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

Monday, February 20, 2012

Rushing Toward the Cliff While “Tweaking” the “Quirks”

In 2001, the PR firms that the Business Roundtable hired to sell their plan to blow up public schools and to rebuild them in the corporate image for corporate benefit could not have settled on a more cynical and appealing mantra: we must close the achievement gap, and NCLB is the way to do it.

Now over ten years later, the gaps are still gaping and growing wider as the achievement disparities map click by click onto to the diverging lines on the inequality chart between rich and poor. Who would have guessed that applying thumbscrews to the most vulnerable of the nation’s teachers and students would not have had the desired effect of ending the achievement gap? Even though it did have tremendous benefit to the corporate charter school cause.

Since 2001 the Business Roundtable has been joined by venture philanthropists, hedge funders, edupreneurs, real estate outfits, corporate foundations, and various other corporate welfare vampires to finish the job that was left when the social neocons lost to Team Obama, who took control and quickly turned over the ED keys to the neoliberal wing of the Corporate Party.  Same agenda, intensified, with different players.

Now we see the same "gap" language being used to support the latest assault against common sense and scientific consensus that is rushing forward in order to finish the job that NCLB started.   This is from the NYTimes revisit to Tennessee, with a reporter this time much more attuned to the Gates and Broad agenda for turning teachers and principals into data-shuffling robots (see the Winerip story for a more realistic view of what is going in Tennessee, where $501,000,000 in RttT money has, overnight, displaced Southern modesty with unmitigated corporate arrogance).

This is from today's Times piece, quoting the lawyer for the BRT hothouse for phony teacher research, The New Teacher Project (my bold):
    Backers of the new approaches say that change takes time. “You have to start the process somewhere,” said Daniel Weisberg, executive vice president and general counsel at The New Teacher Project, a nonprofit agency founded in 1997. “If you don’t solve the problem of teacher quality, you will continue to have an achievement gap.”
Really, Mr. Weisberg?  You expect us to believe that we need teachers to stick to the teacher eval scheme designed by Achieve, Inc., and we must have principals to adhere with equal mindlessness to that scheme when observing?  And this will close the achievement gap?  And if teachers and principals don’t, the process will eliminate them, even though we know that the process is built on a pedagogically-indefensible house of cards?  And we must use value-added test scores, too, is that right, a plan that even Bush’s former head of education research knows is a joke that no teacher, or her lawyer, is amused by:
    States “are racing ahead based on promises made to Washington or local political imperatives that prioritize an unwavering commitment to unproven approaches,” said Grover J. Whitehurst, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “There’s a lot we don’t know about how to evaluate teachers reliably and how to use that information to improve instruction and learning.”
Here are a few other clips from the Times piece today:
    Steve Ball, executive principal at the East Literature Magnet School in Nashville, arrived at an English class unannounced one day this month and spent 60 minutes taking copious notes as he watched the teacher introduce and explain the concept of irony. “It was a good lesson,” Mr. Ball said.

    But under Tennessee’s new teacher-evaluation system, which is similar to systems being adopted around the country, Mr. Ball said he had to give the teacher a one — the lowest rating on a five-point scale — in one of 12 categories: breaking students into groups. Even though Mr. Ball had seen the same teacher, a successful veteran he declined to identify, group students effectively on other occasions, he felt that he had no choice but to follow the strict guidelines of the state’s complicated rubric.

    “It’s not an accurate reflection of her as a teacher,” Mr. Ball said.

    . . . .
 
    Each observation focuses on one or two of four areas: instruction, professionalism, classroom environment and planning. Afterward, the observer scores the teacher according to the state’s detailed and computerized system. Instruction, for example, has 12 subcategories, including “motivating students” and “presenting instructional content.” Motivating students, in turn, has subcategories like “regularly reinforces and rewards effort.” In all, there are 116 subcategories.
    . . . .

    For principals, it is not just the observations, but also the pre-conference (where teachers explain and show the lesson), the post-conference (where observers explain what teachers might have done better) and four to six hours inputting data. “We are spending a lot of time evaluating people we know are very good teachers,” Mr. Kilzer said. 
 
    For principals, it is not just the observations, but also the pre-conference (where teachers explain and show the lesson), the post-conference (where observers explain what teachers might have done better) and four to six hours inputting data. “We are spending a lot of time evaluating people we know are very good teachers,” Mr. Kilzer said.

    . . . .

    Gera Summerford, president of the Tennessee Education Association, compared the new evaluations to taking your car to the mechanic and making him use all of his tools to fix it, regardless of the problem, and expecting him to do it in an hour.






1 comment:

  1. Nicely written, Jim.

    Evaluating qualitative work is subjective, by definition, regardless of whether quantitative metrics are inserted as labels. Yet, for many, quantization lends more credibility to the measure, and conveniently makes the subjective objective in their minds.

    Beyond the issue of objectivity, it is a shame teachers are held to such nonsensical constructs as these rubrics. No one could achieve an effective rating, in toto, in rubrics like those used in TN, especially with such a small number of observations. While these complex rubrics do a fine job portraying the enormity of expectations placed on teachers, and serve a purpose in education schools to increase teacher candidate awareness to the complexities of the field, they are woefully inappropriate for use in assessing the performance of a teacher, whether new or a veteran.

    Furthermore, how anyone in their right mind could believe that 116 different measurements could be made in one or two observations by a principal, trained evaluator, or by anyone, much less believe that they have any level of accuracy boggles my mind. And yet, this approach is touted as the gold-standard for measuring teacher effectiveness.

    I guarantee you that the approach in TN will unravel rapidly since its use will classify most teachers as ineffective, especially with principals like Mr. Ball, who believe that they must remove intelligence from the equation when evaluating teachers. As the article relays, "he felt that he had no choice but to follow the strict guidelines of the state’s complicated rubric." Puh-leeaasse.

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