Category Archives: Teacher Evaluation

Reflecting on Teacher Appreciation Week, 2016

I could not allow Teacher Appreciation Week, 2016 to pass without sharing a brief reflection on just how important teachers have been in my life. Throughout my academic career, from preschool through doctoral studies, I was blessed to have outstanding teachers. At nearly every stage of my academic career, I can identify specific teachers or professors who were incredibly influential in my academic, social, emotional, and spiritual development. And even as an early career teacher, my mentor teachers we so very crucial to my development as an educator. I make no exaggeration when I say I wouldn’t be the professional, the husband, the father, or the citizen I am today without the loving instruction and guidance provided by so many very special teachers. And for what they have given me, I will be eternally grateful.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not also acknowledge that many children across our country and across the Commonwealth of Kentucky, have not enjoyed the benefits of consistent, loving, caring, and effective classroom instruction. And unfortunately, across the U.S. and across Kentucky, having consistently effective classroom instruction is often dependent on where students live. Middle class and affluent students often have access to more highly effective teachers. It’s one of our dirty little education secrets.

So as we celebrate Teacher Appreciation Week 2016, I am more committed than ever before to do everything within my power to move the needle on getting a highly effective teacher in every classroom in Kentucky. Every child in Kentucky, every child in America, deserves to have the opportunities so many of us have had. But that can’t happen until we get our children the teachers they deserve.

Kentucky: Any Charter School Law Just Won’t Do

With Kentucky’s election of conservative Republican Governor Matt Bevin, who included school choice as a part of his campaign platform, and Democrats coming closer by the day to losing control of the state House of Representatives, discussion of the passage of a charter school law in Kentucky has picked up significantly. In fact, I have never heard more discussion of what many education policy movers, shakers, and watchers are saying is the inevitable emergence of public charter schools in Kentucky. As a longtime advocate for the passage of strong public charter school legislation in Kentucky, I greet that conversation with cautious optimism.

It is true that the support of Governor Bevin, the support of newly appointed Education and Workforce Cabinet Secretary Hal Heiner, and shaky control of the state House by Democrats, all contribute to a political environment in Kentucky that could be ripe for the passage of a strong charter school law. But even with a more favorable political environment, advocates for high quality charter schools should be more insistent than ever that Kentucky’s lawmakers get charter school legislation right. We have learned from other states successes and challeng

es that the details of charter school legislation matter tremendously.It is the provisions of the statute that set the framework what charter schools in a state will eventually become. Unfortunately, I believe the inclination of some educational leaders and lawmakers in Kentucky is to try to pass a charter school law that is most palatable to the traditional public education establishment, rather than passing a law that gives charter schools in Kentucky the greatest opportunity to be successful. Rather than putting first the academic well-being of children who will be served by Kentucky’s charter schools, I fear that some lawmakers find it preferable to please district and state-level education leaders and the organizations they represent. Make no mistake about it, the interests of children and the interests of education organizations are not always one in the same.

I have gone on record previously and I do so again in saying that I will not advocate for the passage of a weak charter school law. A charter school law in Kentucky that leads to the creation of no high quality public charter schools, or worse, leads to persistently low achieving public charter schools, would do more harm to children than good. As such, Kentucky would be better served by forgoing the passage of a weak charter school law, and having no charter school law at all.

There are many elements of a strong charter school law to be decided on, but there are a few essential elements that must be a part of Kentucky’s charter school law if it is to lead to successful public charter schools. Based on research, the successes and failures of other states, and good old fashion common sense, here are a few of those essential elements:

  • Multiple Paths to Authorization. Kentucky’s charter school law must include more than one path to authorization for schools. Local school districts may serve as one of the charter authorizers, but groups applying for a charter must have at least one additional path to apply for charter authorization. Others states have experienced success with additional routes to charter authorization through independent charter school commissions, state boards of education, state commissioners or superintendents of education, city governments, and state-supported universities. All of these options should be considered in Kentucky. Providing charter schools with only one route to authorization through local school districts would leave the establishment and success of charters schools in Kentucky solely in the hands of organizations that have opposed the passage of charter school legislation.
  • Academic Accountability. Kentucky’s charter school law must hold charter schools to the highest standards of academic performance accountability. Authorizers must be held accountable for granting charters only to groups that have a comprehensive plan for the success of the school. Authorizers must be held accountable for monitoring the academic performance of charter schools in their charge, intervening when needed, and not renewing or revoking schools’ charters when necessary. Public charter schools in Kentucky cannot be allowed to fail children and families year after year, generation after generation, as some of our traditional public schools have.
  • Collective Bargaining. Kentucky’s charter schools must not be bound by collective bargaining agreements between teachers unions and local school districts. The provisions of such agreements limit the human resources autonomy of administrators in some of Kentucky’s traditional public schools. Specifically, provisions of such collective bargaining greatly limit school administrators’ ability to recruit, hire, supervise, evaluate, and if need be, terminate school personnel. As the charter school concept is based on providing schools with greater autonomy in exchange for higher levels of academic accountability, binding public charter schools with those restrictions would be counterproductive. A charter school law would not and could not, however, prevent teachers at Kentucky charter schools from forming their own unions if they so chose and collectively bargaining with their schools.
  • Funding Equity. Kentucky’s public charter schools must receive funding that is equitable to traditional public schools. Public charter schools in some states have been crippled by receiving as little as half the per pupil dollar amount that would be allocated for a child attending a traditional public school. Such funding inequity would be unacceptable in a charter school law in Kentucky. Funding for public charter schools should be allocated in the same manner that funding for traditional public schools is allocated, on a per pupil basis. For every child whose parent chooses to enroll her in a public charter school, the same state, local, and federal dollars that would follow her to a district school should follow her to a public charter school.

Teaching Today: Change is Afoot

DSC00329Teaching today is a much different profession than it was 30 years ago. Truthfully, it is significantly different from what it was nearly 15 years ago when I became a teacher. And the profession is likely to change even more in the next five to ten years. While some veteran teachers argue that many of the current changes to teaching are unspeakable, I am convinced that much of the reform to teaching is for the best (best for children, that is). Here are just a few areas where the teaching profession today and moving forward is significantly different from what it was just a generation ago.

  • Job Security Fewer teachers today, and most likely even future teachers going forward, will enjoy the degree of job security that teachers in previous eras enjoyed. A high degree of job security has certainly made teaching attractive for some. The reality of the profession has been that regardless of whether a teacher is effective, he can usually manage to find and keep a teaching job somewhere (often teaching our most vulnerable children). That era, however, is coming to an end. For many teachers today and most teachers tomorrow, job security will be dependent on their effectiveness. Teachers who cannot demonstrate their effectiveness, through their students’ performance on standardized examinations, will find themselves struggling to keep their jobs.
  • Seniority For generations, more senior teachers have enjoyed the privileges of having first dibs on ‘choice’ teaching assignments and greater protection during reductions in force (RIF). During RIFs it has been customary for teachers last hired to be the first ones let go, while teachers with seniority have been protected; a practice commonly known as LIFO (Last In, First Out). While LIFO and other teacher seniority provisions remain a part of some teachers’ collective bargaining agreements, such provisions are becoming less common. And in cases where seniority provisions haven’t been completely negotiated away by school districts, seniority privileges are being curtailed, giving district and school level administrators greater discretion in teacher hiring and retention. It will soon be the norm in public school districts that teachers’ hiring, retention, and transfer will be based on their effectiveness, not their seniority.
  • Teacher Salary Public school teachers’ salaries have long been determined by their years of teaching experience and their level of education (bachelors, masters, doctoral degrees). In such systems, all teachers with five years of experience and a masters degree would have the same base salary, regardless of their effectiveness. But teacher pay is now being reconsidered. Policy makers, researchers, and educational leaders are questioning whether current teacher salary models makes sense in the current era of performance-based accountability. States, school districts, and charter schools are now experimenting with different approaches to teacher pay including merit pay, performance pay, performance bonuses, differentiated pay by subject area, and market-based salaries. Aspiring teachers and teachers who are relatively early in their careers should expect that in the near future their pay will be be at least in part based on their effectiveness (as measured by their students’ performance on standardized examinations).
  • Teacher Leadership While teachers have always been called on to lead in various capacities, teachers are now being asked to take on school-level leadership roles like never before. Much of the change in the expectation that teachers lead may be attributed to the increasing popularity of distributed and shared leadership models in P12 schools. Anyone going into teaching or intending to stay there should expect to take on significant formal and/or informal school leadership roles throughout their career. Such roles might include department chair, subject area lead, professional learning community (PLC) lead, peer mentor, trainer, and school or district level curriculum leadership positions.

The NEA’s Call for Duncan’s Resignation: Latest Strike in a Battle the NEA will Lose

The leadership of the National Educational Association (NEA) is mad, and on July 4th that anger reached a boiling point when delegates passed a new business item calling for the resignation of U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. While historically, teachers unions including the NEA have been staunch supporters of Democrat administrations, the relationship between the NEA and the Obama administration has been a strained one, largely because of the Obama administration’s support of key elements of an education reformist agenda which includes financial support for the expansion of charter schools, the continuance of the DC school voucher program, reform of teacher evaluation to include student performance, and most notably now, reform of teacher tenure and seniority rules. The Obama administration’s support for such reforms has earned President Obama and Secretary Duncan a place on the NEA’s ‘not so nice’ list. Officially, the new business item stated that it was necessary to call for Secretary Duncan’s resignation because of the U.S. Department of Education’s “failed education agenda focused on more high-stakes testing, grading and pitting public school students against each other based on test scores, and for continuing to promote policies and decisions that undermine public schools and colleges, the teaching education professionals, and education unions.”

Duncan has flat out dismissed the NEA’s call for his resignation. In a recent AP article, Duncan is quoted as saying, “I always try to stay out of local union politics. I think most teachers do too.” Though brief, Duncan’s comment is clever dig at the union. Duncan is making the claim, which I largely agree with, that although the NEA’s leadership claims to be the voice of teachers, most teachers are not involved in the development of the union’s policy agenda and are not typically well-informed on the inner-workings and maneuvering of the union’s leadership. I go even further than Duncan and assert that many teachers, particularly younger teachers, are not supportive of the policy agenda, policy stances, and tactics of the NEA. And for that reason, I am very careful to distinguish between the voice the NEA’s leadership and the voice of teachers; I am convinced that on a variety of important policy issues their voices are not in harmony.

This call for Secretary Duncan’s resignation is the NEA’s latest move in a battle that’s gone on for about a decade now; a battle that in the end, the NEA is sure to lose. Democratic administration’s have historically been the NEA’s allies, holding off the progressive education reform ideas of conservatives. That day has passed. Much of the education reform agenda is supported and even advocated for by growing numbers of Democrats and political independents. If the next president elected is a Republican the NEA is sunk. They don’t stand a chance of reversing the education reform tide which includes the expansion of school choice, tenure reform (and in some states tenure elimination), teacher evaluation based in part on student performance, and tying teachers’ pay to their performance. But even if the next president is a Democrat, the likelihood of that Democrat being from the extreme liberal end of the party is none; it will not happen. Whether the next president is a Democrat or a Republican, s/he will have to live and lead from a more moderate than extreme position; and it is the more moderate Democrats, or neo-liberals, that are becoming more and more supportive of the education reform agenda that the NEA is fighting against.

In the end, the NEA will lose this battle. Education policy does have a tendency to shift somewhat like a pendulum, but there are pieces of the current education reform agenda that are here to stay. Charter schools and public school choice aren’t going anywhere. Public school choice will become central to public schooling, everywhere. Teachers will be evaluated at least in part based on the performance of their students; what that measurement will look like will vary from state to state and may change over time, but the days of teacher evaluation not having a student performance component are soon to be over. Tenure for teachers will go away in some places and will look radically different in most other places. School administrators will have increased authority with the hiring and removal of teachers. The days of collective bargaining agreements protecting ineffective senior teachers while more junior effective teachers are dismissed will be ending very soon. Teaching will no longer be a profession where you can go a job pretty easily, join the union, get tenure for sticking around for four years, and have a safe position for the rest of your career.

The NEA is fighting for relevance and survival. ‘The organization’s leadership knows that Secretary Duncan won’t consider resigning based on their call, and the fact that the largest teachers union in the country can call for the Secretary of Education’s resignation and most Americans won’t even take their call seriously is an indicator of the organization’s waning influence on educational leadership and educational policy. I do believe there is a future for the NEA, but not as a labor union. Teachers are not labor. Teachers are professionals. My hope is that the NEA’s new leadership will take the opportunity during this time of transition for teachers and public schooling to reform itself into the world-class professional association that America’s teachers need and deserve.

Does Every Teacher Deserve to Keep Her Job?

Cleveland Schools’ Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Eric Gordon announced earlier this month that more than 50 Cleveland public school teachers may be terminated based on their performance and/or conduct. According to Gordon, in 41 schools, principals gave notices to 68 teachers that their one-year contracts would not be renewed. Those 68 notices were far more than the number of notices that are typically distributed at the end of the school year in Cleveland, and as you might imagine, the leadership of the Cleveland Teachers Union was not happy. The increased ability of principals in Cleveland to remove ineffective teachers is a direct result of the Cleveland Plan for Transforming Schools, signed into law in 2012 by Ohio Governor John Kasich. As part of the bipartisan sponsored plan which applies only to Cleveland as Ohio’s sole school district under mayoral control, Cleveland schools are now implementing a new teacher development and evaluation system based on professional standards.

Hearing about public school teachers being fired causes most of us to sit up straight and listen for the rest of the story. That is because public school teachers, especially in high-needs school districts, are typically only terminated when a teacher has been found guilty of something particularly egregious, like stealing money or having an inappropriate sexual relationship with a student. Even in the current era of reform, you don’t hear very often of significant numbers of teachers in traditional public school districts losing their jobs based on their performance. And why is that the case?

First, most big city teachers unions (the Cleveland Teachers Union included) fight with every ounce of strength they have to prevent teachers from being terminated; even teachers whose performance has been abysmal, and in some limited cases, even when a teacher’s conduct has been so inappropriate that she cannot return to the classroom. Second, Americans have largely accepted the reasoning that teachers (and leaders, and schools) should not be held accountable for the academic performance of their students, particularly if those teachers serve children of color or economically disadvantaged students. Fortunately for children, both of those circumstances are changing. First, parents, community members, the business community, and school districts are demanding changes in teachers unions collective bargaining agreements, particularly around provisions that restrict school leaders’ ability to supervise, evaluate, and if need be, remove ineffective teachers. Second, parents, community members, and the business community are demanding that teachers, even teachers who serve children of color and economically disadvantaged students, be held accountable for the learning of their students.

Cleveland Schools CEO Eric Gordon has assured that the teachers in danger of losing their jobs will receive due process. Those teachers will have the opportunity to respond to the charges of their principals. I fully support teachers’ right to due process. It may turn out that some of the teachers in question are able to present evidence of their instructional effectiveness and keep their jobs. But teachers who are unable to provide evidence of their students’ learning should be fired. My stance on this issue is firm: Teachers that cannot provide evidence of adequate learning in their classrooms should be removed from those classrooms.

It is true that some teachers whose performance is not optimal can and should be developed. Early career teachers in particular need mentoring and development and they deserve the opportunity to grow. Pre-service teacher training should be regarded only as preparation for entering the profession, so new teachers should never be seen as finished products. But even with the understanding that early career teachers and even some struggling later career teachers can be developed, I will not back down from the argument that every student deserves the opportunity to learn in her classroom, regardless of how inexperienced or well-meaning her teacher is. A sixth grader gets one shot at sixth grade, and educational leaders and policy makers owe it to every sixth grader to ensure that she has an adequate teacher.

I have no problem with teachers unions fighting for job security for teachers, but only for effective teachers. Contrary to popular belief, all teachers are not effective. Some ineffective teachers can be mentored and developed to become effective teachers, but others should be removed from the classroom quickly before they do irreparable damage to children. Consideration of job security for teachers should always be secondary to ensuring that every child has an effective teacher in her classroom.

Building a New Teaching Profession in the USA

I recently returned home after
spending nearly two weeks in Finland. After meeting with dozens of Finnish
education officials, administrators, and teachers, one of several recurrent
themes was trust. Finnish educators said repeatedly that trust is a hallmark of
their educational system and their relatively recent success on the Programme for
International Student Assessment (PISA). They talked about trusting a lot of
people; education officials trusting school principals, principals trusting teachers,
teachers trusting students and parents, etc. But most often the conversations
centered on how much trust the Finnish people have in teachers. As a former
teacher and a teacher advocate, I think that is awesome!

But we Americans would be foolish to look at the Finns
success, hear that it comes from trusting their teachers, and then therefore reason that trusting American teachers in that manner would lead us to success similar to that of the Finns. I
have likely upset some of you by saying that but it is true. We do not have
reason to have a blanket trust in American teachers. I wish things were that simple, but they are not. I argue that instead of advocating for
blanket trust for American teachers today our course of
action should be to begin building a teaching profession in the United States worthy
of such trust.

What it means to be a teacher in Finland is a bit
different than what it means to be a teacher in America. In Finland, throughout the nation’s history and even today
teachers are regarded as the candles of society, spreading light into the
darkness. Teaching is regarded as one of the most honorable and respected
professions in the country. Very many of the best and brightest students
graduating high school apply to teacher education programs in Finnish universities. Because
the profession is regarded in that manner, university teacher education
programs are able to choose from among the best and brightest of the best and
brightest students entering Finnish universities. That is not quite the case in the United States.

Over the last 10 years I have often had the opportunity to speak
to middle and high school students, and I often talk with them about
considering careers in teaching. Unfortunately, it is the very rare motivated
and highly academically capable student that tells me that they are interested
in a career in teaching. It is the current reality in the USA that our teachers
are a mixed bag. Some of our teachers were the brightest, most capable, and
highly motivated students in their high school and university classes. As students these
teachers could have chosen to major in anything. In current role as faculty
member in a college of education, I have the opportunity to work with some of Kentucky’s most
phenomenal educators. Some of these educators are outstanding in every conceivable way. They
are smart, talented, unbelievably hardworking, and passionately committed to
their students and to the teaching profession. These professionals make me so proud
to be a teacher.

Unfortunately, however, many teachers in our classrooms are
not as talented, committed, or passionate about children or about teaching as
the teachers I just described. Some teachers in American classrooms have landed
there because they couldn’t cut it in other majors or professions and teaching
was relatively easy to get into and keep a job. Some are in the classroom
because teaching has been considered a stable
profession. Some teachers are in classrooms because the hours and calendar
schedule of the profession are convenient for raising a family. And believe
it or not, some teachers are in the profession for the money. You won’t get
rich teaching, but in the right school district with the right credentials and a
few years of experience you can make a pretty decent living as a teacher.

What Do I Propose?

I propose building a teaching profession in the USA that we
can be proud of; not just a portion of the teaching profession that are
superstars, but a profession of superstars. I propose building a teaching
profession of individuals that could have chosen any career path but chose to teach. I propose building a teaching profession in America that we can trust to lead us into the future.

Building that kind of teaching profession in the USA would
not be easy. In fact, the stack is currently staked against our being able to
pull it off, but we could do it. We would have to be intentional about it and
it would take the buy-in and collaboration of some key stakeholders. First, we
would need to acknowledge that the teaching profession in the USA is not what we
want it to be, and that our current teaching force is not what we would like it
to be. The teaching profession, including salary structure, career ladders, and
accountability, would have to be drastically reformed to attract a new breed of
candidates into the profession. Colleges of teacher education would have to get
on board by actively recruiting a new, diverse breed of teacher candidates into
the profession, selecting only the highest quality candidates for entry into
programs, and holding candidates to extremely high standards; functioning as true
gate-keepers to the teaching profession. Teacher training programs would have to
embrace radical reform enabling them to better equip teacher candidates with
the necessary content knowledge, pedagogical expertise, and dispositions for
meeting the needs of the diverse group of learners in 21st century
American classrooms. Policy makers and colleges of teacher education would have
to work together to create high-quality pathways for talented professionals to
enter the teaching profession as a 2nd career, but with the necessary training and preparation for
long-term success once they get there. Teachers would have to start tapping
talented students as early as middle school to get them to consider careers in
teaching. And teachers unions would have to radically transform themselves into
high-quality professional associations that play a major role in both building
and refereeing the teaching profession. Professional associations must play a
major role in holding their members to the highest standards for professional
practice.

By the end of my career I would love nothing more than to
entertain visitors from across the world and tell them that a key to the
success of schools in the USA is the trust that we have placed in our teachers.
I would love nothing more than to say that the American people have every
confidence in American teachers and that the teaching profession is highly respected because
we know that our teachers are well-equipped for and passionately committed to preparing
our students for successful careers and lives as citizens of the greatest
country in the world. It is my hope and my prayer that we will have the courage
to own up to our shortcomings and the
will to transform teaching into the profession that it should be and can be.

My State of the Union Education Wish List

As we prepare to hear President Obama’s assessment of the state of our great nation tonight in the annual State of the Union Address tonight, I am making a list of a few statements that I would like to hear him make. The president is preparing for what many pundits are predicting will be a pretty tough re-election campaign, so I would expect him to recap some of the education accomplishments of his administration, and that is fine. But after a brief recap of those victories, I want him to make a few clear and definitive statements about the educational direction he would like to move the nation in during a second term. 

Here are a few of the specific things I would like to hear:
  1. I want to hear President Obama say that we must increase the number of high quality public school options available to parents. The president has been a supporter of increasing public school options for families in the past and I hope to hear that commitment reaffirmed tonight.
  2. I want to hear President Obama say that we do not currently have the necessary teaching and leadership capacity in our schools to prepare our children for 21st Century success; and that states must adopt a “by any means necessary” approach to getting teacher and school leader capacity to where it needs to be. 
  3. I want to hear the president say that states must hold schools, teachers, and leaders individually and collectively accountable for student learning. I want him to say that schools where children do not learn are of no use to us. I want him to say when children do not learn, adults have to lose their jobs.
  4. I want to hear President Obama say that he will remain committed to the federal government providing financial supports and incentives for states that take bold steps toward implementing serious reform in their public schools; not the surface stuff that everyone likes, but really committing to going back to the drawing board to redesign systems so that all children can learn.
It is past time to get serious about providing a quality public education for all of our children.

The Teacher Salary Schedule Must Go

Since my time as an early career teacher it has always struck me as odd that teachers’ pay is as regimented as it is. I can remember my introduction to the teacher salary schedule as a first year exceptional children’s teacher in the New Orleans Public Schools. As a new teacher, I remember coming to the conclusion that it did not matter how good a teacher I became, how hard I worked, or how much my students learned, my salary would be determined solely based on the number of years that I stuck around and whether I earned another degree. That message is not one that we should be sending to new teachers, veteran teachers, or potential entrants to the teaching profession.

Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work with many teachers as colleagues, mentors, mentees, and students. Many of those teachers have been exceptional professionals, but a significant minority of them have not been. As I reflect on the teachers that I have seen and worked with over the years, a few things are apparent to me. First, there has not been a strong correlation between teachers’ years of teaching experience and their instructional prowess. While nearly all teachers take a couple of years to get the lay of the land and get comfortable with teaching, beyond those initial years I have seen immense variation in teachers’ abilities. I have worked with the third year teacher who could teach circles around the 10-year veteran, and I have worked with the 15-year veteran whose expertise in classroom management resembled that of a first-year teacher fresh out of a sub-par teacher preparation program.
Similarly, I have seen absolutely no correlation between instructional expertise and holding a masters degree. I have worked with teachers holding masters degrees in whose classrooms very few children learned anything, and I have worked with teachers holding only bachelors degrees in whose classroom no one–child or adult–ever left without learning. Now, after having taught in and researched teacher and administrator preparation programs across the country, I can completely understand why this is the case (I will explore this in a future post).
Here are a few things that I have learned about teachers: 
  • Some teachers are great. Some teachers are good. Some teachers are average. Some teachers are below average. Some teachers should not be teachers.
  • There is a strong positive correlation between great teachers and student learning.
  • There are a myriad of factors that contribute to great teachers being great. The list is as long as the discussion of the factors is complex.
  • Inputs like years of experience and additional degrees may be important, but these factors may or may not be positively correlated with student learning.
With all that said, we continue with a system where teachers are paid according to inputs (years of experience and graduate degrees) with no consideration of their outputs (student learning). This is preposterous. It makes absolutely no sense to me that a school district would pay two 10-year veteran teachers with masters degrees identically even when one teacher is clearly outstanding and the other is clearly not. It makes even less sense to me that a school district would pay a bad, 10-year veteran teacher significantly more for teaching 6th grade mathematics than it would pay a 5th year teacher who is clearly outstanding. What is even more ludicrous to me is that two teachers with identical inputs entering the profession in the same year in the same school district would earn identical salaries for the length of their careers regardless of whether they have differential development as teachers. What these realities say to me (and to teachers) is what we value most is you sticking around a long time whether you are good or not, and getting a masters degree. If children happen to learn anything in your classroom, that’s fine but not necessary; we are not going to reward you for it. 
As I am not one to mince words, let me go on the record here to say that I think the teacher salary schedule is ridiculous. While it may (or may not) have been useful in previous generations, it will not help us to encourage continuous improvement in the teaching profession or to steal top-notch talent from other professions in the 21st Century. The teacher salary schedule must go, and it must go now. It has already had an unbelievable negative impact on the teaching profession and P-12 student learning. We must eliminate its use immediately so that it can do no more harm.

Proposed Mandatory Teacher Selection Training for Principals in Kentucky (Senate Bill 124)

In an effort increase practicing principals’ capacities to select high quality teachers, Senate Bill 124 would require that the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) in collaboration with the Education Professional Standards Board develop a teacher selection training module that would assist principals with identifying “quality indicators” of effective teachers, including teachers’ verbal ability, content knowledge, quality of education coursework, ability to relate to students, and ability to monitor student learning through formal and informal assessments.

Although I question whether the state legislature should play such a micromanaging role in the training provided by KDE, I believe such training is useful. However, I am not sure that most practicing principals do not already possess the skills that this statutorily mandated training would provide, so I question the amount of money that would be spent at that state and local district levels by mandating this state training for all principals. Additionally, such a mandate presupposes that neither principal preparation programs nor local districts are already providing such training to principals and aspiring principals.

Finally, I would caution the legislature to consider that even having principals who possess these capacities, and I believe many principals already do, would not necessary result in higher quality teaching candidates being selected for vacancies. In many cases principals make decision to hire teaching candidates not because they are high quality teachers, but because they are the best candidate that has applied for the job. I am sure we can all appreciate the fact the best candidate for a teaching position, especially in hard-to-staff areas of the state, is not always a high quality candidate. I provide this word of caution simply so that legislators do not make the mistaken assumption that having all principals trained to “identify quality indicators of effective teachers” will result in a “high quality, effective teacher in every classroom.” It will not. Efforts to increase the capacities of the pool of teaching applicants across the state will go much further toward that end.

Tying Teacher Evaluation to Student Performance in Louisiana

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal has received considerable attention over the last couple of weeks as a result of his voiced support for tying teacher evaluation in Louisiana to student test score growth. Jindal said recently that a system which evaluates and financially rewards teachers based on student test scores is a central component of Louisiana’s Race to the Top proposal for overhauling the state’s education system; but that regardless of whether the Race to the Top proposal is successful, the state will move forth with developing and implementing the new evaluation system. 

The system that Jindal is pushing for would evaluate teachers in part based on “value-added” measures of student performance. In other words, teachers would be evaluated on the amount of academic growth that students make over the course of the school year. Value-added measures differ significantly from absolute measures. In an evaluation system using absolute measures for evaluation, teachers might be evaluated on the percentage of students that meet a fixed or absolute standard. An example of such a standard would be the expectation the 80% of a teacher’s class scores at the level of “proficient” on end of the year standardized exams; or that all students in a teacher’s class are reading “at grade-level” by the end of the school year. The problem with such measures is that they fail to take into account students’ levels of performance when they enter a teacher’s classroom at the start of the school year. It is really pretty ridiculous to hold a teacher to the expectation that her eighth grade students will be reading at grade-level by the end of the year if he started the school year reading at the second grade level. Value-added measures, on the other hand, are measures of growth; so they do take into account students’ levels of performance at the start of the year and for extended periods of time. Value-added measures can also adjust for special student characteristics such as limited English proficiency, or learning disabilities.
Louisiana’s proposed use of such an evaluation system has garnered the state an unprecedented amount of positive attention for public education. This is not to suggest, however, that the proposal has not been criticized by some. In fact, the Louisiana School Boards Association’s Board of Directors is cautioning local boards of education to “evaluate very carefully before making final decisions” to sign onto the state’s Race to the Top proposal, charging that the “changes proposed do not rest on proven research and have been challenged by well recognized national authorities.” Also, the Louisiana Educators Association (LEA), Louisiana’s largest professional educators organization, has voted to not endorse the state’s Race to the Top proposal, citing among other reasons, the State Superintendent’s and Department of Education’s unwillingness to work with them on the teacher evaluation process. LAE’s major dissatisfaction with the state’s proposed evaluation system is the percentage that the value-added measures would account for in teachers’ overall evaluation. The LA Department of Education has proposed that the value-added measures would account for one-half of teachers’ evaluation, while LAE leadership would prefer that the measures account for no more than one-third of teachers’ evaluations. Louisiana’s second largest teachers union, the Louisiana Federation of Teachers (LFT), also has disagreements with some of the particulars of the proposed evaluation system, but has chosen to remain engaged with the state in the development and refinement of the Race to the Top proposal, with LFT president Steve Monaghan reasoning that “Too many Louisiana children are too poor with needs too great to walk away from a share of the $4.4 billion Race to the Top funds.”
In the end, I have no doubt that Louisiana’s bid for Race to the Top funding will be successful and the state will probably go on to lead the nation in using student performance measures as a major component of teacher evaluation. While not perfect, the value-added measures represent not only a significant improvement over using absolute measures for teacher evaluation, but also a much more common sense approach to setting expectations for teachers. There is a widely-held misperception that teachers are flatly opposed to being held accountable for student performance. That is untrue for most teachers. What most teachers argue is that they should not be held accountable things that are beyond their control. A classroom teacher has no control over a students’ learning before coming to his or her classroom. Teachers also argue that special student circumstances such as disabilities and limited English proficiency must be factored into setting expectations. The use of value-added measures for teacher evaluation purposes moves us a step closer to being able to hold teachers accountable for student performance without making them the whipping children for factors that they truly have no control over.