Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Conditions on pay based on testing

This column in the Washington Post on conditions that should accompany performance based pay is getting slightly better than luke warm reaction on the MCEA message board. I'm encouraged by this, although I don't necessarily agree that there should be that many pre-requisites to performance based pay.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


My wife says all they care about in Pittsburgh is the Steelers, and "there is no way in heck I'm moving out there."

I say, "Go Steelers."

The difference between the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association on the issue of merit pay is becoming more and more stark.

In large part, the pact codifies elements of the district’s Empowering Effective Teaching plan—its successful bid for $40 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s $500 million Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative. ("Winners Named for Gates Teacher Grants," December 2, 2009.)

Beginning in April 2009, the district and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers jointly devised a plan to qualify for the grant dollars, an effort that officials said laid the groundwork for a bargaining process that put the goal of student learning ahead of traditional bread-and-butter union concerns.

“It wasn’t done by bullying. It was done by a mutual recognition of the need to change,” said Mark Roosevelt, the superintendent of the 28,000-student district. “Over the long haul, we think working with our workforce will show greater possibilities for students than engaging in fisticuffs.”

Doug Prouty

Commander in Chief of MCEA, Doug Prouty, made a speech (hail youtube) about the problems associated with Maryland's Race to the Top application.

Same mind-boggling crap
1) "I guarantee you, that every single teacher, every single lesson, he or she is thinking about what went well, what could have been improved, and they're working on that every single day in the classroom (Are you kidding? This has got to be a bad joke. Unless of course, you talk to every single teacher after every single lesson.)
2) The PAR system we created in 2000 is the bomb (because no one gets dismissed)
3) Be afraid of standardized testing.

Monday, June 14, 2010

This would be cool

Considering a move to Pittsburgh.

Newsweek: "America's Best High Schools"

Newsweek published their list of "America's best high schools." Ha ha ha ha ha. Don't get me wrong, its kind of a neat metric, but a list of America's best schools? That's like saying I'm the best AP Government teacher because all of my students took the AP Government exam.

How about when we come up with a more helpful way to evaluate teachers, we also come up with a better way to evaluate schools! This can be a metric. Not the only one.

Friday, June 11, 2010

I am mildly obsessed with instituting business practices in the world of teaching- or what I would call, "incentivizing" the profession. After teaching for more than 10 years of teaching I've come to the following conclusion about the practice; there are virtually no financial incentives to becoming a better teacher. Zippo. When I look at making more money I'm surrounded by few prospects. I could 1) Coach a sport- every day after school for 2 hours ( or more). I know a lot of great coaches, and a lot of great teachers who coach. But there is no possible way that coaching doesn't come at the cost of teaching. 2) Become an administrator- In other words, get out of teaching. 3) Get Nationally Board Certified or get some more post graduate credits- although I'm not really convinced that will make me a better teacher- it will get me some extra money. 4) Do some other non-teaching related activies.

What I really need is some incentive to work harder, or work more efficiently than I already do, in the profession I view (its why I signed up for it afterall) as one of the most important there is, teaching. I need some incentive to look hard at my practice, to think about how I do it and why I do it, and make the changes needed to get better. What I really need is somebody to say, "if you do this, or if you reach this goal, I will give you more money. But when you look around, there's not many incentives to do that. That's not to say I don't work hard. But when 4pm roles around, I'd rather be with my family than spend time at work if my family is not going to get anything out of it (ie: a nice vacation). That's why I love reflections like this over on InterAct in California.

If anyone is out there who can help me reach my goal- please contact me (insert silent prayer here).

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Pearson and MCPS form partnership

The Parents Coalition of Montgomery County first brought to light a new partnership between Pearson Education Inc, a for-profit company interested in making a buck, and MCPS, a strapped for cash public school district interested in providing a high quality education to its many residents. In the agreement, Pearson will pay $2.5 million plus potential royalties generated from revenues, in exchange for the rights to sell MCPS generated curriculum for grades 1-5 to other local school districts. While motivated by different priorities, it is conceivable that both MCPS and Pearson can serve their respective interests; but for the public, this has been a shotgun wedding with little (or no) time for reflection or input.

The Washington Post's Michael Birnbaum gives a good summary here. And Valerie Strauss all but drives off a cliff here and then again here, expressing her unrequited love for Pearson Education. A snippet from Strauss for you:

Selling [MCPS's] name and reputation to a for-profit company has serious, unfortunate consequences. It allows business concerns to dictate the two-year curriculum development schedule; being the first, or one of the first, to market a curriculum aligned with new standards adopted by many states could be quite a lucrative business move.

And it gives Pearson customers the right to come into MCPS classrooms to look at the product in action - effectively making staff and students salespeople. Lovely.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Letter to the Editor

Wrote this letter to the Washington Post editors awhile back. Didn't get published... (OK, so I broke almost every rule required for publishing) But with the Apple Ballot for 2010 out I thought I'd let it rip:

Recent editorials in the Washington Post that question the power exerted by MCEA over the local political system correctly highlight the extensive influence of special interests in our local system of government but miss the mark in their attempt to cast blame on MCEA for their successful capitalization of this system. The authors blame an actor in the system, instead of the system itself, and in so doing miss two larger more significant points: 1) Boards of education should not be elected and 2) the MCEA does not represent what is best for education.

Much like the Supreme Court of the United States, a school board should thrive as an independent body free from the direct influence of the public. The framers of the U.S. Constitution created an independent judiciary to interpret the laws created by the legislative branch and enforced by the executive. The framers concern: an elected judiciary would try to please the public and other interests instead of upholding the principles of the Constitution. Likewise, an elected school board cannot focus on its goal, improving local educational systems, while at the same time pandering to special interests in order to win their electoral support. School board members can either cater to the desires of interests and get elected, or choose to focus solely on better education in spite of those interests, and face the bitter reality that they cannot win without that support. It is however, a problem with the system created, and not a problem with the interest groups that use the system.

The second issue is that MCEA’s “apple ballot” is commonly associated with what is best for education, and as an endorsement by all or most teachers in Montgomery County. The MCEA has worked hard at creating this perception, but it is fundamentally untrue. At best the MCEA has the tacit approval of a large majority of teachers to negotiate for higher salaries and benefits, and at worst it represents a small minority of politically active teachers who have the implied but not literal support of the majority of teachers they claim to represent.

No matter the percentage of teachers who generally support union policy, let there be no doubt that the union represents teachers, not education. And despite the unions extremely successful marketing campaign that advertises the contrary, what is best for education and what is best for teachers are two distinct and often incompatible ideas. To cite a brief example, MCEA spends an extraordinary amount of time and resources advocating for ideas like due process rights for under- performing teachers. In so doing the union argues that they are actually fighting for equity and fairness for all teachers under pressure by their employer. However, the effect of this negotiating has been to create a laborious two year process for removing contracted, under-performing teachers. Instead of initiating this process, most principals either A) do nothing and allow the teacher to advance toward retirement or B) apply alternative modes of pressure (multiple class preparations, no classroom ect.) in hopes the teacher will make a voluntary lateral move to another school. After all, any teacher that is initiated into the dismissal process must stay at the school where it was initiated throughout the process. The result is that there exists an abundance of under-performing teachers who are “protected” by the system, and who decrease the quality of instruction that is delivered to students. Furthermore, these same protected and under-performing teachers will not be dismissed as they should be when Montgomery County is forced to eliminate school based positions during the current fiscal crisis. Instead, the county, to the detriment of education, and by policy negotiated and advocated by MCEA, will remove teachers who were “last hired” and untenured. In some cases, these younger teachers will be some of the most promising teachers in the system.

We cannot fault interest groups and unions from doing all within their power to influence policy in a lawful way. Rather it is up to law makers and elected officials to pass new laws that protect the people from their undue influence. It is unfortunate that most often law makers are too self-interested to engage in this debate, after all, the law makers we ask to change the system are the same ones who have already successfully negotiated it. However, we should also know what unions are and are not, and be conscious consumers of information rather than puppets manipulated by thoughtful and well researched marketing designed not to inform, but to propagate agendas.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

MCEA Apple Ballot Released

So up on my google alerts for "MCEA" comes Maryland Senator Nancy King's website with this picture embedded of a big ol' apple. Then there is the words from MCEA's website:

The Apple Ballot is what we, as teachers, use to ensure that voters know which candidates we believe to be the best advocates for public schools and public school educators. We know from past elections – and from consistent polling data – that voters value the recommendations of the Apple Ballot more than any other

Don't know much about Nancy King. But it seems to me there is a lot of "we" in those claims when I'm not sure anyone asked, via paper ballot, email, or phone call what my personal opinion on the matter was. Yeah yeah yeah, MCEA is an indirect democracy... but they don't say "MCEA recommended." They say "teacher recommended." And if you're going to make claims about how "we teachers" recommend these officials you think I'd at least get included somehow in the process.

For the complete list of candidates I endorsed without being asked (or for that matter, almost every single other Montgomery County teacher, counselor, and speech pathologist), visit here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A plea to slowdown

Valerie Strauss is laying on her criticism of Race to the Top even thicker on her Washington Post blog.

And while I admit to being a proponent of reform, I can't help but begin to think that Strauss is right about one thing; this all seems too rushed. She writes:

To make today’s deadline, many of the participating states rushed major education bills through their legislatures to meet the contest’s requirements and engaged in furious negotiations with unions against artificially set deadlines.

Unfortunately, this statement is too true. Despite MSDE claims to the contrary, its clear to me that stakeholders have been brushed aside in efforts to create quick change. I'm sure there's enough blame to go around, but my own school district and union have yet to say "boo" when it comes to where they stand on the issue of reform. I'm sure that statement is on the way though.

Struass goes even further:

[Legislatures] passed laws allowing more charter schools to open -- even though studies show that charter schools on average are no better than regular public schools -- and tying teacher compensation to standardized test scores, even though the tests aren't designed to assess teachers.

Academics call this a part of the construct validity of a test. And it has always been a kind of stumbling block when it comes to the use of high stakes tests. For instance, it might be said of a national algebra test that the test can effectively measure the knowledge skills and abilities of an algebra student. But that same test cannot and should not be used to measure whether a student should graduate from high school. Why not? Because that was not the design of the test when it was created. In other words, this test may be a valid measure of a student's math knowledge, but we cannot make generalizations about this test's ability to determine whether someone should graduate.

Likewise, that same Algebra test cannot and should not be used to measure whether a teacher is necessarily an effective teacher. This is not what this particular test was designed to capture.

This does not mean that student work, or student performance on tests cannot be used to help us evaluate teachers. However, it does mean we need to be congnizant of identifying teacher effectiveness solely or primarly based on student performance data that relies on these tests. And I'm not sure whether these conversations are going on as we speed on with the RttT process.

What we really need first is a comprehensive evaluation system for teachers. And I believe Race to the Top has the cornerstones of a reform system that most hard working teachers are dying to get behind. RttT demands that we need to more carefully identify which teachers (and principals) are strongest, and which teachers are weakest, and which teachers are somewhere in between. RttT also demands that teachers and principals be rewarded when they show they are capable. And RttT demands that we dismiss those teachers that are unable to show improvement, rather than those teachers who have been teachers the shortest length of time. These are real reforms for education; and reforms that will benefit our students around the country if we take the time to get it right.

My blogging friends over in California have put some real time and effort into this question of evaluation. And I applaud their efforts, despite the fact I believe evaluation systems can and should include input from students, parents, and colleagues (both master and non-master teachers).

But with that said, I'll leave you with InterAct's basic tenents for comprehensive teacher evaluation:

Here are the principles on which improved evaluations should be constructed:
-Teacher evaluation should be based on professional standards.
-Teacher evaluation should include performance assessments to guide a path of professional learning throughout a teacher’s career.
-The design of a new evaluation system should build on successful, innovative practices in current use.
-Evaluations should consider teacher practice and performance, as well as an array of student outcomes for teams of teachers as well as individual teachers.
-Evaluation should be frequent and conducted by expert evaluators, including teachers who have demonstrated expertise in working with their peers.
-Evaluation leading to permanent status (“tenure”) must be more intensive and must include more extensive evidence of quality teaching.
-Evaluation should be accompanied by useful feedback, connected to professional development opportunities, and reviewed by evaluation teams or an oversight body to ensure fairness, consistency, and reliability.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Making data count

Enjoyed this little piece from New York Times Magazine about the shortfalls of data. It's a few weeks old, but thought of it now because Valerie Strauss blogged about Chicago today. Chicago. Former home of Arne Duncan. And supposedly the sucess story behind Race to the Top. Or maybe there isn't a success story behind it.