Wednesday, May 26, 2010

It's all in the data.

I've been emailing Jay Mathews of the Washington Post about this quote from his May 21st blog:

I asked some Washington area school districts, nationally regarded for their high performance and sophisticated management, what percentage of their teachers were rated satisfactory in the last evaluation. I subtracted the number they gave me from 100 percent to calculate what portion of their teaching ranks could be considered ineffective. The results:Fairfax County 0.9 percent, Montgomery County 5 percent, Loudoun County 1 percent, City of Falls Church 0.45 percent, Prince William County 1.7 percent. I could not find a school district in the area that admitted to having more than 5 percent unsatisfactory teachers. Most said the figure was closer to 1 percent. Experts tell me this is common throughout the land. I don't believe the numbers.

It turns out that Jay may have made a small but understandable, logical misstep. He assumed that if 95% of Montgomery County teachers are currently rated satisfactory, then 5% must currently be rated unsatisfactory. Turns out, that's not quite right. I went to an MCPS annual report and found something different. It seems that 404 of those teachers (amongst the 5%) were novice teachers. They had not yet been evaluated. The other 67 teachers (of that same 5%) were underperforming tenured teachers. Math is not my speciality, but if it is correct then if 471 is 5%, 67 must be about .7%. This means that in 2009, over 99% of Montgomery County teachers were evaluated as satisfactory. That rates right up there with just about every other county in Maryland.

Meanwhile you've got the Baltimore Sun reporting that MCPS will not sign on to Maryland's Race to the Top application because of this same evaluation system:

Montgomery's Weast told the board Tuesday that the county will not sign the application because it does not want to give up its own teacher evaluation system. In an interview, he said that the county believes its evaluation system is better than others and that the state has not fully thought through the process for many of the reforms.

Or from Weast's own letter to the Baltimore Sun in which he claims,

MCPS has a comprehensive school reform plan that is working and is mirrored in the right-minded principles promoted by President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan as part of the Race to the Top competition. This isn't educational theory; this is real reform, with real results.

It's almost laughable that in a 2004 report (which incidentally, was taken off the interweb by MCPS, but graciously stockpiled here by the Parents Coalition) MCPS was asking itself why so few teachers were referred to PAR, but by 2009 was concluding:

Increases in the number of teachers provided with PAR panel support indicate greater action on the part of principals and supervisors to implement the Teachers Professional Growth System.

A conclusion apparently based on the following data on the number of under performing, tenured teachers referred to PAR:

I'm not sure I'd have come to the same conclusions. But I do have my own reasons for why so few teachers receive an unsatisfactory rating. One thing should be clear, MCPS, like the rest of the state, needs new evaluation methods and new ways to remove ineffective teachers. I still do not understand the reluctance by MCPS officials to embrace a change that could keep MCPS's innovative teacher evaluation system in place, but with added reforms that make it substantially more robust. That seems to be a change everyone should be able to get behind.


  1. Mike,

    We kept a copy of the 2004 PAR report for you, just in case it went missing from the Internet:

    This is the longer PAR report (40 pages). It appears that the report that was submitted to the Board of Education -with the same date and title- was significantly shorter (29 pages).

    Here is the shorter version if you want to compare the two:

  2. Everything is all "the best" here in Montgomery County. We have the Seven Keys that graduate kids "college ready," and all those AP it stands to reason that all our teachers are all "the best" too.
    Except everyone knows that in every profession, there are a few bad apples. There are some bad doctors, some bad lawyers, some bad accountants, some bad dentists, some bad priests/ministers, etc. In the real world, consumers can avoid the "bad" ones, or seek out a different professional.
    So are there some bad, or some ineffective teachers? Of course, there must be. What's the best way to deal with them? Would you want to go to a dentist who was being supervised from time to time by a "consulting dentist?" Would you want to know about this supervision?
    The answer is that there can't be only one answer to the issue of teacher evaluation. But as far as Jerry Weast is concerned, there is only One Answer, and That Answer is PAR as It Currently Exists With No Changes.

  3. Nice detective work. I told you that 5% was suspect. I take this as redeeming myself from the Harvard link mishap. The end.

  4. @ Janis- Thank you! I'll update my links shortly.
    @ Lyda- As a teacher I believe there is a time and a place for consulting teachers- and I think I'd be a little concerned if parents were informed of this from a practical stand point (although you make a good point). I believe its also true that parents already know who is good and who is bad w/o a formal indication. Which leads me to another thought; what if part of teacher evaluations were decided by "demand" to get into a certain teachers' class. This could be used as a proxy for parent and teacher evaluations. If the students and parents know who the good teachers are, it stands to reason you could reward teachers by how many students are clamoring to get into that teachers' class.
    @ yoremo: that post is in your honor.