Articles from March, 2011

Education headlines: Record-setting teacher layoffs looming, Ohio limits collective bargaining

The Associated Press reports that the Ohio legislature voted Wednesday to severely limit the collective bargaining rights of 350,000 public workers, including teachers. The measure, which is expected to be signed by the governor, would allow unions to negotiate wages but not health care, sick time or pension benefits; bans workers from striking, and replaces automatic pay increases with merit raises or performance pay.

America’s public schools may see the most extensive layoffs of their teaching staffs in decades, the New York Times says, as school districts across the country have given layoff warnings to mass numbers of teachers… The AP also finds that many principals removed from low-performing schools as part of the federal School Improvement Grants (SIG) program are quickly finding new jobs, often in the same districts or schools where they previously worked.

And, according to the Washington Post, former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee admits “that some cheating may have occurred” after vehemently denying such claims made by USA Today as part of its ongoing investigation on cheating. That story asserts that teachers changed answers on student tests at some D.C. schools.

Joetta Sack-Min|March 31st, 2011|Categories: Announcements, School Board News, Teachers|

Testing is useful tool, even if Obama labels it boring

1335-1243972165NX9TPresident Obama says testing makes education boring.

I’m not sure he’s right on that. When I was at school, I found nothing boring about a test.

In fact, I remember with great clarity sitting at my classroom desk, reading the questions on a test paper, and feeling the panic choke my throat.

Even when I knew the material, I was sweating heavily.

That’s because my parents expected good grades. They didn’t beat me if I got bad grades. I just knew that bad grades were not acceptable.

I knew there would be consequences—although, come to think of it, those consequences were never actually spelled out.

Now, I know the President, speaking recently at town hall meeting in Washington, D.C., was really talking about the dangers of today’s overreliance on standardized testing.
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Naomi Dillon|March 31st, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Assessment, Policy Formation, Student Achievement|Tags: , , |

CPE report reveals concerns with teacher evaluations

NSBA’s Center for Public Education has released an analysis of the push to change teacher evaluation systems, especially the inclusion of statistical measures of teachers’ effect on student learning.

That report, “Building a Better Evaluation System,” finds that the current teacher evaluation system is lacking—and most evaluation systems now fail to identify truly effective and ineffective teachers.

“Current evaluation systems identify less than 1 percent of teachers as unsatisfactory even though by all accounts there are many more teachers that fall into this category,” said Jim Hull, the Center’s senior research analyst and author of the report. “This also means that our very effective teachers are lumped in with average and below average teachers and not recognized for their exceptional performance.”

Many states are looking for ways to tie teacher performance to their pay and to use teacher evaluations as a factor in determining layoffs. And the number of states that are linking teacher evaluations to student performance data is growing: In 2005, 13 states were able to do so; currently, 35 states are able to do so and the number is expected to grow.

“The push to change teacher evaluation systems, and especially to include statistical measures of teachers’ effect on student learning, is here,” Hull said. “Clearly, this is a fast-moving train that will likely affect many, if not most, school districts eventually.”

The Center has prepared a summary to help school board members prepare:

1. The current system is lacking. Current evaluation systems fail to identify the true variation in teacher effectiveness by rating all but a few teachers as “satisfactory.” One study of teacher evaluation systems nationwide found that only 1 percent of teachers are evaluated as “unsatisfactory.” Other research proves that there’s huge variability among teachers, even within schools, but it’s hidden by inadequate evaluation tools. A recent quote by Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, sums it up: “As important as evaluation is to assessing teacher performance, what passes for teacher evaluation in many districts frankly isn’t up to this important task.”

2. Improving teacher effectiveness can dramatically impact student learning. Research has shown that teachers have the single greatest impact on students’ performance, more than family background, socioeconomic status, or school.  By improving teacher effectiveness, districts could improve student achievement and save money at the same time, because they would be able to identify ineffective teachers early and provide them with appropriate support, rather than having to replace struggling teachers who leave the profession because of a lack of assistance.

3. Value-added models have flaws, but are much better than the system we have now. The fairest way to identify strong teaching is through a system that looks at student gains. Value-added models, which work to isolate the impact a teacher has on his or her students’ achievement from other factors, are the latest refinement of such a system. However, value-added models have come under intense scrutiny and criticism because the scores can be imprecise, and this criticism needs to be considered. However, while imprecision is a concern, the variation in scores should be considered against the current evaluation system, which almost certainly misidentifies many ineffective teachers as “satisfactory.” As long as they are used in concert with other methods of evaluation, value-added scores provide a useful insight into teachers’ impact.

4. Statistical measures are used to evaluate people in other industries effectively. Using imprecise statistical measures in evaluations is a generally accepted practice in fields outside of teaching. Major League Baseball, for instance, bases its million-dollar salary decisions largely on a player’s statistics, which can vary from year to year about as much as teachers’ do in value-added models. Other professions evaluated on similarly imprecise year-to-year measures include realtors; investors’ rate of return; utility company repairmen; and others. Value-added models should not be compared to a criterion of perfection, but whether including value-added models as part of a comprehensive teacher evaluation system would be an improvement over what is in place now.

5. There are ways to improve value-added models. The more years of data are used, the more precise value-added models become. For instance, the chance of misidentification drops by 10 percent when three years of data are used instead of one.  Better state assessments, and aligning the assessments to what is taught, could also improve value-added models.

6. Multiple measures are the way to go. Virtually all researchers advocate using value-added data as one of multiple measures when making decisions about teachers.  Using traditional measures, such as classroom observation, along with value-added data will present a fuller, more accurate picture of a teacher’s true effectiveness. In current formulas that use value-added models, the value-added score generally accounts for 25 to 50 percent of the total rating. Which measures to use and how much weight to put on each are decisions best made locally based on data, resources available, and the district’s goals for the teacher evaluation system.

Rebecca St. Andrie|March 31st, 2011|Categories: School Board News, Teachers|

Spare the rod; corporal punishment an outdated practice that still exists

SpankingThe phrase “corporal punishments in schools” brings to mind Agatha Trenchbull, the absurdly aggressive, vile principal from the children’s movie, Matilda. Or the 1930s nuns armed with rulers, recalled by our grandparents.

Yet this backwards method is actually a part of today’s reality?  Research  has shown nearly a quarter-million students in our country are punished through physical means each year.

I thought we were in the 21st century here, not a recurring nightmare.  My mistake.

It seems so outrageous to say any U.S. school still partakes in this, that it’s nearly impossible to believe that striking pupils as a means of discipline is still legal within 20 states in our country. 

Most of these states are in the south or rural areas—aka places that are highly embedded in tradition and often resistant to change. Somehow, these government officials actually believe this old-fashioned practice is still a good idea. 

“Each year, prodded by child safety advocates, state legislatures debate whether corporal punishment amounts to an archaic form of child abuse or an effective means of discipline,” a New York Times reporter writes.

Seriously? What’s the debate about? Striking youth as a means of punishment is abusive, plain and simple.
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Naomi Dillon|March 30th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, School Climate|Tags: |

Vote for ineffective D.C. voucher program is a waste of money, NSBA says

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 225-195 on March 30 to allot $20 million a year to vouchers for students in the District of Columbia and reopen the program to new students.

NSBA urged members  to vote against H.R. 471, the Scholarships for Opportunity Results (SOAR) Act, which would renew and expand the failed District of Columbia Opportunity Scholarship Program, the only federally-funded voucher program. The program stopped accepting new students in 2009.

“Today’s vote hurts the school children of our nation’s capitol,” said Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s Associate Executive Director for Federal Advocacy and Public Policy.  “Vouchers have been proven ineffective in raising student achievement and this failed federal voucher program is unnecessary spending that will cost U.S. taxpayers $100 million over the next five years. Congress must focus on investing in and improving public schools, where the majority of our children attend, as public schools are currently facing budget shortfalls, laying off teachers, and cutting programs that advance student achievement.”

The pilot voucher program, which based on federally-mandated studies, has repeatedly failed to show effectiveness in improving student achievement over the last seven years, a letter issued March 28 from NSBA’s advocacy department states.

The $14 million program has given vouchers of up to $7,500 for about 1,700 students each year, but the new legislation would expand that amount. While the program technically expired in 2008, it was funded for additional years in the FY 2009, FY 2010 appropriations bills and the FY 2011 continuing resolution. The current program, based on a 2009 compromise bill, allows participating students to continue in the program and stipulates that no new students will be added.

President Obama has announced his opposition to the bill, but has not threatened a veto, according to the Washington Post. The bill could become part of negotiations for an Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization or other education bill, the Post reports.

The SOAR (Scholarships for Opportunity and Results) Act was introduced in January by Speaker of the House John Boehner.

NSBA notes that numerous studies have found no significant gains in the reading and math achievement of students who had attended traditional public schools in Washington. A report by the General Accounting Office, Congress’s watchdog agency, found numerous accountability problems, including federal taxpayer dollars paying tuition at private schools that do not even charge tuition, schools that lacked a legally-required city occupancy permit, and schools employing teachers without bachelor’s degrees and/or certification. That report also noted that children with physical or learning disabilities were underrepresented compared to public schools.

Joetta Sack-Min|March 30th, 2011|Categories: Educational Legislation, Privatization, School Board News, School Vouchers|

Obama hosts town hall meeting focusing on Hispanics and education

Yesterday President Obama spoke to Latino students and families about the role education plays in their community and their future. Watch an excerpt of the forum he held in Washington D.C.

Naomi Dillon|March 29th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Policy Formation|Tags: , |

Education headlines: Teacher evaluations, charter “space wars,” and crowded community colleges

Bloomberg News analyzes the recent proposals to drastically change teacher seniority rules and collective bargaining in numerous states, while the Los Angeles Times reports on the Los Angeles Unified School District’s decision to “plunge ahead” with value-added teacher evaluations.

As part of a continuing investigation on cheating, USA Today examines the soaring scores at one D.C. school and finds and unusual number of erasures on standardized tests… The New York Times writes about the “space wars” between expanding charter schools and traditional public schools in New York City. Are big-name charter corporations getting an unfair advantage? Meanwhile, members of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards testified against a bill in the state’s senate that would expand the state’s charter school law to allow an appointed state charter school board, in addition to local school boards, the power to authorize charters, the WASB reports.

And California’s community college classes have become so popular and so crowded that a new survey found that students there are almost twice as likely to be shut out of classes they need than in other states, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Joetta Sack-Min|March 28th, 2011|Categories: Announcements, School Board News|

Importance of good nutrition becoming a staple of national discourse

A story in the Sunday New York Times highlighted the efforts Philadelphia’s public schools are taking to combat childhood obesity— and the challenges they face in doing so. I took a look at the issue last year for ASBJ, traveling down to Huntington, West Virginia, which had once been billed as the fattest city in America, a dubious distinction that earned them a visit and a makeover from celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who goes into greater detail about this project here:

Naomi Dillon|March 28th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Wellness|Tags: , , , , , |

Abolish NCLB Now

The Concord Monitor had a great commentary piece in their Sunday paper titled, “Education reform is failing kids” and noted, “The Obama administration wants to reform No Child Left Behind. Reform, however, is not what this act needs. NCLB should be abolished.”

NSBA is urging Congress to act by summer to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and replace the flawed accountability requirements in No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

NSBA’s timetable for action was reinforced by recent remarks from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. Duncan warned that, based on Department estimates, as many as 82 percent of U.S. public schools could fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in the 2011-12 school year—even in many schools that are exceeding previous achievement gains for their students. This year, 37 percent failed to meet the AYP benchmark.

“Although the intent of Congress was to improve academic achievement by all students, with particular emphasis on English language learners (ELL), students in poverty, and students with disabilities, the design of the current accountability framework in NCLB is seriously flawed,”said Michael A. Resnick, NSBA’s Associate Executive Director for Advocacy and Public Policy. “Further, when schools are identified as failing under this flawed system, the law then imposes a system of sanctions that is also flawed in terms of high cost, overbroad scope, and limited effectiveness in raising student achievement.”

Alexis Rice|March 28th, 2011|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Week in Review

They say that personnel costs comprise the bulk of school district’s budgets— gobbling up an average 80 percent of operating expenses— so, it falls to reason that personnel issues will dominate school district’s major decisions and, ultimately, future. For example, if you don’t have clearly spelled out policies on how to handle pregnant staff and maternity leave, it could be a costly mistake. Same goes for hiring practices, which a recent study found could be improved by hiring earlier in the year. Read these entries and more from this week’s Leading Source.

Naomi Dillon|March 26th, 2011|Categories: American School Board Journal, Week in Blogs|
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