Thursday, September 30, 2010

Montgomery County Board of Education Responses- Assorted

Well, I suppose I'm not surprised that not a one of the incumbents for the Montgomery County Board of Education would answer my questions.   The incumbents after all, have the most to lose.  It's fascinating they don't feel the need to express their opinions about education, however.   This is after all, the localist of local elections.   But I suppose that just goes to show you how much they will rely on their incumbency advantage and across the board MCEA endorsement.   When you add in Montgomery County's horrific turnout, the chance they lose becomes even more remote.   Needless to say, I dug up their responses to a question on student achievement data and evaluations from an MCEA questionnaire.   I'll let you judge the quality of responses for yourself. 

Shirley Branderman

14.) What is your view of how student achievement data should be used in the evaluations of teachers?

The Maryland General Assembly enacted the Education Reform Act of 2010 which requires that student growth data be a significant component in the evaluation of teachers. This mandate recognizes that we cannot separate teaching and learning. Evaluations of a teacher’s effectiveness must include consideration of student performance as demonstrated by achievement data. The Montgomery County Teacher Professional Growth System (TPGS) does just that. Developed using standards from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, student performance data factors strongly in two of the six standards used in teacher evaluation under the TPGS. The use of multiple measures of student performance as primary data in the TPGS constitutes an appropriately significant component of the evaluation process.

Judith Docca

140 What is your view of how student achievement data should be used in the evaluations of teachers?

It should be used judiciously, recognizing improvement overall without outrageous, arbitrary goals. All of society gas a piece of this- not just educators. Citizens need employment nutrition, housing, opportunities for training and health care to produce school-ready students.

Michael Durso

14.)What is your view of how student achievement data should be used in the evaluations of teachers?

In a word, carefully. I believe our critics have seized upon this test score evaluation piece, and notlooked at all aspects. How does one evaluate Art — Music — PE — Dance- Special Education andothers on the basis of test scores? Are we to completely forget the late bloomer? How about the teacher who excels at reaching the °hard to reach" and may only see minor, incremental progress. I believe we must tread very slowly in this area, we always look for the "silver bullet "in education, and to date it has remained elusive.

Pat Oneill

14.) What is your view of how student achievement data should be used in the evaluations of teachers?

Student achievement data is just one measure of small effective teaching. I support the use of the 1/3 weight.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On Merit Pay- a summary of Montgomery County.

Merit Pay.  Here.   Here.  Here. And even here.
In Montgomery County the budget is dire.   Maybe it's too early to say it, but I can't see how MCPS teachers escape furloughs in the 2010-2011 school year.   Meanwhile, MCPS is turning down Race to the Top money with the blessing of MCEA.   And MCEA continues to take this purely anti-merit based pay stance despite a lack of data to support a conclusionn one way or the other.

While money gets handed out to other districts in the merit pay experiment, the question is whether the MCEA- MCPS stance is coming at a high price for the employees it seeks to represent and employ.   While other districts face the prospects of raises and bonuses, MCPS is faced with the status quo or worse, furloughs.  

Who wins by standing up to the political maelstrom of merit pay?   

Saturday, September 25, 2010

If you don't believe in the measurement tool

I was rereading the recent report on Teacher Pay for Performance that many are citing as their "I told you so" moment.  But then I came across the paragraph below.   The researchers used survey data to ascertain teacher beliefs about the program.   One important finding, is that teachers did not appear to believe in the measurement tool:
Participating teachers generally favored extra pay for better teachers, in principle. They did not come away from their experience in POINT thinking the project had harmed their schools. But by and large, they did not endorse the notion that bonus recipients in POINT were better teachers or that failing to earn a bonus meant a teacher needed to improve. Most participants did not appear to buy in to the criteria used by POINT to determine who was teaching effectively. Perhaps it should not be surprising, then, that treatment teachers differed little from control teachers on a wide range of measures of effort and instructional practices. Where there were differences, they were not associated with higher achievement. By and large, POINT had little effect on what these teachers did in the classroom.

If teachers did not believe the measurement tool effectively captured who was the worthy of the bonus, why would they change their behavior?  

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Merit Pay Debate

I have had a little bit of time to read about the new study published  by the National Center on Performance Incentives on merit pay.   I recommend reading the executive summary and the discussion section at the end.   I always like to read the report, and then read the headlines that are published.

A good example on the MCEA BLOG: "Teacher merit pay fails the test."  

However, for those interested in learning more about merit pay, I recommend Jay Mathews blog.  Not so much the article, but the comments by readers and Jay that follow   Every once in awhile, you get some interesting ideas circulating.  And incidentally, some of the best, are not necessarily proponents of merit pay.

Must Read: Merit Pay

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Montgomery County Board of Education Response- Karen Smith- District 3

While some candidates have referred me to previously published questions, Karen Smith is the first candidate to answer the difficult questions I posed to the candidates running for the Board of Education three days ago.  Kudos for her bravery- especially so in tackling the question about Michelle Rhee.    And thank you.   Her responses and website:

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?

Overall, I think that the Peer-Assisted Review (PAR) system used within MCPS is pretty good, less cumbersome, more fair, and more substantive than most. Both principals and teachers themselves can call for a PAR review out of cycle (i.e., not just in preparation for a tenure decision or during a periodic review). More principals should avail themselves of this option to help struggling teachers, as it is my understanding that the resources brought to bear in the PAR review process can really turn a teacher around (or help someone to realize that teaching may not be for them).

Monday, September 20, 2010

VAM (Value Added Modeling)

I have alot of respect for the work that David Cohen does over at InterACT, a policy oriented group named the "Accomplished Teachers of California."   He recently made the virtual journey to the Answer Sheet- a blog by Valerie Struass at the Post, in which he argues against the use of Value Added measurement tools in California.   And while I respect him, if it has not already become clear, I could not disagree with him more on the use of VAM.    I recently came across a policy report from NYC that I found both interesting and readable.   I'm not sure it has been peer reviewed but it has a lengthy but readable discussion on the pitfalls and potential uses of VAM.   It's a good starting place for those who want to learn more.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Washington Post- Letter to the editor

Sent this to the Post last week.   I'm assuming it didn't make it.

When voters head out to the polls to cast their vote in the coming months they will be bombarded with signs, pamphlets and even perfectly outlined apples. Printed atop atleast one of those apples in Montgomery County will be the following title: "Teachers Recommend." The Apple Ballot, which exists in Montgomery as well as other counties across Maryland, has become one of the most successful marketing strategies ever employed. Vote for the following names, in elections even some of the most informed voters know little about, and support teachers. A simple and noble message. However, its important that voters understand what this means.

In my ten years as MCEA member and MCPS teacher, I have never been asked which candidates I believe warrant the endorsement of MCEA. Not an email. Not a, "please fill out this survey." Nothing. I appreciate much of the work done by my employee association, but standing in the way of educational reform that creates incentives for teachers to perform at their highest level is not one of them. The Apple Ballot may very well represent the rank and file teachers accross Montgomery County, but I'm not sure how the MCEA elite would really know, as the rank and file are not involved in the process. But I do know this: the list of candidates I recommend, and the list of candidates MCEA recommends, are two different lists.

Questions for the Candidates: Montgomery County Board of Education


I am a teacher in Montgomery County contacting candidates running for the Board of Education. I'm hoping you would be willing to take a few moments to answer three questions I am posing to the candidates. Your responses would be published on my blog, (unless you stipulate otherwise). My intention is to "recommend" to followers of my blog candidates who are strongest on reform. Thank you for your consideration.


Mike McCabe

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?

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?

3. What are your reflections on Michelle Rhee? Should the search committee consider interviewing her for the Superintendent position?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Different takes on the SAT

MCPS celebrated rising average SAT scores, issuing this press release a few days back.   However, a precipitous drop in participation  during the 2010 school year has some questioning the conclusions that should be drawn from the data.   Lisa Gartner of the Washington Examiner has an interesting take.

The school district saw a 38-point jump in SAT scores this year, with the biggest gains among African-American and Hispanic students. But participation overall dropped about 8.5 percent, with a 15.6 percent drop in participation among blacks and 17.7 percent among Hispanics, groups who traditionally do not perform as well on tests.

One would expect high SAT averages to be accompanied by increasing numbers of students earning a college ready score of 1650.  Curiously, the number of students who have received college ready scores in MCPS has remained flat over the last several years despite a small rise in the number of graduates over those same years.
Data from:


Gordon Maciennes of Taking Note discusses the concensus that has been reached between reformers and unions. I'm not sure we've reached any concensus here in MCPS. We prefer avoidance to concensus.

With all the controversy around VAM, there is a growing consensus between hard-core pay-for-performance advocates and teacher union activists:

•the current teacher evaluation system is close to useless, since just about every teacher is judged to be at least “satisfactory” if not “excellent”;
•VAM is a potentially promising method that might improve teacher evaluation and development, but it requires additional research and refinement;
•even when fine-tuned and more reliable, VAM should never be the sole measure of teacher effectiveness (the disagreement focuses on whether VAM should count for 30 percent or 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation); and,
•the other factors that should be incorporated in an improved teacher evaluation system are much squishier as they rely on professional and personal judgments from classroom observations or analysis of student work that are not uniform and quantifiable like standardized tests.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Merit Pay oh Merit Pay, how do you evade me?

Below, a conversation I'm having with InterACT blogger David Cohen. If I'm not mistaken, he's a paid contributor.

September 15, 2010 11:26 am
I always appreciate your take. and by and large I agree with most of your post. But I must admit, as economics teacher, you lost me here:

“”There is also little or no evidence for the claim that teachers will be more motivated to improve student learning if teachers are evaluated or monetarily rewarded for student test score gains.”

Now, you might merely be stating a synopsis of the “research” but I hope you don’t mean to insinuate that teachers will not respond to incentives. The tenure based system employed by most districts is fatally lacking in this one area.

Are you against incentives in principle? In my cursory glance, I do not see mention of this in your recommendations for changes to evaluation systems in CA.


Reply David B. Cohen permalink*
September 15, 2010 2:24 pm
Hello Mike,
I always appreciate being pushed to refine my thinking and writing, but this particular quotation comes from the report I’m citing. It’s not originally my statement.

However, I do agree with the statement. The key detail is the distinction between learning and test scores. So teachers might very well respond to test score-based incentives, but if the focus is on raising test scores, I have misgivings about the likelihood of improvement related to desirable learning outcomes. It’s the narrowing effect that we’ve seen with NCLB, and a dose of Campbell’s Law, which as you probably know, argues that high stakes decisions based on narrow measures will inevitably corrupt the measurement tool and the value of what’s being measured.

It’s also worth looking into the work of Daniel Pink, who presents a convincing case in Drive that incentives generally work better for simple tasks that we might not otherwise be motivated to do. Complex, creative tasks, and those we generally enjoy doing, tend to suffer when incentives come into play. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose will drive intrinsic motivation, which is generally more powerful and sustained than external motivation guided by rewards and consequences.

MCEA a winner

How about, love them and hate them! From Maryland Politics Watch:

1. Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA)
Love them or hate them, MCEA did well tonight in key races. Former President Bonnie Cullison is headed for a second place finish in District 19's delegate race. Teacher Eric Luedtke is winning the third delegate seat in District 14 even though he was not on the slate, he was outspent, and two of his mail pieces were sent to the wrong district!

MCEA appears to be getting wins in other races in which they invested resources, including Craig Rice's big win in District 1 over former Planning Board Chair Royce Hanson and Sharon Dooley. Equally interesting, Hans Riemer won and Duchy Trachtenberg lost in the at-large contest. Sen. Nancy King is currently leading Del. Saqib Ali, though that contest remains close with all ballots not yet counted. Rona Kramer similarly trails Karen Montgomery by an even smaller margin. I imagine Jon Gerson and Doug Prouty are smiling tonight.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Old news from Baltimore

I've been having some conversations with union leadership. Mostly, I've become very discouraged with the way MCEA and MCPS have reacted to changes coming around the bend. Will MCPS be left behind? I read things like the quote below from a Sun editorial way too often.

Although some Maryland school districts -- including Montgomery County, the state's largest -- have resisted modifying the way teachers are evaluated, Baltimore City embraced the concept because it could bring millions of new dollars to its cash-starved school system.

Which leaves me to wonder whether my original decision to come to Montgomery County will eventually become an impetus to leave. Montgomery County Public Schools has long been the highest paying school district in the state. Can we manage to maintain that edge in the current political and economic climate?

I don't believe we can when I continue to read posts like this one from Tom Israel, exective director of MCEA. The language of MCEA and MCPS must change, and change now. Money. Real money, is on the line. Hopefully, it's not already too late.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

To impede or embrace

MCEA has so far chosen to be an impediment to the current sweep of education reforms. However, when you look at the money that has become available in DC, you have to wonder if the teachers in Montgomery County Public schools wouldn't be better off getting on the highway instead of building spead bumps on it. Read about the new money available to DC teachers in the Washington Post. A few incentives below. MCPS has none... I'd go for just one.

First, qualify by ranking in the top tier on the school system's new evaluation system. Working at a school where 60 percent or more of students qualify for free- and reduced-price meals earns $10,000 extra right off the bat. (Teachers at lower-poverty schools receive half the money.) Be a math teacher: a hard to staff subject garners $5,000. Teach in grades four through eight: students in those grades take the standardized exams in math and reading that are used to calculate growth data, which can earn up to another $10,000.

Teachers who receive high evaluations two years in a row will also be paid as though they had masters degrees, and will be bumped up to five years up the pay ladder depending on poverty levels at their school.

School systems across the country have adopted performance-based bonuses in the last few years, but Washington's bonuses are among the biggest. Teachers in Prince George's County can receive up to $10,000 in annual performance bonuses.