Fifty percent, and reporters who don’t comment.
After I blogged
on the topic, several reporters wrote me personally about how policy makers in their states decided that student test scores should count toward at least 50 percent of teacher evaluations. In some places consultants insisted that would be a do-or-die threshold for Race to the Top money, though it is not clear that is the the case. (Of the winners, Tennessee policy is 50 percent, while it looks like
Delaware has not come to an exact figure.) Under Florida law, teacher evaluations have to be based “predominantly” on student achievement. Achievement means test scores, and apparently 50 percent means predominantly. Nothing fancier than that.
You may have noticed that on a blog dedicated to education journalism, education journalists rarely comment, even to add facts. They often write me personally about my posts, but I know an awful lot of reporters, especially newspaper reporters, who never
comment on blogs. Is it that it feels too much like publicly expressing opinion, which just isn’t in a reporter’s DNA—and in some forms and at some places is not allowed? (I get it; I might not either in their shoes.) Reporters are more likely to respond to my blog feed on Facebook.
Hey, reporters: Want to comment on why you don’t comment?
Labels: teacher_evaluation, teacher_evaluations
Did you know there are competitive middle school Scrabble teams? I didn’t either, but now I do, thanks to Stefan Fatsis
. Stefan is a sports journalist whose book about competitive Scrabble, Word Freak
, is marvelously engaging, and he coaches school Scrabble in D.C.
I’m going to help him when the school year starts up again, and I couldn’t be more excited. This is the longest stretch of my life I haven’t done some sort of work directly with (other people’s) children, and while my current volunteer work as a cooking school
assistant is gustatorially rewarding, I am excited to get back into that other type of school.
Does a school you cover have a Scrabble team? Not that I am totally biased or anything—but I think that might make a nice feature story.
I am very excited that Caroline Hendrie
is going to be the new executive director of EWA. My condolences to Education Week, where Caroline has worked for 15 years and is reportedly invaluable. Their loss is not just my organization’s gain, but a great gain for education journalists everywhere. Caroline has big shoes to fill—Lisa Walker has, over the last 24 years, admirably built EWA into what it is today—and will begin to try to do so on June 1.
If you haven’t read enough about teacher quality this week...
I didn’t love Newsweek’s “fire bad teachers” cover image
back in March, and the article itself
had a critical flaw, I felt: It conflated mediocre teachers and the truly depraved into one big category of “bad.” Firing the latter should be a no-brainer; firing the former is a whole different story. (Practical? Desirable? Etc.) I feel at times like the debate on teacher quality as it appears in the national media neglects more complicated shades of grey of reality, such as how to make so-so teachers better.
This month’s Educational Leadership
from ASCD parodies the Newsweek cover and has some interesting, though not groundbreaking, articles about teacher quality. There’s one piece about Generation Y and what they might need as teachers. Feedback! Lots of feedback and praise. (No surprise to me—lots of twentysomethings in my life who complain when their bosses don’t say anything to them after a day of good work.)
Whence 50 percent?
The thinking seems to be
in some circles that counting student test scores for anything less than 50 percent in teacher evaluation won’t get a state Race to the Top money. Does anybody know where the 50 percent figure originated? Is it just because it is powerful to say that at least half a teacher’s value be tied to student performance? It seems like a lot to me when the tests and processes still, by everyone’s admission, need to be refined—so I am wondering how this figure has become the rhetorical baseline.
Labels: teacher_evaluation, teacher_evaluations
Let the sun shine in.
Glad to see the Cincinnati Enquirer and Gannett successfully fought
(so far) an open meetings violation by the city school board. Let us not forget that journalism costs money—often a lot of money, in the form of legal bills.
When I went back to Wesleyan for a reunion a few years ago, I came across flyers urging students to stop using cocaine. Not because cocaine is, you know, dangerous and illegal ... but because it makes its way to American noses by way of oppressive labor practices in the third world. If you knew much about Wesleyan—it was the model for the movie “PCU” and its genius scene with the marchers shouting, “No more protests! No more protests!”—you wouldn’t be surprised.
Given that Wesleyan is a sort of Reed East, I read this Inside Higher Ed piece
on drug use at Reed with interest and noted with familiar bemusement the U.S. attorney and county D.A.’s attempt to liberal-guilt students into sobering up. They wrote in a letter to the student body, “The fact is that the drug trade is now fueled by one of the most potent forces in the West: greed.”
The promised crackdown on illegal drugs at Reed does not seem to mention the most prevalent illegal drug of all: alcohol. I suppose on a campus dealing with heroin overdose, focusing on the illegal illegals is somewhat of a gateway intervention. I went to college at a place and time where Public Safety pushed wasted students home in Waldbaum’s shopping carts rather than attempt to enforce any laws. I am quite curious about this culture shift at schools that have long been tolerant of substance abuse and would like to read more about it.
Making the grade: story ideas.
Okay, yeah, sorry about the headline. Such an easy fallback title that shows up practically everywhere
The topic, though: so much there! Over the last five years or so, school districts have taken a hard look at the way students are graded. Efforts to make grades more “meaningful” butt up against efforts to leave no child behind, as a lawsuit in Austin
demonstrates. Minimum-grading policies that set a floor of 50 may seem like coddling, but then again, isn’t the 0-100 scale, with a 40-point range of acceptability and 60 points of failing, sort of arbitrary, mathematically? Reporters grapple come to me frequently looking at one piece of the puzzle, grade inflation—the idea that it is easier than it used to be to get an “A.”
The aspect of grading I find most intriguing is, I suppose, not a question of grading at all but of curriculum and alignment. I don’t think we can have enough stories at the moment (with real people and
data) about students who get all A’s and B’s in college prep classes and then test into remedial classes once they are at college. Does that constitute grade inflation, expectations deflation or simply a complete disconnect between what you learn in high school and what you need to know in college?
A potentially illuminating story I have never seen, even in districts completely remaking their grading metrics, walks the reader through teachers’ gradebooks and shows how those numbers and letters got there. Take us beyond the school board disagreements and show us: What do the grades mean?
In other news, the equator is really hot.
A headline like “Better teachers help children read faster” seems to be stating the obvious, doesn’t it? Getting past the headline (reporters do not write headlines and spend a lot of time trying to get past them)
, journalists at Associated Press
and Education Week
had solid reasons to cover a new piece of work about teacher effects in the primary grades, especially given the current debate on value-added—hey, how often do we get a twin study in education research? And they did a good job explaining the work.
Even given its apparent methodological strengths, though, I’m not convinced that the original report in Science magazine, Teacher Quality Moderates the Genetic Effects on Early Reading
, is telling us something anyone truly contests. People disagree on how much teachers can compensate for student deficiencies and how to measure their influence. But would anyone really predict that if one twin spends the year with that teacher everybody wants and the other with the teacher everyone dreads, they would come out in June reading at exactly the same level?
An education reporter who always delivers.
Mostly I like Las Vegas because I like to play cards, immerse myself in tourist kitsch and eat awesome if overpriced food. But you know what else I really like? Emily Richmond’s coverage of the area’s schools. She is a top-notch beat reporter who does a great job putting local stories in national context. This pairing of a nicely reported and explained news story
about the budget crisis with a feature
on a teachers’s forum about looming cuts is par for the course for Emily. Which is, like, a birdie in the scheme of things.
Do you read your alumni magazine?
The Chronicle of Higher Education
pointed me to UMagazinology
, a new blog out of Johns Hopkins about alumni magazines. I don’t love the name, but I am intrigued by the topic. Alumni mags do a pretty good job with something traditional media does not: letting readers know what is happening in the classrooms and lives of university professors. And they seem to be once of the last groups on earth that pays freelancers decently.
If you like reading about politics, or Washington, or really quirky dudes...
... read this terrific profile
in the upcoming New York Times Magazine about Mike Allen. I reside practically within watermelon-cannon distance from the nerve center of Washington and spent the most formative chunk of my professional life on the national desk of the Washington Post, during which time I was a recipient and observant of Mike’s generosities and curiosities. Still, I have no interest in the types of political minutiae Mike writes about in Politico’s Playbook
. While my well-connected neighbors are reading it at 6:30 a.m., I am likely watching on-demand “Yo Gabba Gabba” with my toddler until I can officially wake up.
You don’t have to be into inside-baseball politics to appreciate an interesting piece about somebody who is. A great profile about a person you know will capture him perfectly yet still teach you a lot. In this case, my friend Mark Leibovich succeeds marvelously. And I now have a better sense of this weird Washington I live alongside, but in many ways not really in
What I didn't get to ask about teacher quality.
The conversation about improving teacher quality these days centers primarily on two pieces: whether teachers should be evaluated and paid based on the test scores of their students, and how to fire bad teachers. But there are so many other point in the life cycle of a teacher where we might look at cultural and practical changes, tiny and massive, that might improve quality, from the point at which entering college students decide to major in education to the point at which teachers decide whether to retire. The book we discussed Monday
at the Urban Institute, Creating a New Teaching Profession
, really does a good job at peeling back all the layers. Whether or not you will like the prescriptions in the book, certainly you have to agree that it represents a broader range of entry points than we usually find in this debate.
I had lots of questions for the panelists that I never got to. I guess I should have known that my reins on the flow of conversation would be tested once Randi Weingarten and Joel Klein got going. Also, time was short! But here are some questions I will toss out, for musing and future stories:
suggested in his chapter that accountability reforms might be off-putting to and drive away the intellectually talented people we hope to attract into teaching. Is there credence to this?
—Reporters ask me “what the research says” about whether merit pay works. The simple answer is that we don’t have evidence yet. But it is important to clarify what “works” means. Raising test scores, as a primary effect? Attracting different kinds of people into the profession, or retaining successful teachers?
—Can the practical complications of value-added models and the weaknesses of the tests they are based on be refined—and do they need to be refined—in time for policy change? (At which point I would have preempted the panelists from giving “The children can’t wait” as an answer on its own, because of course our children can’t wait for effective practice. The question is about whether or not we can assure the practice is effective.)
—One point of opposition to merit pay is the idea that it would be divisive for teachers. What do teachers have to say about this, and what have we found in terms of collective versus individual pay for performance? I think there are plenty of on-the-ground stories to be written both from experiments so far, from looking at the way teams of teachers do and do not work together, and from their attitudes.
brought up in his chapter the idea of specialization. When you think about it, it is curious that a teacher who walks in the first day of school has the same exact duties as someone who has been around a decade, a teacher great in classroom management has the same daily life as one whose skills are in curriculum, and so on. How might a world of teacher specialization and differentiated duties really look?
I had more I wanted to get to, but it is perhaps too detailed and boring even for this forum.
Get your teacher quality groove on, today.
Turns out you can see today’s 3 p.m. event on teacher quality even if you aren’t in D.C. Register for the live webcast here
. It’s Joel Klein, Randi Weingarten, David Monk, Andy Rotherham and me. We are dispensing with the whole prepared-remarks thing and going “Meet the Press” style, me being the press. Is there something you want me to ask? Put it in the comments below.
Why we can't judge on clicks alone—or even mostly.
That Pulitzer-prize-winning Bristol Herald Courier series on rural Virginians being denied royalties to the natural gas production under their land got less than half the hits of a story about local waitresses being picked for a Hooters calendar, according to the paper’s editor, quoted in the Washington Post
If you know me, you know I am inherently skeptical about ratings and rankings. As an authority of both cake
, I lowered my guard and developed high hopes for the Jezebel dessert March Madness, and look what happened
: cheesecake won! As a PIE! Which is it not.
Daveen Kurutz McLaughlin of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review called my attention last week to an effort from GreatSchools.net and Forbes magazine to identify the “best cities to live and learn
,” or “the best schools for your housing buck
.” They calculated the list using a combination of test data and home prices. It seemed odd to Daveen because the Pittsburgh Public Schools
were featured, even though they are hurting academically and, as she put it, “barely made AYP this year.” We looked into the methodology.
According to GreatSchools
, the “education quality score” was determined by state test scores and NAEP data. I asked an official for more detail, and she said that proficiency rates on state tests were moderated by a multiplier depending on how well that state did on NAEP—because, as we all know, state tests are not comparable. So a district with a high pass rate in California is indexed lower than a district with that same pass rate in Connecticut.
This is sort of mathy ...
but not mathy enough. It feels like an imprecise manipulation of data to me. You can do lots of fun stuff with statistics, and I get the gist of what they were attempting, but I just do not think you cannot use state NAEP data to draw conclusions about local districts (except when you are specifically addressing those that participate in the urban NAEP—which Pittsburgh, among many others, does not).
As well, Daveen realized that the median home price listed was just for the city of Pittsburgh, while the academic index was derived from test results at all schools with a Pittsburgh mailing address, which includes wealthy suburbs very much NOT a part of Pittsburgh Public Schools. Given that the cities were recommended because of a combination of home value and high test scores, this discrepancy renders the equation meaningless.
My radar was set off by the inclusion of Honolulu
. There are many reasons
to live in Hawaii, but given that they have such a bad budget crisis that kids do not go to school most Fridays, I would not be trying to send people there.
Joel, Randi and me.
When I reported in middle schools I always picked up stray notes off the floor. A highlight of my collection is a crumpled piece of loose-leaf that says in now-fading pencil:
ASHLEY VS. SARAH
THE BATTLE IS ON
I keep it above my desk and couldn’t help but look at it when Jane Hannaway asked me to moderate a teacher quality forum
at the Urban Institute featuring Joel Klein and Randi Weingarten. Unlike a middle school catfight, however, this discussion will be enlightened and incisive, and will involve the principal’s office only insofar as the conversation touches on the importance of school-based administrators in ensuring teacher quality. Further ensuring a lively debate, the other panelists are Andy Rotherham and David Monk, dean of the Penn State School of Education. We will be talking about Jane’s and Dan Goldhaber’s new book, Creating a New Teaching Profession.
Come if you are in D.C. Monday, April 19, at the Urban Institute, 2100 M Street NW, 3 p.m. Register at the link above. I promise you won’t be bored.
Higher ed reporters: Come to San Francisco on us!
There are a couple of scholarships left for higher ed reporters to come to our conference
in San Francisco next month. The money covers travel, hotel and registration. Scholarships for K-12 reporters are gone, sorry. But we would still love to have you.
The other gender gap: Who are your sources?
My friend Lizzie Skurnick wades into
the NPR discussion
about how airtime and sources lean heavily male. Curious, I did some math on my source lists, which turn out to be about two-fifths female in preK-12 and one-third female in higher ed. Certainly if you look at the usual cast of characters commenting on education in the Washington policy world, it is very, very male—and very white. If you have a deep list that includes practitioners and obscure sociology professors, it tends to diversify.
Take a look at your go-to sources, and let me know what you find.
How much have we actually turned around so far?
Central Falls left a lot of reporters asking about how much turnaround has actually occurred since NCLB began, and what it has looked like. A new Education Sector report, “Restructuring ‘Restructuring,’
” gives some useful context.
While I was away, I was glad to see I am not the only one who thinks newspaper online comments are a mess. Leonard Pitts Jr.
of the Miami Herald and Connie Schultz
of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer last week called for a ban on anonymous comments—though the atmosphere on comments threads is so toxic I am not sure requiring names will truly improve it.
In theory, reader comments further the conversation, bring up different enlightened points of view, and so on. In reality, they are predictable and off-topic at best and racist and vile at worst. The Washington Post ombudsman, Andrew Alexander, wrote recently
, “For every noxious comment, many more are astute and stimulating.” I would say the math goes the other way around. Eighty percent of the comments on any story involving struggling minority students attack parents. Some commenters put this nicely; others suggest that taking children away from their families would be a great first step. There is no topic so apolitical that determined commenters cannot turn it into a reason to rant against the president. (After a story about college completion rates: “When is BHusseinO going to release his academic records?”)
Websites announce that comments are monitored and offensive comments are removed. Ha. It seems you can say any atrociously insulting thing you want, as long as you do not swear. Is the comment “call the bambalance!!!!!”
after a shooting in a black neighborhood in D.C. not racist because it did not include the n-word?
Newspapers don’t hire cavemen to write for them; why should they give them space in other ways? Why should a paper’s bandwidth be donated to defenses of date rape
? Why should the standard be any less than what is used to accept letters for publication on the editorial page (be an identifiable human who makes an interesting, sane point)?
Chris Davenport at the Post recently blogged
about a side effect of nasty comments: people becoming less willing to be written about in the paper. Who wants to open themselves up to such easy attacks? Even a little wedding feature will leave commenters ranting about how the couple should have taken their spoiled butts to the soup kitchen instead of throwing themselves a party.
Some people say that newspapers have an obligation to give a forum for readers to comment. But why does the bar need to be set so low? It’s the Internet; there is plenty of room for people to eviscerate the subjects of newspaper stories without the paper itself facilitating their venom. The only newspaper I have seen where the comments are consistently civil and interesting is the New York Times, which moderates heavily. For those of you who defend incivility: fine! Be nasty in your own house! If you choose to come to mine and tear up my furniture and insult my mother, as well as entire races of human beings, I will throw you out.
The Escalante Conundrum: Possible versus Probable
The death of wonder teacher Jaime Escalante Tuesday at the age of 79 has provoked some thoughtful remembrances of his remarkable life and the even more remarkable math achievement he provoked among the many students he taught at Los Angeles' Garfield High.
It got me thinking, though, about the difference between the possible and the probable. What I mean is that Escalante showed that it's possible for students who are far behind in school to achieve at high levels if they work hard enough and have the right support. Plenty of other teachers, who don't get movies made about them, have had their own incredible success stories. Nevertheless, we know, with disheartening regularity that few children like the ones at Garfield rise to those heights. In fact, student poverty and academic performance continue to have a strong, strong depressing correlation.
Elizabeth Green's wonderful NY Times Magazine story from a few weeks back gets at this issue a bit:http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/07/magazine/07Teachers-t.html
. She notes that it's unlikely that public schools can find enough top-notch teachers, much less those of Escalante
caliber, to satisfy the huge demand for teachers, a demand that, despite our current budget cutting frenzy, will return before long. Even well regarded programs such as Teach for America provide only a pittance of the teachers schools need and will need. Some reporter somewhere may done this already, but I'd love to see someone look at the possible future supply of potential top-notch teachers versus the need. If you wanted to, you could limit your examination to just the high-needs schools and leave out the suburban publics
. I would suspect that even a best-case scenario would reveal a huge supply problem.
As much as I love the Escalante-type stories, they obscure the greater difficulty of relying on such folks to close the achievement gap or whatever our ambitious goal of the day is. That such teacher-led transformation is possible, Escalante proved was the case and it still is. Making such transformations probable, though, will probably require the kind of teacher training that Green highlights, but also a range of other changes, inside schools, and, just as importantly, outside schools. I'd love to be proved wrong. I'd like all of us to become Lake Woebegone.
OK, Pet Peeve Time, readers of The Educated Reporter. Why is that so many charter schools in their promotional messages describe themselves as "tuition free"? I understand that people often are confused about what charter schools are or are not, but they are emphatically public schools, not private schools.
At a recent meeting I attended where a new Baton Rouge charter school was selling itself, the school's director used this "tuition free" phrase. He said he'd worked at private schools and public schools and that charter schools were in the middle, "the best of both worlds." Now, I understand a bit of what he's saying -- they are open to everyone, but have more freedom than traditional public schools -- but come on! These are public schools, no question. Yes, some raise private money on the side to supplement their budgets, but so do many traditional public schools. The best explanation for selling yourself in this way, to me, is to persuade parents interested in private schools, but who can't afford them, that going to a charter school is equivalent to attending a private school and doing so for free! Charter schools, while given some freedom, still have loads of laws to abide by that put them in the same family as traditional public schools. To my mind, it's purposely misleading.
I have seen this "tuition free" wording elsewhere in Louisiana. And a Google search of the phrase "tuition free charter school" produced 86,000 hits just now, so we're not alone on this. It would be nice if charter schools would stop pretending and embrace the fact that they are public schools to all audiences.
(By the way, I've been slow to post this week. I've got some OK excuses, but I know you all expect more while Linda is off. I will try to make it up to you on this Good Friday with some thoughtful posts. Never fear, The Educated Reporter herself is scheduled to return next week.)
Labels: charter schools