Last week I endorsed the use of data to identify ineffective teachers and—THIS IS IMPORTANT—the administrators who have known the identity of the underperforming teachers and have not acted. That set off a firestorm, which I take to be indicative of the issue’s importance.
The LA teachers union is outraged, but according to reports it is also now being pressured by the school district and by AFT president Randi Weingarten (!) to reconsider. Here’s part of what the Los Angeles Times reported:
The Los Angeles Unified School District will ask labor unions to adopt a new approach to teacher evaluations that would judge instructors partly by their ability to raise students’ test scores — a sudden and fundamental change in how the nation’s second-largest district assesses its educators.
The teachers union has for years staunchly resisted using student test data in instructors’ reviews.
The Times also reports that LAUSD has had this information for years but has not acted because of inertia and fear of the union. I disagree: I think it goes back to the system’s willingness to tolerate mediocrity.
A number of respondents to last week’s post attacked my reasoning. Knowing that I am an opponent of simple bubble tests and have spoken out on the importance of multiple measures, they wondered how I could get behind a system that was using so-called ‘value added’ data and nothing else.
I cop to the charge of inconsistency and defend myself thusly: nothing else was happening! It took the press to move the system off the dime, where all the adults have been complacently sitting while students fail to learn.
The approach has major bugs, but, with all its faults, it’s a damn sight better than doing nothing about lousy teaching and cowardly administrators.
As one commenter, Peter, wrote: “If the temperature gauge in my car moves toward ‘H’ it does not mean necessarily that my engine will seize imminently; maybe my coolant is low or needs replacing. Data is a window we use to help see what’s really happening. If my value-added numbers moved in an adverse direction the next step is to discern why. Is it my instruction? Classroom management? Assessment? If this data’s been readily available and teachers need a newspaper article to find it we have a communication breakdown, which ultimately is a leadership breakdown.”
Amen to what Peter has written. To continue his metaphor, the warning light been on in too many engines for too long. In my original post and in subsequent comments, I said that administrators have to be called out as well. And if union contracts stand in the way of helping or removing ineffective teachers, then the union–and the school board–that negotiated the contract ought to be called out as well.
The old system in which the principal visits the classroom a few times a year (often announced in advance) is dying. What is going to replace it is the question. School administrators might want bubble test scores, or maybe they’d like to be able to rate teachers subjectively. Both of those present real problems, and so I think that the two teacher unions need to move beyond their trade union role and become professional unions, working to help teachers get better and also to remove those who can’t cut it.
Michelle Rhee’s new IMPACT system is already controversial, but it’s an improvement on a system that ends up giving 95% or more of teachers a rating of satisfactory or better, especially when not even 25% of students are scoring a a proficient level. One young DC teacher who has been through IMPACT said there are advantages to NOT knowing when you are going to be observed: “Every day I had to make sure that my objective was clear, that my kids knew it. Not just the days I got observed. And I think that made my classroom a little bit more consistent, and they learned a little bit more this year than last year.”
His endorsement was qualified, however. “My only issue was that it’s marketed as a growth tool for teachers, and there wasn’t as much resources to help that growth as I would have liked to see.”
And that’s the key issue. Because of the District of Columbia’s unique situation, Rhee was able to impose her system; she did not have to negotiate it. Suppose she’d had to negotiate? Is there a union in the nation that would negotiate a system that provided equally for growth and for removal of ineffective teachers? (Rhee’s system allows for immediate dismissal of teachers rated ‘ineffective’ in a complex rating system involving five separate evaluations, including two by ‘master educators’ hired by Rhee, and student performance.)
Education Secretary Duncan continues to support publication of data. As the Boston Globe just reported, “U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan urged schools across the country on Wednesday to disclose more data on student achievement and teacher effectiveness, saying too much information that would help teachers and parents is being kept out of public view. Duncan said schools too often aren’t disclosing years of data on student achievement that could not only help parents measure a teacher’s effectiveness, but also would help teachers gain better feedback. “Too often our systems keep all of our teachers in the dark about the quality of their own work,” Duncan told an audience at the Statehouse Convention Center in downtown Little Rock. “In other fields, we talk about success constantly, with statistics and other measures to prove it. Why, in education, are we scared to talk about what success looks like?”
That’s the challenge: DEFINING SUCCESS. It can’t be just test scores, but it has to be real–and failure has to have consequences.