Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How we got in this mess

Teachers, their unions, and others all want to know how we got into this educational mess.  Dianne Ravitch spends day and night defending educators from the "reformist" voices of Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, Arne Duncan and the like, who argue for the use of  student achievement in teacher evaluations.  The reformists say we need to look at the "value-added" that a teacher brings to the classroom.   My union (along with others), cries foul, and goes here there and everywhere to testify.  They regurgitate claims that value-added modeling used to measure student achievment gains is huey.  And they take up the fight against movies made by directors who know more about global warming than education.  But why?   Why has this turned in to an all out war on education?  How did we get here?   Why are we still here?

Clear the air, and you'll realize this  fight is one that should have been over long ago.    The real fight is over seniority based rules that pay the most tenured teachers more money than the most effective teachers.   The same rules call for new teachers to be fired before the least effective teachers.    They are calls for reform that have fallen on deaf ears for many, many years.  They are calls for reform that were ingored.  But they are rules that could have been, and should have been, addressed by the unions themselves.   Had simple but thoughtful reforms been made or even attempted, the foundation upon which "reformers" built their castle would have fallen into the sea.  But like an old stubborn mule, the unions, led by the eldest teachers that control their ranks and benefit most by the imposition of the rules they defend, refused to change.

The result, is a fight that never had to be.   A fight that has now morphed itslef into an us vs. them fight over the use of testing.  We're fighting over the rediculous standardized test data that was released to the public by a newspaper more concerned with selling a few papers than fixing education.   We're fighting over the relaibility of value-added modeling- a topic about which most teachers and politicians and common folk care to know very little.   We're fighting over the merits of movie directors and chancellors of education.     It's a fight that never should have happened.   But it's a fight on grounds where the unions- and Diane Ravitch-  stand a much better chance of winning.   

Don't be fooled by what you hear and read today.   The real fight is over seniority.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Reactions to new Baltimore City Contract

So I spoke with Liz Bowie over at the Baltimore Sun earlier this week.    She wrote this article about the new Baltimore City contract.    I'm not exactly looking for a job in Baltimore City- as it sounds based on some of my quotes.   I love my job.   And my students.   I'm not going anywhere for the time being.   I'd much rather my own school district rewrite it's evaluation system to include some of the tenents found in the BCSS contract.   There's room to create something better than what we've got in Montgomery County.   Much better.   And I think Baltimore took a step in the right direction.   Kudos to the city and its union.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Why Teaching Experience Really Matters

Enjoyed this comment about teacher evaluations in Valerie Strauss' blog, the Answer Sheet.

It is frustrating to see this issue argued in black and white terms. It is silly for Mr. Gates to say that advanced degrees and experience does not matter. Obviously, experience and advanced degrees can make a great deal of difference in the effectiveness of a teacher.

BUT NOT ALWAYS. That is the crux of the problem and I think what Mr. Gates is getting at (albeit in black and white terms). I would become infuriated watching veteran teachers relying only on worksheets to teach first graders or screaming at children as a 'behavior management system'; some even had masters degrees. And they were paid more than I was, even though I was taking the same population of students with lower test scores and surpassing their students scores within a month.

It is exceedingly difficult to measure teacher effectiveness, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. As a teacher, I want some way to show that I am being effective (and I teach a very difficult low-income population). Watching ineffective but experienced teachers should make us all angry. We all want the best and the brightest in the classroom; we shouldn't settle for ineffective teachers. We should be rewarded for experience and advanced degrees, we should ALSO have some way to be rewarded for effectiveness. Its not easy to measure, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.
Posted by: acasey3
November 23, 2010 4:04 PM

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Does seniority matter?

Well.   Kind of.   I'm not exactly sure what Valerie Strauss attempts to argue here except to say that as teachers teach more their effectiveness increases.   That's not news, although there seems to be an insinuation that Arne Duncan and Bill Gates don't believe this.     I'm pretty confident they understand this.  However, the question is not whether teachers get better as they teach more.   They do.   The question is whether or not the current system in place encourages teacher responsibility, leadership, and quality.   Or, do we have a system that is indifferent to these things.   And if it is indifferent to those qualities, is it 1) more or less likely to attract people with those characteristics or 2) more or less likely to help those already in the field develop them?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The value of Value-Added

Here's a study from the Brookings Institution you won't find on the MCEA blog.  Jay Mathews brought it to my attention and he does a good job summarizing the study which focuses on the reliability concerns associated with value-added modeling.   The main idea is that just because a teacher's "percentile rank" might fluctuate year to year- does not mean it is a worthless piece of information.   They compare a teacher's percentile value-added rank to a baseball player's batting average which has similar year to year fluctuations.   Would you make decisions about the current year based on the batting average from last year?   Well, you'd certainly keep it in mind.  From the executive summary:

We believe that whenever human resource actions are based on evaluations of teachers they will benefit from incorporating all the best available information, which includes value-added measures. Not only do teachers typically receive scant feedback on their past performance in raising test scores, the information they usually receive on the average test scores or proficiency of their students can be misleading or demoralizing. High test scores or a high proficiency rate may be more informative of who their students are than how they were taught. Low test scores might mask the incredible progress the teachers made. Teachers and their mentors and principals stand to gain vast new insight if they could see the teachers’ performance placed in context of other teachers with students just like their own, drawn from a much larger population than a single school. This is the promise of value-added analysis. It is not a perfect system of measurement, but it can complement observational measures, parent feedback, and personal reflections on teaching far better than any available alternative. It can be used to help guide resources to where they are needed most, to identify teachers’ strengths and weaknesses, and to put a spotlight on the critical role of teachers in learning.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Pink and Teacher Motivation

I've completed reading Daniel Pink's, Drive, an inside look at what motivates people to perform.  His thesis is essentially that we are all motivated to perform if given the right combination of autonomy and purpose to complete a task.   On the other hand, he argues that extrinsic motivators often accomplish the opposite of their purpose, especially when the task is complex and requires creativity.   Rather than motivate, extrinsic "carrots" can narrow our focus, and turn enjoyable tasks into a job that we are unmotivated to perform.   Pink does a good job- and I believe much of what he says.   Allow teachers automony, provide them with a sense of purpose, and you are more likely to create a master teacher.   Agree or disagree- this book should probably be required reading for anyone considering new evaluation systems and pay scales based on teacher quality.

However, one statement got me thinking about teaching- and the seniority system of pay that currently dominates the field.   A system where the longer you teach, the more money you earn in a single year.  Pink asserts the following:

Of course, the starting point of any discussion of motivation in the workplace is a simple fact of life: People have to earn a living.   Salary, contract payments, some benefits, a few perks are what I call "baseline rewards."  If someone's baseline rewards aren't adequate or equitable, her focus will be on the unfairness of her situation and the anxiety of her circumstance.   You'll get neither the predictability of extrenisic motivation or the weirdness of instrinsic motivation.   You'll get very little motivation at all.

But once we're past that threshold, the carrots and sticks can achieve precisely the opposite of their intended aims.   Mechnaism designed to increase motiviation can dampen it.   Tactics aimed at boosting creativity reduce it.   Programs to promote good deeds can make them disappear.  
My question is whether or not our current system of pay  meets the requirement of  "fairness" Pink asserts is a prerequiste of  what he calls, motivation 2.0.   A system that does not reward increased responsibility by paying more,  but instead punishes it by increasing your workload.   A system that rewards teachers who take jobs as coaches- often at the expense of missing meetings required by those teachers who do not coach.   A system that says if you would like more money- you should leave your job early and find something else to do.   This does not seem like a "fair" system to me- and it leads me to wonder, "what type of teacher would find it fair?"   Is it a teacher who is not interested in leadership or responsibility?   Is it a teacher who has always wanted to coach athletics?   And which type of teachers leave the profession, or never enter the profession, because this is the type of pay structure that exists?

Maryland teacher's unions, and especially my own union, MCEA, are currently fighting tooth and nail to prevent a new evaluation system that would base 50% of that evaluation on student achievement data.   This new evaluation system proposed by the Maryland State Department of Education  is not likely to fix our educational problems.  It is replete with problems just like our current system.

However, if teachers, and the unions that represent them, were more proactive in addressing the failures of pay systems created more than thirty years ago, you wouldn't have politicians and state school boards trying to mandate changes to local school districts.   If we had teacher-leaders brain storming and researching in an effort to create pay scales based on leadership and responsiblity, instead of rewarding those who do just enough to get by, then perhaps we'd all be happy.   Perhaps we'd transform our schools and our profession.  And perhaps my union wouldn't  have to spend time defending our current broken evaluation system, from another, equally broken system proposed by politicians.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Washington Post on Pinsky

The Washington Post editors are questioning the role of state senator and MCEA staffer, Paul Pinsky, in the latest round of infighting between the Maryland General Assembly and Maryland State Department of Education.   It just so happens I think the General Assembly is right: MSDE has regulated beyond what is allowed by the law.   But the Washington Post is also right.   There should not be MCEA staffers voting on education bills.   I'm not sure MCEA staffers should be serving on the Maryland General Assembly at all.  Granted it's not illegal, but I for one do not want my elected representatives directly employed by lobbies- even if they are lobbying on my behalf.   Rumor has it newly elected Eric Leudtke will soon be an MCEA staffer as well.   I'd call that some political machinery at work.   The best part is, no one else seems to think this might represent a conflict of interest.   Or maybe they just don't know.   From the Washington Post:

We also hope that this latest - and most egregious - example of a lawmaker refusing to recuse himself from an issue where there is a conflict of interest prompts the General Assembly to do something about its lax ethics rules. Essentially the only thing required is disclosure and an assertion that the lawmaker can overcome any conflict. No doubt Mr. Pinsky brings valuable expertise to the discussion, as he argued to us. But that does not obviate the evident conflict when Mr. Pinsky, a union organizer for the Montgomery County Education Association, plays a leading role on an issue that directly affects his employer

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My note to MSDE

 Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) recently celebrated a decision by a committee of the Maryland Genearl Assembly (chaired by an employee of MCEA) to block a  Maryland State Board of Education regulation calling for student achievement data to be 50% of teacher evaluations in Maryland.   The Maryland state law called for student achievement data to be a "significant" factor.    I agree with my union that 50% is too much.    I disagree that our current system is the 7th wonder of teacher evaluation systems.  Here's what I sent to state board members.

Dear Board member,

I am teacher in Montgomery County who has spent a considerable amount of time researching evaluation systems.. I take issue with my union on a number of issues, which I detail at improvingmcps.blogspot.com. However, I implore you to consider the following regarding evaluation systems:

1) Any new evaluation system should seek to more readily identify ineffective teachers. 2) Value Added Modeling, though limited, is particularly useful in identifying those teachers who are ineffective, but only when used over a 3 year period. 3) Conclusions reached by student achievement data, due to reliability concerns, should be corroborated by other evidence of teacher quality. 4) An evaluation that relies heavily on flawed student achievement data is just as arbitrary as a system pays teachers based on seniority. 5) New evaluation systems should promote rewards based on teacher quality, teacher responsibilities, and areas of need. In our current system, new teachers often carry the heaviest load(no classroom, most teacher preparations, toughest population of students) but are paid the least.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.


Mike McCabe

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The problem with seniority

The debate over evaluation systems has turned into an "us vs. them."   It's the crazy politicians vs. the crazy unionites.   According to the crazy politicians, the crazy unionites obstruct reform to defend the worst teachers among us.   According to the crazy unionites, the crazy politicians have ill-concieved notions of effective teaching that will foster competition instead of collaboration, and narrow teacher focus to a set of poorly designed test questions that tell us nothing about what we really want to know.

The politicians, motivated by short-term goals and "I told you so" data points, want quick and instant reform before the next politician comes along with a new plan about how to save education.   The unionites, controlled by the activist and most often politically extreme that control their ranks, seek to protect the jobs and salaries of the existing employees, often at the expense of the creation of a superior and professionalized workforce.    They value the status quo.

And so the reform discussion devolves into debate, less about the public interest, more about  self-serving "talking points" each side hopes will allow them to "take the hill" a la Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders.  Debates have victors.   Discussions do not.   Discussions involve compromise based on the strength of argument.   Debates involve rigid positions which define compromise as a sign of weakness.  A number of bloggers have now directed me to Don Sutton's post on the value of "Strong Opinions, Weakly Held" which highlights the importance of being able to both argue vehemently and concede graciously.  Crazy politicians and crazy unionites have mastered the first half of this equation.

Which brings me to a teacher's solution to the curent call for reform.   This group of expert teachers came from all over the country, and from both political parties.   They offer guidelines for education reform that should make any school district think twice about their current system of evaluation and compensation.   Chief among these reforms, in my mind, is a way to weaken the seniority system; a system that rewards longevity in place of leadership and responsibility.   From The Center for Teacher Quality report:

Reward leadership, not seniority. Qualified teachers who take on additional responsibilities — mentoring novices and peers and preparing new teachers, creating family- and community-outreach programs, serving on advisory councils and the like — should be paid for their time outside the classroom. The number of years on the job should not determine who gets tapped for these leadership opportunities; demonstrated ability should.

When the debating stops, and the discussion begins, it should begin here- with common sense reforms made by teachers who know the system, and understand how to fix them.   We need to reward teachers who lead.   We need to reward teachers who are experts in their craft.   We need to reward those who help other teachers become better at their craft.   And we need to reward those who take on added responsibilities, not fewer ones.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Performance Pay report

Taking a look at this report from the Center for Teacher Quality.   It details a different way to think about teacher compensation- one that goes beyond Value Added Modeling on the one hand or simple seniority on the other.  

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

MCEA Members For Reform - Voices of Teachers

Aileen Woolley is a social studies teacher at Sherwood High School.  This is her addition to the reofrm conversation.

Hi Mike-

You have gotten me thinking about merit pay. I am for it. My reasons are personal in that it would work for me and public – it should work for our profession.

For me, I want to be in a profession (like most other professions) where results and strong performance are rewarded. I don’t want any more “atta girl” kudos or notes from parents or notes in my professional file. I am not a volunteer to be thanked – I am a worker whose pay should be commensurate with the results I achieve. Surely we have education administrators and specialists who could create a fair evaluation standard that would not be dependent on one measure (like testing results), be as objective as possible, and flexible enough to be tailored to the particular job description of a particular teacher. For me, it would cause me to be more reflective about how I teach and more determined to be at the top of my pay possibilities. It would empower me to further change and experiment and search out credible strategies in all that I do.

For the teaching profession it is important to attract the best and the brightest. In the U.S. we are not. A recent study showed that teachers come from the bottom 2/3s of the graduating college class vs. the top 1/3 in other countries like Japan and Finland. Who would be attracted to teaching today? Obviously, not many of the high flyers. With the negative reputation of teachers, noncompetitive salaries in many regions of our country, and pay increases not in one’s power, no wonder promising students scoff at me when I approach them to think of a career in teaching.

It is a competitive world, it is a critical job – let’s roll and make changes.