"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

The New Teacher Project and New Democrats

     The New Teacher Project, the fast-track teaching program founded by former TFAer and curent DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee, just released a report about fundamentally altering the teaching profession.  This unfolds in an era when test scores are equated with learning, No Child Left Behind exacerbates problems in education, various for-profit companies can hawk their canned curriculum (touted as "scientifically-based"), and alternative path programs like TFA and TNTP have been able to throw untrained and ill-prepared teachers into the classroom. 
     Andrew J. Rotherham, co-founder of Ed Sector and blogger at Eduwonk, would seriously disagree with my characterization of this "era."  Rotherham continuously takes an anti-union stance, insists the teaching profession is staffed by incompetent ignoramuses, and suggests merit-pay should stay and tenure should go.  Make these changes and - viola! - we'd have a much better education system.  Of course, Rotherham also serves on the board of Democrats For Education Reform (a group recently profiled in the Nation), works with the Gates and Broad foundations on various projects, and has played a key role in Democratic education politics.  He's a big fan of No Child Left Behind, even claiming that, aside from vouchers, "Mr. Bush's education agenda is largely a New Democratic one"(right from the DLC's webpage).  Take a peek at his blog and read the last few entries (June 2nd on down): praises Duncan for leveraging the $5 billion "Race to the Top" fund in an attempt to get Tennessee to change their charter school law; comes out in favor of national standards but fears the current attempt will fail (wait, is this the Fordham guys?!); praises The New Teacher Project research; and throws in a few pro-TFA pieces.  
     But back to the New Teacher Project publication.  Here's the opening paragraph of TNTP's press release about the document:

Nation's Schools Failing to Assess Teacher Effectiveness, Treating Teachers as Interchangeable Parts

Study Describes “Widget Effect,” Which Prevents Schools from Recognizing Excellence, Providing Support, or Removing Ineffective Teachers

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, U.S. Representative George Miller (D-CA) Join in Call for Overhaul of Teacher Evaluation Systems and Policies Governing Use of Evaluation Ratings

NEW YORK, NY – America’s schools operate in a policy environment that assumes all teachers are the same, according to a comprehensive study by The New Teacher Project (TNTP), a national nonprofit dedicated to ensuring that all students get excellent teachers. Though a teacher’s effectiveness is singularly important to student success, schools do not distinguish great teaching from good, good from fair, or fair from poor, and a teacher’s effectiveness in helping students to succeed academically almost never factors into critical decisions such as how teachers are hired, developed or retained.

     In case you missed it, "a teacher's effectiveness is singularly important to student success," thus eliminating all other factors in education quality and equality.  Those schools with low test scores just have terrible teachers - fire 'em (or close the school), bring in new teachers (from where?), adopt our new national standards, and open new charter schools with non-union labor.  Remember back when Gates gave his speech at TED back in February?  Eradicate malaria, AIDS, pnuemonia, and "bad" teachers.  Surprise, surprise: Gates is one of the primary high-profile donors of this anti-teacher project.  
     And who is listening?  From Duncan's blog at Ed.gov:

The New Teacher Project

“Effective teachers who are fairly compensated are vital ingredients in the reforms our schools need,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in response to a new study by The New Teacher Project.

The study found that U.S. schools in effect treat all teachers the same and “do not distinguish great teaching from good, good from fair, or fair from poor, and a teacher’s effectiveness in helping students to succeed academically almost never factors into critical decisions such as how teachers are hired, developed or retained.”

“Schools need to have evaluation systems that fairly and accurately identify effective teachers,” Duncan said.

For information about the report — “The Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness” — see http://www.tntp.org/newsandpress/060109_TNTP.html.


  1. Anonymous7:25 AM

    Let's say this report is right. Teachers are the root issue. A good teacher in a low income school can raise a student by a grade-and-a-half advancement in a year; while a bad teacher in a high-income school can raise a student by only half-a-grade level.

    Maybe we need a report that identifies clearly what makes for a "good teacher" as opposed to a "bad one". Are there specific practices that cause students to rise in ability, knowledge, and skill? Are there lesson-design parameters? Disciplinary philosophies?

    Or is it really about patience, self-discipline, dedication, kindness, consequence, feedback, and consciousness of which students are falling behind?

    How does one teach that? How does one learn to be a great teacher, who can raise student achievement by a grade-and-a-half a year? I wish I knew... but I don't think it has to do with pre-packaged curriculum or quality administration, or any of that. It's something else.

    Do you know?

  2. Part of teaching is a science, and can be measured and quantified, like lesson-plan structure, pacing of curriculum, number & types of activities per period, test scores, etc.

    But the other side of teaching is the ART----This is most important with non-academic or poor/"impacted" students.

    Good students with strong family backing are easy to teach, even by current test-friendly rote methods---They are emotinally stable and generally cheerful, or serious, in the classroom.
    They listen, follow instructions, ask questions only when confused (not just to rile or slow-down the teacher), and work hard to complete assignments on time. Grades actually MEAN something to them.

    But there is another kind of student that is all-too-common in "impacted" urban schools (and perhaps in some rural schools as well)-----And THIS student NEEDS much, MUCH more accomodation, help, encouragement, discipline, monitoring, and treatment that ends up being quite different from the "functional" students.

    I won't go into the gory details, but it is THIS, much more difficult student who requires much more of the intuitive ART that teaching
    can entail.
    Just *REACHING* THIS TYPE OF "DIFFICULT" STUDENT, is the basic issue--Getting them to just sit still a moment and LISTEN, and stop hitting their classmate over the head for a moment (and I'm talking 10th/11th graders!) and BE PRESENT IN THE MOMENT with the teacher and what he/she is trying to teach.
    It is not easy for them.

    With these students, accomplishing the most basic tasks can seem like WWIII!!
    Andin many cases, the student is perfectly intelligent, but EMOTIONAL issues intrude, powerfully.

    Charters can and will DO NOTHING for these students ultimately---They are the ones the charters kick out after a couple weeks or so (I've had several students actually brag, "I was kicked out of a charter after only 3 weeks!"

    So yes, a pre-packaged curriculum works well with compliant/functional/stable/obedient students, but NOT with the troubled, impacted, unstable ones, who are legion in some schools (i.e. mine).

    The irony is that the functional students could be asked to learn something more useful and substantial than fodder for multiple-choice test scores, but NO---These are the "Money students" who can get a school higher scores.
    So, instead of more conceptual work, they get a focused concentration on test-vital
    subjects and lots of BITS of memorized info.

    The "impacted" students usually test poorly, regardless of instruction. THEY require a teacher's best intuition and instincts, far beyond any curricular concerns. Parenting skills
    can be useful here.

    For-profit charter schools will be unable to make money off these less-stable students, and they generally last only a short time in charter schools.

    Charters want Public Schools' FUNCTIONAL STUDENTS, because they can make money off them.

    The "Impacted" students are drained-off quickly, before they cut too deeply into the
    investors' profits.

    And for charters, PROFITS ARE THE