Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Nightmare To Come

Let's start out by giving the credit, or the blame, to the person who deserves it the most for all these new teacher evaluation systems that states are implementing around the country that tie evals to test scores and require multiple observations a year for every teacher.

Barack Obama, the CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN MAN, has gotten all of these changes implemented via his Race to the Top law.

In his 2012 State of the Union address to the nation, he claimed that his administration has brought more change to the nation's education system than anybody else has in over a generation (which is true) and that this change is in the process of improving the lives and educations of American children who are attending public schools (arguable at best, demonstrably false at worst.)

This morning the NY Times takes a look at some of the problems that states are facing from the "change" that Obama wrought and states have implemented in schools:

Steve Ball, executive principal at the East Literature Magnet School in Nashville, arrived at an English class unannounced one day this month and spent 60 minutes taking copious notes as he watched the teacher introduce and explain the concept of irony. “It was a good lesson,” Mr. Ball said.

But under Tennessee’s new teacher-evaluation system, which is similar to systems being adopted around the country, Mr. Ball said he had to give the teacher a one — the lowest rating on a five-point scale — in one of 12 categories: breaking students into groups. Even though Mr. Ball had seen the same teacher, a successful veteran he declined to identify, group students effectively on other occasions, he felt that he had no choice but to follow the strict guidelines of the state’s complicated rubric.

“It’s not an accurate reflection of her as a teacher,” Mr. Ball said.

Spurred by the requirements of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition, Tennessee is one of more than a dozen states overhauling their evaluation systems to increase the number of classroom observations and to put more emphasis on standardized test scores. But even as New York State finally came to an agreement last week with its teachers’ unions on how to design its new system, places like Tennessee that are already carrying out similar plans are struggling with philosophical and logistical problems.

Principals in rural Chester County, Tenn., are staying late and working weekends to complete reviews with more than 100 reference points. In Nashville, teachers are redesigning lessons to meet the myriad criteria — regardless of whether they think that is the best way to teach. And at Bearden High School in Knoxville, Tenn., physical education teachers are scrambling to incorporate math and writing into activities, since 50 percent of their evaluations will be based on standardized tests, not basketball victories.

In Delaware, under pressure from the teachers’ union, the state secretary of education announced last month that teachers would not be assessed on metrics based on how much growth students showed in their classrooms, as planned, because not enough of such data existed. In Maryland, districts were granted an additional year to develop and install evaluation models without the results being counted toward tenure, pay and promotions. And in New York, Thursday’s agreement came after a stalemate lasting months in which more than 1,300 principals signed a petition protesting the new evaluations.

States “are racing ahead based on promises made to Washington or local political imperatives that prioritize an unwavering commitment to unproven approaches,” said Grover J. Whitehurst, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “There’s a lot we don’t know about how to evaluate teachers reliably and how to use that information to improve instruction and learning.”

Indeed, there is a lot that we don't know about value-added measurements of test scores and the voluminous 57 page rubrics that are going to be used to grade teachers in New York State, but what we DO know already from some of the states that have implemented Obama's education change is that this stuff a) doesn't help teachers OR students and b) is not improving education.

Unless you think forcing an administrator to grade a teacher ineffective on group learning because he didn't use it for the ONE lesson he was observed on (though the administrator HAD seen him use group learning in previous lessons) makes sense, will help teachers and students or improve public education.

You would think if some "reform" that is ostensibly in place to improve education is clearly not working, state pols would look to change it.

But you would be wrong.

Indeed, this new evaluation system in Tennessee seems cumbersome and nearly unworkable, but that's not stopping the state from going through with it, minus a few minor tweaks:

Emily Barton, assistant commissioner for curriculum and instruction at the Tennessee Department of Education, acknowledged that the new system had kinks, but said that she heard “a consistent theme that the process is leading to rich conversations about instruction and that teacher performance is improving.” In early 2010, the legislature required that half of a teacher’s evaluation be based on annual observations and half on student achievement data. The following year, the state board of education added specifics: each year, principals or evaluators would observe new teachers six times, and tenured ones four times.

Each observation focuses on one or two of four areas: instruction, professionalism, classroom environment and planning. Afterward, the observer scores the teacher according to the state’s detailed and computerized system. Instruction, for example, has 12 subcategories, including “motivating students” and “presenting instructional content.” Motivating students, in turn, has subcategories like “regularly reinforces and rewards effort.” In all, there are 116 subcategories.

“It’s one thing to be observing — I love that, it’s my primary role,” said Troy Kilzer, the 44-year-old principal of Chester County High School. “But you know when a good lesson is being taught without looking at a rubric.” Mr. Kilzer said the new system had led to more precise discussions with teachers about their skills and better lesson planning. But he can hardly keep up with the work.

For principals, it is not just the observations, but also the pre-conference (where teachers explain and show the lesson), the post-conference (where observers explain what teachers might have done better) and four to six hours inputting data. “We are spending a lot of time evaluating people we know are very good teachers,” Mr. Kilzer said.

For many principals, the observations mean less time for the kind of spot visits to classrooms that they relish — and for everything else. “Parents were used to immediate feedback, or they’d stop back for a meeting,” said Connie Gwinn, principal of H. G. Hill Middle School in Nashville who is supportive of the new system over all. “We don’t have the opportunity to do that any more.”

In November, state officials allowed some observations to be combined. Now, evaluators must measure the same number of data points, but they can do it in fewer visits.

Gera Summerford, president of the Tennessee Education Association, compared the new evaluations to taking your car to the mechanic and making him use all of his tools to fix it, regardless of the problem, and expecting him to do it in an hour.

“It has been counterproductive to the intent — a noble intent — of an evaluation system,” said Stephen Henry, president of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association.

I would argue that there is nothing "noble" about any of the reformers' reforms, that ALL of these changes brought about by so-called education reformers have been meant to scapegoat traditional schools and teachers and put into place mechanisms to fire unionized teachers and close unionized schools.

So far, it's been "Mission Accomplished" in Tennessee and Florida, the two states that first "won" Obama's Race to the Top education initiative that forced these reforms on states in the first place, where teachers are being evaluated using nightmarish evaluation systems with negative consequences for students, teachers and schools.

And now, after Andrew Cuomo bullied the coward teachers unions in New York State this week to agree to a new teacher evaluation system here, New York is going to be the next state to enjoy "change".

Here is how Gary Rubenstein in the Daily News described the new teacher evaluation system in New York that was agreed to by Governor Cuomo, the NYSED, the Regents and the state teachers unions this week:

On Thursday, the New York State Department of Education and the state teachers union came to an agreement on revising the teacher evaluation process to include students’ standardized test scores.

Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, New York’s highest court ruled that New York City’s Department of Education could publish the ratings of 12,000 teachers, which are also based on standardized test scores.

Both developments are part of a push to use gains made by students on tests (so-called “value-added data”) to determine which teachers to promote, fire or simply keep on the job. This is in contrast to the more traditional, principal-led evaluations that critics have long charged are too subjective.

Those critics have won, but I doubt our schools will benefit. I doubt, also, that this new system will last.

As a veteran teacher, I cringe when I hear politicians say that current evaluations do not include student learning as a factor. When my principal observes my class, he will witness student learning in many forms. For example, he might see me call on a student who has been struggling.

Perhaps that student will not be able to answer the question perfectly, but he will be able to do it far better than he would have at the beginning of the period. My principal is a veteran and knows learning when he sees it. I trust his judgment.

The new evaluations hinge on a flawed notion of student progress. This will lead to their downfall.

One reasonable way to determine if, say, a fifth-grader has progressed would be to, at the beginning of the year, administer a pretest that is identical to the test she will take at the end of the year and then compare the two results.

But this is not what happens. Instead, students take the fourth-grade test at the end of fourth grade and the fifth-grade test at the end of fifth grade. Since the fourth-grade test is easier, scores often go down on the fifth-grade test. To see if this decrease on the harder test still qualifies as “progress,” evaluators compare the fifth-grade scores of all the students in the state who got the same score on the fourth-grade test. From this, they attempt to calculate student gains.

If it seems confusing, well, it is. And this is an oversimplified explanation of how value-added data works.

Even some of the experts who created value-added measures admit they are not very reliable. Error rates of over 30% mean that even an effective teacher could be deemed ineffective, and vice versa. That is why, as a safeguard, according to New York State law, value-added data cannot be used to count for more than 40% of a teacher’s entire evaluations — the other 60% is still based on principal observations.

Forty percent is still way too high, but things just got worse. According to the state Education Department, under the new system, “Teachers rated ineffective on student performance based on objective assessments must be rated ineffective overall.”

In other words, if a teacher gets a low enough student performance score, he will get an ineffective evaluation regardless of how well he does on the other 60% of the evaluation.

In essence, then, the student performance score is not weighted as a maximum of 40%, as required by state law, but 100% for certain teachers. This loophole makes New York, for all practical purposes, the only state in the country that ignores the myriad experts who say that evaluation is to be based on multiple measures, not solely on test scores.

This is also why the last seven New York State Teachers of the Year have written a letter opposing these evaluations. These are the teachers who would, if the measures were accurate, have the most to gain (at least financially) from such a system. But they oppose it because no one should be judged by such flawed measures.

Rubenstein says he is confident that this evaluation system will not last once New Yorkers get a closer look at it and realize the consequences of making test scores 100% of the evaluation.

I am not as confident as Rubenstein on that point.

The corporate media has been hammering teachers for a long time now as THE problem in public education. 100% of the editorial boards in the corporate media have hailed this deal as the best thing since sliced bread. Corporate media columnists like Nick Kristof have also hailed the deal and said it will finally take care of the big problem in education (i.e., "bad" teachers.) The politicians who brought this law to fruition and the corporate education reform forces that promoted all of these changes are crowing about how "bad teachers" are going to finally be held accountable.

I don't think these forces are going to surrender any of the "change" they won in the law that now essentially allows districts to fire a teacher after two years if the test scores on a value added measurement with a MOE over 35% come up "bad".

Many of these people have already misled the public about the value of value-added, about the reliability of the new system based upon test scores, indeed, they have misled the public about the percentage of the evaluation that is based upon test scores.

Governor Cuomo, for instance, claims New York gives over a smaller percentage of the overall percentage to test scores than many other states that have changed teacher eval laws lately.

This is patently not true.

Given that New York is using test scores as 100% of the evaluation (come up "ineffective" on the test score part of the eval and a teacher MUST be declared "ineffective" overall), it is obvious to anyone who even looks perfunctorily at the new evaluation system that this is not true.

New York is using test scores as THE determining factor in the new evaluation system.

But that hasn't stopped the governor from lying about it.

Or the editorial boards like the one at the Times, for that matter.

And you can expect the corporate media, the politicians and the corporate education reformers to continue to to do the same as the contradictions and unworkable parts of the new eval system in New York become apparent.

Their default mechanism is to ALWAYS blame teachers and claim anybody who criticizes their reforms is simply invested in the status quo and doesn't want "change."

Never mind that the states that have already put many of these reforms into action have discovered how destructive these reforms actually are.

Never mind that the New York eval system agreed upon this week is a nightmare that will force new standardized tests into EVERY grade in EVERY subject, may actually require BOTH city AND state tests in EVERY grade in EVERY subject in order to grade teachers on the test scores.

Never mind that the value-added measurement the state and the districts will use for those scores is rife with error and has wide swings in stability.

Never mind that the new law will require so many observations every year of teachers that already overworked principals will now do little but observe teachers and have pre- and post-observation conferences to discuss the 57 page Danielson rubric and just what page a teacher missed hitting on in his/her lesson.

Never mind all that.

Rather what they will say is, Change is good, change is needed and we don't care if children and adults are harmed by our rolling out a vast new and untested evaluation system for teachers that hasn't even been completed yet (indeed, many of the tests teachers will be graded on haven't been created.)

The system is broken and we are going to fix.

That's what they'll say, indeed, that's what they're already saying.

But it's difficult to fix something when the "fix" is even more damaging than the original problem, and that's exactly what we have in this new evaluation agreement.

This isn't going to end well and unlike Gary Rubenstein, I have a feeling it's going to be around for long enough before New Yorkers return to sanity that many people are going to be harmed by this, careers will be ended, reputations ruined.

And I am willing to bet my S" rating that the people who brought this nightmare into being - from the pols to the hedge fund managers and education reformers to the corporate media columnists and editorial boards to the union leaders, will be the only people NOT held accountable for this in the end.


  1. When careers of good, honest and hard working people are threatened - when the life that individuals have worked honestly for and sacrificed for - when things such as one's family is threatened due to UNFAIRNESS and UNPROVEN NUMBERS, desperation, anger and hate towards either the system or specific individuals will take hold. IT SCARES ME WHAT SOME OF THE CONSEQUENCES FROM THIS MAY BE.

  2. "The supreme misfortune is when theory outstrips performance." - Leonardo Da Vinci
    Extremely sad and disturbing to watch all this going down. You are right to ultimately blame Obama, who has absolutely failed to lead on all of the critical issues. I guess we now know what he and Bloomberg were talking about in that coffee shop.