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Sunday, December 27, 2009

Marcus Winters on "Teacher Quality"

2009-12-19 10:06:00 ednews
Teachers’ Unions vs. Progress—Again
Education News

Marcus A. Winters

New York resists reforms that would bring in millions and improve teacher quality.
Ever wonder how effective your child’s teacher is? Officials in Albany would rather you didn’t know. At least that’s the lesson one has to take from their refusal to allow data systems to match students to teachers, though doing so would help the state compete for a pot of perhaps hundreds of millions of federal dollars. Narrow political interests stand in the way of improving our schools and easing New York taxpayers’ burdens.

The use of data to improve student learning is a crucial modern education reform. Standardized tests produce rich sources of information that researchers can use to identify effective policies and practices. The data revolution, moreover, promises to move education policy away from politics. Numbers don’t have agendas or run for reelection. Accurately collected and properly analyzed, data can reveal truths that escape our sight.

One such truth is the effectiveness of individual teachers. Data analysis is far from perfect, and no one argues that it should be used in isolation to make employment decisions. But modern techniques can help us distinguish between teachers whose students excel and teachers whose students languish or fail. There’s just one problem with the data revolution: it doesn’t work without data. States must develop data sets that track the individual performance of students over time and match those students to their teachers.

Unfortunately, New York has deliberately refused to take that step. The state already has a sophisticated system for tracking student progress, but it doesn’t allow this statewide data set to match students to their teachers. No technical or administrative factors prevent the state from doing so. Only political obstacles stand in the way. The premise underlying the policies favored by the teachers’ unions, which govern so much of the relationship between public schools and teachers, is that all teachers are uniformly effective. Once we can objectively distinguish between effective and ineffective teachers, the system of uncritically granted tenure, a single salary schedule based on experience and credentials, and school placements based on seniority become untenable. The unions don’t want information about their members’ effectiveness to be available, let alone put to practical use, and thus far they’ve successfully blocked New York State’s use of such data.

Along with its refusal to improve its data system, the state has kept cities from adopting reforms. When New York City hinted that it would use its own data system to evaluate teachers based on student test scores, the state legislature passed a law banning the practice. Fortunately, that law is set to expire next year and may never actually be enforced, thanks to the city’s new reading of it, which frees city officials to use test scores for tenure decisions this year. Still, the legislature’s actions illustrate its opposition to using data in any way that would identify ineffective teachers.

New York’s stubborn resistance to the data revolution not only harms the education our children receive; it leaves hundreds of millions of federal dollars on the table during a massive budget crunch. The Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant competition will distribute $4.35 billion to states that pursue modern education reforms. According to the competition’s rules, however, any state with a law that prohibits the use of test-score data to evaluate teachers is immediately disqualified from consideration. A state’s application also becomes more attractive under the guidelines if its data set matches students to teachers. Currently, New York fails on both counts.

It’s time for New Yorkers to push Albany politicians for real information about teacher quality. Getting New York into the running for Race to the Top funds is a compelling reason to make the change now rather than later.

Marcus A. Winters, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, conducts research and writes about education policy, including such topics as school choice, high school graduation rates, accountability, and special education.

Comments (2 posted):
Doug Little on 2009-12-19 17:41:22

The Manhatten Institute is not some detached apolitical organization. It is a far right wing anti-union outfit with an agenda. Nobody is surprised by their position. There is no research that shows that this would be advantagous to education. There are simply far too many variables. It is a field full of contradictions. Even testing before and after a term/year and doing so-called value added if full of holes. Some groups are easier to move than others. This is another prime example of educational comment by people who are not educators and are not close to education. A know-nothing opinion.

Christine D'Amico on 2009-12-27 09:41:09

What "sophisticated data-system" is this guy actually referring to? You mean the faulty tests that are dumbed down and are not showing any real progress? The same NY State Tests that the Federal Government has just reported are too easy? Are you going to take into account all the variables involved in teaching. Perhaps a kid is from a wealthy home and gets tutoring on the side? Would that be taken into account when he scores well? And who gets graded the teacher or the tutor? Come on, this is the Obama administration side-stepping the real issue which is that CURRICULUM, which works and is research based needs to be the focus of these funds. Instead, they want to grade teachers for using curriculum which is often NOT of their choice to see whether or not they are effective teachers. For the RECORD, the Bloomberg administration SIDE-STEPPED lots of Federal Funds when they chose the MONTH-BY-MONTH Phonics program which had no research whatsoever behind it, because it was cheaper than a solid program like Sing, Spell, Read & Write which has 35 years of research to back it up.

Scoring system for school aid
Obama program assigns points to reform efforts in competition for funds

By Nick Anderson, Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 12, 2009

Educators argue endlessly about the merits of one idea or another to improve schools. But with billions of dollars at stake, the Obama administration Thursday will lay out a novel federal system for keeping score.

Making education funding a priority? Good for 10 points. Demonstrating significant progress in raising achievement and closing gaps? That's worth 30. Developing and adopting common academic standards, turning around the lowest-achieving schools and ensuring successful conditions for high-performing charter schools: Those are worth 40 each.

But improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance is worth more than any specific improvement: 58 points.

Those are the priorities in the Education Department's rulebook for the unprecedented $4.35 billion Race to the Top reform competition. States and the District of Columbia are invited to compete. Bids will be rated on the point system, which Education Secretary Arne Duncan approved. A perfect bid will score 500 points and could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The call to action on teacher-principal improvement, which means factoring student test score growth into job evaluations, is likely to draw intense scrutiny from unions.

Arne Duncan

"We're saying student achievement matters and teachers and principals make a huge difference in students' lives," Duncan said in an interview. "That has never happened in the history of this country before. We're getting a lot of pushback on this, but it is a game-changer."

The fund, created through the economic recovery law, is unique. No education secretary has ever had so much money for school improvement with so few conditions from Congress. Proposed rules, announced in July, drew significant criticism from teachers unions and stirred debate in the education world because they offered a window into Obama's thinking about how to move beyond the No Child Left Behind era. Officials said they drew up final rules with that feedback in mind but kept the essentials intact.

Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers, who had criticized major elements of the proposed rules as "Bush III," praised the final version. She said the administration made changes to ensure that teachers are included. She also cited the addition of a key qualifier -- that teachers should be evaluated on "multiple" measures, including, but not limited to, student achievement.

"They worked hard to find the right balance. I see a real culture shift in these regulations from what we had seen in the previous administration," Weingarten said. "At the end of the day, the culture shift is about can we collaborate, work together to make schools better."

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, the largest teachers union, with 3.2 million members, said the final rules were better. But he said he was disappointed by the continuing focus on tying test scores to job evaluations. "I think they missed the mark," he said.

Maryland and D.C. officials said Wednesday that they plan to compete in the first round, with bids due in mid-January. Virginia officials did not commit to a timetable.

"We've got great conditions on the ground that make D.C. a really interesting competitor," said D.C. State Superintendent of Education Kerri Briggs. She cited the city's growing charter school movement and a new teacher evaluation system. "We're on board."

At stake for the District is $20 million to $75 million. For Maryland and Virginia, awards could range from $150 million to $250 million each.

Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick said the state is seeking help from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to draft a bid. The funding, Grasmick said, "serves as a catalyst for a visionary approach to where are you going in this 21st century and how can you use the money to leverage very significant changes. That's what we want to do."

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