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!

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!

From AYP to a 15% Solution?

Despite the national pastime of griping about No Child Left Behind and its Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) accountability measures, there hasn’t been nearly the attention placed on the NCLB waivers being granted by the U.S. Department of Education.

Perhaps it is because such issues are incredibly complex and can be really confusing.  Perhaps it is because it is deep in the weeds, interesting to only the wonkiest of wonks.  Or perhaps we just figure accountability is accountability is accountability and we’ll just keep doing what we are doing until we get our hand slapped.
This week, National Journal and its Experts Blog decides to step into the scrum and offer a week-long discussion on the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to NCLB waivers.
A post from dear ol’ Eduflack is up there now.  I keyed in on the provisions that focus on the bottom 15 percent of schools, noting that Connecticut opted instead to follow a continuum model based on absolute performance.  Why is that so important?  As I wrote:

Our nation’s performance struggles, though, do not reside solely in those bottom 15 percent of schools. That is why Connecticut is following an absolute performance model, and not the 15-percent path. In Connecticut, virtually all of our public schools have room for improvement. Low-income students. Latino students. African-American students. ELL students. White students. Virtually all of our disaggregated groups, even those in our wealthiest communities, show a need for improvement.

As a nation, we do not want to give the impression that we do not need to worry about 85 percent of our schools. It portrays the achievement gap issue or the student performance issue as one that only impacts our lowest performing 15 percent of schools, making it a niche issue and not one that should concern each and every parent, teacher, community leader, and policymaker across the state. We must all accept that 85 percent of our schools are not doing great, and that most schools can and should improve.

Equally important, Eduflack notes:
When nearly 40 percent of students can’t read at grade level by fourth grade, it isn’t a 15 percent issue. When a third of students drop out of high school, it isn’t a 15 percent issue. When 70 percent of Connecticut’s public high school graduates require remedial education in college, it isn’t a 15 percent issue.
Definitely an interesting topic that isn’t garnering the attention it deserves.  Happy reading!

Rigorous, Evidence-Based ECE

We all agree that early childhood education is an incredibly important, if not the most important, part of a successful P-12 experience.  Yet despite such universal agreement, we are still failing to provide high-quality preK, particularly to those that would benefit from it the most.

Over at National Journal this week, the debate on the Education Experts blog is Before Kindergarten, as the folks at National Journal explore what we should be doing and why we aren’t doing more to help our youngest learners.
Eduflack is first out of the gate, with this post on the need for rigorous, evidence-based ECE.  Among the gems:
The question is not simply whether or not to provide early childhood education. In a time when we are ever-focused on return on investment of scarce public dollars, the real questions should be about the rigor of the ECE program. What is the evidence base on which the program is constructed? How do we correctly target the students most in need? What is the quality and effectiveness of the educators leading an ECE classroom? What is their track record of effectiveness? This may be an unpopular thing to say in our current anti-testing environment, but we need to demand proof that the program (or approach) works and that the children it touches are gaining the skills needed to succeed in kindergarten and beyond.

There is no question it is an important debate.  Hopefully, we continue to take a closer look and continue to take meaningful actions that are proven effective.

Jobs and Ed, Ed and Jobs

One has to be living under a rock not to recognize that that education and jobs share a strong bond.  As we look for ways to rebuild our economy and create new jobs, it is clear that reforming our K-12 education systems, ensuring all students have access to the knowledge and skills necessary to perform in our future economy, is a non-negotiable.

Over at National Journal’s Education Experts Blog, this is the question of the week.  On those electronic pages, dear olEduflack opines on both the need for education reform and our failures to address the skills gap we now have.
From National Journal:
It’s shameful that we can’t fill open jobs in an economy like this. And it is deplorable that one’s ability to get a strong public education depends, in large part, on race, family income, or zip code. We have no excuse for not preparing our kids, all of our kids, to meet the demands of a 21st century economy. Education is an economic development strategy – the best one that’s out there. We should be redoubling our efforts to ensure that policy makers see economic development and education as two sides of the same coin, and look to them to guide states, localities, and the nation toward meaningful reforms that will prepare all of our kids for college, career, and a productive life.
Happy reading!

“Choice Can, Should, and Must Inform”

It is School Choice Week!  Of course, that means yet another debate focused on whether schools of choice should play a role in our K-12 public education infrastructure.  By now, you would think such a debate would be unnecessary, yet the beat goes on.

Over at National Journal’s Education Experts Blog, the question of the week is “Is school choice a useful tool to fuel common ground on education policy?”  First up to offer a resounding “yes” to the question is dear ol’ Eduflack.
As for the continued question at hand, I opine:
It is unfortunate that, in 2012, we must continue a debate about whether all students should have access to high-quality school options. It is unfortunate that too many children don’t have the opportunity to attend public schools that can change their destinies. And it is truly unfortunate that we continue to look for excuses and justifications for denying students access schools that are proven to be effective when it comes to addressing all students’ learning needs and preparing all kids – regardless of race, family income, or zip code – for college and career.

And in answer to the question of the week:
Choice can, should, and must help inform the entire education policy agenda. Ultimately, our goal must be to provide great public schools to all students, no excuses. Public school success, regardless of the wrapper it might wear, serves as the exemplar for driving change. We should be agnostic about where solutions come from, as long as they are real, effective solutions that work for our kids. The stakes are too high for us to accept anything less.
Happy reading!

Happy Birthday, Nicklebee!

Yes, we are now smack in the middle of celebrating the 10th anniversary of our beloved No Child Left Behind.  As we should expect from something that has been on the “out” list the past three or five seasons, many of the birthday wishes are focusing on the failures or shortfalls of the law.  Yes, shocker!

So over at the National Journal Education Experts Blog, Eduflack focuses on some of the strengths of the law — those positive specifics that we must continue to improve and build on.  Accountability.  A strong focus on achievement gaps.  A commitment to evidence-based decision making.  Choice.  All made enormous steps forward in the NCLB era, and all are essential if we are to improve public education in the post-NCLB era.  After all:
At the end of the day, NCLB will best be remembered as an unfinished legacy, one with great promise, but real challenges in delivering on those promises. But we cannot deny that NCLB succeeded in moving K-12 education away from a discussion of process and inputs (as it had been for so many iterations of ESEA before it) and towards a focus on outcomes. We have started to see students and families as the customers in the process, with providers (the public school system) improving the quality of their product. And now, parents can look at test scores and other achievement measures to determine the return on investment for their local education dollar.

Some Nutmeg on the NAEP

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education released the latest round of NAEP scores, offering the most recent snapshot on how our nation’s students are doing when it comes to reading and math.  The results were downright depressing, with the majority of kids still failing to post proficient scores and the achievement gaps growing in far too many areas.

National Journal is running its weekly blog on those very same NAEP results.  You can check out Eduflack’s post on the scores, their impact in Connecticut in particular, and how if these latest scores don’t signify an urgent call, I don’t know what will.
We often think of Connecticut, the Nutmeg State, as the land of plentiful budgets and bountiful student success.  But the numbers tell a vastly different picture.  While Connecticut is indeed in the top 10 when it comes to per-pupil expenditure, it is tops when it comes to achievement gaps.  From my National Journal post:
For those looking to strap on the pom-poms for number one rankings, Connecticut did score first in seven of the 16 disaggregated categories. Of course, that’s a first place for largest gaps. And we’re in the top 10 for every single one of those 16.

As always, this week’s debate is worth checking out, as are the actual reports, breakdowns and official government statements on the 2011 Nation’s Report Cards on reading and math, as released by the National Assessment Governing Board.