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Joel Klein Pens op-ed on School Reform and Teachers
posted by: Alix | March 14, 2011, 01:53 PM   

Former Chancellor of New York City public schools Joel Klein as featured in the Washington Post this weekend:

As the debate rages over public unions and, in particular, over their role in school reform, an unfortunate dichotomy about America's teachers has emerged. On one side, unions and many teachers say that teachers are unfairly vilified, that they work incredibly hard under difficult circumstances and that they are underpaid. Critics, meanwhile, say that our education system is broken and that to fix it we need better teachers. They say that teachers today have protections and benefits not seen in the private sector - such as life tenure, lifetime pension and health benefits, and short workdays and workyears.

Both sides are right.

Teaching is incredibly hard, especially when dealing with children in high-poverty communities who come to school with enormous challenges. Many teachers work long hours, staying at school past 6 p.m., and then working at home grading papers and preparing lessons. Some teachers get outstanding results, even with our most challenged students. These are America's heroes, and they should be recognized as such. Sadly, they aren't.

On the other hand, there are also many teachers who work by the clock - they show up a minute before 8:30 and leave a minute after 3; when in school, they do the barest minimum. They get dreadful results with students and, if you spend time in their classrooms, as I have over the past eight years, it's painfully obvious that they belong in another line of work.

The problem is that our discussion too often fails to distinguish between these very different types of teachers, treating them all the same. This "group-think" not only pollutes the current public debate - either you're for or against teachers - it is also killing our opportunity to fix our schools. Any reform worth its name must start by recognizing that teachers are our most important educational asset. That's why we need to treat teaching as a profession, by supporting excellence, striving for constant improvement and ridding the system of poor performers.

Click here to read more.



Do you think Mr. Klein is on the right track in saying both sides are right?

Comment below.





Comments (14)Add Comment
...
written by Bruce, Houston Texas, February 14, 2012

I agree with John. My uncle is a criminal defense lawyer in Utah, and we were actually talking about this very topic and he said the very same thing.
Tenure is a myth in most states
written by Lora Smerker North Carolina, March 20, 2011

Teaching is already a profession. I work hard, am evaluated and face consequences when my students do not perform well. There is already a system in place to eliminate teachers with poor performance. Administrators and superintendents who are more concerned with the political nature of their jobs are not always willing to carry out the work necessary to accomplish this task. I would not want to receive higher pay for higher performance because I enjoy working with at risk students. However, I am in the minority in my desire to work with this population and by implementing this type of system fewer teachers will be motivated to work with students who face challenges.
how I'm measured
written by Mitch, Florida, March 16, 2011

According to current Florida law (1012.34), teachers must be evaluated based on the following 7 factors (quoted exactly as the law is written):

"1. Performance of students.
2. Ability to maintain appropriate discipline.
3. Knowledge of subject matter. The district school board shall make special provisions for evaluating teachers who are assigned to teach out-of-field.
4. Ability to plan and deliver instruction and the use of technology in the classroom.
5. Ability to evaluate instructional needs.
6. Ability to establish and maintain a positive collaborative relationship with students' families to increase student achievement.
7. Other professional competencies, responsibilities, and requirements as established by rules of the State Board of Education and policies of the district school board."

The law also states, "Student performance must be measured by state assessments required under s. 1008.22 and by local assessments for subjects and grade levels not measured by the state assessment program."

The law goes on to state, "If the employee holds a professional service contract [i.e. "tenure"] as provided in s. 1012.33, the employee shall be placed on performance probation and governed by the provisions of this section for 90 calendar days following the receipt of the notice of unsatisfactory performance to demonstrate corrective action."

So, if a tenured teacher is found to be performing poorly, the teacher has a mere 90 days to fix the problem. After those 90 days, "the district school superintendent must notify the employee who holds a professional service contract in writing whether the performance deficiencies have been satisfactorily corrected and whether the district school superintendent will recommend that the district school board continue or terminate his or her employment contract."

Further, 1012.33 even states that a school board may suspend a teacher immediately, without pay, if the teacher is believed to have shown "incompetency, gross insubordination, willful neglect of duty" or any of a few other defects.

Now, within those state laws, districts have some room to make their own criteria. In my district, some teachers are evaluated by the state exam, FCAT. Other teachers are evaluated by district-wide end-of-course exams. Teachers are also evaluated based on the grades students earn in class; yes, that is asinine.

In my district, teachers also must create annual professional development and goals plans. I have to look at the FCAT results in my school for the previous year and write a goal for improvement during the current year. Then, I must indicate specific instructional strategies I will use in this year to achieve those goals. I also must detail specific professional development plans, and how those plans are intended to impact student achievement. And, at the end of the year, I must provide documentation of how I fulfilled all this. For instructional strategies, I must provide examples of student work ("artifacts") showing what I did and showing how student progressed during the year. For professional development plans, I must provide evidence I did what I said I would do, and I must provide artifacts showing how I used what I learned in my teaching.

to Mitch
written by question, March 15, 2011

|| In my state, teachers are already evaluated, differentiated and face consequences. We're evaluated by our school principals using rubrics established by our districts in accordance with state laws. ||

Could you elaborate on how you are evaluated for "student performance"?

Also, how do you, the teacher, evaluate your students' performance each year?
block quote
written by Mitch, Florida, March 15, 2011

In my last post, I tried to use the HTML for a block quote, but it didn't work.
response to question
written by Mitch, Florida, March 15, 2011

Mitch, are you saying that you agree with Joel's overarching point? "Whatever the criteria, the key point is that we must evaluate and differentiate - with consequences."

In other words, if there were a way to evaluate teacher performance that is deemed "fair", we should evaluate, differentiate, and institute consequences?

In my state, teachers are already evaluated, differentiated and face consequences. We're evaluated by our school principals using rubrics established by our districts in accordance with state laws.
Reply to Mitch
written by question, March 14, 2011

Mitch, are you saying that you agree with Joel's overarching point? "Whatever the criteria, the key point is that we must evaluate and differentiate - with consequences."

In other words, if there were a way to evaluate teacher performance that is deemed "fair", we should evaluate, differentiate, and institute consequences?

If not, what should be done to improve performance (that is done in a way where evaluations don't succumb to the concerns you raised)?
reply to John
written by Mitch, Florida, March 14, 2011

John wrote:

"Lawyers get judged by cases won and billable hours, doctors are judged by medical outcomes, stock brokers are judged by return on investment. Why cannot some logical, fair metrics be put in place to judge teacher performance?"

But, there's no standardized ranking of lawyers. Is the millionaire malpractice attorney I see on TV better, in absolute terms, than the criminal defense attorney down the road from him? Is a defense attorney who plea bargains 98% of cases, and counts those as wins, better than the criminal defense attorney who takes 30% of cases to court and gets "not guilty verdicts" in 75% of those?

As for doctors, try Googling "defensive medicine." Then, show me the rankings of good and bad doctors.

I'm pretty surprised you would actually bring up stock brokers. How did the singular focus on ROI work for America over the last decade?

Now, answer your own question: "Why cannot some logical, fair metrics be put in place to judge teacher performance?"
Klein is mostly wrong, part 4
written by Mitch, Florida, March 14, 2011

----
"Stanford economist Eric Hanushek, for example, has shown that some teachers get 1.5 years' worth of progress with their students in a single year, while others get only a half-year's worth, even when the students start at the same levels."
----

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uONqxysWEk8

----
"We could take into account things such as a teacher's contributions to the school community, by, say, staying late to coach a math team."
----

So now teachers would be forced to take on additional, often unpaid, work in order to be rated well? And now we have a situation where Teacher A might be ranked higher than Teacher B simply because Teacher A sponsors a club, even though Teacher A is, in fact, a better teacher? Would this type of system adversely affect younger female teachers who might have a family to take care of after school? Would this type of system adversely affect a teacher who is highly involved in the larger community--perhaps serving with the local Boys & Girls Club, but isn't sponsoring a school club?

----
"Whatever the criteria, the key point is that we must evaluate and differentiate - with consequences."
----

I am evaluated every year on "student performance," "planning for learning," "instructional strategies," "knowledge of subject matter," "assessing for learning and instruction," "managing the learning environment," "communication," and "professionalism." I must create a professional development plan every year, and I must document how that professional development plan has impacted students. Administrators perform formative observations regularly, and at least one summative evaluation annually.

----
"Teachers are far too important to our students and the future of our country to treat them as interchangeable cogs or widgets."
----

Wouldn't any standardized evaluation system do more to treat teachers as "interchangeable," since the premise is that a poorly performing teacher in Class A at School 1 would be poorly performing in Class W at School 14? Even if we give weight for teaching at Title I, or whatever, we're acting like the weighting accounts for the difference in the teaching environments--as if we could quantify that a teacher with a success rate of X at Suburban Prep would have a success rate of X-9% at Inner City Vo-Tech. Such systems do not account, for example, for the different types of teachers needed in different schools.
Klein is wrong, part 3
written by Mitch, Florida, March 14, 2011

----
"No one wants a low-performing teacher teaching her child
----

True, but ranking teachers will always, no matter how great the teachers are, cause some to be ranked well and some to be ranked poorly. If we measured all the faculty at Harvard and compared them, there would be a best professor, and there would be a worst professor. So, ranking teachers is going to lead to problems. If your kid is taking AP English from a teacher with a 91% pass rate on the AP exam, and you find out the other AP English teacher has a 95% pass rate, would you demand your child be taught by the better teacher? Would this system be a good thing?

----
"Is there anyone who doesn't think that some of his own teachers were great and some terrible?
----"

I don't think I have had a terrible teacher.
Klein is mostly wrong, part 2
written by Mitch, Florida, March 14, 2011

Cont., since my first attempt was too long

----
"You have life tenure and generous lifetime health and pension benefits, and you get paid more money next year simply because of seniority."
----

I don't have life tenure. I have nothing more than due process. I don't have "generous...benefits" either. My wife is uninsured because it would cost my family $7,000/year to have health insurance for us all. We currently pay the ~$2,500/year for our two children. I don't have a pension; I have a 401k-type plan. And I live in Florida, a state where a teacher reform bill is sailing through the legislature.

----
"Consider the fight over teacher layoffs. In many states, you must lay teachers off solely based on reverse seniority - last in, first out. That's nuts. Do you know anyone who would say 'I want the most senior surgeon' rather than 'I want the best surgeon'? Sure, experience matters."
----

Such rules are in place in many, many careers, especially government and unionized careers. Part of the reason is to maintain stability in the field. Another part of the reason is to give a sense of security that would attract people into the field. Job security is one reason why I can tolerate the relatively low pay of being a teacher.

Sure, everyone wants the best surgeon. But, does everyone get to choose the best surgeon? And how often have you heard of a surgeon being laid off? This is an apples to oranges comparison. Now, imagine we created some sort of state ranking of surgeons. And imagine you found out your insurance company was sending you to the surgeon ranked 12,452 out of 15,000. What would you do? How would that system be helpful?

For that matter, has US News & World Report improved higher education by ranking schools? I can tell you that it has affected college admissions by forcing high ranked schools to become especially concerned about admissions data that is used in the rankings.
Klein is mostly wrong
written by Mitch, Florida, March 14, 2011

I think he is mostly wrong. Here's why:

----
"That's why we need to treat teaching as a profession, by supporting excellence, striving for constant improvement and ridding the system of poor performers."
----

What profession has a standardized performance rubric? What if we decided to create a law stating that any physician who had more than 20% of patients die in a given year was poor performing and would therefore lose his/her license? After all, don't we expect physicians to save lives? Obviously, we'd lose oncologists and gain pediatricians.

The same problem exists in teaching; grading teachers by students test scores will punish Title I teachers and reward suburban teachers. Sure, we can "weight" such factors, but even that falls short. Some oncologists take on particularly difficult cases; likewise there is a wide variety of students within Title I schools.

Further, physicians cannot make their patients follow medical advice. Likewise, teachers cannot make students do anything. And teachers can be sabotaged by principals. It would be easy to assign the more troublesome students to the teachers a principal doesn't like. It would be easy for a school administration to refuse to deal with a specific teacher's discipline referrals. I've seen it happen.
Right on target
written by John , Nebraska, March 14, 2011

Lawyers get judged by cases won and billable hours, doctors are judged by medical outcomes, stock brokers are judged by return on investment. Why cannot some logical, fair metrics be put in place to judge teacher performance?
...
written by Deb Frisbey Michigan, March 14, 2011

Very good! I'm sending this to my Lt. Gov.

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