Teaching Vet: Kids Are Not Proficient, Because Teachers Are Told Not to Teach

Photo Credit: J. Sanna (CC-By-2.0)

Richard Ullman, a 29-year veteran high school teacher in New York State, wrote an op/ed for Education Week where he made the claim that students are not proficient in reading or other essential skill areas because teachers are being told not to teach.

He writes:

During my 29-year career as a high school teacher in New York state, I’ve had a front-and-center view of the almost uncontested sway that university- and district-level education experts hold over the training, certification, and—most notably—the evaluation of teachers. Often the same state-provided consultants who oversee teacher professional development also train administrators on what to look for during classroom observations.

Operating in an accountability-free safe zone, these architects of methodology seem to subscribe almost uniformly to a type of educational PC—or pedagogical correctness—that views content-focused, direct instruction by subject matter experts in a structured, disruption-free classroom as an outmoded “drill and kill” approach to which students should never be subjected.

One need look no further than the vast majority of teacher-evaluation rubrics to see how pedagogically correct theory becomes practice-transforming policy. Many of these instruments, including the widely used Danielson Framework, compel observers to assume the role of engagement watchdog. The highest ratings can only be given if the classroom is a busy, collaborative space where teachers place students almost immediately in the educational driver’s seat.

Predictably, many classrooms have become social, bustling, sometimes chaotic environments, where teachers—even masters of their craft—are relegated to facilitator status, lest they be scolded for failing to limit teacher talk time, allowing any student to be even momentarily bored, or being too didactic in their approach.

He notes that students are in control of whether or not they learn, they have to want to learn, but that is not the same thing as teachers, as Ullman puts it, giving up control of the classroom.

Ullman also notes that many of the strategies pushed by education “experts” seek to put critical thinking and creativity before content knowledge and skill acquisition. Couple that with students guiding their learning and working collaboratively in groups and you have a recipe for a subpar education.

Read the whole piece (paywall).

Why Gates’ Big Data Experiment Assessing Teacher Performance Failed

Cathy O’Neil, a mathematician, hedge-fund analyst and data scientist, points out in a piece for Bloomberg yesterday why the Gates’ Foundation’s Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching experiment not only failed but did actual harm to public schools.

Gathering data from assessments, principal observations of teachers, and evaluations from students and teachers they used an algorithm to determine whether a teacher was adding value.

She writes that the goal was to reward the good teachers and root out the bad.

She writes:

Laudable as the intention may have been, it didn’t work. As the independent assessment, produced by the Rand Corporation, put it: “The initiative did not achieve its goals for student achievement or graduation,” particularly for low-income minority students. The report, however, stops short of drawing what I see as the more important conclusion: The approach that the Gates program epitomizes has actually done damage. It has unfairly ruined careers, driving teachers out of the profession amid a nationwide shortage. And its flawed use of metrics has undermined science.

The program’s underlying assumption, common in the world of “big data,” is that data is good and more data is better. To that end, genuine efforts were made to gather as much potentially relevant information as possible. As such programs go, this was the best-case scenario.

Still, to a statistician, the problems are apparent. Principals tend to give almost all teachers great scores — a flaw that the Rand report found to be increasingly true in the latest observational frameworks, even though some teachers found them useful. The value-added models used to rate teachers — typically black boxes whose inner workings are kept secret — are known to be little better than random number generators, and the ones used in the Gates program were no exception. The models’ best defense was that the addition of other measures could mitigate their flaws — a terrible recommendation for a supposedly scientific instrument. Those other measures, such as parent and student surveys, are also biased: As every pollster knows, the answer depends on how you frame the question.

Read the whole thing.

It must be awesome to get to purchase education policy. How many schools, teachers, and students will they experiment on when they finally learn that this is not the way to go about determining education policy?

NY Assembly Passes Bill to Decouple Assessments from Teacher Evaluations

Last week, I wrote that the New York Assembly introduced a bill that would decouple assessments from teacher evaluations. This week, they passed that bill 131 to 1.

WAMC reports:

Opposition to the former Common Core standards and the associated tests became a rare bipartisan issue at the Capitol. Assemblyman Steve Otis, a Democrat from Westchester, voted for the repeal.

“We heard from school superintendents, school board members, teachers, parents, the same message all united,” Otis said. “They didn’t think the state tests were helping them teach kids.”

Assemblyman Fred Thiele, a Republican from Long Island, says the change would restore local control to school districts.

It now heads to the Senate where there is momentum to pass this bill.

In the Senate, Senator Jim Tedisco, a former teacher, is sponsoring a similar measure in the state Senate. Tedisco, a Republican from Schenectady, says the list of supporters has grown to 38 senators, but there is still some opposition to putting the bill on the floor for a vote.

“We’re going to work hard to, no pun intended, educate my colleagues on the importance of not using a standardized test as the Holy Grail for evaluating kids,” Tedisco said. “Or by extension evaluating teachers.”

I wrote last week:

Common Core is still present in New York State regardless of the recent revisions of their state standards. In 2016, The New York State Education Department adjusted their statewide assessment to encourage “opt-ins” as the state has seen the most student opt-outs of any in the nation and that did not change in 2016 as some deemed the 3rd-grade assessment to be age-inappropriate.

This bill will, at the very least, ensure teachers that they won’t have to teach to the test in order to help their standing with evaluations. Also, it is true that some students just don’t test well. That does not mean they are not learning. I also hope that it will reduce potential pressure parents may receive from their local school districts if they decide to opt their student out.

My thoughts toward this bill haven’t changed. This is a good development, but we’ll have to wait and see how much impact it will make in the classroom. If lawmakers think this will curb parental efforts to opt-out of assessments they will probably be disappointed.

As I also said last week, the New York Legislature needs to pass a bill affirming assessment opt-out.

NY Assembly Introduces Bill to Bar Using Assessment Scores on Teacher Evaluations

Photo Credit: Jim Bowen (CC-By-2.0)

A bill was introduced Thursday in the New York Assembly that would bar schools from using standardized assessment scores on teacher evaluations.

The New York Post reports:

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie introduce the bill late Thursday and Cuomo’s office released a statement indicating the governor was on board.

“We have been working the Legislature and education community for months to address this issue and would like to reach a resolution this session‎,” said Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi.

The announcement came hours after Cynthia Nixon, Cuomo’s Democrtic primary opponent, called for a repeal of the evaluation system.

Eliminating the mandate would be a victory for the teachers’ union, which has long opposed the use of state English and math exams for grades 3 to 8 exams to rate teachers.

“It has become increasingly clear that standardized tests do not fully account for the diversity of our student populations,” said Speaker Carl Heastie.

Read the rest.

Common Core is still present in New York State regardless of the recent revisions of their state standards. In 2016, The New York State Education Department adjusted their statewide assessment to encourage “opt-ins” as the state has seen the most student opt-outs of any in the nation and that did not change in 2016 as some deemed the 3rd-grade assessment to be age-inappropriate.

This bill will, at the very least, ensure teachers that they won’t have to teach to the test in order to help their standing with evaluations. Also, it is true that some students just don’t test well. That does not mean they are not learning. I also hope that it will reduce potential pressure parents may receive from their local school districts if they decide to opt their student out.

We are still waiting for a bill from the New York Legislature that affirms a parent’s right to do just that.

New Jersey Assembly Blocks PARCC From Being Used in Teacher Evaluations


The New Jersey Assembly voted overwhelmingly to prevent PARCC scores from being used to evaluate teachers The Press of Atlantic City reports:

The state Assembly on Thursday approved a bill that would prohibit the use of student standardized test results as part of teacher or principal evaluations.

The bill passed 52-11-8.

For the past two years the results of the state tests have accounted for 10 percent of teacher evaluations under state Department of Education regulations. Starting this year test results would count for 30 percent of the evaluation.

Approximately 15 percent of New Jersey educators will have PARCC results factored into their evaluations.

That bill sailed through the Assembly Education Committee 11 to 1 earlier this month. It now heads off to the New Jersey Senate.

Common Core Dollars Spent to Retrain Teachers, But States Still Can’t Identify Failing Teachers

Billions of tax dollars have been spent over decades to prepare teachers but have produced little evidence of success. States complain that they can’t identify ineffective teachers. It is time to wake up and smell the burning toast!

The significance of subjecting teachers to failed teacher-training programs is lost on those who influence education. Billions of dollars from the federal Common Core Standards, Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation, and other sources will be spent to prepare quality teachers; but those programs will use recommendations from the same educational theorists who created those “failing” teachers in the first place. It is time to stop spending good money on failed policies. Let’s face some truths.

Research and logic indicate that great teachers know their subject well and can simplify complex concepts so children can understand. To achieve this level of skill, each teacher must master the subject he will teach and be prepared to employ whichever teaching method would be most appropriate and effective for a given situation. Teachers fail when the educational system neglects to provide that teacher with the basic knowledge needed to become an expert in a subject.

Grammar and syntax should be introduced early. Even a five year old child can recognize the difference between a noun and a verb; but few adults today have a clear understanding of grammar and syntax or precise writing. English teachers need to master that knowledge to be effective. Accurate comprehension skills are based on people’s ability to recognize the relationship between basic parts of a sentence and their modifiers. 

Math has been the one subject without a language barrier. Discovered thousands of years ago, most efficient mathematical processes allow any person from any country to “talk math” with a person from any other country. As a result, civilizations advanced and evolved with amazing speed. Today, teachers and parents must learn new terminology to help children learn math. No longer can Americans think or communicate using a universal mathematical language.

Few Americans recognize the relationship of math patterns to scientific discoveries, music, or art. They fail to see math as the most amazing puzzle ever created. Federally created programs have allowed citizens to become mathematically illiterate.

The failed Modern Math of the 1960s is similar to the math standards and curricula provided under Common Core Standards. These two programs encourage children to discover the answer to a math problem on their own, and they require teachers to accept incorrect creative answers over factually correct answers.

Basic math formulas simplify math; they help explain the relationships between patterns, and they create a universal language. Too many America children and teachers have been robbed of this basic understanding of math. Teachers are being labeled as failures when it is their K-12 and college training programs that have failed them.

Teachers are beginning to revolt against being held accountable for failed policies. They have been made invisible, and their involvement has not been sought while policies are being created that will impact their success and that of their students.

Every teaching method available to teachers today was available at the time of Plato and Socrates. There are no new teaching methods. Some technologies have made the implementation of those methods more effective, and current teacher-training programs do a relatively good job of preparing teachers to implement teaching methods. The problem occurs when federally aligned curricula requires teachers to use teaching methods which are not appropriate for a specific group of students or for a specific concept that is being taught.

Teachers who object to federal interventions that limit their ability to help students succeed are often threatened with suspension for insubordination.

Teachers need the right to choose the teaching method most appropriate for any given class and for any specific concept. A teacher who chooses a teaching method that fails students is responsible for that failure. When teachers are forced to use methods that are not best for their students, holding the teacher accountable is not fair. That concept belongs in every new teacher- preparation program!

If teachers were required to know their subject, lack of knowledge could be easily identified. If teachers were required to convey that knowledge effectively to students, a five-point quiz could determine a teacher’s effectiveness. Yet, state leaders are complaining that after spending billions on teacher training, they can’t identify ineffective teachers.

Perhaps the teacher is NOT the problem. Teacher-preparation programs convince teachers to implement federal programs that are morally or intellectually offensive to them. For example:  Common Core math standards for grade four require nine-year old children to “critique the reasoning of others.” Teachers would be reluctant to require children to critique the reasoning of classmates or to allow a child to feel bullied.

One reason teacher-training programs fail is that educational leaders spend hours convincing teachers that making children “construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others” is educationally sound, morally and ethically necessary. Teachers are told that if this process fails the students, the teacher has failed. Teachers are then reminded that their evaluations will be based upon how well they implement this standard. I sat through many in-service and professional development days where this is exactly what happened.

Citizens, when your state labels teachers as failures and wants more of your dollars to fund the same old teacher-training programs, refuse to fund any program that fails to improve the teacher’s knowledge of the subject(s) he teaches. Remind your state legislators that Georgia recently spent more than $1 BILLION dollars annually on teacher-improvement efforts with “little evidence of success.” The reason given was that the state “hasn’t figured out a way to identify and remov
e ineffective teachers.” Citizens must stop this misuse of funds. We must withhold support for failed federal policies and insist that educational experts be responsible for the failures they have created.

Georgia Gets Threatened With the Stick

Well if Race to the Top wasn’t a mandate for the states prior to receiving a grant, it certainly is after it has been awarded.  What the Federal government gives, the Federal government can also take away.  This is a lesson that Georgia is learning at the moment.

Part of Georgia’s $400 million Race to the Top grant is being put on high-risk status, the U.S. Department of Education told Gov. Nathan Deal in a letter dated July 2. The department is worried that the state, which has had a number of amendments to its plan in the tricky area of teacher evaluation, has strayed too far from the vision it originally outlined in its winning application.

Peer reviewers gave Georgia high marks in the second phase of Race to the Top, despite that the U.S. Department of Education has concerns about how teacher evaluations are being implemented.

So what are the department’s concerns when it comes to Georgia’s teacher-evaluation system? First off, the department is concerned about the strategy behind the teacher-evaluation component of the grant. Federal officials want more information about the quality of the tools the state is using for its educator evaluation pilot program, for example. And they want to know whether supports being given to districts can be scaled.

Also, Georgia has asked for a number of amendments to the teacher-evaluation component of its plan. When taken together, these could represent a big shift from the state’s original vision, the department contends.

One amendment deals with Georgia’s move to incorporate student surveys into the “qualitative measures” portion of its teacher-evaluation system, which includes observations and is worth 40 percent for teachers, and 30 percent for principals. Before the state can take that step, it must provide more specifics about how the surveys would work as a valid part of a teacher’s evaluation, the department wrote.

And earlier this year, Georgia asked to rework implementation of the portion of its teacher-evaluation system dealing with closing the student achievement gap. In order to do that, the state was asked to detail other methods for calculating whether the achievement gap has narrowed, and come up with a proposal for implementing the achievement gap component in the 2012-13 school year. Georgia submitted that information last month, but it only “minimally” met the department’s criteria. So the department is holding off on approving the achievement gap change.

With Federal money strings are always attached – always.