Friday, October 29, 2010

New Evaluation? NO. NO! NO!!!

MCEA (and then MSEA) says no to new evaluations required by the new state regulations.   They say yes only if they don't have to change.    I"ll concede the MCEA point on too much testing when MCEA and MCPS admit they can do a better job than they currently do identifying ineffective teachers.   If they can't do it better, the testing provides an objective meausure for evaluators to move in that direction.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

School Reform Debate

The current debate over school reform seems to have divided itself into two irreconcilable camps: the Rhee and Klein types chirping about the evil unions blocking reform at the expense of students across the country, and the Diane Ravitch and union sympathizers crying afoul as teacher names are published in newspapers without so much as a wink of recognition that the standardized tests that produce these lists are not only unreliable, but are single handedly ruining any chance of improving our education system.   What do these two sides have in common?   They're both wrong.   Or I suppose if you're an optimist- they are both right.

As someone who doesn't care about power- because I have none- I think I can speak on this subject with atleast some degree of authority.   The sides described above are concerned about what's best for education just like our United States Congress is concerned about creating a nice well-rounded bill that reflects sound judgement rather than partisan politics.   So I'll do my best to dissect both sides of the argument.   A few items I'll try to discuss of over the next month- maybe after the elections.

1) Teacher unions have not been effective in policing their own profession.
2)  There are outside the classroom factors that have a large impact on what goes on inside the classroom.   But they are not an excuse for what goes on inside the classroom.
3) Due process is not an all or nothing proposition- it can coexist with fair and robust evaluation systems.
4) Value Added Modeling has the potential to be a useful feedback tool, but has severe limitations.
5) Standardized testing is not the root of all evil- nor a cure all- but when done 50 different ways in 50 different states- creates an extraordinary amount of wasted resources in the form of duplication.
6) Pay for performance will not likely impact student acheivement- however seniority rules protected by unions likely do more harm than good.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

New Evaluation?

Want to really close the achievement gap?

Want real school reform?

Identify ineffective teachers (a small minority)  and replace them,   due process provided, with effective and  instrinsically motiavated teachers (a large majority).

Is that what happened at Broad Acres Elementary School?

The Board of Education has the power to do this.  From the MCEA teacher contract:

 Process for Changing the Evaluation System: The current unit member evaluation system, including the instrument and the teacher evaluation system booklet of the Montgomery County Public Schools, Rockville, Maryland, (also known as the Professional Growth System Handbook) shall not be changed without following the procedures set out below:
1. Preceding the proposed implementation of any proposed changes, the Board shall notify MCEA of its desire to change the evaluation system.
2. Thereafter, the parties shall confer in good faith over the content of any proposed changes in the evaluation system, until agreement is reached, or until 90 days following receipt by MCEA of notification that the Board desires to change the evaluation system. The conferring teams shall be headed by the chief negotiator for each party.
3. If no agreement is reached within 90 days following receipt by MCEA of notification that the Board desires to change the evaluation system, the Board may unilaterally implement changes in the evaluation system.
We need Board members who are willing to question what's best for education in Montgomery County- not rubber stamp the latest program.   Build and attract the greatest professional staff of teachers in the United States- and watch real reform happen.   Not a pipe dream.   A decision.

Board of Education Summary

I think this article over at the Gazette does pretty good job of summarizing the Montgomery County Board of Education elections.   

Also, another report on Martha Schaerr, this time from the Washington Post.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Board of Education- Lisa Lloyd

Some position statements from Lisa Lloyd's relatively new website:

"Evaluate the Peer Assistance and Review (PAR) program, to ensure that it is providing both the support and assessment to teachers as was intended, or whether it is being used inappropriately to remove teachers. If the teachers are satisfied, then it is doing its job. If not, it needs to be reworked."
The Peer Assistance and Review program is run- in part- by MCEA.  If teachers don't like this- then we've got a serious problem.

Also this- the printing of illegal campaign materials.   Whoops.

Rotten Apples

 I am not affilliated with nor do I embrace the political ideology of  this group in anyway.   Period.   However, as one of my friends recently said, 'I find voting the Apple Ballot "convenient.'   I think a whole lot of people find that same thing.   Time to change that.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Montgomery County Board of Education- League of Women Voters Responses -

From the League of Women Voters:  Pulled the Race to the Top question as that seems to get closest to candidate beliefs regarding a new evaluation system that more effectively identifies underperforming teachers.
Shirley Brandman:

“RACE TO TOP": Race to the Top's worthy goals of college/career readiness and measuring teacher effectiveness by student achievement are already part of our Board's existing reform efforts. We should now strive to preserve our successful professional growth system and not change what works just to chase funds.
Lisa Lloyd

Did not submit response.

Judith Docca

"RACE TO TOP": The premise of "Race to the Top" is to improve the academic outcomes for all students. I have concerns about using test scores to evaluate teachers because of the differences in student cohorts each year. Working collaboratively with staff, parents and the BOE will strengthen planning instruction.
Mike Ibanez

"RACE TO TOP": Maryland is eligible for $250 million from President Obama's RTTT. How much of that money will come to MCPS is unsure but the consequences for county schools could mean dumbing down curriculum standards, linking teacher evaluation and pay to student test scores, and more teacher union concessions.
Mike Durso

"RACE TO TOP": I have some concerns with " RaceTo The Top ", especially as it ties school systems -states to a fairly restrictive set of guidelines. Though student progress as measured by test scores is one indicator of teacher effectiveness, it is not the only factor. There are many other variables involved.
Martha Schaerr

"RACE TO TOP": Although I commend the state BOE for participating in the Race to the Top program I believe the state’s strategy needs to be focused more on empowering parents by giving them the information and tools they need to help their children succeed.

Friday, October 22, 2010

MCEA Members for Reform- Voices of Teachers

More from the series on other teachers in MCEA who believe our current evaluation is not quite right. We don't all have the same ideas, but we agree that the current system can and should be changed- even in Montgomery County- where many many great teachers teach. Many thanks for all who participate.

I’m concerned that the current system does not distinguish among teachers based on their performance. To say that one group is “not meeting standard” and another group “meets standard” lumps together people with a very broad range of skill, experience, and effectiveness. I would propose adopting a new system in which teachers are compensated based on their demonstrated competence in their respective fields. There are plenty of observable, measurable behaviors that a trained observer *who is an expert in your field* (i.e. not a generic administrator) can readily identify. So I would advocate for paying teachers based on skill attainment, not mere longevity. And CPD credits? These are useful only insofar as they impact the teacher’s behavior.

I would also question the wisdom of paying all teachers the same salary. I happen to think my discipline (mathematics) is especially challenging to teach, and requires unusual efforts to teach well. Each level (ES, MS, HS) and each discipline comes with its own unique challenges, but I don’t believe the same level of effort is required across the board to produce the same level of success. So it seems unfair to me that all teachers get paid the same.

James Key

Math teacher, Sherwood High School


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Montgomery County Board of Education: Michael Durso vs. Martha Schaerr

Traffic to this site is up heavily as the election approaches so I'd like to take some time be clear about my intentions for readers who might approach this blog with something of a healthy skepiticism.
1) I believe voters should make educated decisions in the upcomming elections.
2) I do not believe the Apple Ballot encourages citizens to make independent decisions- especially given that  MCEA did not interview any of the challengers for Board of Education.
3) I am a member of MCEA.
4) My primary agenda item is improving education- namely through the creation of a new more robust teacher evaluation system that more readily identifies and removes ineffective teachers.

Onto the elections:

Michael Durso has proven to be the one current member on the Board of Education willing to question the policies of Superintendent Weast and the other generally supportive members of the Board.   He was also one of two Board members to ask for more time to consider an MCPS parternship with Pearson Education.  The Board was provided 48 hours notice to vote on this contract- a contract with the potential to have lasting impact on the county and the way it does business.   Healthy discord on a Board of Education is a must, and Michael Durso does not appear shy about voicing his opinion.

Durso's responses to the MCEA questionnaire prove he is a reflective practitioner that he does not reject ideas out of hand.  He serves on the board of a DC charter school- proof positive that the charter school movement does not have to be the front line enemy of public schools.   In my estimation, these are the type of thinkers our county needs on the Board of Education.   He appears driven by ideas rather than politics.

Challenger Martha Schaerr has some excellent ideas about how to reform evaluation systems in Montgomery County.   I'd like to put aside her apparent social conservative history as it would likely be a singular and dominated voice on the Board of Education, but that's not in my make-up, and Durso has already proven he can be a powerful minority voice when he deems it appropriate. 

Durso earns my unequivocal support.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Broad Acres Elementary and the case for Reform

I was recently asked what I thought about Broad Acres Elementary school, an elementary school in Montgomery County with a farms rate exceeding 90% that was faced with the possibility of a state takeover almost 10 years ago.  However, the school went forward with an innovative solution:  union and mcps officials agreed to work together in order to find a workable plan to raise test scores.   In the agreement, all teachers who agreed to stay at the elementary school promised to "officially" work an additional 15 days a year.   The principal and school staff then worked together, often with teachers leading the way, to implement a number of programs and strategies to raise scores.   Two thirds of the teachers agreed to stay on, and another 1/3rd opted out, moving to other schools.   The results have been nothing short of extraordinary.

The Tom Mooney Institute wrote a report describing the turn around at Broad Acres Elementary.  It was all a little too “union congratulatory” for my liking but when it got to the meat of what went on there was a lot of interesting bits.   In particular, I was intrigued by the empowerment of the teachers in the decision making process.   Teachers seemed to over-ride principals.   And I loved the part where teachers were doing walk-troughs in lieu of administrators.  This type of ripe feedback, provided not as a stick or carrot but as a way for intrinsically motivated teachers to learn about and improve their craft is largely missing in the professional growth system currently implemented in Montgomery County. And I don't know all the details- but in the very least there is some anecdotal evidence that the school- by allowing teachers who had the motivation to work more hours and with greater autonomy- could have a substantial impact on their students.

But we also need to consider which  1/3rd of teachers opted out of the school. Was it the most effective teachers who just wanted to teach in a less challenging environment?  Was it the least effective teachers who couldn't stand the thought of working another 15 days a year?   Was it a combination of those and other variables?   My intuition is that this variable had more of an impact than anything that when on inside of the school once this core group of teachers left.   Further, I wonder why this model was not implemented in other schools in Montgomery County.    Yes it is costly, but not near as costly as some of the other programs implemented across the county in budget building years from 2000 to 2008.   Anybody have thoughts?

My skeptical thought- get rid of the least effective teachers in a building- and replace them with just average teachers- and watch real educational reform take place.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Montgomery County Board of Education- O'Neill vs. Smith

Montgomery County Board of Education candidate Patricia O’Neill has become all too distant from Montgomery voters to deserve reelection. Consider the following:

O’Neill has no reelection website. This is the access point of choice for many constituents in the 21st century, but O’Neill is the only incumbent that has made no attempt to establish this connection. I recommend voters visit Karen Smith’s website at

O’Neill completed a 15 question MCEA election questionnaire in just 651 typed words. Perhaps this is a lesson in efficiency, or perhaps she does not feel it necessary to spend much time communicating with the public or earning the ever important Apple Ballot recommendation. Regardless, with these several words she was able to win the endorsement of MCEA.

I emailed her opponent Karen Smith my own three questions (Smith was not asked by MCEA to complete a questionnaire). Smith answered the three questions I posed with more than 700 thoughtful and well organized words. I asked O’Neill to answer the same three questions via email but she did not respond. Lest you think I’m bitter- I intend to endorse three other incumbents who did not directly respond to my questions.

When O’Neill has communicated to the county she has preferred to communicate to citizens via editorials and press releases that often tout data of dubious educational value. For instance, she celebrated a rise in the average SAT scores in 2010 as if had nothing to do with the historic drop in SAT participation. In fact, over the last 5 years the percentage of graduating seniors earning a college ready score of 1650 has actually declined. The Gazette has reported similar concerns about the data frequently championed by O’Neill.

Lastly, O’Neill has proved to have a narrow and unyielding policy agenda despite valid and conscientious concerns voiced by the public. When some questioned the speed at which a new contract between a for profit education company and MCPS was recently finalized and approved by the Board of Education, including two of its own board members, O’Neill simply replied that some people will always say ‘no’ and “maybe they ought to run for Board of Education.”

When you have served on Board of Education for more than 12 years, I’m sure you become very well connected and have a keen sense of how to get things done. But I wonder if one is likely to forget how that seat was earned in the first place- at the foot of the people. From what I have researched and learned of Karen Smith voters should rest assured- your voice can still be heard loud and clear should you choose to vote in the upcoming Board of Education election.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Baltimore City Rejects new Pay for Performance Contract

Baltimore City Public School teachers recently rejected a proposed new contract that would provide across the board raises and allow some teachers - atleast one per school- to make more than $10,000 a year more than previous years.   Perhaps to no surprise, much of the discontent came from the more senior teachers- who perhaps had the most to lose without guaranteed year over year step increases. Younger teachers, who could perhaps rise up the salary ranks more quickly, were more supportive of the potential changes.  

One issue that must be addressed in any new evaluation system, is how principals and assistant pricipals will be evaluated.   If the rest of the nation is like Montgomery County, it is harder to get rid of a bad administrator than it is to get rid of a bad teacher.   And some of these bad administrators are the ones being asked to conduct the evaluations of teachers.   Not exactly reassuring.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jerry Weast- No new evaluations

Kudos to the Parents Coalition for digging up this document- a letter to the Maryland Board of Education expressing his view on the new evaluation system that will go into place throughout the state.   He sounds his more reasonable tone yet when arguing agaist the state system, in particular when arguing about the ability to effectively put in place such a wide reaching system in such a short period of time.   However, he sounds the same tired tone when he talks of how effective the current evaluation system in Montgomery County is- the one that removed (or made to resign or retire) over 400 teachers  over a TEN YEAR PERIOD.   How many teachers has Montgomery County had during that time?   Well, it's 10,000 in one year.... so over the course of 10 years maybe 13,000?   More?    Not sure.  

Michael Durso, current candidate for Montgomery County Board of Education, recently said this about Weast's use of data:

The reputation of the school system, and the reporting of statistics and test scores, have been more tied into the personality and the image of [Superintendent Jerry Weast] as our leader, than the students and teachers who are impacted even more," Durso said. "We always haven't been as candid about some of our shortcomings, as opposed to publishing our positives.

Read more at the Washington Examiner. 

It's time to talk about ways to improve our current evaluation system.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Apple Factory

The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) uses a "rigorous" process to select the candidates it will recommend for political office.   It reportedly contacts all candidates- announced, rumored, or incumbent, and then invites the candidates to complete a questionnaire and personal interview.  A special committee of member-volunteers then makes a recommendation based on a variety of criteria.   The Board of MCEA then makes its own recommendation.   These recommendations then go to the Representative Assembly for a final decision, where a  58% supermajority is required to move forward with MCEA's final recommendation.

In my search for information about the Montgomery County Board of Education, I then found the MCEA questionnaires submitted by the candidates.    To my surprise, the only questionnaires I found were those of the four incumbents.   In some cases, it was clear the questionnaires were spell-checked but never proofread.   In other cases, questions were answered in single sentences.  And in other instances, the answers were thoughtful and reflective.    I recommend that any person considering a vote for the Board of Education read these questionnaires.   They are perhaps the best evidence voters have of the character and personality of the incumbents.

After I read these questionnaires, I then attempted to contact the challengers for Board of Education.  Karen Smith of district 3 filed after the recommendation process  was complete.   She was never contacted to complete a questionnaire or interview.   Martha Schaerr of district 5 filed after the recommendation process was complete.    She was never contacted to complete a questionnaire or interview.   Lyda Astrove, Louis Wilen, and Agnes Jones-Trower of the Parent's Coalition, all filed after the recommendation process was complete (and lost in the primary).    Ms. Astrove confirmed that she was never contacted to complete a questionnaire or interview.   I have not been in contact with the remaining challengers.

I have previously challenged the notion that the Apple Ballot represents the views of teachers across Montgomery County.   Regardless, if this is the "rigorous" process that MCEA uses to vet its candidates for office, this strikes me more of political machinery and deception than it does of democracy and what is best for education.  It does not matter that MCEA had a timetable to follow.  It does not matter if MCEA will not likely change their collective mind about who is recommended.   People actually vote based on these recommendations.   And so I believe MCEA has a civic responsibility to do their due diligence on each and every candidate so long as they filed before the July 6, 2010 deadline.  My plead to Montgomery County voters (of which I am not one); please disregard the recommendations made on the Apple Ballot and come to an informed decision on your own.  Otherwise, you're just another moving part in the apple factory.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Montgomery County Board of Education Response- Martha Schaerr

A second response has rolled into my inbox for a set of questions I posed to the candidates running for the Montgomery County Board of Education.   Martha Schaerr is running in district 5 against incumbent Michael Durso.  Her responses:

1. What would you consider the biggest weakness of the current teacher evaluation system in Montgomery County? What should be done to address this weakness?

Besides the seniority system I see a problem with the lack of recognition either monetarily or otherwise for teachers who perform beyond the minimum requirements or who take on tough teaching assignments.
As I understand it MCPS teachers either “meet standard” or “do not meet standard”. There is no further breakdown in their evaluations. No one can reasonably argue that all teachers who meet standards are equally effective, and yet there is no recognition for teachers who are more effective or who take on challenging assignments.
I would reward teachers by adding at least one additional rating—superior—for teachers to achieve. What constitutes “superior” can be defined by either the union, administration, by a group of teachers outside the union, or a group of educators and parents together. I would reward teachers who take on tough class assignments with a “challenging assignment bonus” . This would give the best teachers an incentive beyond basic professionalism to take tough classes.
I also believe that allowing underperforming teachers three years to improve is too long. I believe two years is long enough. We need to be serious about improving the way EVERY day is spent in school, and great effort should be made speed up improvement.

2. Pay for MCPS teachers is currently decided by a seniority system. If consensus could be reached on a new evaluation system, would you support a merit based pay scale to reward the highest performing teachers?

Yes. While the value of classroom experience is great and should be included in the evaluation system, teachers who work hard, are more effective, and taken on tough assignments should be compensated accordingly. We should do everything we can to improve the quality of classroom instruction.

3. What are your reflections on Michelle Rhee? Should the search committee consider interviewing her for the Superintendent position?
I admire Michelle Rhee’s courage and effectiveness at getting rid of low-performing teachers and in focusing on improving classroom instruction. I’m not sure she’s the right person for MCPS, however. I worry that Ms. Rhee would not be able to get the union to cooperate with her, and the current budget crisis will require that.

MCEA Members for Reform- Voices of Teachers

In an effort to raise awareness and influence the conversation on performance based pay in Montgomery County Public Schools, I am starting a new series.   In these posts, MCEA members will voice their thoughts on evaluation reform.
The first contributor  is a social studies reource teacher and member of MCEA.

It’s broke. Let’s fix it! American students consistently lag behind their counterparts in other industrialized countries. The current American education model is not working. As educators, we can point fingers at a number of variables—bad parenting, bad administrators, poverty, the achievement gap, a “dumb is cute” culture, effect of technology on attention spans and literacy, No Child Left Behind, etc. Or we can be part of the solution to overcome these challenges and increase the quality of education our children receive. Our children deserve a fresh approach. We deserve to be compensated based on effort and growth, not to achieve some silly 100% metric, but to improve the quality of education for ALL students. We’re generally hard-working professionals. We’re not immune to accountability, high standards, and professional development. Professional growth must be incentivized. We need an evaluation and compensation system that rewards and promotes hard work. Yes, we should proceed with caution as reform is research and implemented. But the solution is not to reject any change to the status quo. A carefully designed and implemented system can benefit both children and educators.

-Joe Sangillo

MCPS and a Former Employee

A former employee from MCPS's Office of Shared Accountability  recently wrote an opinion piece in the Washington Post critical of the MCPS/Washington Post claim that MCPS is the top school district in the state.   The author, John Larson, then offered a few data points to suggest why MCPS and the Washington Post might reconsider their claim.    Jerry Weast and MCPS Board member, Patricia O'neill, then coauthored this response, providing their own data points, concluding the following:

Ultimately, we are not afraid of comparisons — in fact, we embrace them. All we ask is that those comparisons are made using statistics that actually mean something.
The employment of statistics is indeed a useful endeavor.   Data tells a story.  And the story it tells can help hardworking organizations and people get feedback about what they do well and what they need to improve.   MCPS often uses statistics to celebrate it's own accomplishments.   However, I have recently come to wonder to what extent MCPS uses data to analyze its weaknesses.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Randi Weingarten - The Hero of Reform

Valerie Struass recently printed this defense of Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, and newly cast villain of   'Waiting for Superman.'     But as Joe Williams points out in Strauss' column, this could not be further from the truth.  From Denver to Pittsburgh to New York City to Baltimore, the American Federation of Teachers has been at the forefront of public school system reform.   This is hardly the face of an obstructionist.   As Williams notes:
Randi Weingarten is the last person you could possibly describe as hiding in a cave, plotting to destroy America. She has appeared on so many panels and television programs as part of the WFS roll-out – and she’s taken quite a public beating in many of them – that ‘cowardly terrorist’ is the last phrase you’d use to describe her. (You’ll notice that the NEA, which unlike the AFT has been totally absent from just about any real reform discussion in the last few years, hardly even appears in WFS. Surely because Randi granted access and the NEA didn’t.)

It is a shame that Weingarten has not gotten more credit for the role she has played in advancing these reforms.   Jay Mathews takes time to celebrate her role for the recently negotiated  (but as of yet unapproved) contract in Baltimore City.   And celebrate we should, for if the current reforms prove successful in anyway, Weingarten will not be the villain, but the hero of this story.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Baltimore City takes the plunge.

The Baltimore City Agreement is here.   Still trying to figure out the details.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A call for leadership

I read and I read and I read.   And then I wonder "how can something so pure as the education of our children be so political?"   Can we not stop what we're doing and finally solve some problems?

I simply find much of what I read, especially from those who oppose performance pay, alarmist.   Diane Ravitch has made a second career of ringing the anti-merit pay bell across the United States.   Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post frequently republishes Ravitch's blog as part of this gospel.

In a recent post, Ravitch goes so far as to speak for all teachers:
Although teachers need and want higher pay, they are strongly opposed to individual merit pay.
A generalization that brings me to an article I recently read in the Christian Science Monitor.  Melanie Stetson Freeman wrote a piece more than a year ago about the evolution of performance pay in Denver, CO.   I was struck by this snippet:
Back in 2004, when the Denver teachers union voted on ProComp, many teachers had a deeply ingrained opposition to "merit pay." One poll about a month before the vote showed that just 19 percent of them were in favor. The district undertook a public-relations blitz and massive information campaign, and it ended up winning the support of 59 percent of teachers.
Teachers, once they understand that they can have due process side by side with merit pay, are willing to support an opportunity to earn more money in a less traditional manner.   However it requires leadership and stake holder input.  Off hand claims made by Ravitch are harmful to the dialogue.  She continues to say of merit pay that it,
destroys the collaboration and teamwork that are essential to the culture of the school.
However, the very same study that Ravitch notes as proof pudding that merit pay won't work actually concludes those who received merit pay were more likely to collaborate:
...what can we say about the way treatment teachers responded? Treatment teachers...were more likely to report thatthey collaborated with other teachers (planning, reviewing student test results, coaching and being  coached or observed) 
And I suppose this is my biggest beef with how merit pay is treated by its opponents.  Merit pay is not perfect.  Value added modeling has limitations.  And charter schools will not fix all our educational ills.  But neither will the status quo.  We need to spend less time yelling and making sweeping generalizations and more time figuring out how school reform can go forward recognizing the strengths and weaknesses put forward by both sides of the argument.

We can't afford to continue forcing people to line up on one side of this issue or the other.   Movies like Waiting for Superman, shows like those recently seen on Oprah, and polarizing figures like Michelle Rhee only exacerbate the problem.

But reform should not be held hostage by politics.  It must move forward with all stake holders contributing to a dialogue.  The question is when will we work together to decide what real and honest educational reform will look like?   It's happening in some places.   I just wish we had leaders here in Montgomery County willing to make it happen.