Hard to measure love

Ripped from the comments of this Gates Foundation booster article in the NYT, discussing the measurement of teacher effectiveness

It's almost the end of an exhausting school year, and all I can do is laugh when I read articles like this. I'm supposed to be a "teacher," which I guess means I'm supposed to "instruct" students, and the "effectiveness" of my instruction seems to be what the Gates Foundation claims it's trying to assess. But since I've spent a large amount of my time over the last several months serving as the de facto counselor for teenagers who are depressed, anxious, suicidal, self-injurious, suffering from eating disorders, living in chaotic and destructive family situations, lonely, isolated, scared, and confused, teenagers for whom I am for whatever reason the go-to "trusted adult," I've come to the conclusion that the most important thing I have to offer my students is love. Try to measure that.

Few in the corporate education reform movement grasp this kind of sentiment and reality, which is one reason there is such a large disconnect between those in the classroom delivering education policy and those in the boardroom's making education policy.

How does this manifest itself in the real world? From the Gates article

All along, Gates says, he had been asking questions about teacher effectiveness. How do you measure it? What are the skills that make a teacher great? “It was mind-blowing how little it had been studied,” he told me. So, with the help of Thomas Kane, an education professor at Harvard, the Gates Foundation began videotaping some 3,000 teachers across the country. It also collected lots of other data to measure whether a teacher was effective. All of this work, Kane says, was aimed at “identifying the practices that are associated with student achievement.”

With a wealth of data now in hand, the Gates Foundation was ready for the next step: trying to create a personnel system that not only measured teacher effectiveness but helped teachers improve. Although pilot projects have been announced in four school districts, the one that is furthest along is in Hillsborough County, Fla. That district, which is dominated by Tampa, is in the second year of a seven-year, $100 million grant.

Only 2 years into the pilot program, tension is mouinting in Hillsbrough

Don't count school board member Stacy White as a fan of the teacher evaluation system in Hillsborough County public schools.

"I am not saying that we should not hold teachers accountable," White said today at a workshop on the topic. "But you can put me down as a critic of EET as it stands in its current form."

Empowering Effective Teachers, the evaluation system put in place after the school district accepted a seven-year, $100 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is nearing the end of its second year.

But the controversy around it is not by any means nearing its end.

"Our teachers feel often times that what they have is Big Brother coming in the classroom to watch over them," White said. "Folks view the peer position as the man or the woman in the black hat."

In fact, in some cases the situation is becoming so tense, one teacher has been suspending for protesting

A veteran teacher was suspended Thursday for rejecting the evaluator chosen for him under a Gates-funded initiative that is revolutionizing the way the Hillsborough County School District assesses its teachers.

School and union officials believe this is the first such act of defiance under Empowering Effective Teachers, a complex system of mentoring and evaluation funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The district's action comes just one day after the couple themselves, Bill and Melinda Gates, toured Jefferson High School, where the computer mogul hailed the program as a national model and called its success "phenomenal."

Joseph Thomas, 43, a social studies teacher at Newsome High School, said he refused to schedule a peer observation because he feels the evaluator, Justin Youmans, is not qualified to judge him.

Youmans, 29, has his experience teaching elementary school and sixth grade, according to his school district biography. "He thinks like an elementary school teacher," said Thomas, a teacher for 18 years.

These concerns have also been exressed in Ohio. Who will perform the hundreds of tohusands of observations, and will they be suitably qualified in the subject and grade areas they are observing? This is a big question, and relates directly to scaling the concept of multiple classroom observations. What sounds simple in theory, in practice is complex, expensive, and judging by the experiences in Florida, controversial.

You can't do reforms like these on the cheap, let alone in a revenue declining environemt, yet that is what is being attempted.

Ohio School Funding

We attended a meeting at the State Library of Ohio hosted by Barbara Mattei-Smith, the Governor's Assistant Policy Director for Education. The topic for discussion was the development of a new Ohio school funding formula to get us past the current "make-it-up-as-you-go-along" bridge formula.

This time, with adequate notice, lots of teachers filled the room to almost standing capacity.

funding meeting

MS. Mattei-Smith laid out 3 principals being worked from

  • Resources need to be student centered, creating an appropriate learning environment
  • Students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and a funding model has to address that
  • There are a number of delivery systems to consider such as charters, online, traditional schools, joint vocational etc

Given how Ohio's education system has been deemed unconstitutional numerous times, it is perhaps a little surprising not to see a constitutional funding formula being the number one guiding principal.

It is further surprising that the evidenced based model is being discarded, with scant solid reason for doing so. While some issues regarding the EBM were alluded to by Ms. Mattei-Smith, none seemed to stretch to the conclusion it should be scrapped, rather than modified and given time to work. Haim Ginott - "Teachers are expected to reach unattainable goals with inadequate tools. The miracle is that at times they accomplish this impossible task." As one teacher noted, it's like a team getting a new coach, and along with that change, a new playbook, schedules, uniforms and philosophy, for no other reason than there's a new coach.

Indeed, while it took a protracted amount of time and consultation to develop and roll out the EBM, the current plan for a funding formula is on a much faster track, with far less consultation. We will have to wait and see what the details are, but the proposed speed and method of development should cause concern.

Further concern should be given to reports that the Governor is considering mechanisms for consolidation of school districts. An awful lot of education policy is being churned right now, from SB5 to teacher evaluations, merit pay, and school funding with very little of it being given time for deliberative thought, consideration and consultation. As a Columbus teacher mentioned, it has all the hallmarks of blind men describing an elephant.

Right now we can only hope that the creature being created by the administration isn't some hybrid abomination, but hope isn't too reassuring.