Bill Gates Dances Around the Teacher Evaluation Disaster He Sponsored

No one in America has done more to promote the raising of stakes for test scores in education than Bill Gates.

Yesterday, Mr. Gates published a column that dances around the disaster his advocacy has created in the schools of our nation.

You can read his words there, but his actions have spoken so much more loudly, that I cannot even make sense out of what he is attempting to say now. So let's focus first on what Bill Gates has wrought.

No Child Left Behind was headed towards bankruptcy about seven years ago. The practice of labeling schools as failures and closing them, on the basis of test scores, was clearly causing a narrowing of the curriculum. Low income schools in Oakland eliminated art, history and even science in order to focus almost exclusively on math and reading. The arrival of Arne Duncan and his top level of advisors borrowed from the Gates Foundation created the opportunity for a re-visioning of the project.

Both the Race to the Top and the NCLB waivers processes required states and districts to put in place teacher and principal evaluation systems which placed "significant" weight on test scores. This was interpreted by states to mean that test scores must count for at least 30% to 50% of an evaluation.

The Department of Education had told the states how high they had to jump, and the majority did so.

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Retention needs reforms too

Every year tens of thousands of teachers quit the profession.

With approximately 1.6 million teachers set to retire in the next decade, replenishing America’s teaching force should be a top priority. But filling classrooms with new teachers is only half the battle. Retaining them is equally important.

Numerous studies show that teachers perform best after being in the classroom for at least five years. According to a McKinsey study, 14 percent of American teachers leave after only one year, and 46 percent quit before their fifth year. In countries with the highest results on international tests, teacher turnover rates are much lower—around 3 percent.

Few if any corporate education reformer seem to want to address this problem, which is not particulaly suprising. Having high turnover is a mechanism for keeping costs low, by constantly replenishing large percentages of the workforce with younger, cheaper employees. However, for those interested in the critical importance of teacher retention and few interesting articles were published recently that indicated that school management plays a criticl role.

Principal Plays Surprising Role in Why New Teachers Quit

Why do so many beginning teachers quit the profession or change schools? Surprising new research finds it's not a heavy workload or lack of resources that has the most significant effect, but instead the relationship between teachers and their principal.
The study gauged novice teachers' intent to remain teaching and the factors that might influence that decision. Youngs said he was surprised to learn the frequency with which novices met with their school-assigned mentor teachers did not make them more or less likely to continue teaching.

In fact, the most important factor that influenced commitment was the beginning teacher's perception of how well the school principal worked with the teaching staff as a whole. This was a stronger predictor of intent to remain teaching than having adequate resources, the amount of administrative duties the teacher had or the size of their workload.

Another, unrelated article in Forbes, hinted at this too

First, Public Agenda found, at the nine successful schools “principals lead with a strong and clear vision . . . and never lose sight” of their goals. What’s more, “these principals earn trust and respect by engaging and supporting their staff in building the structures, practices and confidence necessary to fulfill this vision.”

Public Agenda, referenced above produced a report titled "Failure is not an Option". It laid out a number of factors that affected success in nine of Ohio's high-poverty, high-achieving schools

Second, according to Public Agenda, leaders of the successful schools “provide genuine opportunities and incentives for teachers to collaborate, and teachers say that collaboration and sharing best practices are keys to their effectiveness.” Most every organization, of course, insists that its employees work together seamlessly. More often than not, they’re mistaken or lying. “Even within the same company,” Drucker observed in Managing in a Time of Great Change, “people tend to resist sharing information.”

Third, teachers at the successful schools “regard student data as clarifying and helpful, and they use it to plan instruction.” In fact, “examining student data and talking about how to address the specific problems it reveals often produce further opportunities for staff to work together and learn from one another.”

In other words, while everyone is held accountable for results, test data is used to help foster a culture of continuous improvement; it is not used as a cudgel. Whenever any organization—whether a school or corporation—turns measurement into an excuse for punishment, Drucker noted in The Practice of Management, it will destroy morale, and employees will invariably find a way “not to obtain the best performance but to obtain the best showing” on the test or audit by gaming the system.

We need to start a discussion on policies that will lead to greater teacher retention - this is far more critical to maintaining a high quality education system than Rube Goldberg mechanisms to weed out a few underperformers.

Education News for 10-16-2012

State Education News

  • Grad rates tumble under new rule (Columbus Dispatch)
  • Call it the ugly truth. Many Ohio schools saw their graduation rates plummet after the state required them to track whether every high-school senior…Read more...


  • School Reform, But From Whose Perspective? (Education Week)
  • Public K-12 schooling is a popular subject in all forms of media these days, with the majority of coverage highly critical of both the professionals who work within the system…Read more...

Local Education News

  • Bluffton board OKs new policies (Findlay Courier)
  • The Bluffton school board approved a number of new policies Monday, including one to provide reading intervention to students who may need it. Superintendent Greg Denecker said most of the policy changes were made because of changes in the laws…Read more...

  • Tri-Rivers levy would fund job training, upgrade facilities (Marion Star)
  • Tri-Rivers Career Center is talking job development as it seeks a tax levy that officials say is needed for updating the building and equipment…Read more...

  • New school could help lure jobs (Springfield News-Sun)
  • A major corporation’s sponsorship of the Global Impact STEM Academy not only secures help for the school but also provides a boost to local efforts to bring more businesses and jobs here…Read more...

  • LaBrae principal praises lockdown (Warren Tribune Chronicle)
  • LaBrae High School principal Rocco Adduci said he is pleased with the way staff and law enforcement secured the facility and took three intruders into custody…Read more...

  • TCTC decides against being part of solar project (Youngstown Vindicator)
  • The Trumbull Career & Technical Center board of directors has decided against participating in a proposed $8 million Solar Planet project…Read more...

Education News for 02-17-2012

Statewide Education News

  • Ohio taking EdChoice scholarship applications (Blade)
  • Applications for EdChoice scholarships are now being accepted by the Ohio Department of Education. EdChoice scholarships are state-funded vouchers that pay for student tuition at private schools. Students whose designated public schools have received a rating of "academic watch" or "academic emergency" in two of the past three years or whose test scores ranked in the bottom 10 percent in the state are eligible for the vouchers. Read More…

  • Funding challenges continue for schools (News-Herald)
  • While much of the nation’s economy seems to be slowly recovering from years of trouble, many area school districts are still dealing with budget problems. In the past month, Riverside school announced the elimination of 25 teacher positions and Willoughby-Eastlake schools had to cut almost 90 jobs, including 50 teachers. More could be on the way should a March school levy fail. Many districts have had to seek out new ways to raise revenue to try to make up their deficits. Read More…

  • Academic-recovery plan vote expected (Vindicator)
  • Youngstown - The city schools’ Academic Distress Commission expects to vote next week on an updated recovery plan for the district that includes extensive community engagement, increased student choice and frameworks for principal- and teacher-training. The commission’s next meeting is 2 p.m. Thursday at P. Ross Berry Eighth and Ninth Grade Academy, 940 Bryn Mawr Ave., on the city’s East Side. At a meeting Thursday at Choffin Career and Technical Center, commission members reviewed a draft plan but took no action. Read More…

  • Are you an Ohio educator?
  • We invite you to join Ohio Teachers’ Homeroom, the new Facebook page from the Ohio Department of Education. It’s a great way to keep up with the latest news important to your career and to connect with colleagues around the state. We welcome you to share your ideas, lesson plans and comments with fellow Ohio educators. Find us here

National Stories of the Day

  • New analysis makes case for higher ranking for U.S. schools (USA Today)
  • The idea that U.S. public schools are falling behind the rest of the world is widely accepted, but a new analysis of international data suggests that using rankings to sort global winners from losers is often misguided, exaggerating tiny differences between countries that may be producing nearly identical results. In other words, maybe U.S. schools are not as bad as you might think. "Sometimes rankings can make small gaps appear big and vice versa," says researcher Tom Loveless of the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution think tank. Read More…

  • 'Value Added' Concept Proves Beneficial to Teacher Colleges (Education Week)
  • The use of “value added” information appears poised to expand into the nation’s teacher colleges, with more than a dozen states planning to use the technique to analyze how graduates of training programs fare in classrooms. Supporters say the data could help determine which teacher education pathways produce teachers who are at least as good as—or even better than—other novice teachers, spurring other providers to emulate their practices. Read More…

  • The Teaching Penalty (Economic Policy Institute)
  • Effective teachers are demonstrably the most important resource schools have for improving the academic success of their students (Hanushek and Rivkin 2006; Rice 2003). Yet for many school leaders, recruiting and retaining talented and effective classroom teachers remains an uphill battle. For decades, a small and declining fraction of the most cognitively skilled graduates have elected to enter the teaching profession (Corcoran, Evans, and Schwab 2004), while rigorous national standards and school-based accountability for student performance have pushed the demand for talented teachers to an all-time high. Read More…

Local Issues

  • Chardon Schools taking another look at open enrollment (News-Herald)
  • Chardon School District is taking a second look at open enrollment which could potentially deliver thousands of dollars to financially strained coffers. At a public meeting earlier this week Superintendent Joseph Bergant said the topic was discussed a few years ago but later shelved for several reasons including lack of support. Chardon and Kenston are the only two districts in Geauga County not offering open enrollment, which is the voluntary enrollment of a student in a public school other than the one assigned based on where they live. Read More…

  • North Canton board approves administrative changes (Beacon Journal)
  • NORTH CANTON - The Board of Education approved two administrative staff changes Wednesday night, in one case over the objections of two board members. Greentown Elementary Principal Bryan McKenzie will become instructional supervisor for the district. Hoover High Associate Principal Jeff Breit was named principal of Greentown. The moves take effect at the beginning of the 2012-13 school year. Read More…

The Teacher Evaluation Juggernaut

Ed Week has a piece on the problems new teacher evaluation systems are going to have on resources, and issue we have discussed before.

Teacher evaluation--with all its multiple facets, blind alleys, disputed data models, technocratic hype and roll-out problems-- is on every principal's mind these days. It would be great to think that principals in states with new evaluation plans are eager to begin this work, now having permission to sink more deeply into their roles as instructional guides, to have productive two-way professional conversations with their teachers, thinking together about improving instruction to reach specific goals.

But no. They're worried about another time suck and avalanche of paperwork on top of an already-ridiculous workload. And--you can't blame them. Being a good principal, like being a good teacher, is impossible. There is no way one single human being can cover all the bases, from keeping the buses running on time to staying abreast of the new math curriculum in grades K through 6. Besides, the new evaluation plans have huge problems embedded, beyond the make-work element.

It was the closing comment of this article that caught our attention

In the end, this will be another issue where outcomes are determined by cost-effectiveness. If it's too expensive for principals to fairly evaluate teachers' instructional efficacy, a cheaper strategy--relying more heavily on test data and technology--will be found. In fact, I'm guessing that any number of education publishers and non-profits are working on it right now.

that seems about right, and likely. However, we wouldn't underestimate the significant costs that test and technology based solutions are going to bring either. However you try to dice it, you arrive at the "unfunded mandate" problem. There's simply too much work, and not enough people or money to do it properly.

Corporate education reformers need to step up to the plate and fully fund their projects.

Education News for 01-31-2012

Statewide Education News

  • Standard tests will be done online (News-Sun)
  • SPRINGFIELD — Online testing would be cheaper and more efficient than the current tests, making it worth the cost to prepare schools for the change in coming years, said state Superintendent Stan Heffner. “The new test should actually cost less,” Heffner said. “They’ll get instant feedback and at a cheaper cost.” Heffner, the Ohio Superintendent of Public Instruction, was the featured speaker at the Springfield Rotary Club on Monday. Read More…

  • Officials look for ways to boost student use of free summer meal plans (Dispatch)
  • Kids get hungry in the summer, too. But when school lets out, the number of youngsters taking advantage of government-paid free-meal programs drops by about 80 percent. Federal, state and community officials gathered in a summit at a Mid-Ohio Foodbank location in Grove City yesterday to brainstorm about ways to boost the number of kids from low-income neighborhoods enrolled in free breakfast and lunch programs in the summer months. Read More…

  • Cleveland schools' New Tech program to be featured on national webcast (Plain Dealer)
  • CLEVELAND - Cleveland's New Tech high school serving the West Side will be one of the schools featured in a national Internet broadcast Wednesday celebrating Digital Learning Day with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. New Tech West will be one of several schools showcased in short videos during a morning webcast. Then New Tech Principal Erin Frew, Spanish teacher Marixa Marriero and 11th-grader Britany Dickens will talk about the school live via Skype in a "Town Hall" discussion that afternoon. Read More…

Local Issues

  • Local businesses, organizations work to promote science and tech learning (Newark Advocate)
  • NEWARK - Two actresses from the Licking County Players pondered aloud last week how they could use six simple machines to knock over 10 bowling pins without using their hands. On the stage of the Midland Theatre, they rode a bike over a homemade ramp -- er, wedge -- and sat on a seesaw -- make that lever -- while they considered the possibilities with the help of a robot named Hal, voiced by fellow local actor Dennis Kohler. The actresses asked questions of the students in the audience. Read More…

  • Panel OKs Liberty cutbacks (Tribune Chronicle)
  • LIBERTY - Contentions popped up Monday between the Financial Planning and Supervision Committee appointed by the State Auditor's Office and the Liberty Local School District over staff cuts the school board approved last week. The board eliminated or reduced to part-time status 16.5 employees next school year, which would save the district $1.2 million. "There's no other plan you think would be better?" committee member and Liberty parent Kristen Rock asked Superintendent Stan Watson. Read More…

  • Westerville school board to vote on support-staff pay freeze (Dispatch)
  • The Westerville school board will vote today on a deal that would freeze pay for the district’s support-staff workers for the next two years. Union members also would shoulder the full burden of their health-care deductibles under the deal, but only if the district’s other employee unions follow suit. Board members called the 4 p.m. meeting after being briefed by the district’s bargaining team yesterday morning. District officials said the support-staff union came to them with the proposal. Read More…

  • Northridge principals' salaries, duties increase (Newark Advocate)
  • JOHNSTOWN - Northridge Local School District administrators are earning a little bit more money this year to go along with their new and expanded duties. The district removed its high school principal position this past summer, bumping middle school principal Amy Anderson to principal of grades six through 12, Robin Elliot up to assistant principal for grades 6-8 and Marisa Knopp to intermediate school principal and special education director. Read More…


  • Giving dropouts reasons to return (Plain Dealer)
  • Forget about the GED certificate, the usual alternative for high-school dropouts. An innovative program being introduced at Owens Community College near Toledo this fall aims to help dropouts drop back into high school and move on to college. The combination of intensive counseling, flexible schedules and free tuition and books has worked elsewhere in the country, but this will be the first time it's tried in Ohio. Read More…

  • How to grade a teacher (L.A. Times)
  • We're teachers who believe that teacher evaluation, including the use of reliable test data, can be good for students and for teachers. Yes, yes, we know we're not supposed to exist. But we do, and there are a lot more of us. In February the membership of United Teachers Los Angeles will vote on a teacher-led initiative urging union leaders to negotiate a new teacher evaluation system for L.A. Unified. The vote will allow teachers' voices to be heard above the din of warring political figures. Read More…