Can We Effectively Evaluate Teachers?

“Where are we as a nation with teacher evaluations?  Are we evaluating the right things?  What role should student data play in professional development?  What about employment decisions?”
These are the questions that National Journal is asking this week on its Education Experts blog.  Following up on the Chicago Teachers Union Strike, National Journal is touting the latest discussion section under the header, “Teacher Effectiveness ‘Here to Stay.'”
Dear ol’ Eduflack weighs in on this week’s question, touting ConnCAN’s work in the development of its Measuring Teacher Effectiveness: A Look “Under the Hood” of Teacher Evaluation in 10 Sites.  Released in May by ConnCAN, Measuring Teacher Effectiveness offers a detailed look at 10 strong teacher evaluation models.
From my post:

We know there are few factors as important to student success than that of an effective educator. To ensure that every child has that effective educator, we must implement comprehensive evaluation models. Measuring Teacher Effectiveness is an important tool in understanding what teacher evaluation leaders are doing and what components must be factored into a meaningful evaluation model.

Each site we studied is working to continuously improve their evaluation systems with the belief that the challenges they encounter can be overcome. As Measuring Teacher Effectiveness reported, “None of these systems claims to have cracked the code for teacher evaluation. Nonetheless, we consistently heard that the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.”

Happy reading!

“Doing Nothing is Not Going to be Neutral”

“Doing nothing is not going to be neutral.  It’s not going to yield us the status quo.  It will be yielding decline.  Trying to do something and trying to change, and moving the ball forward through trial and error will yield the kind of results you should be proud of.”
– Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, speaking in Connecticut on the important of education reform, advocating that one needs to be “all in” for change if we are to deliver real results for the kids.

“No Way to Measure the Effectiveness of an Educator”

“There is no way to measure the effectiveness of an educator.  Further, there are too many factors beyond our control which impact how well some students perform on standardized tests, such as poverty, exposure to violence, homelessness, hunger, and other social issues beyond our control.
– Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis, after failing to bring forward a vote to end the CTU strike.  Apparently, she hasn’t paid much attention to what her AFT brothers and sisters in New Haven, CT have done, when the established the Teacher Evaluation and Development system in partnership with New Haven Public Schools as part of a collective bargaining agreement.
The New Haven Federation of Teachers seemed to break new ground and establish a fair system for measuring the effectiveness of an educator.  The system has been regularly promoted by national AFT President Randi Weingarten, education leaders across the country, thought leaders and the media.  Guess the news never quite made it to Chicago, though.

Yes Connecticut, We Can

Long-time readers of Eduflack will notice that I have been writing a great deal about Connecticut lately.  In my professional life, I’m fortunate enough to work with a terrific education advocacy group in the Nutmeg State — the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now

ConnCAN’s mission is to fight so that every child — regardless of race, family income, or zip code — has access to great public schools.  By focusing on the achievement gaps and pushing for real solutions, ConnCAN is committed to better schools, better and better supported educators, and better outcomes.
So obviously much of what appears on Eduflack is often seen through the lens of education improvement in Connecticut.  That’s why I am happy to announce I’m now writing a new blog focused on education reform in Connecticut — Yes Conn, We Can.
What’s even more exciting is that Yes Conn, We Can is now part of a family of blogs found at the New Haven Register.  Yes Conn, We Can is one of four community blogs currently included in the Register’s Connecticut Blogs section.  
From time to time, I’ll repost some Yes Conn, We Can posts here on Eduflack, if they are particularly relevant to the national education discussion.  
Happy reading!

Ed Reform Is a Path to Economic Success

While we all know about the importance a strong public education system plays in preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s success, we speak far too infrequently about the specific ties between our nation’s economic success and the educational policies that help us achieve it.

At the Democratic National Convention, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel told a gathering that “there’s no denying connection between economic growth and education.”  Mr. Van Roekel is absolutely correct. 
That growth comes requires the ability to adjust and adapt to the changing conditions of our society.  It requires an ability to reform.  Our economy recognizes that, and has demonstrated it over the history of this great nation.  So why are we so resistant to public education adjusting and adapting to those same conditions and expectations?
Over at the ConnCAN blog, I have a blog post exploring how education reform equals economic growth.  From that post:

But why are we so resistant to similar change in education? With such a strong connection between economic growth and education, we’ve seen our economy transform as we try to teach our kids using the same systems, approaches, and expectations as we did nearly a century ago.

Our consumer-driven economy should yield a consumer-driven educational system. A system where families have a choice in the schools their kids attend. A system where moms and dads are assured their kids have great teachers in the classroom and a great principal leading the school. A system where all students are funded equally, rejecting the establishment of two classes of public school students in the same city.

We cannot and should not continue a public education framework just because it is the way we have always done it. Those who continue to defend a model that has failed so many of Connecticut students for decades must ask what they are defending.


Choosing Reform in CT’s Largest City

Yesterday, the voters of Bridgeport reiterated the need for the continued push for reform in the Bridgeport Public Schools. With Hernan Illingworth, Jacqueline Kelleher, and Kenneth Moales now CONTINUING THEIR SERVICE on the Bridgeport Board of Education and with John Bagley joining the Board, the city can continue to move forward, ensuring that all Bridgeport kids receive a world-class education.

Without question, there has been a great deal of vitriol surrounding the progress made in Bridgeport over the past 10 months. Those seeking to protect a broken system, a system that simply was not serving the families of Bridgeport, have been quick to lob any charges (no matter how baseless) to try and slow or outright derail the improvements recently adopted in Bridgeport.

DURING THE PAST YEAR, we have seen the cost of the Bridgeport Public Schools’ central office greatly reduced, ensuring that the community’s tax dollars are going where they need to – toward the education of kids.

During the past year, we have seen the school district right its financial ship, restoring a trust in the stewardship of Bridgeport schools.

During the past year, we have seen an unprecedented focus on student learning, with educators and advocates, parents and policymakers joining together to improve the quality of local schools.

During the past year, we have seen all corners of Bridgeport join together to help turn around the James J. Curiale School, demonstrating a real community commitment that no child should have to attend a failing school.

During the past year, we have seen the city pledge to ensure that all Bridgeport kids have exemplary teachers lead their classrooms, as the city joins in the state’s groundbreaking student learning-focused teacher evaluation efforts.

And the during the past year, we have seen city residents embrace the possible and the hopeful in Bridgeport Public Schools, trusting in the leadership of Superintendent Paul Vallas and his plans for restoring Bridgeport schools to glory.

Let there be no mistake, change is hard. Change is particularly hard when it means breaking practices and behaviors that have ruled the roost for decades, leading folks to believe that change is impossible. But Mayor Bill Finch has demonstrated that change is possible, is necessary, and is achievable. Superintendent Vallas has PROVIDED THE BLUEPRINT for achieving that change. And now the voters of Bridgeport have reaffirmed the execution of that blueprint.

Every child in Bridgeport, and every child in Connecticut, deserves a world-class public education. Cities like Bridgeport are now working to make that happen, with no excuses.

(The above blog post, authored by Patrick Riccards, was originally posted on the ConnCAN blog — — on September 5, 2012.)

Fun? Striking is Supposed to Be Fun?

“Y’all continue to have fun.”
– Chicago Teachers Union President President Karen Lewis addressing striking teachers in the Windy City.  Approximately 400,000 students are unable to enter the classroom in Chicago, as Lewis encourages those on the picket lines to “have fun” and then complains that having to go back to the negotiating table to reach a deal on salary and benefits for more than 25,000 educators and get those 400,000 kids back to learning is “the silly part of my day.”
A 16-percent raise already secured, day three of a strike that is disrupting the lives and learning of hundreds of thousands of Chicago families, and out-of-work teachers should have “fun” and negotiating a settlement is the “silly part” of all of this?
Priorities, Ms. Lewis, priorities …

Breakfast: The New Collective Bargaining?

“Collective bargaining.  noun.  The process by which wages, hours, rules, and working conditions are negotiated and agreed upon by a union with an employer for all the employees collectively whom it represents.”

Up until now, Eduflack thought he understood the meaning of the term collective bargaining.  The grandson of a Teamster and the son of an NEA teacher who walked the picket lines to increase those wages and work conditions for her fellow teachers, collective bargaining is a concept I believe is essential to having a strong and protected workforce and middle class.
But it was a real head scratcher when Eduflack was reading the latest out of Los Angeles.  Seems LAUSD enacted a new school breakfast program that is serving 84 percent of LAUSD’s students.  The same students that many defenders of the failed status quo say can’t learn because the come to school without breakfast.
At any rate, the local union is taking issue with the breakfast program.  They weren’t consulted in its implementation.  They find the food and trash a distraction.  So they are now demanding that the new breakfast program be part of the union’s collective bargaining agreement with the district.
Over at the ConnCAN blog, I share LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy’s view that the union’s stance here is just “incomprehensible.”
From that blog post:

Incomprehensible is putting it kindly. For years now, ConnCAN has fought to ensure that the needs of students were included in any arbitration decisions involving teacher contracts. Yet it is still illegal for Connecticut to consider the interests of the child in any such decisions. After all, those status quo defenders contend, collective bargaining agreements are all about protecting the rights and interests of the adults in the system.

Fair enough. But then how can one possibly insist that contracts governing the pay and benefits for teachers should act as a forum for unions to negotiate whether or not a community can provide breakfast to its poorest children?

It is just another example of public education being all about the adults in the room, with no real concern for the children we are supposed to be serving. Such logic is indeed incomprehensible … and unconscionable.

Happy reading, and enjoy your breakfast.  A little ed reform and eggs this AM.

In Ed Advocacy, It’s All About the States

How do you raise awareness about educational improvement in the United States?  That is the big question this week over on the National Journal’s Education Experts blog.  Riffing off of some of the education reform activities at the recent political conventions, the folks over at NJ are actually hypothesizing that there is no disagreement on our need to improve.  

Those seeking change and improvement know that is far from the case.  Those forces seeking to defend the status quo, those looking to protect a system that fails millions of kids (particularly kids who are black or brown or poor), will resort to almost anything to stand against those seeking to bring a better public education to all kids.
Dear ol’ Eduflack weighs in on the discussion, focusing on the importance of state-led advocacy, as opposed to national advocacy, to bring the real change we need while respecting our nation’s history of local control in the schools.

At the end of the day, lasting education reform is not going to happen at the national level. As a country, we have too much pride in local control and community involvement in public education. Instead, those changes we seek and need will come because of advocacy at the state level, where the voices of diverse communities can come together and demand common change. One where those diverse voices can leverage their power to demand real change from their governor and legislature, change where the haves and have-nots in the state have access to the same excellent public schools, regardless of race, family income, or zip code.

In Connecticut, we are just now, after nearly a decade of work, starting to see the policy results of such a state-based advocacy approach. The real challenge now is not letting up on the gas, and continuing to speed toward the reforms we need. It means finding common ground with groups we have previously sparred with, and partnering with individuals we have once stood against. It means continue to do what is right, even if that means facing the vitriol and assaults from those who currently benefit from a failed status quo.

Happy reading!

Chicago on Strike!

This morning, 25,000 Chicago Public Schools teachers headed to the picket lines, as the Chicago Teachers Union declared a strike after failing to reach a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement with leaders of the nation’s third-largest public school district.

According to media reports, CPS negotiators have offered 20 proposals to union officials.  Agreement seemed to be reached on a 16-percent pay raise for teachers, while disagreement remained over teachers’ share of health care costs and an evaluation system that would include measures of teacher effectiveness.
CPS is now enacting contingency plans for district operations.  The city’s 118 public charter schools, though, will remain open, with teachers and students continuing the learning process that only began a week or so ago.
Today’s actions has dear ol’ Eduflack reflecting on March of 1990, when public school teachers in the State of West Virginia went on a statewide strike (80 percent of counties participated).  For two weeks, edu-Mom walked the picket lines with virtually all of her fellow teachers.  Then, the strike was over pay, with Mountaineer teachers being paid among the lowest salaries in the nation for public school educators.  Following legislative and legal interventions, the strike ended after two weeks.  Then-Gov. Gaston Caperton agreed to boost teacher pay, moving West Virginia into the center of the pack for teacher salaries.  The move transformed Caperton into the “education governor” and moved West Virginia away from competing with Mississippi for the worst teacher pay in the nation.
What was particularly interesting about that West Virginia strike was the enormous support that teachers had from citizens across the state, particularly in that first week.  Visiting my mother and her colleagues on the picket lines, I saw parents and non-parents honk in support, drop off food and drinks for the picketing teachers, and generally check in to see how the teachers were doing.  It energized the teachers on the lines, and showed the media and the politicians that there was strong public will for this exercise of their labor rights.
As the West Virginia strike headed in double-digit days, though, that public support started to wane.  Parents didn’t know what to do with their kids, and couldn’t afford to continue to take days off of work or pay for babysitters.  Public will started to shift, as local school districts filed lawsuits to get teachers back in the classroom.  After 12 days,  teachers returned to work with a pledge from the governor and legislature for better pay and better respect.
Then, it was a simple narrative.  West Virginia teachers wanted to be paid fairly.  In a state with a strong union history and a respect for public education, the strike made sense.  Pay our teachers better than 48th or 49th in the country.  After all, we all understand what it means to be underpaid and under-respected.
The Chicago experience, though, is a little more complicated.  Currently, Chicago has an unemployment rate of 10.5 percent.  According to CBS Chicago and other sources, the average Chicago school teacher is making more than $70,000 per year, while the average Chicago worker is making slightly more than $30,000 per annum.  So a 16-percent raise seems more than reasonable, and seems to be a pay increase both sides have already agreed to.
If the strike is over a teacher’s share of health care benefits, most American workers are seeing their personal health insurance costs increase.  Gone are the days when healthcare is covered 100-percent by the employer.  As costs rise, workers across the nation fortunate enough to have coverage are paying more for it.
And if the strike is over evaluation, it becomes more and more challenging to secure a 16-percent raise in tough economic times, and then say one doesn’t believe in greater accountability for those educators serving in the system and demanding those raises.
Yes, it is a complicated narrative that CTU is trying to sell.  If the media reports are correct, this is no longer about salaries and paying teachers fairly.  Instead, it is whether teachers should be treated like other professionals, bearing additional healthcare costs and being held to a greater level of accountability than in years past.  That is a narrative that is going to be very difficult to sell to Chicago families, many of whom are experiencing unemployment, reduced benefits, frozen pay, and other financial challenges.
Of course, the strike isn’t just about the salaries and benefits being negotiated as part of the a new CBA.  No, the CTU is using this strike to speak out against the needed reforms being pushed by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his administration.  Since becoming mayor, Emanuel has embarked on a bold reform agenda.  He extended the school day (ridiculously, Chicago had one of the shortest school days in the nation).  He established specific efforts to drive improvement in schools across the city.  He sought to reward teachers willing to hold themselves to greater levels of accountability than the CBA called for.  And he did all that facing a sizable budget deficit in a district with needs growing by the day.
Last night, Mayor Emanuel said, “The kids of Chicago belong in the classroom.”  He is absolutely correct.  While some defenders of the status quo may take issue with the sentiment or see it as some sort of punchline to a reformer joke, the ones most hurt by this strike are the kids.  The kids are losing out on instructional days.  The kids are now being shuttled around as part of “contingency plans.”  After just returning to school, the kids are being denied their rights to a public education.
As Emanuel continued, “This is totally unnecessary.  It’s avoidable and our kids don’t deserve this … This is a strike of choice.”
The mayor is correct.  Here’s hoping that both sides figure out how to choose to end this strike quickly, and get our kids back in the classroom.
UPDATE: To further complicate the narrative here, CTU has now released a one-pager articulating what they are looking for from Chicago Public Schools.  The challenge?  Can one really address “educate the whole child,” “address inequities in our system,” “teach all children,” “partner with parents,” and “fully fund education” as part of a collective bargaining agreement intended to focus on salary, benefits, and working conditions of the adults in the system?