L.A.’s teacher-rating firestorm blows east

As soon as tomorrow, 12 news agencies could have the names and effectiveness ratings of 12,000 teachers from New York City’s public schools, the Washington Post reports.

The United Federation Of Teachers plans to file a lawsuit in state court to block the release of the data. The ratings in question are based on the average progress a teacher’s students made on standardized tests during the course of a school year. In edu-speak, they’re called  “value-added” assessments.

It’s not clear from the Post story how many years of data were included in the New York City school district’s analysis. As researchers and statisticians note, these effectiveness ratings tend to vary wildly from year to year because the sample size — especially for elementary school teachers — is so small (20 to 30-some students).

To reduce that variability in their controversial report, Grading the Teachers, the L.A. Times did not give ratings to teachers who had scores for fewer than 60 students. The average number of student scores per teacher was 110, according to Jason Felch, one of the reporters.

At a UC Berkeley forum I covered last month, Sophia Rabe-Hesketh, a UC Berkeley statistician, said the current models don’t separate teacher effect from other variables in a child’s education, such as school leadership, curricula and materials. Others, including Stanford economist Eric Hanushek, say these “value-added models,” for all of their flaws, are far superior to the current, often perfunctory, way that teachers are evaluated.

But it’s one thing to use such metrics internally, and another to publish the ratings with all of  the teachers’ names attached. Do you think the public has the right to know this information?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • http://www.skylinehs.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=77763&type=u&rn=6808095 David Orphal

    At first blush, most folks seem to like the idea of the “Value-added” system of teacher evaluation. It seems intuitively satisfying to think of a system that can rule out the many non-academic issues, school-wide issues, societal issues that children walk into class with like a loaded backpack. With “Value-added” we seem to think we’ve got a system that will isolate the contribution to a students education caused only by her/his teacher. The NYC Education Department, “believes that the Value-added model is an accurate evaluation of teachers.”

    “Believe” is a really good word to use. Folks seem to believe in the value-added model because the rhetoric feels so gosh darn solid.

    The science of value-added looks a lot different. Just yesterday, the Annenberg Institute released a report detailing the chimera-like realities of the Value-added model.

    1. The quality of the teacher is the most significant factor that school’s can control in a child’s education. The quality of the teacher, and all other factors in a school’s control are actually quite small. The research actually points to teacher quality being only 10-20% of a child’s overall education. Family, poverty, and community factors are still more significant.

    2. The test scores that the Value-added model is based are highly suspect. Even at their very best, they only measure a tiny sub-set of all of the things we hope children learn in school. Economist Alan Blinder argued in 2009 that the skills vital for success in the labor market in the near future, such as “Creativity, inventiveness, spontaneity, flexibility and interpersonal relations” will be those least amenable to standardized testing.

    3. Value-added is grading teachers on a curve. It is, by design, a system that ranks teachers. By design, 50% of all teachers will rank “Average.” By design, another 20% will be labeled “Below Average” and another 20%, “Above Average.” The top 5% will be called, “Excellent,” while the bottom 5% will be labeled “Failures.” It will always look this way, no matter how many “Failures” we fire. There will always be the worst 5%. A district or school’s dream of having all “Excellent” teachers is impossible to achieve.

    “The promise that value-added systems can provide such a precise, meaningful, and comprehensive picture is not supported by the data,” concludes the Annenberg report, “Moreover, the set of skills that can be adequately assessed in a manner appropriate for value-added assessments represents a small fraction of the goals our nation has set out for our students and schools.”

  • http://www.skylinehs.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=77763&type=u&rn=6808095 David Orphal

    What are our children learning?

    How well are our children learning?

    Are the teachers any good?

    These are all good questions. They deserve good answers. Currently, with high-stakes testing, we get only inexpensive answers.

    Instead of getting every 3-11th grader a scan-tron, fill-in-the-bubble tests, I propose we assess children, teachers, and schools differently.

    First, we have to get away from the idea that we won’t know enough unless we know something about each and every child. Since we seem to demand that a test in in front of every child, we end up with a cheaply made test that is wildly expensive to administer.

    Instead, California could hire a team of well-trained researcher to go and investigate schools. They can visit classroom and observe. They can interview students, teachers, principals, and parents. They can look at the lessons being taught, and review some of the assessments that teachers are using. They can them come back to the public and publish their findings.

    We would be able to look at every school, every teacher, every child every year. But the data we would gather would be of much higher quality.

  • JR

    “California could hire a team of well-trained researcher to go and investigate schools. They can visit classroom and observe. They can interview students, teachers, principals, and parents. They can look at the lessons being taught, and review some of the assessments that teachers are using. They can them come back to the public and publish their findings”.

    The teachers unions would devise a seemingly “pro-child” reason to be against that, they would fight it as they have fought every proposed change for improvement of the schools. We are left with value added because the union doesn’t want to allow any admission that teachers are different(good and bad)just as students are(good and bad)the only thing constant are the pay grades and salary bumps irregardless of effectiveness. You can play victim, but they real victims are the children and taxpayers.

  • Public School Teacher

    Honestly JR, you should relax sometimes. I am a high school teacher and I welcome constructive criticism of my practice. I have an open door policy and welcome administrators, parents and community members to observe at any time. I am tired of hearing about teachers hiding behind the union. Most of us don’t. The union is there to ensure fair labor practice, otherwise administrators and district officials would get away with murder. Here are some examples: class size, special ed “push-in” without any real support and minimal time for lesson planning and parent conferences.

    The overwhelming majority of teachers do the best job they can with the minimal resources they receive. Remember, many of us are the most stable influence in many students’ lives.

    Be sure to thank me for helping raise many Bay Area children, including paying for their SAT exams, college applications, or driving them to their optometrist appointment when their parents forgot about them.

  • Oakland Teacher

    Don’t forget to thank us for voluntarily giving up lunch, breaks, coming in early and staying late: all unpaid. Don’t forget being willing to reschedule meetings with parents who “forgot” to show up or buying food to keep in my classroom for students who got no breakfast. Don’t forget to thank me for paying for bus fare when your child has none. And most of all, don’t forget to thank me for loving your children, and working hard every day to meet their academic, social and emotional needs.

    I know of no other profession where people give up so much of themselves, their time, their own money/materials.

    I want you to think about a comparison to nurses (no disrespect intended). Imagine telling a nurse to work unpaid, to stay late, come early: their union would file an immediate grievance. Imagine telling a nurse she needs to keep food available for hungry patients. Imagine telling a nurse she needs to buy medical equipment, computers, paper, pens, pencils – not just for herself, but for her patients to use as well. How about giving her broken beds for her patients, and telling her she needs to “be creative”.

    How about we publish the complication rate for each and every nurse, or better yet – the mortality rates for their patients. No one in medicine would ever agree to this. It is unfair, misleading and mean-spirited. Maybe no one would want to work in critical care or surgery anymore because their stats would not look at good.

    Why do people think it is okay to publicly rate teachers? My students’ test scores have been great the past couple of years. I would strongly object to that being published. I have a right to privacy, period.

  • Hot r

    I was privileged to attend a comprehensive seminar sponsored by the UC Berkeley Education department a few weeks ago. At the seminar experts in test data analysis as well as the reporter who wrote the groundbreaking LA Times story publishing the test scores of over 6,000 LA USD teachers. Speakers ranged from the Hoover Institute to noted education writers , an Oakland principal, and a former Oakland Teacher of the Year.

    The experts stated that there was such a high degree of error in test results that the only use of the value added data was to identify the very high and the very low, but it would be useless for all the teachers in between. However, the teachers are basically screwed, because they have fought so hard to keep test data out of their evaluations that it is not protected by any privacy concerns. And one could make a FOIA request and get this test data from the District. Maybe it can be protected in NYC because it has most recently been made part of the evaluation process.

    Remember the LA Times article published photos of the “good” and “bad” tea hers in the paper. some of these “bad” teachers were nationally board certified. Very few of the good teachers were located in any one school, but were rather scattered in all kinds of schools with both impoverished and well to do parents. allegedly one teacher committed suicide after learning about his scores.

    Yes you can argue that test scores are not enough, but the Oakland principal stated that teacher evaluations are very unreliable, as a room full of administrators will rate the same teacher 9 different ways based on the same criteria. And we all know that incompetent teachers who are toxic to children get acceptable ratings year after year. The current system is broken.

    The State Nd the districts have known about this data for years and done nothing. For things to improve each teacher should be given their results for each year and then given guidance to improve by combination of administrators and their peers.

  • Katy Murphy

    Hot r brought up an important point made by researchers at the UC Berkeley forum that I neglected to highlight: A “value-added” measurement might be useful to help identify the most and the least effective teachers, but it’s not a reliable way to rank teachers from best to worst.

  • Ms. McLaughloin

    I would have absolutely no problem with schools or teachers being “assessed” according to state test scores IF the students had any real reason to take the tests seriously.

    They don’t.

    Their state test scores have no bearing on their grades. (We couldn’t factor in the test scores if we wanted to, which many teachers probably do. Students take the STAR tests in the spring, and the scores aren’t released until the following autumn.)

    Their state test scores have no impact on whether or not they graduate.

    Their state test scores are not included in the transcripts that are sent to the colleges they apply to attend.

    I have had bright, very bright, students explain to me that they bubbled in zigzags, or their boyfriends’ initials, to get the silly thing over with.

    I have had bright, very bright, students respond to overtesting with such comments as, “F this test, and F this school, and F you. You only want us to do our best so you don’t get fired and the school won’t be shut down. Why do I care if this school gets shut down? I won’t be here,” etc.

    And those are the kids who show up to take the thing. Would you?

  • mumbler

    I wanted to respond to post #4: “The overwhelming majority of teachers do the best job they can with the minimal resources they receive. Remember, many of us are the most stable influence in many students’ lives.”

    And it’s still not good enough. And some teachers do hide behind job rights, trust me. I see it all the time.

    Our schools are good for adults, not kids. J.R., keep it up.

    As far as the LAUSD publication of test scores, I love it. These data should be public. So should the effectiveness of everything tax dollars pay for. Government, roads, post offices, ALL OF IT.

    I disagree with Hot R who mentioned the OUSD principal who said nine different principals will judge the same teacher 9 different ways. This could be true if the 9 different principals STINK!

    You get what you pay for, when it comes to OUSD administrators. Same with the teachers. More $$, and more accountability will fix a lot.

    But yeah, let’s leave everything alone. Let’s not worry about value-added because it isn’t PERFECT. Let’s not worry abut test scores because those too don’t measure learning perfectly enough. Let’s leave it the way it is and we can continue to descend into a 3rd-rate country.

  • JR

    “Why do people think it is okay to publicly rate teachers? My students’ test scores have been great the past couple of years. I would strongly object to that being published. I have a right to privacy, period”.

    Lets make it clear, this is primarily about substandard teachers. The union has owned politicians for decades, and had a law passed that made it illegal for test scores to be linked with teacher evaluations(is this for the good of kids,nope), The union has dictated work rules, hiring,discipline and termination rules, making the process extremely labor intensive and time consuming so that getting rid of a poor teacher is indeed more rare than a doctor lose his/her license or have an attorney disbarred. The kids have come second in this educational system the way that is and stood for the last 2-3 decades and we are paying too high a price for it. People can avoid bad doctors or bad lawyers, that’s the free market, but you cannot avoid a bad teacher unless you turn the district upside down and have your child transferred. There is no comparison between these.

  • Ms. J.

    I have heard that other districts throughout the country are experimenting with different evaluation systems, and I experienced the Ofsted process while in England; both sounded similar in some ways to the team of evaluators outlined in post #2.

    Of course everyone feels nervous about being observed and is scared of negative feedback, but I am with Public School teacher–I have an open door policy.

    I wish I had someone coming in to observe me and reflect with me on what I do. I welcome the chance to be observed, formally and informally, and have requested it frequently in my years of teaching.

    Yes, a serious evaluation based on lengthy, repeated, unannounced observations would be expensive, and scary, but very positive, and would make me and my fellow professionals feel more respected–just to know someone was actually seeing what we do every day would be a positive change.

  • oakland teach

    whenever I read about the “bad teachers” that are ruining our school system I question where do all these “bad teachers” hideout? Are they like the villians in a bad horror flick?
    I am a teacher in a “innercity” oakland school and am currently looking for those bad teachers.
    Is it the teacher lurking around room 5 at 7am? Her students have low test scores– I haven’t seen her be “bad” though– hmm… Is it the teacher who drives students to school because they are constantly late? he has low test scores too. Maybe it’s me– my scores arent so hot either. Are those “bad teachers” at hill schools, or do they only hide in the flatland schools?

  • JR

    You have a right to privacy, but teaching, like it or not is a public trust, and any teacher who is not capable of doing the job adequately should be dealt with in a better, quicker more expeditious manner than we currently have in place. The teachers union wants no accountability(just trust them and throw them more money), and we’ve being hearing that for too long. Is value added a good mechanism, not really, but it is much better than what we currently have. If you are serious about reform have your union streamline the procedure and time-frame for teacher discipline/dismissal, and formulate at least five different criteria for best teaching practices that can be used for evaluation, and set up evaluation boards(PTA parents+ staff+ admin) to judge the competence of all teachers regardless of length of service. Saying bad admin let bad teachers be tenured is no excuse to let this continue.

  • JR

    Oakland teach,
    You know its so strange, I am having lunch with teachers all the time, and they know who these teachers are and wouldn’t let their kids in those classes, and I have seen plenty of incompetent teachers by sitting in on classes at length and giving the teachers basic computer instruction. So go ahead and keep being oblivious, and maybe you just don’t know the difference between competence and incompetence(you might want to work for the district or the union, that may be your career path, even less work and more money).

  • Chauncey

    there are about 10 people who post on this blog, some under fake names! Cool- I get it- but its now dull and people have been using my tag and its stupid.

    Boring stuff Katy.

    Good luck ya’ll.

  • mumbler

    OaklandTeach – in comment #12, you imply that two teachers aren’t bad because a) they drive kids to school and b) they get to work at 5 am.

    What about: students learn a lot. Shouldn’t this be the measure of good teaching? Drives kids to school? Who cares if the kid can’t write an English sentence or begin to do Math.

    Here is the problem: JR and I are not saying they are bad PEOPLE, just ineffective at this most insanely hard job. Yes, there are many forces working against the teacher like poverty, broken families, the 4th highest homicide rate in the US, gangs, drugs, ETC ETC, but there are still teachers who are getting results and teachers who are not getting results.

    WE need to stop being so hyper-sensitive about this thing and put better folks in classrooms and the principal’s office so our kids don’t continue to get the shaft.

    It is time that a splinter group take over OEA because OEA is becoming more fanatical and unrealistic. We need better teachers and principals and OEA needs to help us make criteria to evaluate teachers and release them should they be deemed ineffective. A panel of observers? No problem – the ineffective teachers in Oakland would look ineffective to a panel of 100 observers…this is not a problem. The union contract is the problem – people OWN their jobs and this is sick and it’s ruining public education. RUINING IT.

    JR, you’re right–

  • harold

    Who would go to medical school if they knew they could lose their license, if too many of their cancer patients died?

    OEA reflects the membership … if you don’t like the representation – by all means, get involved!

  • Pepe

    I think people get too hung up on the word “bad.” I have been in many of my kids’ classrooms, and I would say that most of their teachers have been mediocre at best. My daughters did fine because they had academic support at home, but I’m sure students who did not have that support had very little progress in those classrooms. I think that mediocre=bad because too many students do not have their needs met. Mediocre teachers might get by in the hills schools because home situations effectively mask performance. Not so in other parts of Oakland. I think it is unacceptable to have such a high level of mediocrity no matter what the student population is. Mediocrity does not mean an individual is bad or does not mean well–they just are not as effective (academically) as they should be.

  • JR

    Mumbler and Pepe have nailed it right on the nose, superb posts for both of you!

  • Nextset

    I believe the problem with the public schools is the normalization of failure. This is a result of mixing students in the same classrooms regardless of ability. The room end up running at a low common denominator. After the years pass the students who might have been more competitive stop trying.

    And now we want to “evaluate” teachers on what, the performance of the mixed herd? No wonder the Charters are expected to grow and prosper.

  • JR

    The problem with the education system rest on a lot of different failings(policy issues,school funding formula, and duplication of administration, waste of resources), not just simply one issue. The first step is making sure that all teachers are capable, and willing to do what is necessary to fix the problems. The union is a big impediment, in this regard. Ability based classes are a good idea though, along with a two track system.

  • Let’s Get Real

    I would like JR, Pepe, and others who use the terms “bad” and “mediocre” to define some teachers to give some concrete examples of the behaviors these teachers exhibit that qualify them to be labeled that way. It
    is not constructive to just throw those terms around without being specific, and people have been allowed to get away with doing that for too long. I would also like them to try to estimate the number of such teachers they have encountered over a specific period of time.

  • oakland teach

    the biggest problem I have in my classroom is behavior. I can create excellent, detailed, differentiated lesson plans that foster critical thinking skills/higher order thinking while hitting my grades’ standards all at the same time– and then susie throws her shoe at Jonnie, Leanne won’t stop making chirping sounds, Keane pees his pants because the bathroom is flooded and no one in the office will fix it(I have 25 students that Im trying to teach so I can’t). GG throws a chair across the room because L took his paper.(call to the office and turned away) S came late and hasn’t been fed and so cries– another call to the office to see if there is any more food (nope) so food is taken out of my lunch. R is feeling wheepy today ’cause she witnessed dad get arrested last night. and so on and so on.

    while it may seem easy to say, “the first step is making sure all teachers are capable, and willing to do what is necessary…” I would like to know what that means. I am only one person…

  • pepe


    Mediocrity: not establishing and/or maintaining clear and consistent procedures and expectations for behavior; not knowing how to respond to misbehavior and overdependence on other adults to manage behavior; using limited instructional delivery methods and not constantly communicating the expectation that every single student work hard and learn; covering content rather than building up skills, knowledge, and thinking; not completely understanding subject matter and how to organize it effectively; lack of organization in the classroom; lack of effective, open communication with students and parents about progress or lack thereof; assessments and assignments that are poorly designed; grades that don’t seem to reflect the level of understanding or quality of work of the student

    In general: inconsistency, evidence of inadequate knowledge of how people learn, low expectations in disguise, a tendency to blame students instead of seeking solutions

    Note that I am not saying teaching is easy–it is extremely difficult and I admire people for trying. But to be good, it takes a lot more than many teachers I have seen are willing to do or capable of doing. If I had to estimate, I would say that over 50% of the teachers I have seen in action fall in this “mediocre” category. I noticed at least several of the issues listed above in each of their classes. I don’t blame all of them–I think the teacher preparation programs are inadequate and in general the leadership at schools falls even shorter when it comes to improving teaching and learning. Many teachers talk about being excellent, but in my experience, I would only put that label on about 10% of the teachers I’ve seen in action. The worst teachers make up another 10%–these individuals should never have been allowed in the classroom.

    Being good isn’t good enough. We as parents entrust our children to teachers, and we expect them to be excellent.

    Hope that clarifies–I think it’s a good dialogue to have.

  • JR

    Let’s get real,
    OK, we are going to get real with some concrete and real examples, and situations these attributes have been witnessed in a number of teachers(I have covered this before, but I have no problem going back over it):

    1. The screamer – A teacher with a persistent lack of patience which inevitably leads to yelling on an almost daily basis, and is even known to belittle the children, telling them they are the worst class the teacher has ever had.

    2. The zookeeper – A teacher who has very little if any classroom management skills, but is content to give the children packet work and watch movies that do not follow curriculum guidelines. Not much learning going on here.

    3. The awesome teacher – this one spends a lot of time doing arts and crafts and PE too, the kids love this one. The only problem is the kids wont be ready for the next grade.

    4. The minimalist – This teacher counts only quizzes and tests and very little homework for grading purposes(I kid you not, this one doesn’t like to grade homework) even stooped to using previous trimester tests in conjunction with current trimester because there were not enough pieces of work to grade(per district policy each trimester stands on its own)also does not do in class math journal which is part of the curriculum.

    There are more but these are the most egregious, and there are a number of them, it just upsets me to see excellent junior teacher get RIF’ed, bumped and or canned and these bumpkins are still with us.

  • Steven Weinberg

    Mumbler in post 16 says that we need better teachers and principals, then puts the blame on OEA. That does not make sense. If principals are not doing a good job it is hardly the fault of the teachers’ union. They do not represent principals and principals work under the exact conditions that Mumbler and other posters suggest for teachers–little or not job protection.

    If principals and teachers are falling short of what we would like them to achieve, then maybe we should be looking at factors that effect them both: low pay relative to other districts and other professional jobs and inadequate budgets to meet the needs of their students. Correct those problems and you will attract more candidates for open positions, and you will find more of the staff you deem mediocre will be doing well.

    If you have created jobs that only exceptional people can do well, and you refuse to pay salaries to attract enough exceptional people, you will not have success. Provide the supports that allow good teachers to be successful, and raise salaries to attract such teachers, and you will have success.

  • JR

    It’s not really the case that people are looking for exceptional people more of a personality type along with being well educated. The right kind of people who have what it takes to be a teacher, not necessarily masters of content knowledge(above average is fine). A person with the ability to convey concepts so that children can understand. A person with above average organizational skills, and a person person who has the patience to handle repetition. This may be the basis of what could possibly be a great teacher.

  • pepe


    I couldn’t agree more. In order for that to occur, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the priorities of our society and in the perception and practice of teaching as a profession.

  • mumbler

    it’s really simple with respect to bad and mediocre:

    effective = kids learn

    ineffective = kids don’t learn


    Weinberg–you are completely right. You get what you pay for, in the case of OUSD admins and OUSD teachers. I agree that teachers deserve a lot more $$ and with that, accountability. OEA has to agree that we should be able to exit an ineffective teacher, but the contract is too strong and my experience with OEA is that they defend everyone, no matter the case. Also, it’s a state problem, the impossibility of teacher dismissal. Admins can be dismissed a LOT easier and that is appropriate.

    With that, I’ve seen principals get exited, but not frequently enough, and not for being mediocre but egregious.

    Pepe is right on the money–this is the hardest job on the earth and the pay is low, so we’re not in an easy position. We as a society need to retool and focus on education. We need to cut back on military and spend on education. The Military Industrial Complex needs to be dismantled.

    But ineffective teaching is bad for everyone, especially the teacher. I could tell you a story that would blow you away; just happened in a friend’s school last week…about what happens when a teacher should not be in the classroom but the principal can’t do anything about it…

  • http://www.skylinehs.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=77763&type=u&rn=6808095 David Orphal

    It is interesting to see so many faith-based arguments being made about teachers and learning and pseudo-scientific measures.

    1. “Public schools are drop-out factories with hordes of bad teachers ruining America”: While my high school, Skyline, is an example of what’s wrong (our dropout rate is a shameful 40%), let’s put things in perspective: most kids still graduate with the skills and knowledge they need to be successful at college. The teachers on that hill know that 40% drop-outs is way too high and are working hard to find an answer. The last few answers we’ve tried hasn’t worked and we’re working on our newest idea. In preparation for all of the over-simplified silver-bullit, all-you-need-to-do-is… answers that will surely come, I invite each of you to join our staff, bring your expertise and help us get better. In sports terms, stop Monday-morning quarterbacking, put you pads on and get in the game.

    2. “Most teachers are good and teachers’ unions are bad.” I am OEA. I am CTA. I am NEA. Your teachers; the ones you love and the one you’ve loved when you were a child, they are the union. It seems like too many folks think that teacher union leaders are a bunch of poorly shaved, cigar smoking men in ill-fitting suits come in from New Jersey to ruin California. The Union are the ones who fight for quality funding for our children’s school each and every year.

    3. Teachers = bad ; Test = good: It’s clear that too many folks have lots their faith in teachers. Once upon a time we had a comprehensive system of assessments. These assessments were quizzes, exams, projects, and papers. We called them grades. If a child got an “A” or a “B” she did well on most of those assessments and we felt certain that she learned. If another child earned a “C,” he did about as well as most kids. Some other students earned a “D” or an “F,” then they didn’t learn. Gone are the days when we trusted a trained expert who spent 180 days with my child to tell me if my child was learning and what we all needed to do to help him if he wasn’t. Instead, foundations, pundits, politicians, and movie-makers have told me to put my faith in a fill-in-the-bubble test, that my child takes for three days. Never mind the researchers who don’t say, “These tests are less than perfect,” but say “These test are BAD! They make our kids LESS smart! They narrow down education in DANGEROUS ways!” To hear some faith-based testing advocates take on it, “BAD, LESS, and DANGEROUS” are all synonyms for “not perfect. It’s like these same folks would look at someone trying to douse a fire with gasoline and say, “Sure, it’s not a PERFECT idea…”

    Scientists who have spent decades researching high-stakes testing, charter schools, and value-added evaluation models have been publishing reports and papers about them for years. The actual science shows that these so-called reforms are making public education worse not better. Sometimes when I talk to folks who are on the latest silver-bullet reform band wagon, it feels like they have their fingers in their ears, going “LA LA LA LA LA LA” and when they see my lips stop moving, they parrot the same old sound bites… “Bad teachers are ruining America,” “Teacher unions are cabals designed to find jobs for bad teachers who are ruing America,” “Tests and Accountability and Private/Charter Schools are the only thing that can say America.”

    It’s driving me crazy to talk about the science behind these so-called reform initiatives and be labeled as defender of the status quo. I demand a position of no-neither for myself. No, the status quo isn’t okay and Neither are the so-called reforms currently being forced on America with cult-like adore.

    It’s time for a new idea…

  • Gordon Danning

    David Orphal:

    I think you are over-stating the ability of trained professionals to adequately assess student learning. I m a trained, experienced professional, and I THINK that I adequately assess my students’ learning, but how do I know that I am doing so, in the absence of an external test that compares my results with those of teachers elsewhere? For example, I know a little bit about what you teach, because I have been in professional development with you, and I know that we have similar goals but use different techniques. How do I know whether your techniques are more effective than mine, or vice versa? I can’t know, in the absence of an external assessment. So, we need one. But in social studies, we need one that is a whole lot better than the useless state trivia test.

  • Let’s Get Real

    Pepe and JR, I appreciate you taking the time to list some specific behaviors that indicate bad or mediocre teaching, and in general, I would agree with you.

    There are a few realities, however, that underlie my concern about focusing only on teachers to solve the problem of low student achievement.

    The biggest issue to me is that teachers do not teach in a vacuum. There are many factors that influence a teacher’s experience in a particular school or district, and unless those factors are addressed, any teacher’s effectiveness is going to be decreased. Pepe inadvertently points this out in his first paragraph where several of his mediocre teacher behaviors are related to student behavior. If a district is plagued with a number of schools where teachers have difficulty managing their classrooms, this is an indication that something should be done to address the behavior of the students. Trust me, even a teacher who might be labeled as “perfect” by teacher critics would have a difficult time managing a class containing a number of students who are disruptive. And in that case, there should be protocols in place at the school site and in the district that effectively address the needs of those students. In Oakland, this is not the case.

    There is also the fact that so many students in Oakland come to school with academic deficits that they need a lot of extra support in building up their skills. Many need way more support than a classroom teacher alone can provide. It is impossible to tailor a lesson that will teach every student effectively if your students’ abilities cover a wide range. Some will master the skill, others will not have a clue, and others have heard it all before. This means support services–for low-achievers as well as gifted students–need to abound. In Oakland, again, this is not the case. In fact, due to budget issues, there has been a serious decline in such services.

    The other issue that concerns me is the idea that all teachers have to be perfect–and perfect in the same way. Aside from the fact that this is unrealistic, there is something to be said about students be exposed to different teaching styles–as long as that teaching is effective. I sort of agree with Pepe that teachers, like those in any other profession, fall on a sort of bell curve, a small percentage on the excellent and poor ends with most falling somewhere in between. From my experience as a student and as a teacher, I would say that there are more leaning toward the excellent side than toward the poor side, but that may be my prejudice. Contrary to popular belief, teachers are always looking for ways to improve, and I agree with Pepe that teacher training programs need strengthening.

    However, in my opinion, while you can take on the impossible task of trying to hone every teacher to “perfection,” unless other factors are addressed–like the ones I mentioned–you will not see significant change in student achievement. If we don’t start looking at the total picture, we will be looking back 10 years from now wondering why children are still not performing well.

    I sincerely hope this dialogue can shift to a more holistic perspective. Teachers want to serve our students as best we can, but we need support, and we need you to look at the total picture of our experience rather than just constantly criticizing what we do.

  • Nextset

    I’m not one to march with public school teachers, but I have to say that the way the Urban Public Schools are run prevents any teacher from doing well by the students. So I am unhappy with all the talk of punishing the teachers and cutting teacher pay based on how the students test out. I do believe Ex-Chancellor Rhee has some use in education but only to a point.

    Unless and until the public schools structure themselves so that education is possible It’s less the teachers fault we have all the failures than the school boards and administration. If the failures continue the school boards should be dissolved and the schools taken away/merged into somebody else’s control. Yes that means stripping the electorate’s control of the schools also. If they elect such failures the electorate shouldn’t be controlling schools.

    So now look at the emergence of the Charter Schools. Funny how things work out. The Charters are free to be tailored to the needs of particular groups of students, leaving the Public School District as the lowest common denominator. Are we watching the publics become darker and more disfunctional while the Charters are progressive, innovative and segregated? And is this a problem anyway? If everyone gets what they want, we should be happy, right?

    Brave New World.

  • Catherine


    What if the principals, administrators, school board members and superintendent were also rated in the same fashion, using the same student test score criteria, average daily attendance, etc. Of course our superintendent would be rated against other urban school principals and I think we should include the two finalists for the position of superintendent last year in the mix.

    Then, with the ratings, salaries, satisfaction levels posted, we would be able to make our choices. If it turns out that our principal, administrators and/or superintendent do not rate very highly, OUSD allows us to have an inter-district transfer to any district that will accept our children and they will not interfere, stall, lose or otherwise hinder the process. I believe this would be more than fair.

  • JR

    Let’s get real,
    A part of the problem is parents who can’t or wont take responsibility for their children, which I have addressed before. We are worried about public assistance cuts but we aren’t worried about the root of the increasing problem which is “irresponsible people having irresponsible kids”. This is child abuse, and it also manifests itself in the classroom. Kids don’t eat right, don’t get sufficient sleep. They are worried about day to day survival, and children should not be subjected to this. California has almost 1 in 3 of the US public assistance recipients. Teacher should be leaders against the pervasive government assistance programs because they encourage and allow people in a bad situation the ability to bring kids into that same situation.

  • Nextset

    Catherine, I think you are onto something. It is very fair to rate the school district on whether it’s products ever got a fair chance at upward mobility. I’d love to see that.

    The thing is, the marketplace is already rating them. Their pay doesn’t seem to be tied to whether or not decent people would allow their children to be placed in their care. Los Angeles Unified is an example. 6% white is a “rating”. Los Angeles is full of whites and they won’t send their kids to that district, they pay for private or church schools or enroll in charter schools. I have jewish friends there who laugh about LA Unified and spend huge amounts to send their kids to middle level private schools. The school they use is not a jewish school but has over 40% jewish students. The kids go to jewish temple religious training on their own time periodically.

    Jewish students are (laughably) counted as “white” but they are most definitely not “white”. They are an ethnic to themselves, and they give the whites a fit.

    Yes I’d love to see the school districts threatened with dissolution if they didn’t clean up their act and provide a set of schools within the district that allowed competitive students of any color to go to competitive/exclusive schools. This would force the districts to have real schools again, not just dumping grounds with nice payrolls for the attendants. It would also mean that your address would not determine whether you could go to a real school or not.

    Will this ever happen? Not till the Tea Party is in power. Will that happen? I would have said no, but the factors pointing to some kind of revolution coming are actually visible in the economic indicators. I believe this is all tied to economics more than the election cycle. When having marketable children is required for (social, economic, military) survival you will see changes in public education. Right now people thought their clan could make it with the kids growing up like topsy. I feel that that thought is diminishing. The more people are afraid of the future, the more they are going to look to their children for the future. When people realize the government will allow them to suffer (seriously diminishing standards of living) they will be more careful with their kids. We are seeing this come to pass. People are beginning to realize the government is selling their futures out. The more that sets in the madder the population will get. It is only beginning to set in now. Most people have little concept of the public rage that is to come.

    Not only is Sarah Palin increasingly likely to come to power, but someone much more facist will appear. And I’m not saying she’s facist at all. What will follow her into public life will be. The USA is moving towards dissolution into warring factions with no common core values. The last 50 years of public education has a lot to do with the reasons why. I think the trend is accelerating. I think public education was allowed to decline in the name of pacification to the point that the population is one of separate nations now within the same borders. They will be willing to war upon each other.

    Back to the thread. I am seeing poor people (especially poor whites) and minorities chasing the Charters to enroll their kids. The public districts will collapse if the enrollments continue to fall due to Charters peeling off all the whites and then all the competitive minorities. These large districts can’t make it as they are now operating with just the ghetto dregs remaining. Desperate to stem the flow of families seeking “quality” they will try gimmicks like Michelle Rhee and teacher evaluation/pay schemes. That is not going to save them at all. These moves are just gimmicks.

    Brave New World.

  • http://www.skylinehs.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=77763&type=u&rn=6808095 David Orphal

    Gordon Danning:

    You bring up a great point for teachers collaborating with one another, designing their assessments with one another, then analyzing the student scores with one another. You are perfectly right that if I work in complete isolation, I have no idea what I could be doing differently that would help my kids learn the material better.

  • Gordon Danning

    David: So what do we do about it?

  • Hot r

    Nextset: You have accurately described one possible version of the future. it is true that private schools and charters have sucked the life out of poor districts like Oakland and other inner cities, but it is not universally true, nor is it true nationwide. Our best are still competitive with the best in the world. Our local public university is an example of that as are school districts across the bridge or 15 minutes over the nearby hills.

    The process of Balkanization will continue in Oakland because the problems of poverty cannot be solved in the classroom and we must train our students for jobs that actually exist rather than those that used to…

  • Nextset

    Hot R: Sounds like the present trends actually. I don’t think the church schools and Charters are “sucking the life out of poor districts”. They are saving their students from bad schools.

    The problem is not the students who escape the bad ghetto schools – the problem is the students who don’t. Bad students who stay in the bad schools are missing out on their last chance to be corrected and trained on American civic life. These unfortunates will turn 18 without a working knowledge of middle class values, standard english (not spoken in bad schools in favor of dialect and foreign languages) and the basics of passing into society in favor of underclass mores. They will not even know that they don’t know things. They will be unemployable and unacceptable in society, trapped in low prole existance. It’s one thing to deliberately be “bad” and break the rules. It’s another to have no clue of what the rules are.

    The result is a shorter life expectancy, diminished marriage prospects, and being wedded to poverty and all the lifestyle that goes with it.

    I don’t care how well the Charters do, I want the public schools to add value to their students especially the black students (I’m partial – so what), so that they have what I consider a fair chance in American Society. The chance they had in bad old 1959 – which for some black folks was a terrific party (every day and every generation was going to be better and have more). It doesn’t matter how wretched their mothers and sperm donors are, “good” public schools can allow nearly everyone to rise although it will not be pleasant and it will not be done their way.

    The problem is the pacification programs we have now that have supplanted education, the indiscipline, the teaching of nonsense rather than solid subjects.

    Teacher ratings are illusory for ghetto schools because by definition the students are so bad. You can’t grade the teachers on how Johnny reads (not compared to white/jewish schools), there is much more to a ghetto school – literacy etc & deportment, attendance, and better employment rates of it’s graduates.

    I am betting that within a few years the civil service will fall apart due to financial collapse of the municipalities. The public schools as we know them will simply close (pension issues alone…). They will be replaced with something else – charters – without any civil servants. Maybe that was the plan all along.

  • stumbler

    Teachers are not bad. Teachers are wonderful, caring people. They are the center of our schools and teachers are more important than anyone in society because they impart knowledge, critical thinking and civic values on our kids.

    Teachers deserve more money. Much more.
    Principals need to be able to let go of ineffective teachers.

    In what industry or field do workers keep their jobs no matter their effectiveness? Orphal, I think you would agree that Skyline would improve if the 20% least effective teachers were lovingly let go of and replaced by effective teachers.

    This is not teacher bashing–this is logical and the current situation makes no sense for kids. Effective teams, companies, organizations run on merit and a strong leader’s ability to add people to the team and remove them from the team. Support and culture building and getting behind teachers and building capacity: this is the big work–a small part of the work is the accountability for off the team / on the team.

    Ineffective teachers hurt: kids, parents, society, other teachers. They waste principals’ time, they hurt everyone including themselves because they are in the wrong profession!


  • Nextset

    Stumbler: It is irrelevant what money teachers “deserve”. You don’t set pay scales by what people deserve. You set it by what the market requires and also what you are willing to pay.

    School districts run for the proletariat are hardly places where the taxpayers and their politicians are going to pay well. The prole students are not the kind of people you spend lavishly on. They are not in Piedmont. Too bad, so sad.

    Saying otherwise substitutes fantasy for reality.

    If you want to pay higher wages you need to do so at a school that justifies higher wages. That would be a school with more elite students, being taught higher level subjects.

    Like Piedmont High School, Merritt College, Cal State East Bay, and maybe UC Berkeley.