Organized Parents, Organized Teachers - Working together for effective reform in America's public schools. Current national and local education policies often pit teachers and parents against each other, trapping them in a cycle of blame and mistrust. But in one Minneapolis community, parents and teachers decided to work together to make their schools better – with great results. This is their story.
The first few weeks of 2013 have greeted us like a trip with old Marley revisiting school reforms of the past. In the very first weeks, we have Michelle Rhee's StudentsFirst lobby announce letter grades for states based on their adherence to her favorite pillars of reform policies. John Merrow provided us with a reprise of her greatest hits as the head of DC schools, along with some news regarding the cheating that accompanied her regime.
And next the Gates Foundation has provided us with another example of the perils of mixing research with advocacy. Their multi-year, multi-million dollar Measures of Effective Teaching project has once again supported their belief that we can predict which teachers will get the best test scores next year by looking at who got the best test scores this year. The practice of actually observing a teacher to see how "effective" they are does not apparently add much accuracy to the prediction, but they keep it in there nonetheless, perhaps for sentimental reasons. Then we have tossed in a new element - student surveys. And the perfect evaluation is some balanced mixture of these three elements, which will turn VAM lead into gold.
One reformer, Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Foundation, has come right out and admitted what public school advocates have contended from the start. Many charter schools filter out difficult students, and whatever competitive performance advantages they have demonstrated are not credible evidence that they can do more with less. They can do more with more - and with fewer of the students most damaged by the scourge of poverty. Of course, Mr. Petrilli believes this ought to be celebrated, because like the Makers of Romneyan mythology, these students are "strivers," who ought to be well-served. The laggards they leave behind are of little concern. This is a frightening educational philosophy that runs counter to the main reform narrative, which has called upon civil rights rhetoric to justify school closures and charter expansion. But how can we reconcile an ethic supposedly based on equitable opportunities for all with a bare-knuckle life boat strategy that leaves many students behind to sink in under-funded public schools?
But alongside these visits from the ghosts of reforms past, we have some auspicious evidence that there may be a different future ahead.
So much of the current attacks on public education have been framed inside a concept called the “business model.” As it turns out, many uniformed elected officials, and even many education-bashing business leaders themselves, apparently don’t understand at all the fundamentals of effective businesses.
The centerpiece of effective organizational practice, whether in the private or public sector, is clarity as to purpose. And it’s precisely there that those many critics don’t get it. Ask them what the purpose of education is, and you’ll likely get answers such as, “master the basics…prepare students for work…raise test scores…improve graduation rates…encourage life long learning…get more into college,” and the list goes on.
These are all commendable but they are the results and not the purpose. A well-conceived purpose will achieve all such objectives and more.
So let’s turn to defining the purpose of education. I devoted a full chapter to that topic in a book I self-published about 10 years ago. Following is the primary discussion pulled from that book:
Educators and public policy leaders do not always agree on purpose. Here are some different visions of purpose that illustrate a wide-ranging view and are pulled from some top theorists and resources.
W. Edwards Deming: “The purpose of education is to preserve and nurture joy in learning.” Schools must “increase the positives and decrease the negatives so that all students keep their yearning for learning.” The mission of schools is to maintain enthusiasm while increasing learning.
Based upon fundamental Hellenic philosophy: The purpose of education is to develop students—who are comfortable in meeting their survival needs, who have an increasing capacity and desire for rational thought, who can conduct themselves productively and virtuously and can distinguish what matters most—both in regard to their own interests and those of their community, and who can constructively contribute to the most effective governance of the society in which they find themselves.
Myron Tribus building upon Deming, advocated “creating joy in learning” as the chief aim of education. He then states the criteria for judging educational programs. He says, “A good educational program will emphasize: Knowledge – which enables the learner to understand how what is learned connects to what is already known and permits the learner to analyze new situations; Know-how -- which enables the learner to actually do something with the knowledge thus gained; Wisdom -- which enables the learner to decide when, where or whether to actually use know-how in a particular situation;
Character -- which makes the learner capable of being trusted with knowledge, know-how and wisdom.” Tribus adds, “When I look at a program I look for evidence that the teachers are aware of these four aspects of education and can demonstrate the efforts they are making in all four dimensions of good education.”
Marion Brady: “Each of us has acquired from our society a comprehensive model of reality. The most important task of general education is to help us understand that model, the models of those with whom we interact, and the range of alternative models from which we might choose.”
Paul Woodring: “The goal of a liberal education is to free individuals from the limitations of ignorance, prejudice, and provincialism; to enable them to see the world clearly and in perspective; to develop their intellectual capabilities, increase their sensitivity, and prepare them to make wise, independent judgments.”
Maurice Holt: suggests that we currently have competing needs which he describes as: “To deliver the knowledge and skills that business needs,” versus, “To equip students with the capacity to address the unpredictable problems of adulthood and to establish themselves in a world of growing complexity.”
It is clear that establishing educational purpose is not simply an academic or organizational and managerial process. It is a public policy issue given the level of societal interest, the political nature of education, and the level of public investment. My own espoused purpose for education—obviously taken from Deming: “Engendering increasingly enthusiast learners who continuously seek and achieve the skills necessary to advance their learning, satisfy their natural curiosities, and become contributing citizens.”
Step two in organizational effectiveness is to establish how progress toward the adopted purpose will be measured. And here is why I have brought this topic to the fore. Think of what the policy makers of both major political parties and well-meaning many critics of educational have chosen as their measurement tools. Think standardized tests! Once you reflect upon that you will quickly realize why we are headed in absolutely the wrong direction and why the international leaders in education have abandoned exactly what those in the US are advocating.
Robert Barkley, Jr., is retired Executive Director of the Ohio Education Association, a thirty-five year veteran of NEA and NEA affiliate staff work. He is the author of Quality in Education: A Primer for Collaborative Visionary Educational Leaders; Leadership In Education: A Handbook for School Superintendents and Teacher Union Presidents; and Lessons for a New Reality: Guidance for Superintendent/Teacher Organization Collaboration. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ODE will not publish PDFs of the Local Report Cards until the investigation by the Auditor of State is concluded.
We thought it would be useful to compare how effective traditional public schools were versus their charter school counterparts. The results are staggeringly bad for charter schools
Report Card Rating
Excellent with Distinction
61.6% of all charter schools in Ohio are less than effective, while that can only be said of 18.4% of traditional schools. If the purpose of charter schools was to be incubators of excellence, they are doing a very poor job, with only 8.5% of them hitting the excellent or better rating. Indeed, if you truly want to see excellence, you have to look at traditional public schools, where over 55% are rated excellent or better.
If "school choice" organizations in Ohio had any integrity, the choice they would be urging in almost all cases, would be for parents to choose traditional public schools. In the vast majority of cases, their advocacy of charter schools are an advocacy of miserable failure, at huge tax payer expense.
Proficiency testing and charter schools were billed in the late 1990s as solutions to a broken public-education system. Now, they are part of a failed status quo, said Ravitch, 74, an author and U.S. assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush.
Proficiency tests have changed — from something that assesses students to something used to punish teachers and schools, said Ravitch. And after a decade of poor results from charter schools, she said, the charter movement and high-stakes testing have proved to be failed national experiments.
Also at the same event, Greg Harris, the Ohio director of the 65,000-member charter-school advocacy group StudentsFirst
...charters were supposed to provide an experiment in innovation, and though many have failed, many others are working.
“The parents are making these choices” to go to charters, Harris said. “These are parents from high-poverty backgrounds who are making major sacrifices to get their kids out of failing schools.
“We agree with her that bad charter schools should be closed, but why close good ones?”
Parents are often steered into these choices by corporate education reformers and their boosters, like StudentsFirst, the most ironically named group of all. And when parents aren't being steered into wrong choices, it's because they are using factors other than quality to make their decisions, as we noted in this article.
The massive Measures of Effective Teaching Project is finding that teacher effectiveness assessments similar to those used in some district value-added systems aren't good at showing which differences are important between the most and least effective educators, and often totally misunderstand the "messy middle" that most teachers occupy. Yet the project's latest findings suggest more nuanced teacher tests, multiple classroom observations and even student feedback can all create a better picture of what effective teaching looks like.
Researchers dug into the latest wave of findings from the study of more than 3,000 classes for a standing-room-only ballroom at the American Educational Research Association's annual conference here on Saturday.
"The beauty of multiple measures isn't that there are more of them—more can be more confusing—these need to be alligned to the outcomes we care about," said Steve Cantrell, who oversees the MET project for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Existing teacher evaluation systems often use indicators that are not effective at guaging student achievement, and moreover that lump teachers into too-simplistic categories.
"The middle is a lot messier than a lot of state policies would lead us to believe," Cantrell said. "Teachers don't fall neatly into quartiles. Based on the practice data, if I look at the quartiles, all that separates the 25th and 75th on a class (observation) instrument is .68—less than 10 percent of the scale distribution. In a lot of systems, the 75th percentile teacher is considered a leader and the 25th percentile considered a laggard. ...This would suggest they're a lot closer than being off by two categories."
If you read a lot of corporate education reform "studies" as we do, there's one common theme running through most of them. Much like Mitt Romney, they would really like to fire people, teachers specifically.
The rate at which they want to fire teachers varies, some only want to fire 1 in 20, others would really prefer to fire 1 in 5. The Governor himself would like nothing more than to fire some teachers too (though taking his axe to the states education budget is already doing the heavy lifting)
"We pay good teachers more, but I'm going to suggest that we hold all teachers accountable. Teachers who can't teach shouldn't be in the classroom. ... If we've got teachers who can't do the job there's no excuse for leaving them in the classroom."
The New York Times published an article on a new National Bureau of Economic Research study on the long-term effects of high value-added teachers on their students [...] After a discussion on the costs of keeping a minimally effective teacher, one of the authors, John N. Friedman, remarks, “the message is to fire people sooner rather than later.” His co-author, Raj Chetty, goes further: “Of course there are going to be mistakes—teachers who get fired who do not deserve to get fired.”
That's an uncharacteristic moment of truth. In the desire to fire lots of teachers using unproven data models and evaluation rubrics, there's going to be some collateral damage. Sure you may have spent tens of thousands of dollars, and years of your life earning your degrees so you can pursue your passion, but if some secret proprietary data model says you've got to go, well, them's the breaks, and besides, there's always some casino dealer TFA recruit with 5 weeks of training to ride to the rescue on their white horse.
Nobody want's to see chronically bad teachers in the classroom, but why don't these corporate backed studies and reforms first turn to employing policies to improve struggling teachers abilities, instead of immediately reaching for the ejector cord? Where are the think tank studies on what an effective intervention program would look like? Where's the money for professional development? The Governor, in his own words says he wants to pay good teachers more, when is that going to happen? It's all stick and no carrot.
When it comes to increasing the effectiveness of the teacher workforce, school districts should first give an ineffective teacher a chance and the necessary supports to improve. If the teacher does not improve, the district should fire her. But if a teacher can be fired—or believes that she could be— due to a statistical error, the impact on the quality of teaching workforce could be disastrous. Why would a bright young professional choose a career where she could be the mistake?
That's a big important question. It's also a question we have an answer to. Michelle Rhee's legacy of firing "ineffective teachers" is now in plain view, and the view isn't pretty
If you haven't read it already, I highly recommend Washington Post reporter Bill Turque's analysis of Michelle Rhee's legacy one year after she left the D.C. public schools. Turque writes about the "churn and burn" in the D.C. teacher corps since the introduction of the controversial new IMPACT teacher evaluation and merit pay system: One-third of all teachers on the payroll in September 2007 no longer work for the district, and inexperienced teachers are more clustered than ever in low-income schools and neighborhoods. We know this is problematic because DC's own data shows that 22 percent of teachers with six to 10 years of experience are rated "highly effective," compared to just 12 percent of teachers with less than six years experience.
Policies the describe the need to fire lots of people will have a significant, negative, first order effect on the entire workforce. In the end, perhaps like Mitt Romney, those proposing such solutions just like to fire people.