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Saturday, April 10, 2010

In Chicago, The "Excellence In Teaching Program" Is Tested

Katie Loveland, a fifth-grade teacher at the George B. Swift Specialty School, took a one-on-one approach in explaining fractions.

The issue that has created the problem of the "Rubber Rooms" is that Joel Klein and Mike Bloomberg have given principals, and the retired policemen and policewomen who are now working with OSI and SCI, the right to say "Jane/John Doe is a 'bad' teacher and I want her/him out of my school". Proving this statement comes later, or not at all.

In order to escape accountability for making false claims against NYC BOE employees, education administrators threaten and harass their victims to the point where they have to decide to prove their innocence, or give up, pay the fine offered by the Gotcha Squad, and agree never to sue the NYC BOE/DOE.

If you are the victim, here are my suggestions:

(1) if you are guilty of what you are accused of, settle, pay the fine, take the punishment (as long as the punishment fits the crime);

(2) if you are not guilty, stand your ground, gather your evidence, request that your advocate/lawyer contact your witness(es) and fight to prove your innocence.

Submission to threats and false claims about you/your character will follow you wherever you go for the rest of your career and your life.

Who is a 'bad' teacher? Who gave Joel Klein the right to say to principals and fake investigators that they could evaluate teachers and make a determination of their teaching abilities without, in most cases, ever having been a teacher themselves?
Click here for Klein's statement about teaching at a January 2004 breakfast.

Did big money, as in The Broad Foundation, change America's perspective on who could evaluate teachers?

Louis V. Gerstner Jr. thought he knew when he and others formed The Teaching Commission in 2003. Their report on obtaining "the best" teachers, "Teaching At Risk", reminded me of China's Chairman Mao's Little Red Book (which I picked up in Chinese when I visited Hong Kong in 1968) was followed by "Teaching At Risk: Progress and Potholes" in which Mr. Gerstner closed the doors on his Commission with some final comments.

April 8, 2010
Schools Test a New Tool for Improving Evaluation of Teachers

In a Chicago Public Schools system where half the schools are on probation yet 93 percent of teachers are rated “excellent” or “superior,” administrators are testing an evaluation process to more accurately measure a teacher’s classroom performance — with an eye toward closing the huge gap.

A pilot program called Excellence in Teaching, now being tested in 100 Chicago schools, seeks to produce an honest conversation about performance, useful feedback to teachers from principals and more realistic evaluations of performance in the classroom. Instead of a vague checklist that principals use to rate teacher effectiveness, the new program aims to define good and bad teaching, gives principals and teachers a common language to discuss frankly how to make improvements, and requires evidence that teachers meet certain criteria.

The Chicago Teachers Union has indicated support for the concept behind Excellence in Teaching, but specifics of any new evaluation system will have to be negotiated with the district.

“We’ve gone far too long without a definition of what good teaching looks like,” said Sheri Frost Leo, a manager in the Chicago Public Schools’ Office of Human Capital.

The pilot program is “trying to shift the conversation from opinion, judgment and surface-level conversations around a checklist to deeper-level conversation,” Ms. Leo said.

As the Obama administration pushes for assessments tied to student achievement with its Race to the Top program, school districts nationwide are under pressure to redesign their teacher evaluations. But for teachers and students to improve, educators say an evaluation system must go beyond just stamping each teacher with a rating.

“It’s not sufficient to say your kids aren’t learning fractions well. The teacher needs to know, What do I do differently to teach the kids fractions?” said Charlotte Danielson, an educator who developed the Framework for Teaching criteria that Chicago Public Schools and other Illinois districts are using to define effective or ineffective teaching.

Currently, Chicago principals evaluate teachers using a one-page list of general questions about teacher practices. Next to each category the principal can mark “strength,” “weakness” or “does not apply.”

Provides written lesson plans? Check.

Presents an appearance that does not adversely affect the students’ ability to learn? Check.

Keeps up-to-date records? Check.

Some principals argue that, because of the checklist’s limitations, they may end up marking an entry as “strength” when it really belongs in a lesser category. A teacher may present a lesson plan that satisfies the checklist criteria, but that same plan may not necessarily engage students and help them learn.

For their part, teachers complain about the lack of feedback about their work. In some cases, principals do not even observe teachers in their classrooms, with some saying they just “know” good teaching.

“Our current process is a flawed process,” said Connee R. Fitch-Blanks, who coordinates professional development programs for the Chicago Teachers Union. “It does not lend itself to teacher growth or student achievement.”

As it builds a new system, Chicago Public Schools is also looking to the Chicago Teacher Advancement Program, a pilot project that awards bonuses to teachers whose students improve academically, as well as Fresh Start, another experimental program that features intensive peer review and mentoring for struggling teachers. State law requires the district to have a new system in 300 of its schools by Sept. 1, 2012.

In 2007-8, the school administration and the union settled on the criteria developed by Ms. Danielson to create Chicago’s Excellence in Teaching pilot. Teachers are rated in 22 categories. For example, an “unsatisfactory” rating is given to teachers who elicit “recitation rather than discussion” with their questions to students. Ms. Danielson’s assessment system also defines “basic” and “proficient” teaching. According to the ratings system, teachers are rated “distinguished” if “students formulate many of the high-level questions.”

The teachers’ union withdrew from the project because of disagreements about the nonrenewal of teachers without tenure. But Dr. Fitch-Blanks said the union was otherwise in favor of including Excellence in Teaching in the district’s new evaluation system in part because it offered an opportunity to develop a process in which teachers could grow professionally.

Because of the disagreement with the union, the district started the Excellence in Teaching project in 2008-9 as a supplement to the checklist, which is still the official system.

At the George B. Swift Specialty School in the Edgewater neighborhood recently, Harlee Till, the principal, took notes on a clipboard in the back of Katie Loveland’s fifth-grade classroom as the teacher drew circles on a white board to illustrate whole numbers.

Ms. Loveland, in her seventh year of teaching, has struggled to get her students to understand the concept of equivalent fractions. Instead of having Ms. Till observe a lesson that Ms. Loveland knows she can ace, she has asked the principal to critique this lesson about adding and subtracting fractions.

As part of the pilot project, Ms. Loveland and Ms. Till had a conference before the observation session to discuss her lesson plan. Later, they discussed the lesson, what Ms. Loveland is doing right and, more importantly to both, what she could do better.

“With just a checklist, a lot of teachers feel like ‘I know what’s on the checklist — I have to do this, this and this,’ ” Ms. Loveland said. “This is a more effective tool to communicate with the principal and how they can help you to better serve the students.”

According to an evaluation of the first year of Excellence in Teaching by the Consortium on Chicago School Research, about half the participating principals noted improvements in teachers’ instructional approach.

Since the Swift school started using the pilot program, Ms. Till said she had seen a positive shift toward more student involvement. The school was moving along, test scores were on the rise, she said, but it was all predicated on teachers’ pushing students in that direction.

“With the pilot,” she said, “the only way you can get the highest marking is if the kids have ownership, if the kids are the ones helping manage behavior in the classroom, asking the right questions.”

If problems are identified, schools can bring in professional-development support, including mentoring, to push teachers forward. But in cases where performance is exceptionally low, school leaders expect that a more accurate and consistent system of evaluating classroom performance will provide better evidence to justify removing some low-performing teachers, something rarely done in Chicago.

In 2008-9, 0.16 percent of teachers — a total of 35 of about 22,500 teachers — were removed, resigned or retired after performance-related dismissal proceedings were started, according to district figures.

The consortium’s report on Excellence in Teaching shows that the new ratings for teachers are starting to spread across a wider range. Of the ratings given to Excellence in Teaching teachers through March 5, 3 percent were “unsatisfactory,” 21 percent fell into the “basic” category, 55 percent were “proficient” and 21 percent were “distinguished.”

Under the checklist system, 0.3 percent of teachers are found to be “unsatisfactory.” Consortium researchers pointed out that more teachers would be identified as low-performing under the new system, as 8 percent of teachers in the sample for the first year report received at least one finding of “unsatisfactory,” which is described as hindering students’ learning.

Of the teachers in the pilot program who received the top rating, “superior,” under the checklist, independent observers found only 1 percent to be worthy of the top rating under the new system. A few of the teachers were even rated “unsatisfactory,” according to the consortium study.

Lauren Sartain, an author of the consortium report, said the checklist system did not provide clear criteria for finding teachers to be excellent or superior. “Those labels are applied arbitrarily,” Ms. Sartain said, “and this data backs that up.”

Some principals told researchers that the new framework made them realize how subjective they had been in past evaluations, that more training was needed and that the district needed to address how time-consuming the new program was.

Sylvia Baime, going on her 20th year as a teacher in the district, said most teachers wanted constructive critiques to improve.

“Someone comes in, actually observes you and gives their feedback — rather than just saying ‘Oh, here you go. You’re a wonderful teacher. Goodbye,’ ” Ms. Baime said.