Monday, April 8, 2013

New Teacher Evaluations: More Money Spent for the Same Results

The New York Times recently wrote an article explaining the new teacher evaluation systems many states adopted in an effort to reform or improve education. However, the only result seems to be more money spent for the same results. Here are some state results on teacher effectiveness:

  • Florida: 97% rated "effective."
  • Tennessee: 98% rated as being "at expectations."
  • Michigan: 98% rated "effective" or higher.

Time and time again, America gets sold on this idea that its education system is faltering, and that it is the result of ineffective teachers in the classroom. 

Poverty doesn't matter. 

Home life doesn't matter. 

Family morals doesn't matter. Resources don't matter.

"It's all about the quality of the teacher," they say. With the advent of Race to the Top, states rushed to adopt evaluation systems with observation modules that micromanage the teachers' actions and the Value Added Model that judges teachers based on standardized test results, whether or not they teach a tested student or have the students used in their scores in their classes. 

There is only one of two conclusions to make of this. 

1. The new evaluation system is just as flawed as the old one.
2. As a whole, teachers aren't as bad as some would like the public to believe. 

Either way, I think the system is a big waste. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Florida SB 980: Evaluating Teachers' Real Students

Aside from the fact that SB 736, the so-called "merit pay law," requires test scores to be used in teacher evaluations, many teachers find themselves being evaluated on the performance of students they do not teach. Many districts opted to evaluate non-FCAT teachers based on whole-school results. This includes teachers of electives such as band, art, general music, physical education, foreign language, computer science, etc. as well as students in kindergarten, 1-3 grades, and 11-12 grades. (While third graders take the FCAT, there is no prior set of data from which to compare, so teachers do not receive a VAM based on their students.)

Well, the Legislature is in the process of voting a new bill, SB 980, which would require districts to evaluate teachers on the students they actually teach. Here is an excerpt from the Gainesville Sun discussing the bill:

Efforts to revise the way Florida public school teachers are evaluated took a big step forward when a key legislative committee unanimously approved proposed changes.
The Florida Senate Committee on Education last week approved Senate Bill 980, which "says that we are going to link teacher evaluations to the students that they actually teach," Sen. Anitere Flores said at the March 18 committee meeting.
"We just want to make sure that (evaluations are) done in a fair process — that's what this bill does," she said.
Herschel Lyons, deputy superintendent for Alachua County Public Schools, said legislators are headed in the right direction.
"It's wonderful that they have taken these steps," he said. "Teachers welcome accountability, but we want to make sure it's the students that they teach."

Since it appears that we are stuck with VAM for now, this is at least a step in the right direction. I call it reforming the reforms. However, a huge flaw still remains. While teachers will be evaluated on students they actually teach, many will still be evaluated in subject areas they don't teach until districts create their subject area exams. I think this flaw is bigger than the "students they don't teach" issue, because the VAM as it stands today does not show that teachers of these other subjects are increasing student achievement in those areas.

This is what happens when a law is passed purely to settle a political score instead of what is in the best interests of all involved parties. Those opposing the original merit pay laws (SB 6 and SB 736) voiced these concerns the first time around, but no one wanted to listen. The supporters just brushed these complaints off as people wanting to stick with the status quo. Now, it's time for the Legislature to clean up its own mess.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Tampa Bay Times Editorial Skeptical about Charter Grab

The Tampa Bay Times recently published an editorial telling the Florida Legislature to slow down on its plan to expand charter schools and their perks. These initiatives include limiting enrollment caps, providing the schools with extra funding for construction, and allowing them to take over vacant public school property at essentially no cost. This is in addition to the "Parent Trigger" or "Parent Empowerment" bill that is making its way through the legislative process, whose ultimate goal is to turn "failing" public schools into charter schools.  Given that half of the state's F grades were awarded to charter schools, I don't see an option to turn over failing charter schools to the districts. In a time when traditional public schools are struggling to implement the state's ever increasing demands with decreasing resources, the Florida Legislature seems to be moving ahead to expand charter school options while those schools are exempt from many of the regulations imposed on traditional schools. 

Charter schools were initially designed to be laboratory schools of sorts, providing teachers with the freedom to discover ways of educating difficult students. I don't know exactly when it happened, but the charter school movement was hijacked and they are now placing themselves in direct competition with the very schools they were originally designed to help. 

Many public school teachers and officials echo the concerns expressed by the Tampa Bay Times.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Duplicating Parent Empowerment Options through Trigger Law

Florida House Speak Bill Weatherford was recently interviewed by NPR's StateImpact about his views on education. Here is what he had to say about the pending "Parent Trigger" or "Parent Empowerment" bill.

Anytime you can empower a family and give them more options for their student, their child, that’s a good thing.
With regard to what people call the parent trigger – some people call the parental empowerment bill:
The idea is if you happen to live in a zip code where that local school that your child would go to is a habitually failing school, [if] it’s an F school year after year, we want to give those parents an opportunity to go to the school board and say,this is unacceptable. It’s time to make a changeEither change the staff, turn it into a charter school, do something.
We know for a fact, we have data that shows children learn differently. One student learns differently from another.
By giving parents and kids more choices, you’re kind of allowing them to find that form of education that they’re really looking for and that will help them aspire to be what they can be.
I think technology and choice and accountability – mixing those three things in together is changing the landscape of how we educate.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, such "empowerment" already exists in the Florida public school system. Parents have the option of participating in the PTA, PTO, PTSA or whichever variation thereof is offered at a particular school. Parents can play a direct role in school improvement efforts by sitting in on the School Advisory Council. As the Legislature does with its other reforms, instead of explaining, enforcing, and simply making people aware of the existing options, they just keep passing bill after bill. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Parent Empowerment Already Exists

Florida is in the process of possibly passing a so-called Parent Trigger or Parent Empowerment law, which will allow parents from a "failing" school to vote to turn the school over to private management, which could include for-profit charter school operators. Proponents of the legislation mislead the public stating that parents currently do not have a seat at the table when it comes to improving conditions at their children's schools. They claim that this law will give the parents the tools they need to take charge of their child's education and to hold schools accountable for results. 

Well, in addition always having the ability to share concerns with school principals, district administrators and elected school board members, there has been a system in place in Florida since 1991 that gives parents the opportunity to influence school decisions. It is called the School Advisory Council. This committee consists of administrators, teachers, parents, students, and at-large members of the business and residential community. According to the Florida Department of Education, every school has a SAC to "act as the driving force behind the school improvement process and increase student achievement." 

The main duty of this group is to create the School Improvement Plan, which addresses state and district proficiency goals and how the school will work on increasing student achievement. The document can also address things such as discipline and parental involvement, which in my opinion is one of the leading factors in increasing student achievement. 

All schools are required to have a School Advisory Council. Unfortunately, getting non-school staff involved is a chore and some schools often have to beg people to get involved in the committee. I wonder if there is a correlation between the level of non-school staff involvement on this committee along with participation in the school in general and student achievement? I don't think we need a scientific study to reach a conclusion on that one. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Why are Unions the Only "Interest Groups?"

I recently read a story about the school choice movement. In the comments, I stated my belief that the charter school system and an eventual private school voucher program does not provide true choice, because those schools can either refuse admission to certain students or easily remove students who do not perform well academically and/or behaviorally. Through that kind of environment, they can achieve their performance goals and then claim they are superior to public schools. As I state over and over again, this is a trait that simply does not exist in traditional public schools. 

Someone responded to my comment saying that I am "confused" about the school choice movement and that he is not surprised given that the school choice message has been diluted by "interest groups."  Let's see. I guess those interest groups are the teachers unions? How is it that organizations like the teachers unions, Fund Education Now, Parents Across America, and the new Network for Public Education are interest groups while the Foundation for Excellence in Education, Students First, Democrats for Education Reform, the Walton Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Fordham Institute, Parent Revolution, etc. are not special interest groups? The "reform" organizations have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to school board election candidates while candidates who are supposedly backed by the unions receive a few thousand dollars. The heads of these "reform" organizations get virtually unlimited and unchallenged air time on cable news while actual teachers are not consulted at all for their opinions. But, the unions are the only special interest groups. Yeah, right. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Private Schools ARE Better Than Public

Many people make the argument about the superiority of a private education to that of a public education. Well, I am going to go out on a limb and AGREE with those people. Indeed, many private schools do outperform public schools. Furthermore, many private schools also outperform public schools while doing it for less money. However, here are some advantages private schools have over public schools. I waste spend time defending public education on my local media's websites from time to time, and I do not believe I've received any responses to these arguments, especially the first one.

  • Private schools have admissions offices. Private schools do not take all interested students. The admissions offices are not there to provide orientation services or to provide parents with enrollment paperwork once they show interest in sending their child to the school. They are there to screen and test students to make sure they fit the school's academic standards. 
  • Private schools can dismiss students very easily. Private schools can suspend or kick out students who do not perform academically or behaviorally without too much hassle. This allows the school to maximize the educational experience of those students who are making good choices and whose families stay in line with the school's vision. Students in public school are given due process rights that they are not necessarily provided by a private entity. Many of the public schools in the wealthier neighborhoods have plenty of students who were kicked out of a private school at some point in time.
  • Paying for a product or service causes the user to value it more. Though it is not true that all people who receive free items or services waste the resources, I am a firm believer that people tend to take better care of things in which they have made some sort of personal investment. You're going to take better care of the car you bought and are insuring yourself more than the car that was given to you and insured on your parents' policy as a teenager or college student. Those parents are not putting out $15,000-$25,000 per year in private tuition for their child to get an inferior education. Those tuition rates do give the parents the responsibility of making sure the school is performing well, but equally high expectations are placed on the child. 
  • Private schools aren't beholden to state mandates. Private schools do not have to administer the state exam (FCAT in Florida), submit to the school grading system, use textbooks form the state approved list, comply with the new evaluation system that bases teacher performance on tests scores, etc., even if they are receiving state money through the voucher program. I believe that many of these policies play a role in the current state of education. If these reform practices were so great, private schools would be jumping on board to implement them. They are not doing that. 
These are some of the advantages that private schools have over public schools. No wonder they perform better...