On the Outside Looking In: Teacher Training

Via Ed Week

In a way, what's most discouraging about the news from this National Council and associates is the continued emphasis on the relatively (in comparison to other countries) low standards of admission at some (many?) schools of education. The saddest thing is that the cause-and-effect here is so blurred, and the cycle it sets up so clear. We dis our teacher ed programs for being unselective, but there's a certain thing about selectivity: you can only select from the applicants you have. When a profession is regularly subjected to criticism, even humiliation, in the public forum, when a profession is demonstrably underpaid and offered increasingly lower levels of job security, how, then, I ask, is it going to attract all those top-flight applicants that NCTQ/USNWR would like to see in the pipeline? Simply put, as a society we're not going to inspire vast numbers of our top college students to enter the field of teaching until we've figured out a way to make teaching as attractive as financial services or engineering.

The voices, at least in the political and economic arenas, that seem to enjoy slagging teachers and the teaching profession are often enough the same ones that can't wait until we make college into a solidly specialized pre-vocational experience (leavened by football games and beer-pong, perhaps) aimed at producing the "innovators" and entrepreneurs that our society so urgently needs. I get the value in innovation and entrepreneurship, but don't we also need podiatrists, yoga instructors, graphic designers, social workers, farmers, philosophers--and teachers? Sure, we're all humbled by boy geniuses who make zillions with their software ideas while the rest of us toil for our daily bread, but we toilers are necessary as customers for their software and to keep the boy geniuses fed and healthy. (And isn't there an irony in that so many of the boy geniuses have tended to be college drop-outs?)

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Why are Ohio's charter schools so poor?

In a previous post we took a look at the difference in performance between Ohio's traditional public schools and their charter school counterparts, and discovered a wide and growing gap. Why does this gap exist?

One of the clear reasons is in the quality of the workforce. Ohio's traditional public schools have invested a lot of time and money developing an experienced, highly qualified teacher workforce, an investment that Ohio's charter schools have resisted or failed to developing.

Steve Dyer at Innovation Ohio took a look at the latest teacher data made available by ODE and discovered that the typical (i.e. the mode) charter school teacher has 0 years of experience, while their traditional school counterpart had 14 years of experience. We took a look at this too, and came to the same conclusion.

Our analysis also showed that the average level of experience of a charter school teacher is only 4.9 years, while in traditional schools that figure is over 14 years.

Dyer also discovered, what he called "two equally stunning statistics"

1) The average Traditional Public School building has about 2/3 of its teachers with a masters degree. The average Charter School building has about 1/3 of its teachers with a masters degree.
2) About 1 out of 3 Charter Schools in Ohio have at least some core courses taught by someone with a temporary teaching certificate. Of the more than 3,200 Traditional Public School buildings in the report card data, not a single one has core courses taught by teachers with temporary certificates.

Furthermore, over 10% of Ohio's charter schools have class sizes greater than 25 students per teacher, 20 of them more than 30 students per teacher!

The major innovation attempted by Ohio's charter school community has not been to find ways to deliver higher quality education, but instead to find ways to minimize teacher costs in order to maximize profits. This is made very clear when once looks at this experience and qualification differences, education outcome quality differences and the subsequent difference in average salaries where the charter school average is $33,993 and traditional schools $57,303.

After the evaluations binge, the hangover

You don't have to search far, or wide, to find articles, papers, and studies critical of corporate education reformers push for rigid test based teacher evaluations of the kind currently being deployed in Ohio. Our document archive is full of them. But it is unusual to read a paper published by a right wing think tank with a reputation for being anti-teacher, that raises many of the same points teachers themselves have been raising about the headlong rush to implement corporate education reform principles in the area of teacher evaluations.

But that's exactly what the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) have just done wit ha paper titled "The Hangover: Thinking about the Unintended Consequences of the Nation’s Teacher Evaluation Binge". The paper opens with a warning that the recent pushes might have been too much, too soon, and gone too far

Yet the recent evaluation binge is not without risks.

By nature, education policymaking tends to lurch from inattention to overreach. When a political moment appears, policymakers and advocates rush to take advantage as quickly as they can, knowing that opportunities for real change are fleeting. This is understandable, and arguably necessary, given the nature of America’s political system. But headlong rushes inevitably produce unintended consequences—something akin to a policy hangover as ideas move from conception to implementation.

Welcome to teacher evaluation’s morning after.

the Paper discusses a number of problematic area that will be familiar to JTF readers

Flexibility versus control: There is a temptation to prescribe and legislate details of evaluations to ensure rigor and prevent evaluations from being watered down in implementation. But overly prescriptive policies may also limit school autonomy and stifle innovation that could lead to the development of better evaluations.

Evaluation in an evolving system: Poorly designed evaluation requirements could pose an obstacle to blended learning and other innovative models in which it is difficult or impossible to attribute student learning gains in a particular subject to a particular teacher.

Purposes of evaluations: New evaluation systems have been sold as a way both to identify and dismiss underperforming teachers and to provide all teachers with useful feedback to help them improve their performance. But there are strong tensions between these purposes that create trade-offs in evaluation system design.

Evaluating teachers as professionals: Advocates argue that holding teachers responsible for their performance will bring teaching more in line with norms in other fields, but most professional fields rely on a combination of data and managerial judgment when making evaluation and personnel decisions, and subsequently hold managers accountable for those decisions, rather than trying to eliminate subjective judgments as some new teacher evaluation systems seek to do.

Take one look at this evaluation framework that has been inspired by the Ohio legislature and one can see how prescriptive Ohio's teacher evaluation has become.

Ohio has also fallen into many of the traps this paper highlights. The failure to consider team worked teaching, a lack of focus and funding for professional development, and a lack of resources for administrators to provide adequate feedback, to name just a handful.

AEI offer some useful recommendations, some of which might be too late to implement in Ohio

Recognizing these tensions and trade-offs, this paper offers several policy recommendations:
  • Be clear about the problems new evaluation systems are intended to solve.
  • Do not mistake processes and systems as substitutes for cultural change.
  • Look at the entire education ecosystem, including broader labor-market impacts, pre- and in-service preparation, standards and assessments, charter schools, and growth of early childhood education and innovative school models.
  • Focus on improvement, not just deselection.
  • Encourage and respect innovation.
  • Think carefully about waivers versus umbrellas.
  • Do not expect legislation to do regulation’s job.
  • Create innovation zones for pilots—and fund them.

One might find it gratifying to read reasoned words of caution regarding corporate education reforms from some of the very people responsible for pushing them in the first place, and we can only hope we see more of it. But, it is hard not to suspect that this is the slow dawning of realization that is being drawn from the very real evidence of on-going struggles and failures in corporate education reform policies now being seen across the state and the country.

The Hangover: Thinking about the Unintended Consequences of the Nation’s Teacher Evaluation Binge

Romney’s plan would cut education, drastically

During the last Presidential debate, Mitt Romney surprised a lot of watchers by claiming, “I’m not going to cut education funding. I don’t have any plan to cut education funding.”

But according to his own plan, that claim doesn't hold water, as Innovation Ohio point out, after looking at his plan

But that’s exactly what his plan proposes. From “The Romney Program for Economic Recovery, Growth, and Jobs”:

Reduce federal spending as a share of GDP to 20 percent – its pre-crisis average – by 2016.

Even while it cuts total spending to 20 percent of the nation’s economy, compared to 23 percent today, the plan also promises to increase the rate of growth in GDP, but also increases spending on defense and holds Social Security and Medicare harmless. To make the numbers work, Romney has admitted it will require nearly $500 billion in annual cuts by 2016.

That kind of money is not going to come exclusively from eliminating Big Bird.

Innovation Ohio and the Center for American Progress have calculated that the plan will result in across-the-board cuts to remaining federal programs equal to 11 percent in 2013, and averaging 39 percent a year over the next decade.

What does that mean for education?

According to the Ohio Department of Education, in 2011, Ohio school districts received $1.7 billion in federal education funding.

In 2013, this means Ohio schools would be cut by $189 million. Over the decade, schools would see $669 million less, each year, under the Romney plan.

We know candidates often try to put their plans in the best possible light, but Romney’s claim he won’t cut education doesn’t hold up.

PolitiFact is mostly made up

PolitiFact Ohio, a "fact checking" operation ran by the Cleveland Plain Dealer decided to check out the following statement by Cleveland teachers

"The (Jackson) plan (for reforming Cleveland schools) lacks any data or methods proven to raise student achievement."

PolitiFact goes through a number of cases, based upon assertions made by CEO Gordon

"And while Gordon conceded "there is no empirical study that shows the portfolio strategy is the one strategy" he said there is some evidence that some of the approaches in the Jackson plan have worked to raise test scores."

PolitiFact looked at some "evidence", and so shall we.

For example, Gordon mentioned research that has been done by the Center on Reinventing Public Education. The non-profit group recently issued a report on a number of big city school districts trying reforms similar to those in Jackson’s plan.

The group’s report looked at Denver schools, where many teachers voluntarily opted for a merit pay system instead of the standard teaching contract. Known as the ProComp program, it ties teacher pay to education levels and offers bonus pay to teachers who work in the toughest schools and whose students score higher on tests.

Researchers at the University of Colorado found "significant and positive ProComp effects at both middle and high school for both math and reading, and the effects are larger at high school than middle school." The researchers cautioned, however, that it generally was the more effective teachers who opted into the program.

ProComp was funded by voters to the tune of $25 million in order to pay teachers more. Unless there's a provision in Frank Jackson's plan to ask voters for an additional $25 million on top of the $65 million deficit, we can see straight away that the Jacksons plan and the Denver ProComp system are not at all similar and worthy of comparison.

But let us pretend Frank Jackson's plan does involve giving teachers up to almost $4,000 a year in bonuses. According to a recent study of the ProComp system, researchers found

DPS has experienced significant student learning gains across grades and subjects, but it is not clear that this was the result of ProComp. There was not a consistent pattern across grade levels and subjects in the relationship between ProComp and observed achievement gains. In some cases, the gains appeared primarily among students with ProComp teachers, while in other cases it is NonKProComp teachers who appeared to be more effective. Though puzzling, these findings are consistent with research on other well known interventions that include elements similar to ProComp.

Clearly there is no evidence, as the Cleveland teachers said, that this kind of compensation improves student performance. Gordon and PolitiFact are WRONG.

PolitiFact's next step was to look at the Colorado Innovation Schools Act

Another approach tried in Colorado — a 2008 law called the Innovation Schools Act — gives school officials who opt into the program greater school autonomy and flexibility in operations and academic decisions. "The innovation schools are experiencing growth in test scores but many were exceeding state averages prior to being innovation schools," said a recent report from researchers who have studied the schools.

There are just 21 innovation schools - an incredibly small sample, but according to a recent report

Innovation schools did not tend to look drastically different than other schools.
Innovation schools have experienced high rates of mobility among teachers and principals. Their teachers tend to be somewhat less experienced and are less likely to have master’s degrees than teachers in comparable schools
There are not yet clear trends to help us understand how Innovation will affect student achievement.

They sound an awful lot like most Cleveland charters, and like most Cleveland charters they rely upon less experienced, less qualified teachers, and are not producing better results than traditional schools. Gordon and PolitiFact are WRONG to look at Innovation Schools as evidence of successful reforms.

Next PolitiFact uses this

The Baltimore school district — after working hand in hand with the union — implemented a reworked teacher contract largely based on teacher evaluations and student test scores. That contract only went into effect last year so it’s too soon to say whether it has improved student test scores.

In their own words, there is no evidence this works to improve student achievement, exactly what the teachers in Cleveland claim. Why did PolitiFact even introduce this as evidence? Moving on.

The Jackson plan also calls for increased learning time through either longer school days or a longer school year, a hot topic among educational academics. Research on the subject is mixed — a fact Gordon acknowledged. "Well, no one factor in of itself is a magic bullet solution," he said. "You are going to find time studies where it did work and time studies where it didn’t work."

Now we're getting desperate. So how does PolitiFact rule on this mountain of evidence?

Ohio AFT union head Melissa Cropper said Mayor Frank Jackson’s sweeping plan to improve Cleveland schools "lacks any data or methods proven to raise student achievement" as she labeled the proposal an attack on teachers. For PolitiFact Ohio, a key part of that statement is "lacks any."

While the specific approach Jackson mapped out for Cleveland hasn’t been proven, it does clearly contain elements that researchers suggest may work — at least in some cases -- such as merit pay for teachers, greater flexibility for schools in how they go about their business and longer school days or school year.
On the Truth-O-Meter, the claim by the Ohio Federation of Teachers rates Mostly False.

Huh? "Elements", "may work", PolitiFact contort their own piece to arrive at this ridiculously tortured conclusion. There is no evidence based on research that shows that what is proposed in the "Cleveland Plan" will work (though we hope some of it does!), to then arrive at a conclusion that the teachers are "mostly wrong" is absurd. This should come as no surprise as the Plain Dealer has been carrying the water for Frank Jackson and his SB5 plan on their opinion pages from the gitgo - and that's a Fact, totally true.

Cleveland School Plan Needs Work

This is a very level headed and reasonable approach to modify Frank Jackson's corporate education reform plan into something that might work and would bring more people willingly into the process.

Columbus: Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank headquartered in Columbus, today released an analysis of the education reform plan recently put forward by Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson. Governor Kasich has indicated the plan might serve as a model for his own education reform effort, which presumably will include the new school funding formula he promised but so far has failed to deliver. The analysis is available at

IO said an analysis of the “Cleveland Plan” is important given Ohio’s history of expanding Cleveland education experiments, such as private school vouchers, state-wide. “If Governor Kasich is intent on using the Cleveland Plan as a model for other Ohio school districts, then it’s critical that we get it right,” said IO President Janetta King.

The analysis found a number of “things to like” about the Cleveland Plan, including:

  • Innovations such as a Global Language Academy, an Environmental Science School, Early Childhood Education Academies in every neighborhood, and an English Immersion School for all children for whom English is a second language;
  • A focus on high-quality preschool education, as well as on college and workforce readiness; and
  • A series of proposed changes to state law that would, for example, give the Cleveland Metropolitan School District flexibility to manage its fiscal assets and close loopholes in existing law that allow poorly-performing Charter Schools to continue operating.

IO said other ideas, like adoption of a year-round school calendar, support for high-quality Charter Schools, and the aggressive pursuit of talented teachers, “have potential, but need more work and further fleshing-out.”

But Innovation Ohio said several Cleveland Plan ideas are fatally flawed as currently written and should either be modified substantially or jettisoned entirely. Among these are:

  • A proposal to allow the transfer of local property tax revenue to Charter schools;
  • The transfer of school oversight and other functions from the Cleveland School Board (accountable to the Mayor) to an unelected and less accountable “Cleveland Transformation Alliance”;
  • A weighted per pupil funding formula with “money following the child” that, in IO’s view, would inevitably end up short-changing either students or schools;
  • Several proposals relating to teacher compensation, collective bargaining and accountability, which IO says are exact replicas of provisions in last year’s Senate Bill 5, which Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected with 61% of the vote in November.

Said IO President Janetta King:

“IO congratulates the authors of the Cleveland Plan for thinking outside the box and being willing to go big. Nothing is more important to Ohio’s future than our schools and our kids. That’s why education reform is so important, and it’s why all of us who truly care about our state, Republicans and Democrats, conservatives, liberals and moderates alike–must be willing to embrace change and challenge the status quo.

“But our goal cannot be change for the sake of change, or change that can’t work and will only make things worse. So Innovation Ohio has tried to be constructive in our analysis. Where we’ve been critical of the Cleveland Plan, we’ve offered alternative ideas and proposals that we believe are more likely to achieve the desired goals.

“But we recognize that we don’t have all the answers. Frankly, neither do the people who put the Cleveland Plan together. And that is why we believe any serious school reform discussion should and must include the voices of professional educators, parents, and other members of the community. We hope their exclusion will be rectified in the weeks and months ahead.

“So what is Innovation Ohio’s bottom-line take on the Cleveland Plan? We believe the Plan as written is a reasonable place to start, but would be a terrible place to end up. It needs work and IO stands ready to help any way we can.”