Thursday, April 29, 2010

Teacher tenure under attack

A brief informational on the "attack" on teacher tenure courtesy of NPR. I'm all for due process, except when the costs of that due process is a dilution of the teaching profession and thousands, or rather hundreds of thousands of dollars, for each ineffective teacher that is dismissed. These are resources that can't be recovered and could be used to help teachers who are effective, or could be effective with a few more available resources. There should be ways to expedite the process of dismissal in extreme cases. For instance, if a teacher is chronically late for work, or if a teacher refuses to write an instruction objective for a lesson, they should be streamlined for dismissal. These "red flags" could expedite the dismissal process, and save thousands of tax-payer dollars. Extending the path to tenure to three years is not a bad idea either.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Conflict looms

The Washington Post notes a show down could be looming between the state and MCPS over the proposed requirement that student achievement data be 50% or more of teacher evaluations. I'm not married to 25% or 50% or 75%, but I also know that if you attach some sort of merit based pay to achievement or to sound instruction or to parent surveys or to student surveys (yes, students surveys) you're going to have a better system. There is no incentive other than pure intrinsic motivation for mediocre teachers to get better. There's no incentive for teacher's to teach in ways that are out of their comfort zone. So why change? Let me tell you from someone who knows. They don't.

From the article:

Teaching is an incredibly complex art, and prescribing this high a percentage in terms of one area . . . undervalues teachers," said Doug Prouty, president of the Montgomery County Education Association. He said the regulations might jeopardize the county's peer-review evaluation system, which uses observations, test scores and other factors to determine how well teachers are doing.

Wrong. You can keep your peer review if you simply choose to revamp what you've already got. And what undervalues teachers, is having teachers get paid based on whether they show up for work, and for how many years they keep doing it, rather than whether they deliver a high quality product. Every day an ineffective teacher remains in their job is an insult to the teachers who work hard every day to be good at what they do.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Teacher evaluations to be 50% student data?

Looks like Nancy Grasmick is acting unilaterally to make student growth 50% of teacher evaluations rather than simply a "significant" portion, as required by the new state law. Interesting, because MCPS and the MCEA seemed to "slap five" after the Maryland state law was passed, arguing that they've already got it covered. It seems this is the states's shot off the bow of that celebration, and will force MCPS to go back to the drawing board.

If this is the state's way of calling out MCPS, then I'm all for it. It's time MCPS and MCEA engage in real meaningful reform that incentivizes the teaching profession. Come up with a system that rewards teachers for doing their job well. Reward teachers who work hard, not those who just get by. There is room to create this reform, even within or with additions to the current PGS and PAR system, but only if they engage the process. MCPS should lead and initiate like places such as New Haven, Connecticut are already doing. The alternative is to continue to make arguments for the status quo. Figure out how teachers can track their performance using a value-added approach to student performance. Figure out how to do the same for administrators who could potentially have more power under new system. It's high time we improved the profession once and for all.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A hopeful story

This story from the LA times is optimistic about changes to the seniority system. But we must go further than changing last hired, first fired. Pay scales, based solely on the length of time served and nothing else, need serious reevaluaion. More on this.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A good one

Find a debate here about the merit of teacher unions (click on audio/visual tab to access).

Two of the more convincing points were made by Terry Moe, a professor of political science at Stanford University:

On average, it takes two years, $200,000, and 15% of the principal's total time to get one bad teacher out of the classroom. As a result, principals don't even try. They give 99% of teachers -- no joke -- satisfactory evaluations. The bad teachers just stay in the classroom. Well, if we figure that maybe 5% of the teachers, that's a conservative estimate, are bad teachers nationwide, that means that 2.5 million kids are stuck in classrooms with teachers who aren't teaching them anything. This is devastating...

...The seniority rules often require districts to lay off junior people before senior people. It's happening all around the country now. And some of these junior people are some of the best teachers in the district. And some of the senior people that are being saved are the worst. Okay. So just ask yourself, would anyone in his right mind organize schools in this way, if all they cared about was what's best for kids? And the answer is no. But this is the way our schools are actually organized. And it's due largely to the power of the unions.

I would like to add that I do take issue with the way the debate question is framed (Don't blame teacher unions for our failing schools), even if done just for the sake of spurring interest in debate. Blaming one variable for such a dynamic issue is irresponsible and an over simplification. But unions are, as currently organized, and by the issues that they choose to champion, major impediments to reform. It is for this reason that I believe teacher unions need to under go major institutional and ideological changes if they are going to contribute to a better educational system.

Where unions go wrong

I first mentioned here about last hired first fired, and it was brought to my attention again when thinkonaut brought my attention to a New York Times article in the comments section of this blog (thank you). This issue hits at the core weakness of MCEA and other like minded unions, for it demonstrates oh so clearly that teacher unions do not attempt to do what is best for education as a whole. Can you imagine a sucessful business, forced to make cuts, arbitrarily firing the last employees it hired regardless of quality? If you have to fire teachers, you should go out of your way to fire the worst ones.

Unions like to argue that if administrators had the power to fire more senior teachers they would do so at a whim, or to pursue personal vendettas. Let's just go out on a limb and say this is 100% true. Welcome to real life. It pays to get along with your boss. And it's certainly not arbitrary.

On the other hand, let's say that principals' pay were based on the performance of the school. He or she would then have a vested interest in getting rid of the least effective teachers. Incentives matter. It's how the real world works, and it's how education should work.

Finally, it is well within the power of unions to come up with a less arbitrary system, that would not hurt its students or the profession of teaching. Yet unions simply argue that last hired first fired is the only fair way. I say, if you are so concerned that adminstrators are unable to do what's best for schools in their current circumstance, come up with a new way to get rid of the worst teachers. I'm quite certain there is a better way, and that it is within the power of the union to do so. Anything else is protecting unions, not education.

And again, "Why aren't more teachers in PAR?"

This is from a 2004 report from the Montgomery County shared accountability office:

Referral Rate for Experienced Teachers

Since the program began in the 2000-2001 school year, 315 tenured MCPS teachers have been referred to PAR.3 District officials have raised the question about why this number is “so low.” Principals were asked precisely this. The answers, varied and instructive, fall into the six categories of response, described below:

Unwillingness to give up on teachers—The majority of principals are interested in helping teachers to improve their practice. They believe, “If I just try a little harder, work a little more with this teacher” things will get better. In MCPS, placing an experienced teacher in PAR sends a signal that the teacher is at risk of being terminated.4 One principal’s comments sum up the views of many: “It’s gut-wrenching. These [teachers] are not strangers. You know their stories. They’re not evil people.”

Concern that referral to PAR reflects negatively on the principal—A number of principals expressed concern that referring an experienced teacher to PAR reflects negatively on them as principals. The teacher being referred is often someone the principal has selected, or helped to select, for the position at the school. Some significant fraction of principals believe that if they refer teachers to PAR, it indicates, “we made a mistake selecting that teacher in the first place” and that “mistake” will translate into something negative on the principal’s evaluation.

Not wanting to roil school waters—Some principals say that knowledge that an experienced teacher has been referred to PAR creates tension at the school. “Other teachers become nervous, or think I’m picking on the teacher.” As a result, some principals admit, they do not refer teachers who ought to be referred to PAR so as to keep peace among the faculty.

The time factor—A number of principals admit that they refer fewer tenured teachers to PAR than might benefit from the assistance because of the time it takes for them to prepare a submission to the PAR Panel. Principals are required to complete two formal observations (down from three). Each of these, by some estimates, requires as long as three hours of the principal’s time. “Sometimes I just miss the deadline because I don’t get the work done in time,” commented one principal whose remarks spoke for a number of colleagues.

Holdover concerns about MCEA—A few principals report they are reluctant to refer experienced teachers to PAR because they are worried, based on history, that “MCEA will make things difficult”. None of the principals interviewed could point to an actual instance in which, since the inception of PAR, the union has attempted to stymie the process. Nevertheless, there is an anticipatory reaction among principals that seems to make some of them more reluctant than they otherwise might be to
recommend tenured teachers to PAR.

Newness of the system, newness of many principals—Finally, PAR is a relatively new system for MCPS. Given the staggered implementation of the PGS, some principals have had a year or two of experience with PAR, but fully one-third of principals began to implement the system just this school year. Compounding the newness of the system is the newness of many principals. Familiarity and comfort with the process likely will encourage greater use of it.

Again, the last pagagraph is simply not supported by the data. The time factor rings home to me. Although, I might call it the "it's a pain" factor.

I will tell you this, and let there be no doubt, if principals were paid extra for great assessment data, more teachers would be on PAR.

Why aren't more teachers on PAR?

More from the same article:

Julie Sanders, a 7th grade teacher in Montgomery County, is a strong believer in the idea behind PAR, which she calls a “get-well plan” for teachers, but she isn’t convinced that it adequately captures everyone who needs help.

“It would overwhelm the system,” Ms. Sanders said. “I think [the PAR panelists]
probably need to get rid of a lot more people than they actually do.”

And because of rigorously enforced timelines and the extensive documentation required to refer a teacher to peer assistance and review, some principals continue to use the “excessing” process to rid their buildings of poor-quality instructors, Ms. Sanders said. (Teachers who are removed from schools as a result of program changes, but still are employed by the district, are deemed “excessed.”)

That is a place where administrators need to be held accountable on making better use of the system, said Ms. Lawrence, the Toledo union president.

“It isn’t an easy thing to say to a teacher, ‘You have performance problems and you need to be referred to assistance,’ ” she said. “But that’s part of what being a manager means.”

Phillip Gainous, the vice president of the Montgomery County Association of Administrators and Supervisory Personnel and the co-chairman of the Montgomery County district’s PAR panel, thinks that the referral process is gradually improving. Principals are gradually coming to view PAR not as a hammer, he said, but as a genuine route to improvement.

This last paragraph is certainly not in line with the data that shows fewer and fewer tenured teachers being referred to the PAR program.

PAR data

Found all the data on the Peer Assistance and Review evaluation system on this page. A couple of thoughts: 1) Why are so few tenured teachers referred (I'll dig up some answers)? 2) Should we even spend these considerable resources on struggling teachers? For instance, what if Consulting Teachers (professionals in charge of evaluating the new and under performing teachers on PAR) were helping the mediocre teachers become master teachers instead of making ineffective teachers marginally less so? 3) We have a stick in place (though perhaps under utilized), but what is the carrot for the vast majority of Montgomery County teachers? Race to the Top seems to address this through some kind of incentivized pay system. But if 95% of teachers are not in need of the "stick" after year 1, the county and MCEA would do well to introduce some carrots.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Montgomery County Public Schools evaluation system.

So I was looking at Montgomery County's "model" evaluation system here. Some very interesting stuff, with some good comparisons to other systems that have Peer Assistance and Review programs. I'm looking for more data, but here is some provided in the Education Week article. Please note that all novice (read: new) teachers are put into the PAR program, while tenured teachers must be referred by adminstrators.


Year: 2007-08
Total novices: 446
Nonrenewed: 16 (3.6%)
Granted 2nd year of PAR: 32 (7.2%)


(teachers on staff: 9,371)
Year: 2007-08
Teachers in intervention: 9
Dismissed: 7
Resigned/retired: 0
Extra year of intervention: 2
Successful return
to classroom: 0

Nine tenured teachers referred to the system for the 07-08 school year. None of them deemed worthy of returning to the normal professional growth system. Seven dismissed. This system cannot be valuable if so few tenured teachers are referred, and those that are referred are dismissed. How many teachers would have been dismissed if that number were 900 rather than 9? How many teachers could benefit from being in the PAR program?

Friday, April 23, 2010

From the MCPS page

Their title: MCPS, MCEA Agree on Use of Student Performance Data in Evaluations

My title: Weast and Prouty agree state law doesn't require any change! Rejoice.

Weast on Race to the Top

So I read this, and from what I understand, Jerry Weast's main point is that MCPS already does evaluation of teachers so well that it would have to be wary of changing anything that is already so good. He was almost dubious that Maryland could have a better idea than his. Ok then.

Not making sense....

Ok, so there is an opportunity to get Race to the Top funds but in order to get them we have to agree to some reforms. I know the Baltimore Sun is paraphrasing here, but does Weast really believe we have an evaluation system that "works?" I'll have to dig this up.

The district that appears most up in the air is Montgomery County, the largest district in the state with an enrollment of 142,000. Montgomery County schools spokesman Dana Tofig said the county wants more time to consider the details of the 250-page application before deciding whether to agree to the reforms. Montgomery school Superintendent Jerry D. Weast said in an op-ed piece in The Baltimore Sun this week that the county already has a teacher evaluation policy that works.

How Unions changed

Some interesting thoughts here on how unions have changed. Can't say I agree with everything, but I get it. Geeze. I get.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In the Post

The Maryland legislature recently passed a new law that says test scores will be a "significant" component of teacher evaluations. All this to get in line to receive "Race to the Top" funds doled out by the Obama administration. Sounds like a start. Doesn't a good teacher help students learn? And how do we measure learning? Assessment. The Washington Post reports that the MCEA and school system leaders agreed to make 1/3rd of teacher evaluations dependent on test scores. Then Doug Prouty, MCEA President, promptly sends this email to union members that says nothing has changed, nor should it. Montgomery County is the model!

We have not changed our evaluation in anyway. We have no intention of doing so. The Teacher Professional Growth System has served us well for the past ten years and is a model for other systems around the country. The focus on collecting authentic data through formal and informal observations, bolstered by other data sources (including student achievement) has provided more meaningful feedback to teachers than the previous evaluation system or that currently being used by any other county in Maryland. The structured support for teachers and other educators the system provides is also unique in our state.

If MCEA doesn't think our evaluation system should imporve, or that the current law doesn't provide an opportunity to improve it, they are taking a decidedly narrow approach. It takes two years to remove even the most ineffective tenured teacher. Further, test scores are used in name only. Two out of six standards by which teachers are evaluated have mention of the use of assessment data. To say that test scores are already a significant portion of the Montgomery County evaluation system could not be further from reality.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Who gets MCEA support

How does the MCEA choose the candidates it supports? Apparently there are a lot of criteria. Lots of "ours" and "contracts" and not a lot of "what's best for students." Just saying.

MCEA bases its recommendations on a number of factors, including:

1. Voting Record

For County Council and County Executive, primary consideration is given to votes approving funding for our contracts and votes on tax issues to provide adequate funding for the public school system. For Board of Education, primary consideration is given to votes approving our contracts, as well as votes on other educational policy issues that affect the working conditions of MCEA unit members. For the General Assembly MSTA [the state teachers] compiles a voting record. For example, during the last legislative term, the MSTA scorecard includes 12 votes in the Senate and 15 in the House over the four year term. In some situations the listed votes were unanimous. In other situations there were multiple votes on the same bill. Listed votes included numerous tax issues related to ensuring adequate funding for education, as well as votes on use of public tax dollars for private schools, as well as high profile votes on the Thornton school funding plan, the pension enhancement, and the proposed state take-over of 11 public schools in Baltimore.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Rubber Rooms

Good news is, to my knowledge, Montgomery County does not have any of these.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Last hired, first fired

The education industry does not normally have to talk about down sizing. But when it does, the dialogue is a monologue. The teacher's that lose their job are the one's that were hired last. I suppose this is only "fair." Just not so fair to the high performing young teachers who this often impacts the most, or the students who are stuck with the unmotivated, tenured teacher who collects a pay check sometimes twice that of the new teacher. MCEA should reconsider the tenure process, and who is terminated and when.

Friday, April 16, 2010


It's time to devote some time to improving the lone voice of Montgomery County teacher's in Maryland. This blog will call to account the policies, bad and good, of MCEA.