huge investment—hundreds of teachers will be paid $30/hour for 5 ½ hours each Saturday, January 24--April 18, 2009 (with a few exceptions like Easter weekend).

With so many students in DCPS behind academically, it would make sense to invest so much money, time and manpower in such a program, right?

Wrong! Once I read the rest of the details, I realized it was a case of the short-sighted and misguided priorities of DCPS.

As stated in the e-mail, the program’s focus is to help, “…DCPS students prepare for the spring 2009 DC-CAS.” As a teacher who continues to witness DC schools still lacking in so many areas—resources, supplies, enrichment activities, teachers—it is extremely frustrating to see more money and programs focusing on "teaching to the test".

To make matters worse, “The Saturday Scholars program is an intervention strategy for students who are on the cusp of proficiency for Reading and Math on the DC-CAS.”

Targeting those on the “cusp of proficiency” makes me wonder if it is only about improving test scores. Where are the programs for the students who are at below basic? What about the students in my World History class who are reading at a 4th grade level? Or, the students who cannot pass Algebra because they don’t have basic math skills? So, not only are we teaching to the test, but we are choosing to ignore those that need help the most.

What are the priorities of DCPS? Is it really about children first? Or is it about making ourselves look good?

Could DCPS' focus on improving its measures of "student achievement" actually be in conflict with what's best for student learning?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Marc Fisher Asks if Working Together Might Be a Better Approach in DCPS -- The Broad Acres Story

In Today's POST Marc Fisher raises questions about Rhee's approach extrapolating from Montgomery County's effort to turn around its highest poverty, lowest performing school. If anything, he understates the extent to which the union/management collaboration was the key. Read the case study to the right here about Broad Acres written by the Mooney Institute and used in courses at Harvard University to illustrate the difficulty of turning around a low performing school. We wish Fisher had read the case.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

DC Teacher Chic Packs It In

We were sorry, but not surprised earlier in the fall when our fellow blogger from the trenches -- DC Teacher Chic -- quit her teaching job in the middle of the year, and we're even sadder now that she has decided to leave education completely to take a job in another field. It makes us wonder why it is that some people come in to teaching with all the answers and then stay such a short time. Its not at all clear that DCPS is doing right by kids if it recruits people into teaching who don't stick around. We frequently disagreed with Ms. Chic, and found her cavalier attitude insulting to hard-working, award-winning teachers. Many of the teachers and parents who are members of the team who post here argued openly with comments on her blog. Nevertheless, authentic teacher voices are few and far between, so her blog will be missed. A voice from the trenches with a bit more respect for the difficult craft of teaching would be welcome as a replacement. We wish Ms. Chic more success in her new line of work.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Rhee Plans Shake-Up... as described in the POST today

While the headline and the first few paragraphs in today's Post article by Bill Turque empahsized removing a "significant share" of DCPS' current teacher workforce, a line which is not new for Michelle Rhee, the plan to focus on nurturing skillful teaching was very new and a turnaround of sorts. Its almost as if the Rhee administration and the WTU have both adopted the central message of Teachers and Parents for Real Education Reform as their new mantra for 2009. According to the article, everyone seems to agree now that the district needs to move away from the regimen of courses and workshops that have defined continuing education for teachers, and that there has not been, to date, a coherent or unifying definition of good instruction. Michelle Rhee is now saying that she plans to bring in Jonathon Saphier from Research for Better Teaching, a proposal she rejected a year and a half ago. The new model seems to be the tried and true approach used in Montgomery and Prince Georges' Counties and featured in our November 5th Forum. The WTU's George Parker seems to agree with the newfound interest in support for high quality teaching. The difference seems to boil down to whether to begin with the teachers now teaching our kids, or whether to first harrass a large percentage of the workforce out. Ironically, Michelle Rhee's people seem to be advocating the "go slow" approach while George Parker is insisting that his members need help now. Go figure.

The Post Article is linked in to the right.