Friday, December 27, 2013

Does The Left Hand Know What The Right Hand Is Doing?

Long-time readers of this blog know that, in general, I'm a fan of Michelle Rhee, and have been since she addressed us at the CEAFU conference a few years ago.  I don't understand the purpose of this proposed law, however:
A ballot measure submitted by a political consultant for education advocate Michelle Rhee seeks to remove seniority as a factor when California school districts lay off teachers, requiring instead that decisions be based on performance and student test scores.

That approach has been at the core of Rhee’s advocacy efforts as head of StudentsFirst, a national group headquartered in Sacramento. Rhee, who is married to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, has said she established the group to try to counter the influence that teachers unions have in decisions about public education. Unions generally reject the idea that teachers should be rated based on their students’ test scores, and prefer contracts that call for the most recently hired teachers to be the first let go during layoffs.
It's not that I'm against the idea, I just don't see how it will work.  Under the new testing regime with the Common Core standards, I understand that students will only be tested a few times throughout their K-12 experience.  In high school they'll be tested in the 11th grade.  Given that, how do you determine who the lousy teacher(s) is (are) and ditch them if there are to be layoffs?

I don't like ideological solutions to problems, I like practical ones.  Yes, it turns out that I often see practicality in solutions that conform to my ideology, but definitely not in this case.  I'd want to see how this would work in practice before I'd support it.


maxutils said...

This idea is flawed on more than just the example you put out. If there were a perfect measure of how teachers were performing, it might have some merit. However, besides the example you mentioned ... 1) the students have no incentive to perform well on any standardized test I've ever seen, save for the ones they take to get in to college. They can be encouraged, but if they don't buy in ... the teacher has no control add to that 2) parents can opt out of the tests, at least so far. At a school we both know well, many times the best students do just that, so that they may study for things that count. 3) Teachers generally have no control over the quality of students they have, be it prior preparation or quality of home life. Basing a layoff on factors the teacher cannot control is unfair. 4) More senior teachers make more money than less senior teachers. There would be a strong incentive for districts in financial binds to get rid of expensive older teachers in favor of cheaper younger teachers. Just look at sports ... it happens all the time. The Oakland Raiders released the greatest punter in the history of the game, Shane Lechler, in favor of Marquette King, because there was an 8 mil or so difference in salary. Both there kicking and punting games have suffered because of it. 5) This is probably less likely, but once students figure this out, unpopular teachers (who tend to be the most strict and demanding ... although sometimes they just aren't very good) could be targeted by students and easily be targeted by the students purposefully tanking the tests --they don't benefit from a good score anyway. I don't necessarily believe in a last hired/first fired model, either, but this is not the solution. I think a much better model involves more observation, parent feedback, and student feedback. It's more work, but probably worth it.

maxutils said...

Both THEIR kicking and punting games. Sorry.

Luke said...

If not student performance, then what is a good performance metric for teachers? Most every other profession has a way of objectively rating performance, but teachers can't be?

Anonymous said...

The Common Core tests will be given every year for grades 3-8 and again in 11th grade. I don't know how this will play out in California, but in Florida teachers in untested grades or subjects are rated on the test scores of students in their school. A teacher in an untested subject can choose which test to be rated on. For example, a 12th grade music teacher can choose between being evaluated by the 11th grade math test scores or the 11th grade language arts scores.

Anonymous said...

The proposed rule is only one aspect of a larger scheme. In other words, there are two separate questions:

1) Can we conclude that "seniority" is NOT accurate enough to dictate hiring/firing decisions, and therefore decide to remove seniority as a controlling factor?

2) Can we conclude that the existing testing standards ARE accurate enough to dictate hiring/firing decisions?

You can answer #1 in the affirmative even if you don't yet have a specific working arrangement that would allow you to say yes to #2.

Doing so would, of course, introduce some risk (perhaps principals are poorly served to decide; perhaps tests are inaccurate, etc.) But it would spur people to try to find a solution for #2, since it would actually permit testing and verification of solutions.

Anonymous said...

Too big a window for administrators to stack the deck to get rid of older teachers making more money: as a teacher, I don't get to choose who is in my classes and our school has already had some kids (little hoodlums) figure out that to do badly on a certain teacher's subject makes that teacher look bad--"let's get so and so fired by flunking the test:--think about this on a large scale and it scares me. I will retire after next year but I feel sorry for the next generation of teachers. I also think that students need to go through a cycle of 8 years of the Common Core curriculum and teaching before they get tests that determine teacher "grades" or high-stakes graduation.

Mr. W said...

so kuch wrong with this proposal. I can't choose my students. Special ed. and ELL students, who wants them in their classes now if this goes through. When I was at UPS as a supervisor our salaries were based on our job performance. This was ok because we had the ability to fire employees and control who was in our areas.

I have said this before you can't run a school like a business. Would Rhee or any other "educational reformer" hire just anyone? Nope they I interview and hire the best. Teachers don't get that luxury.

Add on the fact that now only 11th graders are tested, how can you judge my performance on someone else's students?

allen (in Michigan) said...

Well we've got all the usual excuses for why teaching skill's valueless and ought to stay that way. I'm sorry to break the news to you guys but the public's not buying that crap any more. Some teachers are better then others and part of the reason for the reform movement is that it has become eminently clear that the people who are supposed to winnow out bad teachers and reward good teachers don't do either. So that pretense is coming to an end.

Given that backdrop though it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that the pivotal metrics are less then obvious. And worse yet is that these proposals are, necessarily, emanating from the politico-sphere. That may not be a guarantee that the resulting accountability system is a disaster but that's the way the smart money will bet.

But as the percentage of parent-chosen schools rises there'll come a point where the demand for teacher skill metrics will become strong enough to kick off a rush to satisfy that demand. At that point it will be game over because schools that don't provide metrics will suffer at the hands of schools that do and even more fun will be district officialdom reacting to similar demands by parents of kids in their district.

The question in my mind is where the blow will first fall?

I'm rooting for Detroit. Michigan's charter cap was recently loosened and the number of kids in charters in Detroit has surged driving the percentage from 31% to 51% in two years. New Orleans is ahead at 79% but I'm hoping the runaway growth of charters in Detroit will provide a fertile environment for the development of ideas that'll be part of the next generation education system.

maxutils said...

allen ... I'm halfway there with you. Teachers need to be accountable. But here's the thing ... every campus I've ever been to, every single teacher, and mostly the administrators as well, know who the good, great, and bad teachers are. You just know. It's based on a lot of things ...student and parent response, performance, willingness of students to take harder classes to get a certain teacher...
The problem is, public education doesn't allow that to happen, and voucher proponents are too stupid to address the issue correctly.
Most voucher proponents want to offer a nominal amount if you would like to bring your student to a private school. Problem is, you're still paying taxes for the public school, and the voucher isn't nearly enough to pay for tuition to a private school... so, you wind up subsidizing the wealthy, making the public schools worse (through attrition), and leaving those with the fewest options in the worst place. I fully support vouchers ...let's let schools compete, with a public school option as a safety net. What you would need to do to do this would be
a) take the per student spending amount, whatever that might be, and issue each parent of each child be issued that as a voucher...only redeemable for education. Minimal administrative costs.
b) Set certain standards a school must meet to accept the voucher
c) Guarantee that the government would accept the voucher as payment in full, should there not be a better alternative
d) let the rest of the schools compete.

Charters and vouchers are great ideas in theory, but in reality, they tend to siphon off the kids who are already entitled... I'd like to help them all.