After remaining basically the same for 150+/- years the world of teaching is changing.  Theories in pedagogy have evolved, but with globalization and the invent of computers our access to and our ability to study and process large amounts of data are giving us entirely new insights into what works, what doesn’t, where we are failing and where we are succeeding.

It’s not an easy time to be a teacher.  They are justifiably feeling overwhelmed.  Change is difficult. Change is uncomfortable. Let’s face it, change sucks [that’s a technical term we wonks use].  Yet, change is required.  Despite doubled and tripled spending, reduced class sizes and other fad theories over the last 40+/- years our student test scores have remained flat and our children are slowly falling farther and farther behind their global counterparts.  Added to this is our criminal learning gap between whites and children of color which has not only placed the failures of the U.S. education system at critical mass, but become the civil rights issue of our time. The lives and futures of our children require changes in education.

Much of Tennessee’s current education reform controversy surrounds our new evaluation system.  Studies consistently show a person’s highest priority in employment is to be treated fairly, but trying to find a consensus on “fair” is where we currently find ourselves.  Despite all the hyperbole Tennesseans want our teachers to be effective, happy and to be treated fairly.

We would like to share tidbits from several sources that provide insights into the current controversy.  This has turned out to be quite long so we are going to split it into four parts to run the rest of the week.

We begin with a couple paragraphs from “Dangerous Mind Games: Are We Ready to Overhaul the Teaching Profession?” by Jack D. Dale with the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, June 2011.

We are missing the point. And, as a profession, we are missing the boat. We still assume that teaching is an individual responsibility rooted in the industrial, assembly-line model. We continue to “tinker around the edges” of the teaching profession. We are negotiating labor contracts that move teaching toward an hourly, blue-collar, piecemeal work paradigm. This is partly due to scarce resources, but also to our inability to reframe the teaching profession into what it must be for the future.

But this basic competency is just that—basic. In recent years, there have been no significant changes in pedagogy and only slight increases in achievement. With the development of the Programme for International Student Assessment and the National Assessment for Educational Progress, we must move our students to broader international standards and change the way education in the United States does business. To do this, we must redesign the teaching profession, not add more programs.

The above is an important point we need to fully understand.  One area of concern with the new evaluation was recently expressed as (full article Here):

For some Memphis teachers, the biggest concern with the new system is the fact that the majority of teachers don’t teach in subjects with standardized tests. “That’s the piece I don’t like,” said Detra Humble, a science teacher at Manassas High School in Memphis. “My level of performance is on the backs of other teachers.”

This is as it should be!  Most of us know who the “bad” teachers are: the other teachers know; parents know; kids know; the administration knows, yet there they are year in-year out.  We must make our first concern the children, but we cannot do that when teachers are only concerned with the children in their class instead of all of the children in their school.  Teachers must stop thinking of themselves as merely a cog in a machine (focused only on their class) and begin to think and work as a team – collaborating as a collective ensuring all the children in their school succeed by helping all the teachers become effective or to move those unable or unwilling out of the profession.  We must work together within each school to ensure all students are being served – and having appropriate data on student achievement will help this process.

Which leads us into an LA Times article by Lisa Guernsey and Susan Ochshorn January 29, 2012, “Pushing past mediocrity in the classroom; Interactions between children and teachers are at the heart of learning. We should evaluate that.” discussing a Research paper by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “Gathering Feedback for Teaching” (full research paper available to read Here).

Only 7% of our nation’s children experience good teaching consistently in elementary school, according to a 2007 study led by Robert C. Pianta, dean of the school of education at the University of Virginia. Similar research in 2009 on fifth-grade classrooms showed that positive one-on-one interactions between a student and teacher were extremely rare. Mediocrity reigns.

Spurred by this reality, and the stubborn achievement gap between white and minority students, improving the effectiveness of teachers has become a mantra of education reform. But results from principals’ observations — known among teachers as “drive-bys” — are rightly dismissed as too “soft” and often inflated. Education reformers tell stories of Lake Wobegon evaluations: All teachers are above average but only a fraction of students are able to read and do math at grade level.

A recent study from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation spotlights a new approach.  Using 360-degree videos and five standardized instruments…researchers have documented a significant link between the elements of good teaching and students’ performance on math and reading tests.

Teachers may not like the idea of being watched. But we’ve talked to several who appreciate the assessments, as long as they get supportive feedback to take their teaching to a new level. “Observation is welcome,” said Jordan Henry, a high school English teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District who has been a voice for change within the UTLA. Teachers yearn for more meaningful data on how they can improve, he said at a recent forum in Washington. “If we can fix that one piece, the rest is going to go down smoothly.”

Adding high-level observation tools to the evaluation process is expensive. But states and school districts are already shelling out thousands of dollars for other kinds of teacher training and evaluation systems, with scant evidence of improved outcomes — in the quality of instruction and, most important, for students.

We MUST use the new evaluations as part of a collaborative process to improve the level of teaching or else evaluations and scores become merely a carrot or stick – a meaningless, bureaucratic waste of time.


We continue tomorrow with the Blame Game…

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