Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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February 23, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

BAD TEACHERS....Over at bloggingheads.tv, Mickey Kaus and my boss are talking about whether it should be easier to fire bad teachers. Naturally this turns into an argument about union busting (Mickey's all for it) vs. figuring out a way to work with unions on this (Paul's position).

Unfortunately, the conversation never really got to the key issue (though it cropped up momentarily): how do you decide who the bad teachers are? My background is all private sector, and it's certainly true that private sector managers have a lot more freedom than public school principals when it comes to hiring and firing decisions. I couldn't fire someone just because I felt like it, but neither did I have to produce reams of documented evidence of highly specific transgressions. If someone wasn't working out, all it took was a written warning and some counseling to try to get them on track. If that didn't work, they were out.

Needless to say, this can be unfair -- as I'm sure some of the people I fired would agree. But the key thing that made it workable is that everyone who worked for me actually worked for me. There may not have been any numerical measures of how they were doing, but they did write reports, solve problems, work with customers, launch new products, put on trade shows, and so forth. These were all concrete work products that could be evaluated on a regular basis. My individual judgment -- like any school principal's -- might be suspect, of course, but at least I had plenty of up-close-and-personal interaction on which to base my judgment.

This is the part I've never figured out when it comes to teachers. I suppose principals can visit classrooms occasionally to observe teachers, but that's sporadic and inconclusive. There are test scores, but those are problematic even on a long-term basis, let alone as the evidence for a short-term work evaluation. What else is there? Parent complaints? Peer review? It's pretty thin stuff. The fact is that principals simply aren't in close contact with their teachers on a regular basis.

But I'm curious to hear comments about this. Is this wrong? Do principals know more than I'm giving them credit for? Are there reasonable metrics for judging performance even without the advantage of daily supervision and concrete work products? Bottom line: if bad teachers really are a big problem, how do we identify them? How do we decide who the bad teachers are?

Kevin Drum 1:35 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (191)

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Smaller schools.

Posted by: theAmericanist on February 23, 2007 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

When my son was in k-8, he was in a district with a great superintendent and head of HR. They had a wonderful relationship with the unions, partly because they gave every COLA 100% to salaries. They were able to work with the union to get rid of bad teachers. About 20% of new hires were not asked back after one year (probabation period), and they had a process they went through to get rid of later bad ones. They also had full-time mentors for new teachers and a raft of programs for teacher improvement. I was on a bunch of district committees and was impressed by most of the people there.

You are right that the problem is identifying who is bad enough to fire. There are no real metrics, although parent complaints and too many kids failing are clues. Mostly teachers seem to know who the bad ones are. 5th grade teachers know who the bad 4th grade teachers are by how well prepared their kids are. If administrators don't seem out to get anyone and otherwise have a good relationship with teachers, it's easier to do.

One lack in public schools is middle management, between the principal and teachers, who could actually know what goes on in the classroom.

Posted by: anandine on February 23, 2007 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

If your private-sector emloyees had the same job safeguards currently held by members of the teacher's Union, would those concrete work products have mattered?

(I know, I'm asking for it)

Posted by: wishIwuz2 on February 23, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

Not intending to offend anyone, but in my experience as a student and then as a parent, the principal isn't necessarily objective or competent.

Many of the good teachers that I remember were good in spite of their principals.

Posted by: clem on February 23, 2007 at 2:32 PM | PERMALINK

Well, duh. Bad teachers are the ones who discuss evolution and refuse to lead prayers.

Posted by: EmmaAnne on February 23, 2007 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

I say, if Kaus is so fired-up to make it easier to shitcan teachers, we should also make it far easier to shitcan columnists who promulgate false-to-misleading story lines.

Posted by: The Confidence Man on February 23, 2007 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Bad teacher=hates my child

Another factor in determining if a teacher is good or bad is that a public school teacher doesn't get to pick and choose the "product."

Posted by: nashvegasdawg on February 23, 2007 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

I decided my son's English teacher was not a good teacher when she misspelled words on the blackboard during PTA meetings and neglected to correct sentences in his papers that didn't have verbs.

That said, I think most of the problems with American education is structural and financial rather than personnel in the classroom.

Posted by: tomeck on February 23, 2007 at 2:35 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, that's my reaction too. I suspect if yu made it easier to fire teachers you'd get fewer good teachers, not more.

Posted by: David Weman on February 23, 2007 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Good elementary school principals can evaluate their teachers. Between walking through classrooms, knowing students and seeing them in the hallway, talking with the teachers, etc, they get enough interaction.

Evaluating principals seems like a harder problem than evaluating teachers.

Posted by: ptm on February 23, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

anandine has the answer!

The teachers of the next grade decide. So the 3rd grade teachers rate the 2nd, the 4th the 3rd, the 5th the 4th, etc.

Posted by: gussie on February 23, 2007 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

Open the districts and let parents choose where their children attend school. Top-down approaches to administration will always yield bad teachers and administrators hiding in the layers of created bureaucracy. Only with freedom of choice will the districts feel the pressure to fire bad teachers.

Posted by: mb on February 23, 2007 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

You could start by making it easier to fire teachers who engage in gross misconduct as in this notorious New York case in which it took many years to fire a teacher who had admitted that he tried to seduce a student.

Posted by: James B. Shearer on February 23, 2007 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

My father was an elementary school principal supervising about 10-15 teachers. I'm sure he knew some were better than others. I'm not at all sure that he could have articulated the deficiencies of those who were less good in a way that would necessarily have convinced you, or me, that he was right. Being good at being a teacher, or being miserable at being one, is hard to measure.

My view about the difficulty of evaluating teaching has been confirmed by my own experiences teaching, in circumstances where I was almost always subject to evaluation by students. Let me tell you, even students, who ought to know best, don't agree very much on what a teacher's weaknesses and strengths are.

On the other hand, my son at one of the best public high schools in New York City some years ago had an abominable French teacher. Awful. Taught French like it was a dead language (Latin was her true love) and handed out high grades to cover up for her failures. I think everybody knew she was, or had become, terrible. I think no one wanted to throw her out of her job, since she was approaching both senility and retierment and probably needed the money. But maybe there ought to be some way to spare students this sort of thing.

Posted by: David in NY on February 23, 2007 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

There is a fundamental problem in K-8 education somewhat similar to that in software development: Excellent teachers are 1000 times better than average teachers, and 10000 times better than bad one. However, there are very few excellent teachers (as in everything else in life) yet everyone thinks all the teachers should be held to the standard of the excellent rather than the average. Just as you can't beat average software developers into being superstars, you can't punish/fire average teachers into being excellent.

And there is the whole other issue of top-quality women no longer being restricted to K-8 education for careers.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 23, 2007 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

anandine makes some excellent points, and I'd only want to add that every study of US public schools reveals enormous differences in student achievement, increases in student achievement, graduation rates, college acceptance rates, essentially every measure of educational output you'd want to study. But one feature public schools have (generally) in common is that teachers work under collective bargaining contracts, and are therefore not "at will" employees. The fact that this feature is shared among the ostensibly good and bad schools suggests that it does not explain the poor performance of bad schools. Kaus, as usual, is barking up the wrong tree.

Posted by: Rich C on February 23, 2007 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

I've been covering our local school district for about 30 years now; when the school board meets, I am, by far, the senior person in the room.

In our district, the principal does indeed interact with teachers on a regular basis. Tenured teachers are evaluated every other year or so. Non-tenured teachers are evaluated every year. Evaluation includes at least two classroom visits by the principal or assistant principal, videotaping of class sessions for later review, and a bunch of other stuff I can't remember right now.

A bad evaluation means remediation. Two means the teacher is on the bubble. Teachers are not fired often from our district, but I've seen probably a dozen over the last 30 years get the boot after the process was completed.

The trick is not to hire bad teachers in the first place. That's why our district's screening process is so rigorous. In addition, it now takes four years to gain tenure in our state, and teachers can be dismissed during those four years whenever the principal decides it's time for them to go.

I'm a believer in tenure; I've seen far too many vindictive administrators in my time. It's easy to make competent teachers look bad: Just give them the roughest, low achieving classes year after year. Too often, standaridzed tests are misused to blame teachers. Tests that show this year's third grade isn't achieving as high as last year's do not show teachers are doing bad jobs. It shows this year's third graders--who are different children from last year's remember--need more help. A better measure, which is becoming more commonly used lately, is to compare a class with itself. In other words, if last year's third graders scored at grade level, are they doing the same this year as fourth graders? If they are, teachers are doing a good job. If they're scoring higher than fourth grade level, teachers are doing a great job. If they're scoring lower, something needs to be done.

Again, I've found that bad teachers can be, and have been, fired as long as the process is followed correctly.

So what's the key for good schools? Good central administration. Good, skillful teachers. School board members who take their jobs seriously and without ax grinding. Parents interested in making sure their kids achieve the most they can. Kids are kids; they'll do as much or as little as they're allowed to get away with, I don't care whether they come from the inner city or rural America.

Posted by: RAM on February 23, 2007 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

If you want better teachers, pay them more.

Posted by: dk on February 23, 2007 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

Don't hire bad teachers. How might you manage that?

This is a systemic problem involving parents, students, teachers, colleges, and employers, but you might start by (1) paying decent salaries and (2) making teaching a respected and honored profession so that you start attracting people who can develop into good teachers. You have to support them - even if that means (God help us) letting them fail students or throw them out of class. (You have to have provisions to help the students who fail or get thrown out of class.) You have to give them feedback - from students, parents, employers - that they can incorporate into their teaching. You have to have a probationary period during which the teachers get on their feet, start interacting constructively with colleagues and the community, and if they don't meet a high set of standards within, say 3 to 5 years, it should be relatively easy to dismiss them. There must be a sufficient supply of well-trained candidates to fill those positions and keep class size down, lest school districts find themselves increasing class sizes and retaining bad teachers just to survive.

Do you want a quick, cheap fix? There is none.

Posted by: Mike on February 23, 2007 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Many education critics like to criticize the teacher union, and they often act like all we need to do is get rid of them and our education problems will largely disappear. But even if many of their complaints are true, one thing unions are good at is negotiating wages for their members. I would assume that if you get rid of the teachers' unions, over time their wages and benefits will go down at least when adjusted for inflation while their job security will also deteriorate. Since I haven't found anyone, even in the conservative camp, who claims that public school teachers in this country are overpaid, how will a move (destroying teachers' unions) that drives down teachers' pay be good for education? You can hire and fire teachers all day long, but if the pool your hiring from declines (and no one claims the teacher talent pool is that great to begin with), what difference does it make? WalMart has a greater flexibility when it comes to firing its workers than any school will ever have, and I don't know many people who are impressed with their level of service.

Posted by: Guscat on February 23, 2007 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

There are so many people longing for those teacher positions. Who wouldn't want to work 60 hrs/week for just-above-poverty income?

Posted by: Absent Observer on February 23, 2007 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

Oh I don't know Kev, maybe they could do things like:

1. Hold weekly meetings with all the teachers to discuss lesson plans, problems, goals for next semester.

2. Have regular one-on-one meetings between principle and teachers.

3. Use a mixture of standardized test results, interviews with students, peer review, etc.

Gee, and I put about ten seconds of thought behind that.

Posted by: Dr. Morpheus on February 23, 2007 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

dk, so you think paying bad teachers more will magically make them better?

Posted by: James B. Shearer on February 23, 2007 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Drum: ..the conversation never really got to the key issue..

Inadequate funding? Lack of parental involvement?...Not that doing something about these two issues would promote better performance for both teachers and students or anything...

No, the key issue has to be how to identify poorly-performing teachers. Then we can move to the next 'key issue' of what to do about the unions that shelter these inadequate teachers.

...Eeesh...

Posted by: grape_crush on February 23, 2007 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Guscat, in many parts of the country, including Westchester New York where I live, public school teachers are overpaid.

Posted by: James B. Shearer on February 23, 2007 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK
One lack in public schools is middle management, between the principal and teachers, who could actually know what goes on in the classroom.

But how would this work? Have non-teaching department heads that can more frequently observe in the classroom, and review more of the work done relating to the class?

Posted by: cmdicely on February 23, 2007 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

If you want to destroy our public school system, there may be no better way to go about it than by eliminating tenure. I speak as the son of a retired elementary school principal who has had the benefit of years of dinner-table talk. My father spent a great deal of time dealing with threats/requests, etc. to have teachers fired -- because the child had a "bad experience."

Reasons:

1. Parents are not rational consumers of teaching services. If a child has a "bad experience" with a teacher (misbehavior, poor grades, etc.), it is the teacher's fault. In some cases, this is true. In many, it is not. A problem child is more likely to be suffering from a problem household than a problem teacher. When that parent happens to be a friend of a school board member, or someone who wants to raise enough of a fuss, without tenure, that teacher would be gone.

2. With tenure in place, the best teachers get the tough cases. If there were no tenure, would an elementary school principal risk putting the kids with problems or with screwy or connected parents in the classrooms of the best teacher and put the job of one of the good ones at risk?

3. Everyone wants "better teachers." Are we going to get better, brighter, more dedicated people to join the teaching profession by removing one of the primary benefits -- security -- of joining that profession? A capable young person would have to be crazy to go into a profession that offered the salary limitations of the public sector, but the risk of the private.

4. Without tenure, teachers would no longer make themselves available to serve as coaches. Why would a teacher put themselves at risk of pissing off sports parents for the few-thousand-dollar stipend coaching generally pays?

5. Without tenure, teachers would spend their summers researching their class lists for the following year, finding out which students have parents with connections. That way, they could adjust their grading/discipline accordingly to keep their job safe.

Posted by: emrventures on February 23, 2007 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

> dk, so you think paying bad teachers
> more will magically make them better?

Well, it is _exactly_ the Wall Street Journal's (editorial page) argument that $200 MILLION/year salaries are necessary to "draw out" the best CEOs, but for some odd reason this is never held to apply to K-8 teachers[1].

Cranky

[1] I keep saying "K-8" here not because high school teachers don't have many of the same organization concerns (they do) but because both by the nature of their work and their inclinations they tend to resemble community college academic faculty more than they do K-8 'kid raisers'.

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 23, 2007 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK
dk, so you think paying bad teachers more will magically make them better?

I think paying teachers more, in general, will make it less likely that the best and brightest teachers (or people who might otherwise consider becoming teachers) will instead end up as laywers or advertising sales executives.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 23, 2007 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

As a former HS and college level teacher, I would say that direct observation can be very inconclusive. I always taught better with an observer in the room, other people taught worse with an observer in the room. Even if you're really awful, it's not too hard to get it together for one class period while the principal's in the back of the classroom (not to mention that the presence of the principal also affects how students behave as well). Add in the fact that the administration:teacher ratio (correctly) has a large number of teachers per administrator, and the work environment is such that there is very little direct supervision and direct evaluation is a difficult problem.

Posted by: Don Hosek on February 23, 2007 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

I am from a family of educators (father, wife, 2 aunts ect.), and in family discussions what concerns them most about teacher evaluation is, suprisingly, not political interfence but management interference.

As long time teachers they all have stories about how every 5 years or so the latest educational/managerieal fad that comes down the pipe and will solve all of thier problems.

To a person they agree that these are failures for several reasons.

First of all the nature of following the latest fad does not allow for proper integration within a complex system.

Secondly, education is a slow moving beast,in the 5 years a system is in place it is just bearing fruit when the new ideas come in place.

Most importantly, they tell me that the best teachers follow no specific theroy for management and education but use pieces of many as personalities and the amouphous nature of a group of children demands.

They really truly fear being judged not on thier educational abilities but on how completly and dogmatically they are embracing the latest paradigms.

The politics they can fudge.

Posted by: Colin on February 23, 2007 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely on February 23, 2007 at 3:03 PM:

I think paying teachers more, in general, will make it less likely that the best and brightest teachers...will instead end up as laywers or advertising sales executives.

..Thus saving their souls from eternal damnation..

Posted by: grape_crush on February 23, 2007 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

...in many parts of the country, including Westchester New York where I live, public school teachers are overpaid.

Posted by: James B. Shearer on February 23, 2007 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Any cites. I'd like to know what overpaid is in Westchester.

Anyway, to back you on the New York teacher/seducer, David Bracaccio (hardly a right-wing sop) did a PBS program about a year ago on the New York public school system where there was just such a case plus other useless teachers who turn up to some building and sit there for the school day to collect full pay for months or years on end.

They interviewed the union president(?, I think) and she was rabid, off the wall, defensive of all union privilige. I am most assuredly pro-union but she came across as someone you couldn't deal with. A horror. I was really disapppointed.

On the other hand, in the early 80s I lived a couple of blocks from Brooklyn Tech in Fort Greene. Smaller school, dedicated students and a disproportionate number of Asians, even then.

The problems go much deeper than the teachers.

Posted by: notthere on February 23, 2007 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

The argument for paying teachers more is that a higher salary will attract more qualified people.

The problem with bad teachers is in part a problem of not being able to assess applicants, but it's also a problem with the applicant pool. In this area, for example, it's impossible to own a house, and difficult to rent a condo, on a teacher's salary; so the best and the brightest, unless they are particularly called to teaching, go do something else.

Posted by: aphrael on February 23, 2007 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

One example from an institution 90 or so miles away from your location.

I taught there for 7 years in the writing program. Generally, not simply good but outstanding evaluations from students and reviewers.

I was fired the same day I received the department's evaluation of my teaching which said something along the lines of "material superbly chosen and taught: students involved, evidence that they actually improved. Offers the department a background in classical rhetoric that it would otherwise not have.

I rather enjoyed that.

Posted by: John Tomas on February 23, 2007 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

James B. Shearer: I looked at the salaries below:

http://www.myshortpencil.com/newyorkteachersalaries.htm

I can't say I was overwhelmed by starting salaries in the wealthiest Westchester communities at around $40K and median salaries at about $70K compared to the cost of living. I bet you didn't buy a house in Westchester on that salary.

Posted by: Teacher's Son on February 23, 2007 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

Students should evaluate their teachers at the end of the course -- and the evaluations should COUNT!

Kids know their teachers better than anyone else. Their evaluations should come at the end of the course so they aren't trying to curry favor. And knowing that kids will "grade" them should give teachers incentive to deliver the goods.

Posted by: William Slattery on February 23, 2007 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

1. bad teacher. Ducktaped a kids entire head because he wouldn't stop talking. Grabbed a different student by the neck and shopok him while screaming "I hate all you little bastards! I should not have to put up with this crap!" Never once had any kind word about any boy in her fifth grade class. Only ever stressed negative. Batshit crazy is bad. (my oldest son's fifth grade teacher)

2. Watched as three older, bigger children surrounded a 1st grade student on the playground and shoved him around calling him names. When the 6 year old boy grabnbed one of the older kids and slugged him. She called the little boys a "Columbine kid", excusing her own behavior as "Well, yes, maybe I should have stoppped it before he hit the other kid, but he totally overreacted." This boy came out of first grade knowing less than he did when he started. He was never called on if he raiseed his hand and was sent to the principal any time he spoke up in class. He was treated by this teacher as a pariah.

3. Principal called parent and told her that a boy in her 9th grade class had threatened her life. But, that he was not going to punish the kid. Told the student that she needed to "watch her back and not say or do anything to make the boy "lose it". Those are BAD teachers. Pretty easy to find.

Good teachers:

1. Third grade teacher for the boy in example #2. By the time he finished that grade he scored higher than any student in the class on his tests and he was reading at a 6th grade level. He excelled in math and never had a straight As for the year. Why? Because this wonderful teacher told him he was good and treated him with love.

2. math teacher at high school. AS my son says, you have to really want to not know something in order to flunk her class, she will just keep on expalaining it again and again until you get it. She was named teacher of the year for the state a few years ago and she deserved it.

Good teachers are easy to spot. So are the truly bad ones. I had to haul my son fifty miles each way to a different school for a year and get him up at 5 am to get him away from that crazy woman who called him a "columubine kid". But it was the best thing I ever did for him. Thank God for my mother who helped me so I could do it and still get to work.

Posted by: apishapa on February 23, 2007 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

Guscat, in many parts of the country, including Westchester New York where I live, public school teachers are overpaid.

Many? What percent would you define as many? Do you advocate decreasing the pay for teachers in Westchester, New York?

dk, so you think paying bad teachers more will magically make them better?

Increasing the incentive for people to become teachers should draw more talented people to the profession, nicht wahr? Or do I misunderstand the magical workings of the free market?

Posted by: dob on February 23, 2007 at 3:17 PM | PERMALINK

The Americanist hit the nail on the head in the very first comment; smaller schools. Solves lots of problems.

Posted by: A Hermit on February 23, 2007 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

Another thing to keep in mind- if you as a private employer fired a good employee, you would ultimately suffer consequences- you'd sell less product, your profits would go down, and, if you fired enough good employees, your business would go under. What's the self correcting mechanism for a principal that fires good teachers?

Posted by: DougMN on February 23, 2007 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

The problem is pay.

When I was in high school, I had a great first year physics teacher. He was recently licensed, was A+ in presenting the material, and was able to reach the students who were brainy and into science as well as those that couldn't care less.

He had no job security as a new teacher and ended up going into the private sector with his science degrees and made some real money.

I've mentioned before on this blog my complaint about fellow Minnesotans freaking out about the quality of the school bus drivers in the state. Last night yet again there was an alarmist news story about them. But starting pay is in the $8.00 range less than workers at fast food. How on earth do you expect to get quality people at those wages? You can't. I think this applies in some measure to teachers as well. If the pay could attract qualified folks, not just those who have a commendable dedication to educating our youth, competition would take care of this. But we are left only with those who don't mind making peanuts.

Posted by: gex on February 23, 2007 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

"Students should evaluate their teachers at the end of the course -- and the evaluations should COUNT!

"Kids know their teachers better than anyone else. Their evaluations should come at the end of the course so they aren't trying to curry favor. And knowing that kids will "grade" them should give teachers incentive to deliver the goods."

My own experience with student evaluations is that they are so variable as to not be very helpful. Most are so general as not to be useful -- "Great," "Pretty good," "Bad," "Hate his guts." And the more particular ones tend often to be in diametric opposition to one another. And finally, I've seen evaluations of teachers whom I would have flunked that were quite good (probably for reasons not much related to teaching -- really cute, kind but ineffectual, gives good grades, etc.). While I have always been evaluated by students, I wouldn't say that the evaluations had much to do with any improvements that have occurred in my teaching. I think that for most people, supervisors' evaluations are far more useful, to the extent they bear any relationship at all to what has gone on in the classroom (that is, prepared by a decent supervisor).

Posted by: David in NY on February 23, 2007 at 3:29 PM | PERMALINK

I am a Democrat because I believe that there are certain things markets/the private sector cannot handle. I believe that one of these is education. Now there are ways to make the education system better, and we owe it to or children, ourselves, and our nation as whole to do everything we can to move toward a "more perfect" system. But trying to shoehorn the ways of the private sector into the public, on the assumption that what works well in one sphere will work well in the other is not the way. And because we owe it to the youth of our country to, to put it bluntly, not screw them up, I do not believe in experimantation. I am fundamentally conservative when it comes to messing with government structures, in that any change that cannot be shown to directly and certainly improve things should be avoided.

If someone comes out with an accountability plan that's not modelled on the private sector, but instead tailored to the very different needs and capabilities of the public sector, I'm willing to give it a hearing. Education reform that works by analogy to industry fails the test, as well it should.

Posted by: the idiot on February 23, 2007 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

I think its actually very easy to determine who the good and bad teachers are.

I read some experimental results about high school or college teachers, in which evaluations of prospective students after seeing just a few seconds of teaching (I think it might have been as little as a few, 2-second film clips) were highly correlated with their evaluations after a taking a class with the teacher.

So, a principle can probably evaluate the teacher pretty accurately based on a small amount of contact for the same reason that we can evaluate whether or not we like someone based on very limited contact with the person.

Contrary to what we are taught, judging a book by its cover works pretty well.

Posted by: Jim W on February 23, 2007 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

I am a teacher and a union rep. I also worked in the private sector as a manager before becoming a teacher. I have represented teacher who I wished would be fired and more often than not the administrators drop the ball. It really is not much harder that the private sector. Usually pricipals just don't take the basic steps necessary to accomplish the task. In addition, often times they are presented with the reality of weather or not they can replace the teacher with someone better. Often, it will be a sub who is in fact worse.

Posted by: David Triche on February 23, 2007 at 3:30 PM | PERMALINK

Students should evaluate their teachers at the end of the course -- and the evaluations should COUNT!...

Posted by: William Slattery on February 23, 2007 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

That will not work.

That is what already goes on in some colleges. Lecturers can be intimidated into making the course "fun", there is grade inflation, and good lecturers are adversely affected by students who don't like to be intellectually challenged or marked fairly. And that's where the teacher isn't having to be a disciplinarian too.

Feedback may be. Evaluation no. Itelligent appraisal of the teacher, fine.

Posted by: notthere on February 23, 2007 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

"How do we know who the bad teachers are?'

This is kind of similar to our problem in Iraq. After thirty years of teaching in public schools I can say with some authority that the only ones who knopw are other teachers. I do not believe we, as a society, have the political will to solve this problem. We want "accountability" and we want "creativity" and we want administrative "accountability" and we want "good scores" on tests. If we get good scores, we recalibrate the test (make it harder) so there can be continued rants to improve test scores. We want a responsible beauracracy to account for all that govt. does. We want planning for progress, which is the surest sign of Zeno's philosophy ( we can never achieve anything because before we achieve it we must be half way there )

All of this costs money. So over half of our educational money is spent outside the classroom. Teachers know that Americans will never achieve quality education being, as they are, completely absorbed in themselves. Any teacher who has been in the system for any time knows that the only operational method is to: 1) remain human and in touch with the needs of your students 2)if something needs to be done, don't ask permission 3) do it yourself with a little help from your friends 4) ask forgivness when a sleeping beauracracy finds out what you've done 5) always allow the beauracracy to take credit for your efforts.

When Americans really want to get serious about education, finding out who the bad teachers are will be the easiest of chores.

Posted by: Dennis on February 23, 2007 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

Students should evaluate their teachers at the end of the course -- and the evaluations should COUNT!...

Posted by: William Slattery on February 23, 2007 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

That will not work.

That is what already goes on in some colleges. Lecturers can be intimidated into making the course "fun", there is grade inflation, and good lecturers are adversely affected by students who don't like to be intellectually challenged or marked fairly. And that's where the teacher isn't having to be a disciplinarian too.

Feedback may be. Evaluation no. Itelligent appraisal of the teacher, fine.

Posted by: notthere on February 23, 2007 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

When I ran for school board I was pretty sure that the early retirement plans were an imperfect way to cull teachers that had burnt-out.

I think it's not that hard to detect burnt-out teachers.

Posted by: Carl Nyberg on February 23, 2007 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

I can't say I was overwhelmed by starting salaries in the wealthiest Westchester communities at around $40K and median salaries at about $70K compared to the cost of living. I bet you didn't buy a house in Westchester on that salary.

Teacher's Son

And you ought to hear the investment bankers in these towns whine about their school taxes! It is sickening. My Dad (I'm a teacher's son, too) always lamented that teachers were expected to live in "genteel poverty." Things haven't changed all that much (although the unions have surely helped some).

Posted by: David in NY on February 23, 2007 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

It has always struck me as strange that teachers say the way to improve classroom education is to pay teachers more. They can only be saying two things: Either they are not teaching as well as they would if they had more incentive, or the existing teachers aren't very good, so we need to get smarter people into the business. I would agree with the latter. Teachers score lower than PE majors on the GRE, ahead of only home economics majors.

That said, elementary school teachers in my experience have been extremely dedicated to helping kids, just not always very good at it.

Posted by: anandine on February 23, 2007 at 3:37 PM | PERMALINK

"When that parent happens to be a friend of a school board member, or someone who wants to raise enough of a fuss, without tenure, that teacher would be gone."

In the late '40's, my Dad lost his job as superintendent of schools in a small Michigan town for disciplining the daughter of a Board member. I don't think things have changed much.

Posted by: David in NY on February 23, 2007 at 3:42 PM | PERMALINK

> It has always struck me as strange that
> teachers say the way to improve classroom
> education is to pay teachers more.

It has always struck me strange that Robert Nardelli needed a $475 million bonus on top of his $200 million salary to "incentivize" him, or that Wall Street investment bankers need $20 million EOY payouts on top of their $3 million/year salaries, or that baseball players get multi-million-dollar performance bonuses on top of their quite nice salaries, but it seems that is the way we as Americans have structured our economy. Only K-8 teachers, for some reason, are supposed to be angels who do great work for low pay.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 23, 2007 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

Jim W on February 23, 2007 at 3:30 PM:

..a principle can probably evaluate the teacher pretty accurately based on a small amount of contact for the same reason that we can evaluate whether or not we like someone based on very limited contact with the person.

All you are doing is determining whether or not you like someone, not if they are competent. Your view of a person's competency is influenced by how positive you feel toward that individual.

Posted by: grape_crush on February 23, 2007 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

Regarding Westchester teacher pay, it is my understanding that there are hundreds of applicants for every opening which indicates to me that the pay is too high. While Westchester New York is probably an extreme case I believe there are lots of school districts around the country with many applicants for every spot. When comparing pay, remember teachers only work about 180 days a year and often have better benefits than comparable private sector jobs. And also better job security.

As for corporate executives, I will concede that many are even more overpaid than teachers.

Posted by: James B. Shearer on February 23, 2007 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

To be honest there are not as many BAD teachers as you might think,But there are a lot of bad parents.How much time do you spend on doing homework with your kids? I work all day and then spend three to four jours every night doing homework with my kids, Do you.?

Posted by: john john on February 23, 2007 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Give teachers random excerpts from Kausfiles.

If they give them a passing grade, they're not qualified to teach.

Posted by: Roger Ailes on February 23, 2007 at 4:04 PM | PERMALINK

What no one wants to admit is the reasons we used to have so many great teachers at such cheap salaries is because they were that half of the population which was shut out from doing anything else.

You can't get a fantastic system of education on the cheap. If you want to get brilliant teachers, at least bring their salaries up to those of college professors.

Second--how many cases do we have where so-called "bad schooling" is in fact "rotten students"? And "rotten parents"?

It's things like this that make me cynically propose bringing back child labor and get rid of Maybe if the alternative to getting an education was 12 hours a day of back-breaking work, parents and kids would appreciate the chance of sitting in a classroom and learning more.

Posted by: grumpy realist on February 23, 2007 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

I think it is easy to spot good and bad teachers.

Teachers should be judged on how their students do on tests the NEXT year.

You can't teach to the test because the students are not really able to handle the work they will be doing next year. The teacher can't help the kids cheat becuase the test they are giving the students this year doesn't have anything to do with how the teacher is judged.

If my students scored an average of 50 in 4th grade and 52 in 5th grade and your students averaged 53 in 4th grade and 53 in 5th grade then I did a better job teaching them.

Yes, it does mean you have to track students from year to year but it WILL show who the good teachers are.

Posted by: neil wilson on February 23, 2007 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

I usually support an easier ability for principals to get rid of bad teachers. In my High school we had two terrible teachers. One was rude and obviously held all students in contempt. The other was a straight-out pervert, who made all the girls in his classes uncomfortable. Every student knew about these two, especially the pervert. It was even a joke that if you wanted a good math score, you just wore a low-cut shirt to your math test. Two years after I graduated both of them were fired, the pervert for finally being too inappropriate with a student, the other for displaying his wide racist streak right in front of a black student. Everyone knew they were going to do something horrid eventually, and they were both bad teachers, but nobody could stop it until it was irrefutable. Luckily for the school nobody sued over either of those teachers.

Posted by: gabe on February 23, 2007 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

dob asked:

"Increasing the incentive for people to become teachers should draw more talented people to the profession, nicht wahr? Or do I misunderstand the magical workings of the free market?"

So you will only increase the pay for new hires? And if you already have hundreds of applicants for every position I doubt increasing this to thousands will help a lot.

Personally I don't think teaching is all that hard so it is a waste of resources to have extremely talented people teaching. However it would be beneficial to be able to remove extremely bad or dangerous teachers without requiring extraordinary effort.

Posted by: James B. Shearer on February 23, 2007 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

The Nardelli situation is clearly a flagrant example of a severe principal/agent problem, as is the situation (on a smaller scale, of course) of a teacher who trys to seduce a student and keeps his job. Principal/agent problems can be dreadfully difficult to solve.

Ballplayers, however, are among the most rationally rewarded people we have in our economy. When millions and millions of people are willing to watch you do something, you are quite plainly worth spending millions and millions of dollars on.

Posted by: Will Allen on February 23, 2007 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

I am a high school teacher. Here is the deal. Yes I know more or less who the bad teachers are at my school. The point is though that most teachers are really good. And there are bad employees in every profession and those people also slip through the cracks. It is really not about the unions. I also think that today there are many more safe guards and evaluations that teachers have to go through before receiving tenure. I think it is harder and harder to make it through this process if you really are a terrible teacher.

Posted by: Erin on February 23, 2007 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

An off-the-cuff idea: Every teacher is visited by a different roving panel of evaluators, who stay in the classroom and observe for a week, a few times a year. At the end of the school year, evaluations are processed for a consensus about whether a teacher is good or bad. Good teachers are rewarded, bad teachers are fired.

Incredibly expensive, sure. But it might be the closest we could hope to come to an objective evaluation.

Posted by: RSA on February 23, 2007 at 4:13 PM | PERMALINK

David Triche, that sounds like a rationalization. The union makes the process for firing bad teachers too complicated for the average principal to handle and then blames the principals when bad teachers don't get fired.

Posted by: James B. Shearer on February 23, 2007 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

Personally I don't think teaching is all that hard so it is a waste of resources to have extremely talented people teaching.

It is apparent that we have different opinions on this subject.

Posted by: dob on February 23, 2007 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Reading through the comments, I find a lot that's useful. Many of the issues in evaluating K-12 teacher performance have their counterparts in higher ed.

Some of the comments, though:

"1. Hold weekly meetings with all the teachers to discuss lesson plans, problems, goals for next semester.

"2. Have regular one-on-one meetings between principle and teachers."

The problem here is the increasing "professionalization" of K-12 administration. More and more, elementary school and high school principals have relatively little classroom experience theselves. They could listen, but how would they know what "good" is?

Posted by: Donald A. Coffin on February 23, 2007 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

What is a "bad teacher"? Fifty years ago, when I was at school, I suffered under sadists who specialised in brutal and vicious punishments and kept their classes in order by fear. They also were inspired men (all men in an all boys' school)who knew their subjects through and through, worked ferociously hard, preparing lessons and marking work handed in, and managed to instil a love of whatever was their particular subject. "Chunky" taught English; ex-army, North Africa with the Desert Rats, Anzio, hit the beaches at Normandy, hero; I learned clause analysis and parsing, writing precis and composition essays, was introduced to the joys of Milton, Pope, Keats and Shelley, Dickens and the Brontes, Elliot, Yeats and Pound, Shakespeare and Miller by this brute who, if you merely coughed or drew a margin straight, would have you standing through all the lesson, arms outstretched in a crucifixion position, holding two textbooks in your hands. Hit you dangerously hard round the ears even if you wore glasses. Bad man. Good teacher?

Such teachers do not exist any more, perhaps thankfully. But there are teachers, chaotic, bad at administration and record keeping, unplanned lessons, the school inspectors' nightmare, but charismatic, inspired, loved by their students, every lesson an entertainment and education, willing to spend hours after shool dealing with students' problems, good humoured, informed, inspirational. Bad managers. Good teachers?

Do you judge a teacher by the examination results he/she achieves with their pupils? That is quantifiable. But do you judge them by their contribution to school life and the community at large? By the atmosphere in the classroom? By the interest they inspire in their students? Thes are criteria not easily calculated. What dio you do about a teacher, formerly excellent, who has entered a stage of decline, perhaps through illness or personal problems or simply age.

There are teachers who are hopeless. They soon enough become known for their incompetence to senior staff. They should be - and generally are very easily and rapidly - terminated. For the rest, surely the senior staff will be aware of the performance of the teachers in their school. In big schools it is perhaps more difficult, but department and faculty heads will be aware iof the quality odf their troops, and should be able to give a reasonable account of their staff performance. Annual reviews, with department heads meeting with each teacher in in their departments, surely are a means whereby teachers' performances are monitored and communicated.

Posted by: Mike G on February 23, 2007 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

Erin, maybe you aren't a bad teacher when you receive tenure but 20 years later when you are a burned out drunk the school can't easily fire you.

Posted by: James B. Shearer on February 23, 2007 at 4:18 PM | PERMALINK

"The Americanist hit the nail on the head in the very first comment; smaller schools. Solves lots of problems."

Regrettably, some of the things that seem logical don't turn out the way you might expect. Yesterday's NYT featured a story about the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which found (among other things) that reading skills of 12th graders tested in 2005 were worse than those of students in 1992, in spite of the fact that "12th graders in 2005 averaged 360 more hours of classroom instruction during their high school years than students than in 1990."

You might think that more favorable teacher-student ratios would be beneficial, and you might think that increased classroom time would be, too. The problem is that these kinds of assumptions can be undone by any number of things -- not the least of which might be poorly trained teachers, indifferent teachers, incompetent administrators, and the effects of poverty on children.

As to Kevin's question, there's quite a bit research about best practices in classrooms. Some of it is, as previous commenters indicated, flavor-of-the-month stuff; and some of it may very well lead to better teaching & more learning, but isn't given a chance to take root because of things like impatience and a short attention span (as those same commenters, I think rightly, pointed out).

Effective teachers

-- like children;
-- know their subject matter;
-- plan their day/week/quarter in advance;
-- lecture as infrequently as possible;
-- employ a variety of student-centered activities in their classroom;
-- regularly provide feedback to students and, as much as possible, to their parents;
-- seek feedback from colleagues & supervisors;
-- participate in professional development (workshops, seminars, continuing education).

Yes, this list is reductive, but it's a reasonable start. I think it's true that many of the things that make teachers effective are things that can't be quantified, but most of the things I mentioned above are observable, and other things are as simple as checklist items.

One of the most important things you need in order to identify bad teachers is a smart administrator (whether a principal or curriculum director) who has spent time teaching in classrooms and clearly communicates his or her expectations. This person has to be dedicated to classroom observations of teachers. These visits should be both announced & unannounced. (For example, all teachers should have two scheduled observations, and one unscheduled.) That means a lot of classroom observation, and it may require more than one administrator, but what we're talking about is quality control. What business (aside from the business of government) functions very long without that?

Posted by: chaunceyatrest on February 23, 2007 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

What is a "bad teacher"? Fifty years ago, when I was at school, I suffered under sadists who specialised in brutal and vicious punishments and kept their classes in order by fear. They also were inspired men who knew their subjects through and through, worked ferociously hard, preparing lessons and marking work handed in, and managing to instil a love of whatever was their particular subject. "Chunky" taught English; ex-army, North Africa with the Desert Rats, Anzio, hit the beaches at Normandy, hero; I learned clause analysis and parsing, writing precis and composition essays, was introduced to the joys of Milton, Pope, Keats and Shelley, Dickens and the Brontes, Elliot, Yeats and Pound, Shakespeare and Miller by this brute who, if you merely coughed or drew a margin straight, would have you standing through all the lesson, arms outstretched in a crucifixion position, holding two textbooks in your hands. Hit you dangerously hard round the ears even if you wore glasses. Bad man. Good teacher?

Such teachers do not exist any more, perhaps thankfully. But there are teachers, chaotic, bad at administration and record keeping, unplanned lessons, the school inspectors' nightmare, but charismatic, inspired, loved by their students, every lesson an entertainment and education, willing to spend hours after shool dealing with students' problems, good humoured, informed, inspirational. Bad managers. Good teachers?

Do you judge a teacher by the examination results he/she achieves with their pupils? That is quantifiable. But do you judge them by their contribution to school life and the community at large? By the atmosphere in the classroom? By the interest they inspire in their students? Thes are criteria not easily calculated. What dio you do about a teacher, formerly excellent, who has entered a stage of decline, perhaps through illness or personal problems or simply age.

There are teachers who are hopeless. They soon enough become known for their incompetence to senior staff. They should be - and generally are very easily and rapidly - terminated. For the rest, surely the senior staff will be aware of the performance of the teachers in their school. In big schools it is perhaps more difficult, but department and faculty heads will be aware iof the quality odf their troops, and should be able to give a reasonable account of their staff performance. Annual reviews, with department heads meeting with each teacher in in their departments, surely are a means whereby teachers' performances are monitored and communicated.

Posted by: Mike G on February 23, 2007 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

If the crime rate went up, would anyone suggest that the solution was to give the Police Department less money until things improved? Hey, we should replace the Police with security from the Private Sector! The competion will improve services! How about less job security for the cops on the beat, get rid of those unions? And I think that they're overpaid; maybe the cops should be required to start chipping in for gas for the cruiser, like teachers do for supplies? Oh, I know...we'll let the folks they arrest evaluate them!


Posted by: Jim 7 on February 23, 2007 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK
I think it is easy to spot good and bad teachers.

Teachers should be judged on how their students do on tests the NEXT year.

So the teachers given the least capable students by whatever system is used to assign students to teachers are, all other things being equal, the worst teachers?

Or is it maybe not so easy as you would paint it?

Posted by: cmdicely on February 23, 2007 at 4:21 PM | PERMALINK
Their evaluations should come at the end of the course so they aren't trying to curry favor.

What is to prevent them from trying to extract revenge, though, on the teacher that actually expected them to work rather than handing out grades as bribes?

Random, probing interviews of samples of students would probably be more useful than written student evaluations.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 23, 2007 at 4:25 PM | PERMALINK

> The Nardelli situation is clearly a flagrant
> example of a severe principal/agent problem, as is
> the situation (on a smaller scale, of course) of
> a teacher who trys to seduce a student and keeps
> his job. Principal/agent problems can be
> dreadfully difficult to solve.

I am glad it is clear to you, because it has been hotly debated in the business press for the last 2 years and there is no conclusion in sight AFAICS.

And it is interesting that I have made no statement on whether or not CEO, investment banker, etc salaries are too high - that is another topic - yet every who has responded has assumed I have.

What I _have_ noted is that every single business publication and organization in the United States has been consistently beating the drum since 1995 that enormous pay differentials - on the order of 66,667:1 - are required to "draw out" the best CEO talent. This isn't just the somewhat looney WSJ Editoral Page; it is every business publication out there (except Warren Buffet's).

Yet the same people who make this "66,667:1 draw out" argument also claim that the right course of action is to bust teachers' unions and privatize schools. The _exact same people_.

So what I AM asking for is a coherent explanation of why the differential draw out theory applies to some classes of employees, but not to K-8 teachers. Be specific and complete; show your work.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 23, 2007 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

forgive me if osmeone already said this but:

"The fact is that principals simply aren't in close contact with their teachers on a regular basis."

Well, maybe they should be, if they're supposed to be determining this? also, without these safeguards, what's to keep administrators form just keeping teacers who agree with them, as opposed to good ones?

Posted by: URK on February 23, 2007 at 4:27 PM | PERMALINK

When comparing pay, remember teachers only work about 180 days a year and often have better benefits than comparable private sector jobs.

Now there's some serious bullshit. What school districts only have 6 month school years?

Or did you mean just 180 days of being at work? Because there are only 260 actual work days in year.

Teachers, at least in Texas, work 187 days of the year (37 weeks). They're only paid for 187 work days (most districts stretch that paycheck out over 12 months, to make life easier for teachers -- but they're not paid for time they don't work).

As for benefits? Jesus -- they're awful, at least in Texas. The health-care is defintely sub-standard, the retirement is iffy (and what really sucks is you lose SS benefits as a teacher).

My wife made more as administrative assistant (a non-degree position) than as a teacher. (That was due to the MUCH better health care benefits as a secretary).

As for working 37 weeks a year -- I've watched, and teachers work a hell of a lot harder than any of my much-better paid counterparts here in the real world.

My wife's generally at work from 7:30 to 4:30. She has 30 minutes for lunch (she's watching kids WHILE eating, as part of lunchroom duty). She has to schedule her bathroom breaks, because trying to step out for a trip to the can involves snagging another teacher to watch her class. She cannot go stretch her legs, go grab a cup of coffee, or take a break mid-day to gossip for ten minutes with a coworker.

Every minute of her time -- from first bell (7:55) to the minute the last bus leaves (3:15) is scheduled and busy.

You couldn't pay my ass enough for that, thank you.

Posted by: Morat20 on February 23, 2007 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

"The fact is that principals simply aren't in close contact with their teachers on a regular basis."

Good principals do. Question is, how do you find good principals?

Anyone who has spent any time in schools (even as a parent volunteer) knows who the good, decent and poor teachers are. When a bad teacher leaves, we all talk about it, for instance.

One aspect I've always thought underutilized in teacher evaluations is parent requests for teachers the following year. This is one of those few opportunities where market forces are somewhat in play. And people are evaluated by their strengths more than their weaknesses. Parents are always asking parents of children ahead of them who the good teachers are. And it's not just black/white or good/bad, but based upon what that teacher does well. One requests a teacher with a great science background. Another is looking for someone creative. Some like teachers with with controlled chaos, others like a tighter ship. We choose because we're trying to make the best match for our children.

The people NO ONE chooses are the poorest teachers. And again, we're all talking about who they are. Thus, the children who's parents are the least involved often end up in the poorest teacher's classrooms. These are often children that are more difficult to teach, making a poor teacher even less likely to succeed.

Lovely.

Posted by: geml on February 23, 2007 at 4:34 PM | PERMALINK
It has always struck me as strange that teachers say the way to improve classroom education is to pay teachers more. They can only be saying two things: Either they are not teaching as well as they would if they had more incentive, or the existing teachers aren't very good, so we need to get smarter people into the business.

Um, wrong. They could be saying that they are unable to teach as well as they could if they were in better financial circumstances, they also could be saying that the problem with eliminating bad teachers isn't that it is too hard, but instead that administrators are unwilling to do it because it is too hard to fill behind them, they could also being saying that teachers would be less likely to burn out if they had better working conditions (including salary), etc.

Certainly, districts that have a serious problem with classes that go substantial fractions of a year without having a permanent teacher probably aren't looking for (or likely to take advantage of) any power to get rid of even more teachers than they already have gotten rid of.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 23, 2007 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

"How do we decide who the bad teachers are?"

In all the discussions about education and bad teachers, the one thing left out of the discussion is the students. I have long contended that a lot of the teachers who are lauded as "great teachers" might not look so good with a different crop of students.

Students have to want to learn. Class and family expectations play a huge role in whether students actually want to learn. If a kid doesn't feel they have any stake in learning, you can't make them do it. The standard line has been that the teacher must instill a desire for knowledge in the kid. How's that working out?

The desire to learn comes from the kids social environment. Until that is addressed, all the rest of it is just happy talk. Some of which is targeted at discrediting and breaking the teachers unions.

Inner city kids are often used as an example, but kids in rural settings ain't faring all that well either.

Posted by: zak822 on February 23, 2007 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK

I could write a book on this one. Remember that the U.S.A. has over 3000 locally controlled public school districts. Each one is different in its standards, practices, available funding, and levels of achievement.

Some districts treat their faculty as professionals, while others treat them as labor, albeit without hourly wages. However, I would bet that few, if any, have taken the time to define the characteristics they are looking for in a "good' or 'great" teacher. Shouldn't that be part of each new hire's job description and form the core of their annual evaluation? Absent that information, it's much more difficult to sort out the "bad" teachers, fire them during their probationary three years, or work to improve his/her skills after that.

PersonnalIy, I would define a "bad" teacher as one who is immoral, demeans students, fails to work to meet the needs of students, fails to be prepared, fails to improve his/her educational level or teaching skills (at least to the extent that the district supports those efforts), or consistently achieves poor results at reaching state and local standards established to measure student success.

Furthermore, I would define a "great' teacher as one whose students become increasingly independent, knowledgeable, inspired, and confident in his/her classroom, one who finds new and creative solutions to solving classroom and curricular problems, one who keeps up with current research in their field and applies it, and one who is positive in his/her relationships with students, colleagues, parents, and others.

I was fortunate to teach in a very high-achieving elementary school in a very high-achieving state that happened to have a strong state teachers' union. Every school in our district was a National School of Excellence. We had excellent teachers and average teachers, but very few of them were "bad".

I also served as the head of my local teachers' association for several years. People misunderstand the function of a teachers' union. In my experience, it serves to negotiate teacher salaries and working conditions (without which this country would have a much greater teacher shortage at today's salary levels) and then defends teachers from violations of their contract by the administration. I can vouch for the fact that even the talented educational leaders I worked for had no compunctions about violating our contract whenever they thought they could get away with it, sometimes five or more times/week. And, surprisingly, I can also vouch for the fact that teachers worked through their union representatives to try to improve, discipline, and/or get rid of "bad" teachers who gave the profession a bad name.

I now live in a state that has a "right to work" law, meaning that any teacher can be fired at any time, no unions allowed. So, how are we doing here? First of all, teachers are so poorly paid they need subsidized housing to live in any of the surrounding counties. Teacher shortages are a major state problem, and - no surprise here - so is student achievement and graduation rates. Ya get what ya pay for, folks. If you want all your teachers to be the brightest and best your children deserve, you will be competing for that level of talent with places that treat their faculties as educational leaders, not laborers, places that expect great achievement and support the only people who can deliver it, and places that will pay to get that level of service. Just like other Americans, the best can name their own price in both the public and private sector.

As for testing as a way to judge teacher and student achievement? It can best be summed up with the following saying, "A child does not grow by being constantly measured". It takes a "good" teacher, one who has both refined skills and an excellent knowledge base, along with great rapport with his/her kids. Remember, every hour spent preparing to take tests (sometimes as much as a month/year), then taking the tests, is an hour spent Not teaching children the things they need to know in the 21st century, many of which can't be measured by true/false, multiple choice answers.

Guess I wrote a book!

Posted by: trues on February 23, 2007 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

I live in the heart of one of the most abysmal school districts in the country (a federal judge controlled it for nearly 2 decades under a desegregation lawsuit). I know a couple of good teachers in that system, but by and large, they are a humiliating embarrassment, and I cringe when the local media sticks a microphone in the face of one of the grammar-deficient mouth-breathers.

Now that that is out of my system, what Paul said first: Smaller Schools!!!

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State (aka Global Citizen) on February 23, 2007 at 4:45 PM | PERMALINK

As a teacher I would say that all of the factors you mention for judging a teacher's effectiveness are important. However, once a principal is in the position of firing someone, she has to be able to qualify a specific reason why and it probably won't come down to just one of the factors or ways of evaluating that you list. I think I, as well as parents, colleagues etc., know when we've found a "bad" teacher, not necessarily bad enough to justify firing. Effective teachers might be downright mean to kids, and really well-intentioned ones may not know how to plan curriculum well. Do they need assistance? Do they need to be moved to a different position? Fired? Is the principal wise enough to know which approach to take and are their resources she can take to help improve a flawed teacher rather than losing her completely?

Posted by: evenewra on February 23, 2007 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

We take a number of students from a nearby failed inner-city district. Say that Teacher A and Teacher B each get a new 5th-grade student.

Teacher A's student starts out the year unable to read (yes, we see this from time to time). At the end of the year Student A is reading at 2nd grade level.

Teacher B's student is one of the corporate/university transfers who also inhabit our neighborhood. At the beginning of the year Student B is reading at 6th grade level. At the end of the year Student B tests at 9th grade reading level.

Which teacher is doing better? How would you evaluate Teacher A's performance?

By the way, Teacher A (whom I would argue did the "better" job, to the extent such things can be measured) is now in danger of failing her No Child Left Behind Evaluaton.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 23, 2007 at 4:46 PM | PERMALINK

The real key to success in the education system is the active involvement of parents in the process- primarily by teaching their children the value of education and ensuring their children take it seriously. As long as a school has the critical mass of such parents, it will do well enough- below this critical mass, it will fail regardless of how much money you spend, or how many teachers you fire and hire.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on February 23, 2007 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK
The fact is that principals simply aren't in close contact with their teachers on a regular basis."

Well, maybe they should be, if they're supposed to be determining this?

That's, frankly, impossible; a typical school principal has an organizationally unmanageable task in closely monitoring teachers (even if subordinate administrators, like Vice Principals, were tasked with this in the typical school, it would be unmanageable without a lot more of them.)

With "department heads" in public schools generally teachers in a temporary, rotating assignment with additional administrative duties but not a real supervisory role (or time set aside to provide real supervisory functions) the ratio of teachers to supervisory administrators is often very high; there isn't a manageable heirarchy in the organization.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 23, 2007 at 4:49 PM | PERMALINK

What needs to be considered is what we're afraid will happen.

I think we're primarily afraid that the parents of students will complain about teachers for doing their job, teaching things like evolution in science, or about birth control in sex ed.

We're afraid they'll stop teaching these things for fear of being fired.

So what we need, is a standard that CAN lead to being fired for inappropriate teaching --- like Bible references in classes that aren't religious studies --- but which CAN'T lead to being fired for appropriate teaching.

I think that's achievable.

We also need to consider the screening process and firing process for principals, recognizing the consequences of this additional power with bad principals.

One of the things that gets lost in discussions like these is the toll bad teachers take on students. This isn't just about efficiency versus sloppiness. This is about knowingly putting into classrooms people who not only fail to teach, but also undermine defenseless students who don't even have the option to "quit," the way adults do when they encounter a horrible employer. It shouldn't be allowed.

Posted by: catherineD on February 23, 2007 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

One of the benefits of "smaller schools" is narrower spans of authority at the top, which equates to higher administrative overhead; if one was willing to take the higher administrative costs, one could probably realize the same benefits in larger schools by narrowing administrative spans of authority (by having more administrators, in an intelligently-designed structure.)

OTOH, lots of school funding measures limit administration to get more $ into the classrooms, as if it were merely $ that produced results, not oversight to make sure the dollars were intelligently applied.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 23, 2007 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

Try this:

No administrator, no teacher works in a school district longer than 10 years. After 10 years, they move on. Same in the district office.

In addition, all administrators and teachers are hired first on a one-year contract, then a two-year contract, then three years, and finally four years. Step pay would be straightforward. And, incidentally, it is conceivable that some teachers might earn more money than some administrators. A teacher, say, with a good number of years experience in the classroom might earn more than a principal with less experience.

At the 10-year cutoff time, administrators and teachers who are moving on get a year's extra pay to help fund the transition or further education. Should they move on before the 10-years cutoff, they would receive less.

In addition, all teachers are expected to hold at least a minor in an appropriate subject such as English, a foreign language, mathematics or science to go along with their education major. Further, all teachers would earn a masters, preferably in mathematics or a science. Teachers without masters could earn them as they teach through approved Internet sources or summer attendance at a college or university. All beginning teachers and others without minors would have one by the time they are offered their first four-year contract.

With such a program, you won't have to worry so much about bad teachers. All teachers will strive to be good teachers because, among other things, they must be hired elsewhere at 10 years or perhaps less in some cases.

This plan, of course, is not the end all and be all. There are other things a school district must do, such as limit the size of most classes, provide teachers aides, and provide continual parental counseling with even home visits by counselors and administrators from time to time. Up to date equipment, books, etc. are a must. The list goes on.

Most folks rank education as their No. 1 priority, if not for themselves, at least for their children or grandchildren. But many,many folks are not willing to make the financial sacrifices to pay for it. But they must. Good schools cost money to operate. That much should be obvious. Good teachers need good pay and benefits. Folks who put a first priority on schooling for their children must put first priority on providing the funding for it -- for good schools, good teachers and good administrators.

Posted by: bob on February 23, 2007 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Morat20 that explains why they elected Bush governor.

Posted by: Gandalf on February 23, 2007 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

From a managerial perspective, theAmericanist, in the very first comment, identifies one of the best potential reforms.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on February 23, 2007 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

Apologies in advance for the length of this comment, but this is one area where I can genuinely get my wonk on.

It strikes me that there's not even a lot of agreement among Democrats about what sort of policies we'd want to implement if we were somehow given carte blanche, so I want to start by making a proposal along these lines. Meaning, I'm not talking practical here, just defining what my pony would be.

I used to work at an organization devoted to researching and reporting on the California K-12 system. We were able to speak to stakeholders at all levels, from the teachers and PTA members to people from CDE and OSE, plus reporters, etc. I discovered that regardless of people's political stances, there were a few positions that were almost universally held in an off-the-record way, namely:

1. Even in California, with the highest teacher pay in the country (at the time, at least), we could attract far more of the skilled/talented people we wanted if we increased teacher pay. Even the people who were calling most forecefully for increased accountability agreed with this. High pay is one of the two factors that would make people see teaching as a respected profession rather than just a job.

2. But the other factor is a perception that the job is serious, and not just in the sense of demanding but in the sense that if you're not up to the challenge you will find yourself strenuously warned and eventually fired. Many of the acclaimed teachers I spoke to, even those who worked for the union, voiced this concern in private. They had all seen poor teachers skate by, and as good teachers who cared deeply about the students in their schools they were profoundly frustrated by the relative lack of accountability* in many cases.

3. Points 1 and 2 have to be addressed simultaneously for any real change to occur. If teachers' salaries are increased without a concurrent increase in accountability there will be a public outcry, and if job security is reduced without a substantial increase in pay, there will be a mass migration of teachers into other fields.

Reasonably straightforward stuff, IMHO, which is probably why almost everyone we spoke to seemed to hold these views. Of course, in practical terms accomplishing point 1 is almost impossible given the magnitude of tax increase it would require, and point 2 will remain mostly off the table unless you can wave around huge wads of cash, so no pony for me this year. But at least I know what my pony would look like...


*I realize that the whole point of Kevin's post is that defining that accountability is a sticky task at best, and I want to address this point, but I'm going to put that in a seperate comment below (I have to limit the length of this somehow).

Posted by: Adam on February 23, 2007 at 4:58 PM | PERMALINK

I think teachers would approve of an easier process to fire them if they, the teachers, could fire the class, the parents, the school administrators, the school boards everybody all the way up the food chain.
The Navy used to have system where the captain was responsible for the ship and all the crew. Run the ship on the rocks and out you go. Let one of the crew go berserk on leave and out you go.
Seems stupid that only teachers get kicked in the butt for poor performance of the students but the students and parents suffer no consequences.

Posted by: DILBERT DOGBERT on February 23, 2007 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK
What needs to be considered is what we're afraid will happen.

What needs to be considered first is whether the charges are true that:
1) The main problem with education is that bad teachers are not fired quickly or often enough, and
2) The main reason such teachers are not fired quickly or often enough is because the binding rules governing when they can be fired are too restrictive.

Most arguments for looser rules on firing simply assume both of those, occasionally deigning to provide a couple of anecdotes which rarely are even clear demonstration that a problem of the kind suggested affected the case in question (particularly, they rarely provide a reason to believe that the rules were the reason for the bad teacher not being fired, even where the anecdote clearly identifies a problem stemming from a bad teacher that should have been fired.)

Posted by: cmdicely on February 23, 2007 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

Nice post, apishapa. I hate it when I write something that really explains a problem based on personal experience, and all the other posts ignore it, talking Democratic ideology around me.

Wish Kevin could set this up so that we could reply more directly.

and wish more people would listen to the actual complaints, and think independently about how to fix them, instead of spouting theoretical dogma that serves as an excuse to do nothing.

Posted by: catherineD on February 23, 2007 at 5:04 PM | PERMALINK

What needs to be considered first is whether the charges are true that:
1) The main problem with education is that bad teachers are not fired quickly or often enough, and
2) The main reason such teachers are not fired quickly or often enough is because the binding rules governing when they can be fired are too restrictive.

The real problem with that question is: There are 50 seperate state education systems, each that might have a different answer.

To make it more complex, there are some 3000+ independent school districts -- who are highly independent from state and federal "oversight" on those issues.

In short, there are thousands of answers to those questions -- often contradictory.

Posted by: Morat20 on February 23, 2007 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

It seems to me one fundamental problem is this:

Almost everyone says they want more accountability in the school system.

Almost everyone says they want less (as a proportion of spending) administration in the school system.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 23, 2007 at 5:05 PM | PERMALINK

Identified objective performance metrics based on established goals and milestones are really all you would have. The issues usually revolve around obsture subjective reasoning that always comes back to bite you when dealing with unions, But CBA's usually always have some form of clause that states that employees will be responsible for compliance with all policies and procedures. If management has a fairly good system they manage by - say, starategic planning or Management by Objectives, It's fairly easy to chase out fairly dependable performance goals and metrics. That's a start. Get rid of the subjectivity and base decisions on sound objective requirements, it' than pretty hard to get around. You also need good comprehensive set of policies and procedures. Now you can let the requirements and metrics handle the problems. Either they meet them or they don't.

Posted by: DA on February 23, 2007 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

> What needs to be considered first is whether the
> charges are true that:
> 1) The main problem with education is that

Of course, no one ever mentions the question of whether or not the overall power structure of our society is quite happy with the structure and results of US public education. Kids in the elite private schools have resources and do work that my classmates and I at an elite _university_ didn't see until junior year, so I imagine they will do quite well in the "knowledge worker" world. The products of public schools, not so much, but perhaps that is an intended outcome?

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 23, 2007 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK
The real problem with that question is: There are 50 seperate state education systems, each that might have a different answer.

Well, sure, but if you are proposing a solution on one level of analysis, its your obligation to provide a reason to believe that its the one on which the problem exists and is most appropriately addressed.

So, the questions remain appropriate, I would argue, at any level at which the solution of looser standards for firing teachers is recommended, and ought to be answered at that level before moving on to questions about fine-tuning the shape of an easier-firing proposal.

In short, there are thousands of answers to those questions -- often contradictory.

Perhaps there are, perhaps there aren't. Just because there are lots of different systems doesn't mean there are any where that is really the problem.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 23, 2007 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

> It's fairly easy to chase out fairly dependable
> performance goals and metrics. That's a start. Get
> rid of the subjectivity and base decisions on
> sound objective requirements, it' than pretty hard
> to get around.

DA,
Waitin' to hear your proposed metrics that will handle my 4:46 case study (that is not a scenario; it happens every year in our district).

And I have to say it seems fairly clear that you have never worked in a K-5 classroom or with groups of young "learners" in general.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 23, 2007 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely @ 5:00 p.m.

For once, I am in complete agreement.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on February 23, 2007 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

To expand on my last point: Education is, more than anything else in government, done almost purely at the local level.

The various states issue standards and sometimes select texts, but hiring, firing, contracts with teachers unions, etc are done purely by local school boards.

In fact, local school boards are probably the most powerful political office one can have at the local level -- state and federal "Education" departments are pretty much illusions.

There are thousands of public school districts -- yet those bashing unions, or public schools, like to pretend one shitty school district is somehow emblematic of all of them. Of all the things government does, public education is far and away the one that cannot be generalized like that.

They're simply not centralized. Not by state, and certainly not on the federal level.

Posted by: Morat20 on February 23, 2007 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK
If management has a fairly good system they manage by - say, starategic planning or Management by Objectives, It's fairly easy to chase out fairly dependable performance goals and metrics.

Er, no. Its fairly easy in any such system to derive easily measured performance goals and objectives, since that's a major focus of what they exist to enable. That's not at all the same as "dependable" performance goals and objectives, though for some reason plenty of people confuse the degree to which something is easily measurable with the degree to which it is meaningful.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 23, 2007 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

Morat20:

"As for benefits? Jesus -- they're awful, at least in Texas. The health-care is defintely sub-standard, the retirement is iffy (and what really sucks is you lose SS benefits as a teacher)."

Teachers don't receive SS benefits in places where they have chosen to stay out of the system which means they don't pay into SS either.

Posted by: James B. Shearer on February 23, 2007 at 5:22 PM | PERMALINK

Technical competence may not be the most significant factor. In the new information age, the knowledge is always available one way or another. Enthusiasm, difficult to maintain in a society that prides itself on its ignorance, is essential. Respectability, not friendliness, evinced by professional demeanor is essential; clear boundaries must be maintained. Empathy and social skills appealing to the age group being taught are essential. Consistency and fairness. A sense of humor. Teachers arent auto mechanics; they are parental substitutes. No wonder home-schooled kids do so well.

Posted by: Michael7843853 G-O in 08! on February 23, 2007 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

Mr. Shearer says he doesn't think teaching is that hard. I wonder how much experience he has teaching teaching K-8 kids. The job looks pretty difficult to me, and the working conditions far from attractive. For the right people job satisfaction makes up for some of that, but it can't make it easy.

Posted by: just sayin on February 23, 2007 at 5:27 PM | PERMALINK

Will Allen said:

"Ballplayers, however, are among the most rationally rewarded people we have in our economy. When millions and millions of people are willing to watch you do something, you are quite plainly worth spending millions and millions of dollars on."

Like Alex Rodriguez?


Posted by: gab on February 23, 2007 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

Morat20:

"As for benefits? Jesus -- they're awful, at least in Texas. The health-care is defintely sub-standard, the retirement is iffy (and what really sucks is you lose SS benefits as a teacher)."

Teachers don't receive SS benefits in places where they have chosen to stay out of the system which means they don't pay into SS either.

Yeah, I know. I wasn't particularly clear on it, and sadly the Texas Teacher Pension thing is mandatory -- and I wouldn't trust it to be there when I retire. It's run by serious morons -- and last I checked was raided more often than Social Security -- at least the SSA has actual T-bills.

Posted by: Morat20 on February 23, 2007 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

I can't believe all the drivel I have read on this site about "no one knows who the good/bad teachers are"... "how can we fairly evaluate teachers"...

All of this is baloney. The truth is that at any school, everyone (that includes kids, parents, principals, other teachers ) knows who the excellent teachers are and who the bad teachers are. The other ones probably are harder to rank. When we are only talking about firing the bad ones - or giving merit raises to the exceptional it is really easy. This is what the principal's job is.

This is a great problem for public education. Those of you who are content with the status quo or unfireable bad teachers, just know that you are the ones bringing down public education. The public will only stand for unaccountability for so long.

Keep supporting the current positions of the union and vouchers will happen.

Posted by: John Hansen on February 23, 2007 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

At the end of each marking period, students could submit evaluations of their teachers.

Peer review is also better than Principal observation (s).

Parents could email comments to Principals in a structured format.

At the end of a year, all of the above could be folded into the annual evaluation.

This wouldn't solve anything, but giving teachers feedback is always a good idea (even to ones who've been teaching for decades! and have tenure).

I's not about firing the bad eggs, but letting them know that their performance counts, that they are accountable for improving instruction as needed.

((-Once upon a time I was a second grade teacher, and got great feedback from parents ("thanks for giving my child a private school education"). But administrators thought otherwise. I still "teach" but at the salary of a teaching assistant.))

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on February 23, 2007 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

> The truth is that at any school, everyone
> (that includes kids, parents, principals,
> other teachers ) knows who the excellent
> teachers are and who the bad teachers are.

There is some truth to that, although in fairness you seem to be implying that the bad ones are never eased out which is not true in my experience (it is always true in Radical Right talking points of course).

However, I can say that at our primary school the most beloved 4th grade teacher, the one every child and parent requests, the one who has one several awards voted by students and parents - is actually not very good at _teaching_. At least according to the TAs who are in and out of all the classrooms every day.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 23, 2007 at 5:36 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin says:

"..it's certainly true that private sector managers have a lot more freedom than public school principals when it comes to hiring and firing decisions..."

So, answer this question, why should public school teachers be harder to fire than private school teachers?

When Kevin answers this, then he will know why socialized health insurance is so dangerous.

Posted by: Matt on February 23, 2007 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Cranky Observer:

"What I _have_ noted is that every single business publication and organization in the United States has been consistently beating the drum since 1995 that enormous pay differentials - on the order of 66,667:1 - are required to "draw out" the best CEO talent. This isn't just the somewhat looney WSJ Editoral Page; it is every business publication out there (except Warren Buffet's)."

First, they may be in the minority, but there have been plenty of articles in the business press questioning executive salaries. Second I think corporate executives are overpaid but I don't think this is a convincing argument for overpaying teachers.

Cranky Observer:

"So what I AM asking for is a coherent explanation of why the differential draw out theory applies to some classes of employees, but not to K-8 teachers. Be specific and complete; show your work."

Higher pay is justified when the gain from higher employee quality exceeds the cost in higher payrolls. In some jobs, like writing software, better employees have a big return in output. I doubt teaching is such a job once you exceed a minimal level of quality. Note for example extremely intelligent teachers may find it harder to communicate with dumb children than teachers of average intelligence. Is one teacher paid 2*x going to do a better job than 2 teachers paid x (for x near current salary levels)? I doubt it.

Posted by: James B. Shearer on February 23, 2007 at 5:45 PM | PERMALINK

One study evaluated all second graders and their teachers at one school and then followed the kids for three more years. The biggest difference between good 5th grade students and bad was the quality of their second-grade teachers.

In general the biggest determinants of student quality are teacher quality, parent education, and parent involvement.

Cranky, I agree that teachers are paid low compared with their value to society and the difficulty of their job and that CEOs are paid more than their value would indicate. My point was it is odd for any person to say their job would be done better if someone better filled it. Or maybe they're talking about all those other teachers and not themselves.

Posted by: anandine on February 23, 2007 at 5:50 PM | PERMALINK

Who grades the principals?

There is considerable literature showing that the private sector does not do a very good job of hiring, promoting, or firing.

I'd bet that schools don't do much worse than the private sector, all considered.

Posted by: mcDruid on February 23, 2007 at 5:53 PM | PERMALINK
The truth is that at any school, everyone (that includes kids, parents, principals, other teachers ) knows who the excellent teachers are and who the bad teachers are.

Strange, at most of the schools I've been either a student or substitute teacher at, everyone has had opinions on those topics, but very often the opinions had rather substantial variations from person to person.

"Everyone" clearly did not know.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 23, 2007 at 5:54 PM | PERMALINK

just saying, I think teaching is not that hard in that there are a lot more people who could do an adequate job than the number of teachers needed. Which means you don't have to pay a lot to get adequate teachers. It does not mean I could do a good or even adequate job myself. However home schooled kids seem to do as well as kids in public schools which supports my position that teaching kids is not that hard. Note you don't see too many parents try to take their kid's appendix out themselves.

Posted by: James B. Shearer on February 23, 2007 at 5:55 PM | PERMALINK

> My point was it is odd for any person to say their
> job would be done better if someone better filled
> it. Or maybe they're talking about all those
> other teachers and not themselves.

Or they are anticipating that there is only so much abuse they can take at low pay, and that at some point they will give up and head to the private sector (not in education). That is what happened to most of my collge classmates who went straight into teaching (admittedly that was some time ago ;-( and conditions have improved since then in almost all suburban districts).

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 23, 2007 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK
just saying, I think teaching is not that hard in that there are a lot more people who could do an adequate job than the number of teachers needed.

Fine. You think that.

OTOH, I see actual real school districts having students suffer through long stretches without a permanent teacher, because they are unable to attract anyone meeting the minimum qualifications to fill vacancies.

To me, that trumps your apparently entirely baseless opinion.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 23, 2007 at 6:01 PM | PERMALINK

just saying, I think teaching is not that hard in that there are a lot more people who could do an adequate job than the number of teachers needed. Which means you don't have to pay a lot to get adequate teachers. It does not mean I could do a good or even adequate job myself. However home schooled kids seem to do as well as kids in public schools which supports my position that teaching kids is not that hard. Note you don't see too many parents try to take their kid's appendix out themselves.

Teaching one or two children who carry one's genetic legacy is rather different than teaching a classroom of children to whom one is not related.

Posted by: dob on February 23, 2007 at 6:06 PM | PERMALINK

Of course there are incompetent teachers and there are many ways to determine who they are.

And the point of this thread is, or was, to discuss what those are. The rest of your comment is devoted to carefully setting up, and knocking down, strawmen. I suppose it's good exercise for you, but it doesn't really advance the debate.

Posted by: dob on February 23, 2007 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

I advise families relocating to our area all the time and school questions are frequent.
Lots of great comments but the key is in hiring the right principals first-- great teachers won't work for average/bad principals-- and the principal's need to be out of there office and in the classrooms. Great principals know their teachers, defend them from witchy parents, and demand accountability, from students, teachers and parents and set high standards- creating a great place to work.

Difficulties teachers face are well documented, unprepared students, difficult parents, long hours, low pay et al... More pay would help, but better leadership is even more important. Most teachers never entered teaching for the money, most came wanting to make the world a better place.

Posted by: Terry McDonald on February 23, 2007 at 6:11 PM | PERMALINK

The kids do know what goes on in the classroom, even if they do not evaluate it as one might like. I suggested to our local teacher's union recently that one of the best measures of teachers they could get was an involved essay or, better yet, significant interview, from a student of the teacher's choosing. They would use this time to question the student on the qualities that made that teacher excellent. This lets the teacher put their best foot forward, but also requires them to be doing something worthy of merit for the student to talk on. It would be really nice to let go the 3 or 4 teachers around our school for which "I know I can pass because, while he doesn't teach, he doen't really require me to know anythign either." was the best that could be said about them.

Of course, as a math teacher, I am always amused by all these considerations about how to get rid of the bad teachers and pretend that there are teachers just beating down the door because it is so easy to teach. Most school districts in my state have a very very difficult time filling mathematics vacancies with even mildly competent individual to teach math. It is unrewarding both financially and personally for most. The fact that I feel called to do so is the only reason I deal with a job that is easily harder than anything else I could be doing with my degrees and pays worse. Which is really my way of saying that Shearer has no idea what he is talking about and it was nice of anandine to finally realize what should be obivious: "Yes, we are often talking about other teachers much of the time. It sucks to teach mathematics to a class of kids after they spent a year with the boob down the hall who only still has his job because hiring a math teacher is fantastically difficult. It would be nice to work in a professional environment. You know, the kind where people are reasonably compensated for the work they do."

Posted by: socratic_me on February 23, 2007 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK

RAM said it: A better measure, which is becoming more commonly used lately, is to compare a class with itself. In other words, if last year's third graders scored at grade level, are they doing the same this year as fourth graders? If they are, teachers are doing a good job. If they're scoring higher than fourth grade level, teachers are doing a great job. If they're scoring lower, something needs to be done.

Posted by: spider on February 23, 2007 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

Personally I don't think teaching is all that hard so it is a waste of resources to have extremely talented people teaching. However it would be beneficial to be able to remove extremely bad or dangerous teachers without requiring extraordinary effort.
Posted by: James B. Shearer

Wow, that pretty much says all I need to know about your arguments: complete waste of bandwidth. At least you're not wasting paper on them too.

Posted by: cyntax on February 23, 2007 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

I haven't been able to read all comments, but it's interesting to see the misconceptions that many people have about teaching. I was one of those people just two years ago when I was getting paid double what I get paid now to be a marketing manager.

Whoever said that teaching is not that hard, or that it's a job for people who can't find anything better to do, is so desperately deluded. I challenge anyone to walk around in a teacher's shoes for a month and still think that it's an easy job. Any teacher who thinks their job is easy is probably a bad teacher.

Oh, and I'd guess that teachers are clamoring for the few positions available in Westchester not only for the pay (which may indeed be higher than neighboring districts) but also for the quality of the students. Better prepared students from financially stable homes tend to be easier to teach. The parents may be more demanding, but at least you wouldn't be staying after school everyday tutoring 6th graders (for free) who still can't multiply or divide.

Posted by: koneko on February 23, 2007 at 7:14 PM | PERMALINK
...in many parts of the country…James B. Shearer at 2:57 PM
Teacher salaries per state Clicking though links to cbsalary.com, Scarsdale pays elementary teachers from 40 to 51K with the average being 45k. You're full of it, chum. Posted by: Mike on February 23, 2007 at 7:18 PM | PERMALINK

If we can't fire bad pundits, why should we fire bad teachers?

Posted by: AnotherBruceb on February 23, 2007 at 7:21 PM | PERMALINK

Cranky Observer on February 23, 2007 at 4:46 PM

That's why you have to rate teachers according to the year on year improvement of their students.

A "bad" teacher wouldn't be a teacher who had occasional bad students, but one whose students consistently, year after year, ranked lower at the end of the year than at the start. Also, although consistently bad teachers should be fired, for teachers who were identified as "bad" by these statistical measures of low student improvement, firing would not be the first option.

The discussion has been very wide-ranging. Firing bad teachers isn't the only improvement that should be worked on. In my experience with my children in public schools, bad teachers were identified by the parents who were involved in PTA, and the bad teachers were simply re-assigned to schools where the parents were less active. The idea that it's hard to identify the bad teachers just isn't true. It's hard to know the difference between those who are slightly above average and those who are slightly below average, but most parents and teachers know who the bad teachers are.

Posted by: spider on February 23, 2007 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

My recent experience with the public school system, we have four kids 5th through 12th, is that it is not much different than any other group of people; a few really good, a few not so good, but most do their jobs. There does not appear to me to be any crisis caused by bad teachers warranting a radical change, such as eliminating the union or tenure.

As in any system, public or private, the key to maintaining a good organization is competent leaders. Trying to devise a "system" to take the place of competent management will always fail. Where I live, school boards, elected by the people, run the school system. They are top management; they determine the quality of education in their district.

As has already been discussed, the school systems are run locally, so the local community gets the school system it wants. The system works. I happen to live in a community where education is highly valued, we have a good school system. Global refers to a community that does not put a large value on education, they have a poor school system.

The union has nothing to do with it. Pay does not have much to do with it. The strongest factor correlated with high test scores is family income. Student performance starts at home.

Posted by: TT on February 23, 2007 at 7:27 PM | PERMALINK

Okay, so, the accountability thing. Right. I think standardized tests have a severely unfair rap, (e.g. Kevin's somewhat dismissive "problematic even on a long term basis"). So for both of the people who might be interested, I'm going to launch into:

A Defense of Standardized Tests in Teacher Evaluations
(a long, boring tract that teachers might find frustrating, which makes me nervous about posting it because I really do think that most teachers fall somewhere on the spectrum between noble and outright heroic)


Any decent system of professional evaluation needs to be based on some combination of objective, impersonal criteria (e.g. how many widgets your group made last month) and subjective, personal ones (e.g. reviews from peers, subordinates, and bosses). Take away the impersonal ones and all you've got is a popularity contest, with no data that, say, a VP three rungs up could review before he/she signed off on the evaluation; take away the personal ones and you'll pass over some extremely skilled/talented people who made the best of tough situations.

I don't think there's anything controversial here so far (right?).

Okay, so here's the thing: when it comes to teacher evaluations, standardized testing provides the only objective criterion that has meaning outside a teacher's home school (since grading systems vary). Which is to say the only objective criteria at all as far as the general public, not to mention the school board, is concerned. Teachers may loathe standardized tests and see them as an inordinate burden and a drain of resources away from legitimate teaching, but they are the only objective measurement we on the outside have for what's going on in a school. Even the staunchest union rep would have to concede that the public at large has some right to objective information about what's happening there.

Now, admittedly, bad information is worse than no information at all, and most critics of standardized testing for teacher evaluations basically argue that when it comes to teacher evaluations (at least), standardized tests provide very bad information. In my experience these criticisms tend to be some form of one of two broad arguments:

A. "Standardized testing narrows our educational focus to a few (or in some cases just two) subjects," and

B. "Standardized testing in any form is bound to be a poor measure of teacher performance."

My response to argument A is that it misses the point so egregiously as to get it exactly backwards. The justification for narrowing our focus basically runs like this:

In any district where children are entering (and possibly even leaving) high school without basic reading and math skills, it's worth jettisoning whatever we have to, everything else if necessary, to ensure that those two skill sets are learned, because virtually all other learning depends on them.

I’ll stand by that logic pretty staunchly; reading is fundamental, and so is math.

(Occasionally, opponents of standardized tests will trumpet extreme cases of absurdly gifted painters/musicians/dancers, etc. who fail both reading and math and thus face terrible psychic strain as a result of our focus on these subjects, and yes those stories are very compelling, but I think almost all of us can agree that these are not really the students we need to worry about first. In most cases they find their own way. Meanwhile, everyone else still needs to be able to read and do math.)

Type B criticisms are a bit trickier. The two critiques I hear most often along these lines are 1) that standardized tests can only measure a specific skill set that is not the same as the one we want to teach our kids, and 2) that even if/when standardized tests are testing the right thing, they don't tell you much about the performance of a given teacher because of confounding factors like the talent and earlier preparation of his or her students.

The truth is that these are both technical concerns, and eminently surmountable ones at that.

Pretty much anything can be tested. I know that standardized testing is one of those opaque fields where it seems like the people who write the tests could just be making it up as they go, but really, they're not. And yes, there is an extent to which test-taking is a skill in and of itself, but regardless of all this it turns out that as long as a state can agree to an explicit, well-articulated set of standards, they can get a test whose results correlate almost perfectly with much more complex measurements of student's proficiency in those standards (like, say, the ability to read and summarize a book).

In other words, it's not all that hard to get a test that really does measure what we want it to.

(Okay, one caveat: some state tests don't fit this bill, either because the standard/alignment part isn't there or because the tests they order only provide accurate data for the grade/school level, but that's just a matter of costs, and not particularly significant costs at that. The difference between a cheap test and an expensive one is a blip in a state's education budget.)

Issue #2 is an even more technical one, and even easier to deal with. SEVERE WONK MODE WARNING If you institute a longitudinal data structure, i.e. track scores for every student individually, you can then create a metric that takes into account the individual progress of each of a teacher’s students over the course of the time they have been with that teacher. The metric can easily be designed so that, for example, a teacher gets more credit for helping a student who was behind at the start of the year than for helping one who was already ahead. Or not. But whatever your priorities are, you can easily encode them in a performance metric. That may sound complex, but really it's not rocket science, or even bicycle science for that matter. Meanwhile, basic statistical variance can easily be accounted for in several ways, e.g. aggregating over a set number of years, and/or allowing teachers to petition for specific scores to be discounted (in cases of serious illness, say). WONK MODE OFF

Etc. ad ad nauseam. My point here is that standardized testing, done properly, can provide some incredibly valuable information for teacher evaluations that pretty much can't be gotten any other way. If you accept the validity of standardized testing to that end, then teacher evaluation suddenly becomes much more plausible, if we have the desire and the political will.

(Repeating what I said at the start: obviously, there are other methods of accountability (classroom visits, student/peer evaluations, etc.) that are much more personal, and any decent evaluation system would be based on some combination of personal and objective evaluations...pretty standard stuff.)

Posted by: Adam on February 23, 2007 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK
If you institute a longitudinal data structure, i.e. track scores for every student individually, you can then create a metric that takes into account the individual progress of each of a teacher’s students over the course of the time they have been with that teacher.

Which, actually, illustrates the problem; a good teacher is not defined solely by the performance gains students make in the time they study under the teacher.

The metric can easily be designed so that, for example, a teacher gets more credit for helping a student who was behind at the start of the year than for helping one who was already ahead. Or not. But whatever your priorities are, you can easily encode them in a performance metric.

Provided, of course, that your priorities are, in fact, for something that manifests immediately, or at least has a close correlate that manifests immediately, and is (or its correlate is) easily measurable.

Of course, effectiveness in providing lessons that "stick with" students in the long-term may not meet the first qualification, and lots of real-but-fuzzy priorities that people have may not have any universally agreeable, easily quantifiable operationalization, and thus fail the second.

Of course, even if you can construct a metric for it doesn't mean that the metric is meaningful as a performance measure unless you can eliminate outside sources of influence on the results when considering students of one teacher vs. those of another. If assignment of students is strictly random from a common pool, this may not be as much of a problem, but in practice there will be lots of cases where such assignment is impractical.

Meanwhile, basic statistical variance can easily be accounted for in several ways, e.g. aggregating over a set number of years, and/or allowing teachers to petition for specific scores to be discounted (in cases of serious illness, say).

None of which addresses systematic imbalances, which may or may not be easily identified (they are easy enough to identify statistically once someone comes up with the right hypothesis to test, but until someone thinks of the possible contribution and tests it, may be completely opaque.)

Posted by: cmdicely on February 23, 2007 at 7:55 PM | PERMALINK

Etc. ad ad nauseam. My point here is that standardized testing, done properly, can provide some incredibly valuable information for teacher evaluations that pretty much can't be gotten any other way. If you accept the validity of standardized testing to that end, then teacher evaluation suddenly becomes much more plausible, if we have the desire and the political will.
Posted by: Adam

Standardized testing will only really tell you about the teacher's knowledge base. And while that isn't trivial, that's only part of what makes a good teacher. How do you measure through standardized testing a teacher's ability to empathize and connect with a student? How do you measure their creativity in coming up with new ways to reach a troubled student?

Say you have a number of inner city kids who think literacy is something for uptight, middle class, white people, but that it doesn't have a place in their world. So you start by taking lyrics from some of Tupac's songs and start doing line scansion and exploring the rhyme and meter of the lyrics with them. Then you expose them to some of Bob Dylan's lyrics (say from Highway 61 Revisted), and drawing on the fast paced interplay of words and rhyme schemes he used, you draw parallels between Dylan (who is new to them) and Tupac (who is familiar to them). Maybe at this point, you as a teacher feel (and a lot of teaching is intuitive) that they're engaged and intereseted enough to start talking about the use of metaphor by Tupac and Dylan. After they're comfortable with the concept of metaphor maybe they're ready to read some of John Donne's poetry. Maybe they'll be interested by his sharp intellect and the way he could move from a meditation of the microscopic and expand out to an entreaty about romantic love. Or maybe you rush part of that and the whole thing falls apart, but you learned something, and next semester you start over, but with a little more wisdom.

There's a lot of nuance and inter-personal skill in being a good teacher. As a really good teacher once told me: you don't have to like all your students, but you do have to love them all.

Now if you've got a standardized test for that well, let's get it up and running.

Posted by: cyntax on February 23, 2007 at 8:27 PM | PERMALINK

cmdicely:

"OTOH, I see actual real school districts having students suffer through long stretches without a permanent teacher, because they are unable to attract anyone meeting the minimum qualifications to fill vacancies."

Sure there are some undesirable districts (and/or schools) which have trouble attracting enough qualified teachers. How does that contradict anything I have said? I am not claiming that all teachers are overpaid.

Posted by: James B. Shearer on February 23, 2007 at 8:47 PM | PERMALINK

Why is education the only industry that does not hold management responsible for bad hires? In most districts it takes three or four years to get tenure. So when will we all come to the realization that management had years and years to dismiss a teacher before they got tenure.

Why blame unions for what is essentially a management problem?

What to do about sub-par teachers who already have tenure is a different question.

Posted by: Victor on February 23, 2007 at 8:58 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, the contempt for the craft of K-8 teaching just drips from the postings here by the "test 'em and fire 'em, then privatize" bunch. Which might be a clue to why it is so difficult to find good teachers these days.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 23, 2007 at 9:03 PM | PERMALINK

Mike, see here for the real story about Scardale teacher salaries. In 2003-2004 the 5%, 25%, 50%, 75% and 95% salary levels were 60k, 78k, 98k, 109k and 117k.

Posted by: James B. Shearer on February 23, 2007 at 9:10 PM | PERMALINK

Cmdicely@7:55 :

I certainly agree that performance gains during the relevant school year don’t define a good teacher, i.e. that a good teacher may lay groundwork for future improvement that isn’t immediately detectable. (Actually, as I reread that sentence I wonder how convinced I am, in that anything is “detectable” with the right instrument, but I’ll grant the point for the moment). Likewise, I understand your point about some “real-but-fuzzy” priorities being important but hard to measure. But I would be very suspicious of any definition of “effective” teaching that doesn’t include increasing student performance by the end of a school year, and I suspect most people would agree with me. It’s not like we’d be asking for weekly progress reports; just some sort of measurable progress within a year. I’ll readily admit that standardized testing won’t capture everything of significance (I already have), but I still think that it provides fundamental information that you can’t get any other way.

As for your comments about meaningfulness, outside influence, systematic imbalances, etc., I have to admit you lost me there. I mean, most of what you said is true of any numeric measure of anything, but we use them anyway and trust in our ability to discover the systematic problems over time. My point was that any known concerns could be easily dealt with. The “unknown unknowns” will remain troublesome, as with all areas of life, but that doesn’t mean we should just give up. (right?)


Cyntax @ 8:27

As I said, we’d need multiple types of evaluation to incorporate different types of skills, but I would still argue that the information gained from standardized tests is invaluable, and unobtainable any other way. (NB I meant tests given to the students, so the scores would measure the changes in the students’ performance over the course of the year rather than a teacher’s knowledge base).

Posted by: Adam on February 23, 2007 at 9:13 PM | PERMALINK

Adam,
Out of curiosity, how many years do you have in the classroom? What grades have you taught? What is the social/economic breakdown of your incoming students? What were your test score and NCLB evaluation results? How did those correspond to your job evaluations from the principal?

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 23, 2007 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK

Can I get a voucher for all of my tax dollars that have been pissed into the sands of Iraq?

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on February 23, 2007 at 9:29 PM | PERMALINK

As I said, we’d need multiple types of evaluation to incorporate different types of skills, but I would still argue that the information gained from standardized tests is invaluable, and unobtainable any other way. (NB I meant tests given to the students, so the scores would measure the changes in the students’ performance over the course of the year rather than a teacher’s knowledge base).
Posted by: Adam

Well, testing the students will give you some idea of how the teachers are doing, but then the question becomes one of how to roll up the data.

One year's worth of a class's performance would tell you something about the current teacher, something about the students, something about the funding of the school, something about all the previous teachers those students have had, something about the curriculum used that year, something about the students' home lives, their parents/guardians, how much TV the students watch, etc. How do you control for all those inputs and isolate for results only relevant to the current teacher?

All of which isn't to say that testing isn't a good idea but then there's the largest drawback of this sort of testing which is: what if the teachers simply teach to the test?

Testing used to measure complicated meta-cognitive processes like reading comprehension of students are possible and are being used. But even when these tests are "simply" used to theorize about the students taking them, there is a very diverse set of opinions about what the results mean. To take tests of such nature and use them to draw conclusions about the students' instructors might not be pointless but it would certainly be hard to reach a consensus. And using them for job evaluation... I'm pretty skeptical.

Posted by: cyntax on February 23, 2007 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

And let me say that the Amercanist had a very simple and effective suggestion at the top of the thread: class size matters.

But that idea of a tax voucher for Iraq is pretty appealing too...

Posted by: cyntax on February 23, 2007 at 9:40 PM | PERMALINK

"Personally I don't think teaching is all that hard . . ."

Oh, fuck off.

Posted by: Dan S. on February 23, 2007 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

Cranky @ 9:19:

C'mon, seriously? Are you really going there?


I have never set foot in a courtroom, but I have a decent idea of how to evaluate a lawyer's performance if I need to, at least from a lay perspective.

I have never attended medical school, but I have a decent idea of how to evaluate a doctor's performance if I need to, at least from a lay perspective.

Heck, I've never been to Fermilabs, but I have a decent idea of how to size up a physicist, at least from a lay perspective.


Are you seriously implying teaching is in a league beyond these and basically every other profession? Totally unjudgeable by outsiders? Seriously?

Posted by: Adam on February 23, 2007 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

A long time ago I used to be one of the bad teachers. I got out of it because I hated grading homework. The wife is a very good teacher who still gets presents on special occasions from students she had years ago.

I'm also a would-be politician who has been trying to convince the state legislature to increase the school year to 210 days and the school day to eight (8!) full hours.

My idea is to have teachers work four 10-hour days a week and to get one week day off based on seniority, so only very senior teachers would get three day week-ends.

The students would spend their extra two hours a day either in tutored study halls doing their homework or in physical education or sports. This plan isn't really that big a leap from the way things are done, but I do think more homework could get done and the fat kids will have to get up and moving for at least an hour a day.

I'd even pay for this with more taxes, as long as we also illegalize dropping-out. Only 75% of all kids finish high school in 12 years any more and that is disgraceful. A lot of the drop-outs end up going back and taking high school credits at junior college, but they are borrowing taxpayer guaranteed money to do it. To me, that is kind of a scam. They need the law to hold their nose to the wheel educationally while school is still free, which can be done with enforced truancy laws.

We have, in theory, truancy laws in many states, but those with any teeth punish the parents. Often this is a single mom who has enough problems. She can't make the kid who stays home for the day after she goes to work do anything. If she swats him with a stick she will be arrested. Society needs to come and arrest the darned law-around truant directly. Make them live in a tent and put them out 10 hours a day on a road crew or something until they get the idea that free public education shouldn't be blown off because you love the couch momma is providing and your joystick, once she has gone to work.

Posted by: mike cook on February 23, 2007 at 10:23 PM | PERMALINK

Whoops, meant lay-around truant. Just had one of those in our house last year, on juvenile probation out of Oregon.

Posted by: mike cook on February 23, 2007 at 10:25 PM | PERMALINK

> All of which isn't to say that testing
> isn't a good idea

I don't know what is going on in your school district, but our kids take at least 3 standardized tests per year (one mandated by the state, one mandated by the county, and one preferred by the school district), also take regular assessment tests (per district, state, and NCLB requirements) and are usually participating in at least one experimental testing program every year.

Are you seriously telling me that your districts aren't _already_ testing student performance?

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 23, 2007 at 10:33 PM | PERMALINK

Cyntax @ 9:35

One year's worth of a class's performance would tell you something about the current teacher, something about the students, something about the funding of the school, something about all the previous teachers those students have had, something about the curriculum used that year, something about the students' home lives, their parents/guardians, how much TV the students watch, etc. How do you control for all those inputs and isolate for results only relevant to the current teacher?

Think about this in the context of the performance of a salesperson's sales numbers: one year's worth of sales numbers would tell you something about the salesperson, something about the overall economy, something about the region's customers, something about the public perception of the product, something about the management of the sales staff, etc.

How do you control for this stuff? You don't. You allow for a certain level of variability and use the metric in concert with several other types of evaluation. But that doesn't make the metric useless, or even unnecessary, not by a long shot.


what if the teachers simply teach to the test?

Honestly, if the test is designed right I have no problem with that. If the test is designed right, and the teacher teaches to the test, and the students do well on the test, the students will have learned precisely the skills we were hoping they would.

Obviously that's a serious "if," but I have no doubt that the people are out there who can design the tests right. It is, however, up to states to choose the right people and clearly choose and articulate the standards they're looking for.


Testing used to measure complicated meta-cognitive processes like reading comprehension of students are possible and are being used. But even when these tests are "simply" used to theorize about the students taking them, there is a very diverse set of opinions about what the results mean. To take tests of such nature and use them to draw conclusions about the students' instructors might not be pointless but it would certainly be hard to reach a consensus. And using them for job evaluation... I'm pretty skeptical.

I'm not 100% sure what you mean here. I know I've seen tests of various levels of cognitive processes whose results aren't particularly fuzzy. I'm not a psychometrician so there may be a bit more debate than I'm aware of, but I've looked into it enough that I'd be surprised if there was a lot more debate.

People often treat standardized tests as if their questions are far removed from the cognitive tasks we'd ideally want to assess, but for the most part I think that's not true. Generally, if there's a skill you want to test, it's not THAT hard to write a multiple-choice question that isolates it (and I do know something of this firsthand).

Posted by: Adam on February 23, 2007 at 10:38 PM | PERMALINK

Cranky Observer

No I never worked K-5 but let me ask this question, can you give an example of something you would consider sub-standard that a teacher does or doesn't do that would classify them as a bad teach? Now apply any of the following

could this violate a set policy or procedure?
Could this be measured against a performance standard?

These are objective criteria. The point I was making was that most problems can be handled if you apply objectivity through either criteria

Posted by: DA on February 23, 2007 at 10:39 PM | PERMALINK

As has already been said by many people above, teachers get observed three times each year before tenure and then three times every other year. Even though that's a small amount, con jobs are difficult because the observation often centers on the relationship between the teacher and the students, and you can't fake that by teaching well three times during the year.

But above and beyond that, the bad teachers meme is a right wing talking point. Most teachers are not particularly good or bad, and there are a lot of actions that can improve schools that have nothing to do with vouchers or firings. They don't enter the political discussion because Buchanan/O'Rielly/Limbaugh/Hannity/Bennett would rather blame everything on unions than actually improve schools.

I'll have a diary on dailykos tomorrow about this. The federal government underfunds Title One (poor students) and IDEA (special education) by ten billion dollars per year each. That is why school districts never have enough money. Additionally, there are proven ideas on school structuring that are rarely used (look up Essential schools or read a book by Ted Sizer).

If the federal government paid schools as much as it promised to, schools would have enough money to properly pay and supervise teachers.

Posted by: reino on February 23, 2007 at 10:44 PM | PERMALINK

Adam:
Let's say that the goal of education is to encourage students to be productive citizens who are able to participate in our democracy, get out of bed at 8:00 every morning, avoid unnecessary violence, manage time wisely, communicate clearly, and complete tasks responsibly.

Please write a multiple-choice question or set of questions that will demonstrate that students have reached those goals.

Posted by: reino on February 23, 2007 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

Reino,

Heh, point taken.

I should have said "cognitive task" rather than skill. And obviously the goals you just laid out can't all be decomposed into a series of cognitive tasks. And, to be fair, I don't have a complete answer for that.

I may have a partial one, though: I think that education needs to have certain cognitive tasks counted among its fundamental goals. In fact, several of the goals you mentioned do have major cognitive components (e.g. managing time wisely often involves arithmetic, estimation, and probabilistic thinking). So again, I really don't mean to imply that you can test everything important about what a teacher does, just that testing, done right, can be an invaluable part of teacher evaluations.

Posted by: Adam on February 23, 2007 at 11:01 PM | PERMALINK

Why does anyone read anything the Kaus writes? I remember years ago, around 2000 when I'd read his stuff in Slate. Some good, some bad. But during the next few years I started disagreeing with everything he wrote. Until finally I realized he's an idiot.

Posted by: golden on February 23, 2007 at 11:07 PM | PERMALINK

Shearer:
Personally I don't think teaching is all that hard

Hahahahahahahahaha! What do you base this opinion on? Have you taught? I've slowly moved into teaching, changing careers. Teaching, good teaching, is extremely complex, with many more variables in a given day than most professions.

Unfortunately, the reasons teachers aren't given the respect and money they deserve is because of attitudes like yours.

I just wish that the people responsible for making decisions about teaching, and every parent of schoolchildren, would spend just one day doing it themselves. Let me know, I'd like to watch.

Posted by: fm on February 24, 2007 at 12:47 AM | PERMALINK

fm, if teaching is so hard why is it so easy to find data like this.

Posted by: James B. Shearer on February 24, 2007 at 1:10 AM | PERMALINK

James B. Shearer:

you keep comparing Westchester to the rest of the world. that's a BS comparison, and you know it. Sure, maybe teachers are overpaid in Westchester (if you calculate that by number of applications for every position) but then I would wager that Westchester has pretty good schools, right? they pay enough to, along with other quality of life issues, attract the talent they are looking for. Because the talent pool is deeper, it is less of a risk to terminate a marginal teacher. i would bet that just down the Parkway in the City, where there are classrooms manned by high school graduates because there aren't enough teachers to take the slots. if you have a marginal teacher there, you hang on to them, because the odds are good the replacement will be worse. Obviously, places without enough good teachers need to pay more money to attract better people. that sure seems to make sense.

by the way, I tought for three years in classrooms that would start riots in Westchester. middle to upper midde class suburban kids still have pretty good public schools for the most part. if you had dropped your fifth grader off in my first classroom in LA, where there were buckets to catch the el nino rains, no heat or AC, no windows to open and it looked like the old woodshop it was, you would never make the arguements you are.

Posted by: northzax on February 24, 2007 at 1:17 AM | PERMALINK

Your premise - that principals don't interact enough with teachers to know who's good and who's bad - is mistaken. Principals interact as much with their teachers as any manager does. Not only do they observe in classrooms, they also have regular meetings; hear complaints from kids, parents, and other teachers; deal with the discipline problems; and are, of necessity, aware of how children are progressing.

Public schools are public, so they start out with all the same problems that any business that performs government contracts has in dealing with personnel problems. They can't fire at will - they have to build files and document complaints and failures. On top of that, they have tenure to contend with.

Getting rid of tenure would certainly make it easier, but it would also create problems. Anyone who deals with other people's kids needs a little protection. Parents aren't subjective; most of them take a dislike to any teacher who makes their kids unhappy. Teachers need a layer of insulation from all that parental emotion.

Certainly there are bad teachers, and certainly we need a way of getting rid of them. Unfortunately, it's not a problem with an obvious solution.

And, oh, by the way, it's not the solution to 'fixing' public schools, either. But don't get me started on that...

Posted by: cmac on February 24, 2007 at 1:42 AM | PERMALINK

northzax, I cite Westchester teacher salaries because I live in Westchester. Westchester has good schools if you are using good as code for full of smart rich kids, otherwise I doubt they are anything special.

Posted by: James B. Shearer on February 24, 2007 at 1:43 AM | PERMALINK

I would like to thank all of you that have commented here (and Kevin for starting this). This is surely one of the most troll free threads ever on this blog.

What a great example of what blogs can be.

The fact is that I see this thread as an expression of how seriously we take our educational system and how concerned we are with the problems that are manifest. I judge that the comments are very heart felt & honest.

Very satisfying to say the least.

One person does stand out however for his apparent ignorance of reality & pig headedness (but at least, unlike many of the regular trolls here, he seems very honest in his ignorance). Mr. Shearer you need to broaden your horizons and realize that
you are really disconnected and uninformed about the wider world we all live in day to day. Time to leave the cocoon you inhabit both for your own good and ours.

Seriously.

Thanks again everyone !

It has been an enjoyable & educational few hours wading through the thread.

Best of luck to us all, and especially the students.

"There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth." - Richard Avedon

Posted by: daCascadian on February 24, 2007 at 2:52 AM | PERMALINK

At least in junior high and highs school the students all know who the good and bad teachers are (and which ones are tough bastards but good teachers vs. stupid push overs) and the department heads (not the principles) usually have relationships with the good students through which they can get this information.

For example, I was head of my high school math team and obviously knew the department head pretty well.

I got one of the math teachers into a fair bit of trouble (counselling and in class monitoring) by giving the department head a copy of a marked test from a kid I was tutoring that had "This is pathetic" written on an answer.

Frankly, the answer was pathetic, but given that this girl was voluntarily spending her lunch with me trying to improve her math skills she should have gotten something like "Needs substantial improvement."

Moreover, this complaint about difficulty monitoring people also applies to many people in business.

For example, today I manage project managers. Are they good or bad? How can I know? There's always a reason why any project is in trouble, and if I ask the PM it's almost never their fault (in fact, if the PM says it is his fault it probably means he's good enough and confident enoough to be open about his mistakes and to learn from them so I absolutely don't want to fire him!). The PMs I manage work in 3 different countries and I can't even communicate effectively with some of their customers.

Interestingly enough, I get the best feedback about them from the programmers who work for them.

Just like teachers and school...

Posted by: Mike Friedman on February 24, 2007 at 4:09 AM | PERMALINK

calvin is old enough to remember his father returning from Japan after having joined millions of others to make the world safe for capitalism. He quickly got a job teaching in an area high school. He coached three sports. And, he started an independent insurance agency. In the farm community he worked, the kids drove better cars than he could afford. My mother had taught throughout the war and continued to do so. Neither enjoyed the privilege of having a union.

Let me make it clear that my parents and grandparents were Republican to the core. I don't think that they thought Reagan was sufficiently conservative. My mother cried when Nixon died.

But, they were strong advocates of teachers' unions. Why? Because they had to deal with the idiot administrators' whims when they didn't have one. It protected them so that they could do their jobs. At the end of her career, my mother was a high school librarian. She fought bitter battles in her community against censorship. Try that without a strong union.

If any incompetents have been kept on the job, it's in the administrative ranks. The unions have shielded them from their abuses. Unions enable them to point to the union as the problem. Most of them are right wing nuts who will do anything to curry favor with their local GOPers. Why do you think intelligent design was in HS curricula? And, that's only the tip of the iceberg.

When you get perfect administrators, then I'm going to be willing to talk about who the bad teachers are.

Posted by: calvinthecat on February 24, 2007 at 7:16 AM | PERMALINK

I live in Texas, a state where teacher unions are not allowed, so the argument put forth about union busting rings hollow in my experience. Here is what I think...Educators need to be valued by society, not just through increased pay, but through developing support networks to help them in their continued professional growth.

Posted by: starbuck on February 24, 2007 at 7:48 AM | PERMALINK

One of the big fallacies here is that every state has a teacher's union.

I'm in Texas, where we do not have one.

I think it's easy to just blame the unions for everything, but I don't think hiring or firing is that much different here.

I think part of the issue is this--teachers work with students. Students who may be honest and hard working or on rare occasions, students who may be manipulating the system. So I believe some of the safeguards are there to create a fair system.

And you're right, that many principals do not have the time to observe their staff in action often enough. There are metrics, like documents that teachers can submit about their goals, sample lessons, etc. but of course the proof is in the actual teaching.

Principals and assistant principals are tasked with many management duties, discipline duties, public relations duties, cafeteria duty, bus duty, responsibility for 200 or 300 staff, etc, in a big high school, especially.
Consequently expecting them to serve all these functions and be instructional leaders is a challenge at best, simply because of the time involved in all of those things.

We pay assistant principals to do textbooks, bus duty, cafeteria duty, tardy patrol....we pay counselors to give standardized tests and shuffle schedule forms (instead of working with students who need counseling)...the poorest teachers are sometimes assigned to the neediest schools...

So there are a lot of issues involved in how positions are assigned at schools that contribute to this whole issue.

Last, I would like to point out that we don't ask that question about professors that our students have in college. Is their teaching even an issue to the public?

I do think what is needed is a better principal-ship program and a re-definition of a principal as instructional leader, and as assistant principals as instructional leaders. You can hire other staff to do those "duties."

When the principal is that kind of leader, I believe they are much more likely to work with teachers closely to help them make improvements, to observe classrooms, and to innovate and support their staff. Which is truly, what makes all the difference in a school.

Sometimes I think we just like to point the finger at the easiest target. Does HP point the finger at individual employees because business is bad or do they hire a new CEO?

Leadership is key. There are teachers needing improvement everywhere, but there are also many many excellent teachers. And with leadership at a campus, improvements and staff changes can be made as needed.


Posted by: CB on February 24, 2007 at 7:57 AM | PERMALINK

> One of the big fallacies here is that
> every state has a teacher's union.
>
> I'm in Texas, where we do not have one.
>
> I think it's easy to just blame the unions for
> everything, but I don't think hiring or firing is
> that much different here.

The other fallacy is that there is a high percentage of bad teachers floating around out there. Although this isn't just a fallacy: it is a Radical Right talking point that has been hammered inacessently for the last 20 years.

Personally I graduated from a death-spiraling urban core school district, and there were still plenty of good teachers who helped me get a great education. Admittedly that was a while ago and the urban cores are now so bad that no one except saints and fools is willing to work there. But you may also have noticed that urban cores no longer dominate the US. And that most of the suburban public school districts are doing fine, with plenty of average teachers and a reasonable supply of excellent ones.

Again, it is a Norquist/Limbaugh talking point that the majority of public school districts are shot through with bad teachers. Ask any suburban parent and they will tell you that here are bad teachers - in the next district. Their district is doing a great job.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 24, 2007 at 8:39 AM | PERMALINK

> No I never worked K-5 but let me
> ask this question

Then honestly you don't know what you are talking about. My son's 3rd grade class is a perfect example: had you visited when their teacher, Mr. B_____, was in the classroom, you would have seen a room full of sweet, well-behaved little children happily working away at a variety of skill-appropriate tasks, and learning both formal and informal lessons every day. Yet when my neighbor, who is a certified and experienced substitute, had them for 2 days she staggered out utterly whipped and told the principal she would never take that class full of monsters again. I doubt you would have done even that well.

Now I classify Mr. B_____ in the top 1% of teachers I have ever met (which is a lot), but that is the point: you could neither have evaluated the job he was doing nor replaced him.

Cranky

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 24, 2007 at 8:47 AM | PERMALINK

I've taught in classrooms, at the high school and k-12 levels, though I am not a professional, certified teacher. (I mention this, cuz folks like Dice tend to discount people who, yanno, KNOW what they're talking about. I've designed courses, tested and graded; I have dealt the education bureaucracy, and most importantly experienced the shocking revelation that 45 minutes is very different when you're the individual facing the group, instead of one of the group facing the individual: it's very presque vu.)

So I repeat my first post in its entirety: smaller schools.

Posted by: theAmericanist on February 24, 2007 at 9:24 AM | PERMALINK

...how do you decide who the bad teachers are?

Good question. Recall the recent situation in Kearny NJ, in which the teacher was caught Christian evangelizing on a tape made by one of his students. The teacher should have been fired, but, instead, the school established a regulation forbidding taping.

School principals, like burocrats everywhere--even in private industry--want to minimize their headaches. Determining who is a bad teacher is a headache. Talk about it all you want, but them's the facts.

Posted by: raj on February 24, 2007 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

Personally, I think just about everything everybody thinks about the public school system is wrong.

I have seven grown kids. They went through the supposedly terrible DC public schools, the supposedly superior Montgomery County, Maryland, schools and the truly superior Waldorf system and my great discovery is that there are damn few bad teachers. Most of them are the most dedicated and hard working group of professionals in America. Alas, if there is a perceived problem with the schools, which I don’t see, but some hystericals are eternally freaked out about, they are the first to get dumped on.

We have this goofy idea that among hundreds of thousands of teachers nationwide, we’ll fire a few tens of thousands of bad ones and then somehow come up with a few tens of thousands of good ones and the sun will finally shine.

I want to see someone answer this: what exactly is the national disaster that threatens us if our kids don’t do as well on math and science tests as the Malaysians? Year after year America wins more Nobel prizes in those subjects than the rest of the world combined. This is something to get hysterical about? Whatever produces science geniuses, its not the rigor of the public school curriculum.

Everyone knows, the teachers and the kids, that they are playing a dumb game. Get the grades; get into the right schools; get the money; get the high place in the pecking order. That motivates some kids, but all the rest, especially the more perceptive ones, see little reason to participate in the delusion that all of that means anything. Meanwhile the joy of discovery, of learning, gets short shrift, or no shrift.

Nothing but a complete makeover would ever get me back into our school system. In my next birth I think I’ll be born in Sumatra and dig latrines for the village—you know, do something that has some purpose and value to the community.

Posted by: James of DC on February 24, 2007 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

One problem not addressed on the comments [tho, I have not read every one] is the structure of the teaching profession which does not allow for any real advancement other than by moving into administration -- and out of teaching. This means that many of the most ambitious -- often, though not always, correlated with good -- teachers stop teaching. This contrasts with many other professions. As, say, engineers or lawyers move up the career ladder, they get progressively more responsibility. They take on more complicated tasks. Their jobs mature. The result is that, a 20-year engineer or lawyer is doing much more challenging and interesting work than their rookie counterparts. But, after 20 years, a teacher is doing exactly the same thing she did when she started. I think this contributes mightily to burnout and accounts for many good teachers leaving the field.

Posted by: mert7878 on February 24, 2007 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

Mickey Kaus is an ill-informed, union busting right wing hack. Why he is treated as a respectable human being by anyone is a matter of some mystery to me.

Look the American public schools do a pretty amazing job for the most part. Where problems exist, they can almost always be attributed to the social problems present in the families of the student body -- poverty, substance abuse, instability, violence, etc. We ask an almost impossible task of these teachers who deal daily with these problems.

Union contracts do not keep people from being fired. They prevent people from being fired without just cause. And why everyone thinks that principals are suddenly all competent, fair, unbiased and otherwise Solomonic is beyond me. Free them to fire whomever they wish and you will see people canned who do not suck up to them, don't subscribe to their world view, threaten them in some fashion, etc. This is not the path to educational nirvana. It's silly and mindless.

Posted by: Klein's tiny left nut on February 24, 2007 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Mert raises a good point, but it's not the one I think he/she/it/ tried to make.

America doesn't value HORIZONTAL ambition much, except through organized labor negotiating for accrued benefits.

Our paradigm is vertical ambition: if you're a good dishwasher, you should become a waiter, then a cook, then a chef, then you should open your own restaurant, and finally a chain so you can go public and become a corporate manager... who started as a dishwasher.

A good teacher is often simply a good teacher, which ain't small change. But administrators make more money: why is that? I know good teachers who took jobs out of the classroom to pay for their OWN kids schooling. Talk about your perverse incentives.

Sure, lots burn out after teaching one more class of the same 25 kids (they never get older, do they?), but that just highlights why education (like healthcare) is NOT really a business, and can't be measured in the same way.

A good school system will look out for a good teacher who is burning out, and offer 'em a different grade level, or a sabbatical, or something, anything, to re-charge and keep the invaluable investment they've made in a good teacher. (It'd be an interesting comparison to see what, if any other professions that pay a comparable amount provide similar mid-career options to renew a workforce.)

But the fact is, a good teacher isn't PAID enough by any comparable standard outside of education to make it economically worthwhile to stay in the profession, even within education itself. Any experienced teacher knows for a fact that they've taught kids who would otherwise have had a much more difficult time making a living, for character as well as intellectual reasons, who now make more money than they do.

LOL -- hell, every teacher's lounge has heard the conversation: "I cannot believe that little shit it making $100k while I'm still..."

The classic advice for an unruly kid (or class) is "increase your proximity". Assign a troublemaker a front row seat. Stand next to a kid who is having trouble concentrating. Call on a kid who isn't paying attention.

We don't apply those lessons to whole schools, or school systems, though: do we?

For all of Bush's sins, the GOAL of No Child Left Behind makes sense: we should find ways to measure what our schools achieve, and hold 'em accountable.

But we put so much baggage onto teachers, who have to do everything from sex (excuse me, abstinence) education to crime awareness to DARE to first amendment absolutism, that we bury their real mission: reading, writing, arithmetic and civics, under the weight of all kinds of stuff that society has to do far more than the schools can.

It's still the simplest and most effective answer: Ya want better schools? Make more smaller.

Posted by: theAmericanist on February 24, 2007 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

OK, end of a long comment thread.
But let me float a radical proposal:
Do K through 8 the way the waldorf Schools do: One teacher for the entire duration. Entry to graduation.
One of the problems with evaluating teachers is that their influence is so fragmented. 9 months of damage or 9 months of inspiration and whooops! that's it.
I think the whole assembly-line process needs to be rethought.
Part of the reason bad teachers can get away with it is that they can move on to another group so quickly--and part of the reason they may become bad teachers is that they're alienated from their work.
Would teachers be quite so cruel and abusive if they knew they'd still be looking at that same face 7 years later? And would parents care more about their teachers if it wasn't a 180 day relationship?
It would also make more sense to take a child from counting duckies through algebra--or see Spot Run through To Kill A Mockingbird.
Hm?

Posted by: pbg on February 24, 2007 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Think about this in the context of the performance of a salesperson's sales numbers: one year's worth of sales numbers would tell you something about the salesperson, something about the overall economy, something about the region's customers, something about the public perception of the product, something about the management of the sales staff, etc.

I'm sorry but the idea that we should treat teachers like sales people just makes me queasy. Students aren't product, they're people.

I work with sales people all the time; in fact, the function of my group is to put the brakes on them, and force process and rigor into their hare-brained schemes. Sales people are incentivised to do one thing and one thing only: sell. It's up to the rest of the company (F&A, planning, supply chain, etc.) to keep them in balance. Sales people in my company have a very narrow focus and that is to make their number. Now if the teachers are operating like sales people, who else is there in the classroom with them to keep them in balance? Again, you're analogy relies too heavily on a private sector model to describe something that doesn't work that way.

I can see how if you're using a private sector model where the students are a product that the issue of teaching to a test won't seem too problematic to you:

Honestly, if the test is designed right I have no problem with that. If the test is designed right, and the teacher teaches to the test, and the students do well on the test, the students will have learned precisely the skills we were hoping they would.

But for me that's too much reliance on tests. I've taken a lot of standardized tests and tend to score highly on them. Which means I know how to prepare for them.

I'm not 100% sure what you mean here. I know I've seen tests of various levels of cognitive processes whose results aren't particularly fuzzy. I'm not a psychometrician so there may be a bit more debate than I'm aware of, but I've looked into it enough that I'd be surprised if there was a lot more debate.

Well, one example of what I'm talking about is the debate around the "Great Divide" theories of literacy. On the one had you have the claim that literacy has a real and demonstrably positive net-effect of cognitive funtions (Stanovich et al), on the other hand you have those that argue literacy does not seriously affect cognitive reasoning (often refering to the study of Vai tribes in Africa) and some of these claim that literacy is in fact a tool of oppersion. So we have some pretty wide divergence on how to interpret the data from the standardized tests.

Again, I'm not saying there should be no testing, but in my opinion the conclusions you seem to want to draw from such tests won't be as cut and dried as you're suggesting.

Posted by: cyntax on February 24, 2007 at 1:21 PM | PERMALINK

Doubt you are still reading, Adam, but on the off chance...

I actually agree with you on testing being a component of evaluations, especially if measured as "development of the kids scales" as opposed to snapshots of the teachers. I also think that the College Board does a damned fine job of showing that tests can be written such that teaching to the test simply means teaching the appropriate _concepts_ with enough depth that kids can think about them flexibly.

However, I am also going to point out that we will have a huge chunk of kids fail the test at that point (at least for the first decade or so), through no real fault of the teachers. Flexibility of thought and conceptualization just aren't encouraged societally, and that is what a solid education really has to provide. What that really means is that the test would get watered down really quickly because people like Shearer would use this as one more excuse to point out how the school system sucks and teaching is easy.

However, if you combined all of that with more suubjective measures such as the ones I and others have mentioned above, I think you could work out a reasonable balance.

Posted by: socratic_me on February 24, 2007 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

A friend, who happens to be a retired teacher, just sent this to me. I thought that this might be a good place to share it.

WHAT TEACHERS MAKE

The dinner guests were sitting around the table discussing life.

One man, a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He argued,
"What's a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher?"

He reminded the other dinner guests what they say about teachers: "Those who
can, do. Those who can't, teach."

To stress his point he said to another guest; "You're a teacher, Bonnie. Be
honest. What do you make?"

Bonnie, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness replied, "You want to
know what I make? (She paused for a second, then began...)

"Well, I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.

I make a C+ feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of class time when their parents can't
make them sit for 5 without an I-Pod, Gam e Cube or movie rental...

You want to know what I make?" (She paused again and looked at each and
every person at the table.)

I make kids wonder
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them have respect and take responsibility for
their actions.
I teach them to write and then I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them show all their work in math.
I make my students from other countries learn
everything they need to know in English while
preserving their unique cultural identity.
I make my classroom a place where all my students feel
safe.

I make my students stand to say the Pledge of
Allegiance to the Flag, because we live in the United States of America.
Finally, I make them understand that if they use the
gifts they were given, work hard, and follow their
hearts, they can succeed in life.
(Bonnie paused one last time and then continued.)
"Then, when people try to judge me by what I make, I can hold my head up high and pay no attention because they are ignorant...
You want to know what I make? I MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
What do you make?"

Posted by: calvinthecat on February 24, 2007 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Cranky
Then honestly you don't know what you are talking about. My son's 3rd grade class is a perfect example: had you visited when their teacher,

Well it obvious- Your an idiot. You missed the discussion TOTALLY

Posted by: DA on February 24, 2007 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

> Well it obvious- Your an idiot.
> You missed the discussion TOTALLY

That settles it of course.

By the way, when calling others an idiot you might want to use the correct form "you're" rather than "your".

Cranky

And I will point out again the utter contempt for the craft of K-8 teaching that drips through so many of the "_I_ could evaluate and fire those bad teacher" posts in this thread.

Posted by: Cranky Observer on February 24, 2007 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

Dr. Morpheus at 2:53 PM says it took him only ten seconds to come up with his brilliant ideas... More meetings!

As the sister of a public school teachers I can tell ya they got meetings out the wazoo. And, paperwork. And...

What they need is smaller classrooms. More money put into salaries and the intrastructure of the schools. A fair ratings system for lousy principals.

Well, that's my ten seconds worth.

Posted by: Tilli (Mojave Desert) on February 24, 2007 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

Teachers are evaluated by more people than just about any other profession. They are judged by principals, department chairs, colleagues, extended peer groups, professional associations, parents, students, certification boards, social workers, the medical profession, politicians, pundits, think tanks and the U.S. Department of Education. Teachers must be licensed and periodically re-certified. They must have clean records. If they want to advance professionally they must have graduate degrees. To top it off, each one of these groups evaluating teachers has different evaluation criteria.

And after all of this, teachers get judged not just on their performance but mostly by the performance of the kids they teach. Think about that -- what if your customers (or blog readers!) determined whether or not you kept your job? Keep in mind, many students attend school reluctantly and a sigificant percentage have language and learning disabilities.

If you're looking for gratitude in your professional endeavors, don't become a teacher. Ever try telling two professional parents their daughter has serious learning disabilities and is probably going to flunk French -- and then have to defend yourself in a court of law because you've been accused of teaching incompetence? Ever break up a fight on the job? Ever coach a losing team after school, on your own time? Ever have to tell a parent you aren't sure of the best way to teach biology to their autistic, Downs Syndrome child?

States, counties and cities have literally balanced their budgets on the backs of teachers by forcing them to carry more and more of the burden of what used to be called social services. Teachers are required to develop IEPs (individual education plans) for each LD kid in their class, whether the kid has attention deficit disorder, autism, Downs Syndrome, dyslexia, Muscular Dystrophy, mild retardation, emotional problems or just plain old anti-social behavior. All these kids get mainstreamed in the schools and the majority get tested on No Child Left Behind criteria.

Teachers are expected to counsel students about relationships, nutrition, eating disorders, legal and immigration issues, college, jobs, sports. Teachers do maintenance, direct morning and afternoon traffic, organize fundraisers, take kids on field trips, organize various competitions. They are trained to look for signs of abuse, homelessness, lack of sleep. They track attendance patterns and are required to report irregularities to guidance offices, parole officers and police.

And at the end of very long days they come home to do corrections late into the night, so students (and their parents) can monitor their grades literally day to day.

So, what's a fair set of criteria on which to evaluate teachers? Most of the people raising this question don't have a clue how a teacher spends his or her day and what's expected of them.

I'm not sure what the best method of evaluation, but it should probably involve teachers and experienced teaching professionals doing the evaluations. Criteria should be flexible from school to school because the demographics of each school district are so different. The "one size fits all" approach of NCLB is rediculous and naive.

Schools should be held to high standards based on realistic achievement goals, but if you are teaching all new ESL kids each year, what sense does it make to measure "progress" when each new class is learning English from scratch?

Sorry for the rant, but this hits close to home -- my wife's a public school teacher.

Posted by: pj in jesusland on February 24, 2007 at 4:00 PM | PERMALINK

On a side note; my sister chose to become a teacher precisely because she had one exceptionally bad (and mean!) teacher.

Posted by: Tilli (Mojave Desert) on February 24, 2007 at 4:09 PM | PERMALINK

Calvin rules. I'm gonna steal that.

Posted by: theAmericanist on February 24, 2007 at 5:13 PM | PERMALINK

I watched about three minutes of the Glastris/Kaus discussion on teachers, and I shut it down when it became obvious to me that neither one knew what in the world they were talking about. I grant that, as a teacher, I know a lot more about the subject than they; however, a discussion based on mutual ignorance goes nowhere.
I guess I'll have to wait for Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwartzangger debate string theory. That should really be enlightening.

Posted by: jmano on February 24, 2007 at 9:42 PM | PERMALINK

I'm currently hounding a Principal through the formal complaint process. If he denies my complaint then it moves up the ladder (Montgomery County, MD). So, what did he do? He approved my complaint but said it was due to confusion and that he didn't think the teacher violated any policy. Not. He totally obfuscated. I've found that they lie to protect one another. All I can do is keep hounding and maybe at least my son will be safe.

Posted by: Diane on February 24, 2007 at 10:45 PM | PERMALINK

Before I comment, here is my background. I taught high school science for 17 years (six as department chair), served as Director of Student Activities, class advisor, coach, and have been a mentor teacher, the chair of the schools staff development committe, Union Site President, and also a member of numerous other committees that those of you who teach are well aware of. I served as Dean of Student discipline for two years at a high school of 2600 students, and am currently in my second year as an Assistant Principal for Instruction. I am still on the steep part of the learning curve as an AP because the job has a wide ranging area of responsibility and you learn as you go. One of my jobs as an AP is supervision of instruction-evaluating teachers.

For non-tenured teachers, administrators should do both announced and unannounced evaluations on a regular basis. The criteria that I look for are:

Does the teacher have a grasp of the subject matter and are their lessons comprehensible and paced appropriately? My physics professor in college obviously knew the subject matter, but was almost impossible to follow because he wouldn't teach at the student's level.

Is the teacher capable of teaching the same concept in multiple ways (talk as little as required to commuicate the concept) and also providing concrete examples of these relate to their lives? One of the great things about teaching science is its applicability to our everyday existence.

Does the teacher treat their students with respect and are they enthusiastic about teaching and learning?

Is the teacher capable of evaluating student progress and do they provide remediation if appropriate?

The list could go on for quite a while (like this post is), but if I am unsure on any of these after multiple observations, I don't recommend the teacher be re-hired. In my mind it is better to spin the wheel on a new teacher instead of settling for "they could become better" over time.

For "bad" teachers who are tenured the issue is altogether different. For the state I live in, it is a long and torturous path to release a tenured teacher (close to 3 years and a monumental paper trail) and there is no guarantee the panel that makes the final judgement will agree with you. I could support a more streamlined process if due process rights were retained by the teachers.

To mercifully finish, in 1983, "A Nation at Risk" was published which outlined the dire state of our public education system and suggested that students were not being prepared to meet the job requirements of the 1990's. If our public education system was to blame for poor performance during the down economic times of the 1980's (as implied in the report) shouldn't it also receive some credit for the economic expansion of the 90's, driven in large part by the students we had "shortchanged" a decade earlier. Teaching is a complex job every single day, so please keep this in mind and try not to rush to judgement about the teachers and administrators at your school, most of whom are caring and competent professionals who do have the best interest of students in mind.

Posted by: Michael on February 25, 2007 at 12:15 AM | PERMALINK

Cheney was less tendentious to Nancy Pelosi than Kevin is to Mickey Kaus, who is rewarded for his apostacy to the party line with the charge of union busting. Zumbo's critics have nothing on you folks.

Posted by: ex-minion on February 25, 2007 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

When I was a teacher replacing a bad teacher during a school year would likely result in a worse one. At the end of the year administrators had enough problem just getting replacements for those who voluntarily left to worry too much about who else should go; and getting or keeping the right football & basketball coaches was more important for the administration than keeping or firing the entire complement of English, science, and social studies instructors. If a teacher belonged to the right church there was no way to get rid of them. Some well-connected teachers (usually coaches) had the to power to remove the administrators.

Why was it hard to get rid of bad teachers? Because the people with the power had more pressing interests than the quality of the educational staff, or of education of the pupils for that matter. I miss the students sometimes, but I have never missed school politics.

Posted by: MedallionOfFerret on February 25, 2007 at 9:53 PM | PERMALINK

I think people get the idea from Oprah and Coach Carter movies that all it takes is one good teacher/coach/principle to care a little bit and change the world. So bad teachers become anyone who isn't willing to work 10 hours a week extra for free like the Oprah contestants do.

People who are jealous of the union should stop trying to tear other people down, and look into organizing their own workplace instead.

Posted by: Jalmari on February 26, 2007 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK
As for your comments about meaningfulness, outside influence, systematic imbalances, etc., I have to admit you lost me there. I mean, most of what you said is true of any numeric measure of anything, but we use them anyway and trust in our ability to discover the systematic problems over time.

Sure, we do. And in some of those cases where we do, we also should. Others, not so much. Its justified to do this where we have a well-defined, quantifiable measure of what we want (this doesn't need to be easily and regularly testable, though), a well-defined, quantifiable, regularly testable measure that has a demonstrated strong correlation with the preceding measure (which is why the earlier one doesn't need, itself, to be testable, though where it is it can fill both roles), and setup which justifies the assumption that the input we are evaluating (here, the teacher) is the source of the variations in the measured outputs.

Now, its true that measures are used all the time in places where one, two, or all three of these features are missing; its also true that people inject heroin into their veins. Neither of these are particularly productive things to do, generally, despite the fact that people do them.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 26, 2007 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK
I've taught in classrooms, at the high school and k-12 levels, though I am not a professional, certified teacher.

So have I, at the 8th-12th grade level level (I'm not sure what you mean by both high school and K-12, since K-12 includes high school, which is generally either 9-12 or 10-12, depending on the area; or are you using one of those two terms in a bizarre, nonstandard way?)


I mention this, cuz folks like Dice tend to discount people who, yanno, KNOW what they're talking about.

Er, no. "People like Dice" tend to express disdain for the idea that having some minimal degree of personal experience (or, a fortiori claiming it under a pseudonym in a net forum without accountable, verifiable IDs) immunizes one's argument from criticism based on either counter-evidence or pointing to flaws in reasoning, or challenges to support controversial claims with evidence or reasoning.


I've designed courses, tested and graded; I have dealt the education bureaucracy, and most importantly experienced the shocking revelation that 45 minutes is very different when you're the individual facing the group, instead of one of the group facing the individual: it's very presque vu.

Yeah, so have I, without the time, training, or pay given to a regular teacher: one of the reasons I keep pointing to the problems associated with failure to attract enough qualified regular teachers is that I've been a long-term sub, more than once, dropped into a class behind other subs, without a usable (or, in some cases, any) lesson plan, etc.

I don't discount the voices of experience, I just don't think (even when its me) that merely asserting experience makes one's argument unassailable.

Posted by: cmdicely on February 26, 2007 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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