Tag Archives: politics

5 big questions for the Iowa Council on Educator Development

Iowaflag

The Iowa Council on Educator Development meets tomorrow for the first time. This is the statewide group that is supposed to make recommendations to the Iowa legislature about how to better evaluate teachers and school administrators. Given many of the practical and policy insanities that have occurred in other states around this issue – massive swings from year to year in individual teachers’ ratings, educators evaluated by test scores of students they didn’t teach, Teachers of the Year being rated unsatisfactory, teachers being evaluated by student assessments for which there is yet no curriculum / teacher training, etc. – this will be important, highly-visible, and highly-controversial work. Members of the Council include teachers, principals, professors, educator association staff, Department of Education personnel, and, yes, the state director for the Iowa chapter of Students First (whom for some reason the Department of Education insists on referring to primarily as a ‘parent’ rather than her professional role).

As I think about the work ahead for this group and the changes that it may recommend, five big questions come to mind that will need resolution…

  1. First and foremost, will the purpose of any changes in our current educator evaluation systems be for educator improvement or for educator ‘accountability?’ The primary philosophical orientation of any proposed changes is paramount and will shape all other conversations, decisions, and design considerations. For instance, systems designed for educator improvement won’t be punitive; will focus on educator learning, growth, and remediation; will be less consequential to teachers’ incomes, employment, and reputations (i.e., lower stakes rather than high stakes); and will do everything possible to minimize year-to-year volatility and unreliability because they’re focused on an ethic of care, not on perspectives of shame, blame, or disdain.
  2. Iowa revised its educator evaluation systems just a few years ago to give educators much better feedback on their performance. Are there big flaws in those recently-changed systems that warrant major new changes?
  3. When teacher differences only account for about 10% of the variance in student achievement, will this statewide committee work on educator evaluations (and potential policy/funding changes) be placed in proper context given other potential legislative actions?
  4. If, as I don’t hope, the Council decides – despite an overwhelming wealth of statistical, policy, and legal reasons against such systems - that educator evaluation in Iowa should be changed so that it is high stakes AND that student statewide assessment scores should be a component of such a system, how will we remedy the deficiencies that have resulted in other states related to operational unreliability, massive unfairness, legal concerns, and a lack of confidence in the accuracy and validity of resultant educator ratings? In other words, can we identify states or districts who are actually doing this in ways that work? (and, if not, are we somehow smarter than every other state that’s tried this?) If the Council goes down this path, issues that will arise include year-to-year volatility of test scores and educator ratings, inappropriate uses of assessments and statistics that are designed for purposes other than educator evaluation, the lack of standardized statewide assessments for most students, inherent systemic biases of so-called ‘value-added’ systems against educators that work in particular settings, long-term impacts on the perceived desirability of education as a profession (and thus educator supply), Constitutional equal protection and due process rights, etc.
  5. If, as I hope, whatever changes the Council may recommend are focused on educator improvement rather than ‘accountability,’ will we be able to get the federal government to approve them? And if we can’t, it is more harmful to Iowa education to stay with the current NCLB scheme or receive a NCLB waiver? In other words – when both options have serious consequences, substantial drawbacks, and significant negative impacts on students, educators, and communities – whom are we willing to sacrifice and what will be our moral, ethical, professional, and legal justifications?

This work is going to be difficult and complex. What other big questions do you think the Council will have to address?

Image credit: Iowa flag, Chuck Thompson

Money, politics, and educator evaluation in Iowa

Timeline

Some observations

I am not aware of any mention in any Iowa news outlet of…

  1. the fact that the reforms advocated for by Students First (and others) have resulted in smaller, not larger, student achievement gains;
  2. the corporate profit motive behind many of Students First’s proposed policies;
  3. Students First’s anti-gay ‘Reformer of the Year’ in Tennessee;
  4. the D.C. Public Schools’ cheating scandal under Rhee’s leadership and the fact that DCPS schools are worse off now than before her arrival;
  5. Rhee’s belief that communities should not be democratically involved in their schools (so much for local control);
  6. the fact that virtually none of Students First’s policy proposals have any peer-reviewed data, research, evidence, or other supports behind them; or

any of the other controversies (of which there are many) surrounding Students First and its proposed policies.

I’m also not aware of any state- or district-level systems that tie educator evaluations to student test scores that are deemed to be statistically stable, operationally reliable, and proportionately impactful (if you’ve got ‘em, please share ‘em!).

Some questions

  1. Why aren’t the journalists in our state doing a better job of investigating the claims and backgrounds of groups like Students First instead of simply reporting on them and/or passing along their press releases as ‘news?’
  2. Should Students First have a seat on Iowa’s new educator evaluation council?
  3. So far Iowa has resisted many of the educational policy insanities that have infected other states. Will this council focus on evaluation measures for lower-stakes educator improvement purposes or higher-stakes educator accountability purposes? If the former, will such a scheme be approved by the federal government if/when Iowa applies (again) for a NCLB waiver? If the latter, will Iowa become just another of the many states that “pretend that mathematical models can do something they cannot?
  4. Will this council think smartly when considering ‘multiple measures’ of teacher quality?
  5. Will we decide as Iowans what our educational policies should be or will we allow ourselves to be bought by outside advocacy groups?

UPDATE: In case there was any confusion about whether Patty Link is in this role as a ‘parent’:

StudentsFirstIA

Why are we educators having so much trouble mobilizing our voice in ways that are effective?

Silence

Why are we educators having so much trouble mobilizing our voice in ways that are effective?

Are we afraid to speak up?

Are we ineffective when we do speak up?

Do we need to do a better job of marketing?

Are we not taking these educational and policy changes seriously enough yet?

Do we not have a viable and compelling counternarrative?

Are we so downtrodden that we feel that any efforts we make to speak up are pointless?

Are we simply getting outspent by those with deeper pockets?

Why can’t we tell our story in ways that resonate with others? And why are most of us unwilling to even try in the first place?

Image credit: Silence, Bigstock

Blame the method, not the kids (or educators)

the definition of ideology is doing the same thing over and over again without regard to evidence or experience.

When your method fails, and fails, and fails, and fails, don’t blame the kids. Blame the method.

Diane Ravitch via http://dianeravitch.net/2012/09/20/some-people-never-learn

The importance of basic academic skills … and much, much more

The following table represents the responses in 2005 of representative samples of American adults, state legislators, school board members, and school superintendents. They were asked to rate the relative importance of 8 broad public school goals. Note the emphasis on things other than just basic knowledge and skills.

I’m guessing that we would get similar results today, across geographic locations, educational levels, and income strata. How have we allowed the conversation on education to become hijacked? And, more importantly, how do we reclaim it?

RothsteinJacobsen

Source: Economic Policy Institute, The goals of education

Is focus on the few poor teachers driving away even more of the good ones?

People see bad teaching and they become convinced that the real issue is planning. Eventually, they decide that it would work best to have all teachers on “the same page” (my God, what would life be like if we all approached reading that way — laboriously moving page by page in the same book as everyone else?) with a lesson plan format.

….

teachers are often asked to focus on  the minutia. They are judged on their compliance regarding the physical space of their classrooms, the rigid format of their lesson and their ability to follow clerical procedures. In the process, teachers, indeed entire schools, become focused with things that have little to do with what it means to teach and to learn.

Often the focus is on strategies that are really helpful to teachers who are struggling. However, standardizing prescriptive formulas can be a bad idea. Oxygen tanks are great when they save lives. However, if someone is breathing just fine on his or her own, it might not be necessary to force to use it in the name of being “on the same page.” Similarly, medicine can save a life. However, if it is given to someone who doesn’t need it, I would consider it malpractice.

… we are so obsessed with teacher “support” and so convinced that teachers need more training and more skills that we are missing some of the greatest areas of need among teachers who are not among the bottom ten percent: affirmation, time, autonomy and creative control.

The very rope tossed out to help some teachers has become a leash that is holding back those are already doing great things. So maybe the real solution to teacher quality isn’t additional ropes. Maybe the solution is to cut the rope and see what happens. Otherwise, it might just become the noose that strangles the best of teachers.

John Spencer via http://coopcatalyst.wordpress.com/2012/08/18/teachers-need-less-support

Giving the powerful a pass

the “no excuses” mantra focuses the public and political gaze where the powerful want it—on the families, children, and institutions overburdened by poverty and not on the powerful who have the resources and influence to shape the inequity upon which they feed

Paul Thomas via http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/10353-what-really-determines-student-performance

Chris Lehmann on educational colonialism

I am posting Chris Lehmann’s recent post almost in its entirety because it’s that important. Some pictures are below…

there are a lot of powerful folks right now who are advocating for a pedagogy that they do not want for their own children. Some of these powerful people are running networks of schools that have a pedagogical approach that is directly counter to the educational approach they pay for for their own children. Moreover, these same powerful people tend to get upset when asked about the disconnect, saying that that question is off limits.

I don’t think it is.

I think we should ask why people of power advocate for one thing for their own children and something else for other people’s children, especially when those other children come from a lower rung on the socio-economic scale or when those children come from traditionally disenfranchised members of our society. I think that’s a very dangerous thing not to question.

Because we’ve done this before in America, and when we did that to the Native Americans, it did damage that has effects today.

To me, when you ensure your own child has an arts-enriched, small-class size, deeply humanistic education and you advocate that those families who have fewer economic resources than you have should sit straight in their chairs and do what they are told while doubling and tripling up on rote memorization and test prep, you are guilty of educational colonialism.

And it’s time we start calling that what it is.

Carlisleindianschoolprintingshop 

Blacksmithing

Indianschoolsewingroom

Littlegirlspraying

Carlisleindianschool 

Image credits

Teach students higher order or critical thinking skills? Not if the Texas Republicans have their way.

Republican Party of Texas Logo

The Republican Party of Texas states in its official 2012 political platform:

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based  Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

This is astounding since most everyone else in America seems to understand that our educational graduates and our employees need greater, not less, development of critical and higher-order thinking skills in order to be effective citizens, learners, and workers in our hyperconnected, hypercompetitive global information society. This political platform item is an absolutely stunning example of educational and economic cluelessness and is a surefire recipe for complete irrelevance in the 21st century.

In recent years, I don’t believe I’ve heard of any other groups officially opposed to teaching students critical thinking or higher-order thinking. Have you? Other thoughts?

Hat tip: Slate

The primary motivation of education policymaking

We are literally living in a world where the primary motivation behind the proposals that determine what schools look like ISNT designing the kinds of learning environments that our kids deserve. Instead, the primary motivation behind the proposals that determine what schools look like is designing the kinds of learning environments that might get a legislator reelected.

Bill Ferriter via http://teacherleaders.typepad.com/the_tempered_radical/2012/04/meritpay-tenure-philberger-edpolicy.html.


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