Posts Tagged ‘Japan earthquake’

Really, Jeb? Florida teacher evaluation plan “forging a seismic path”?

Monday, March 21st, 2011
Seismic path in Japan

Seismic path in Japan

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush writes in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune about the new teacher evaluation system enacted last week by the Florida legislature. The law will link teacher jobs to student standardized test scores. He praises the move as “forging a seismic path for modernizing the teaching profession nationwide.”

Wow. Sure, Jeb’s kinda right. The new law is likely to have a catastrophic effect on communities, families, the economy, employment, and other basic infrastructures of life. But using the earthquake/tsunami metaphor to make your point about pay-for-performance, however true, isn’t always the best choice when people’s sensibilities are raw from recent tragedy.

That’s not the only tone-deaf aspect of Jeb’s comments. Here’s another — he calls test-based teacher performance pay “common sense.”

We here at PURE like to use that phrase to describe reforms that make sense to parents. The difference is that for us, “common sense” shouldn’t contradict knowledge. It can’t just be a gut feeling or a politically-tuned sound bite. For example, folks like Mayor Daley still assert that it’s “common sense” to flunk children with low test scores, but we oppose it because we know that flunking generally doesn’t work, and hurts children.

Here’s what Jeb says about payment-for-test-scores:

Currently, annual teacher evaluations are subjective and very few teachers receive negative reviews. For the first time, an objective measure of teacher effectiveness — based on standardized tests that measure student learning — will be part of annual evaluations. Fifty percent of teacher evaluations will be based on what matters most — students’ knowledge and skills. Essentially, do students know more at the end of the school year than they knew at the beginning? This common-sense evaluation system provides a healthy balance of student data and valuable peer feedback.

Sounds pretty sensible unless you know, for example, that state tests are not designed to be used to evaluate teachers. Standardized tests like those used for NCLB accountability are only supposed to be used for whole-school and whole-district accountability. The results are invalid for other uses such as in high-stakes student promotion and teacher evaluation decisions (more about the Chicago Public Schools’ misuse of state tests in PURE’s Office for Civil Rights Complaint here).

To his credit, Jeb does make reference to some research that “confirms students with great teachers learn more — up to four times as much — than students with ineffective teachers.” I’d guess he means research characterized by measurement and research expert Gerald Bracey as “a circular argument which defines effective teachers as those who raise test scores, then uses test score gains to determine who’s an effective teacher.”

In fact, independent researchers have found that evaluating and paying teachers for test scores is either damaging or irrelevant to improved learning (see FairTest fact sheet here).

Here’s more from a new Parents Across America fact sheet, “Tying Teacher Salaries to Test Scores Doesn’t Work”:

Research shows that the carrot of higher pay does not lead to better results. In an authoritative study conducted at Vanderbilt University, for example, teachers who were offered bonuses for improving student test results produced no more improvement than the control group.

Similar studies of teacher merit pay have shown null results in New York City and Chicago. Because of the lack of positive results, a number of pay for performance programs have been abandoned, including programs in  New York City and California.

Methods that use test scores to evaluate teachers, including the currently popular “value added” calculations, have also proved highly unreliable. The National Academy of Sciences and experts assembled by the Economic Policy Institute have warned of the potentially damaging consequences of implementing test-based evaluation systems or merit pay based on test scores.

Few of us will forget the sight of another Bush brother flying high over the seismic path left by Hurricane Katrina. So, Jeb, we suggest that you avoid disaster metaphors, and, even better, stop praising those Florida lawmakers for a “heckuva job.” Now that would show common sense.

PSAT for 3-15-11: Reach out to Japanese educators

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Scarf depicting Mt FujiI first met Dr. Yoshimi Tsuboi in 1997 when he came to Chicago from Japan to study local school councils. He gave gifts of scarves to those of us he met during his visit, and included this note:

“We Japanese, especially farmers and workers, use this handkerchief for wiping sweat…Mt. Fuji represents the supreme pleasure. Two hawk feathers means to bring something. Three eggplants represent common people. Then the combination of the picture means that working brings the sweetest joy of life to the people. I hope your daily hard work will bring happiness not only in your life but also to all children’s lives in the Chicago Public Schools.”

Since then I’ve had the pleasure of spending more time with Yoshi and later getting to know a student of his, Takeshi Shinohara. Takeshi has recently completed his doctorate and will begin teaching at a university next month. He was just here in Chicago doing some follow-up research, and flew home the day of the earthquake. Fortunately, he reports that he and Dr. Tsuboi and their families are all OK.

Takeshi is especially interested in how teachers collaborate with each other and the LSC on school improvement planning. I would encourage anyone who would like to share their experiences with Takeshi or send him a message of encouragement to contact him via his Facebook page.

There are a lot of ways to send money to Japan right now. I happen to like Wider Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. The UCC’s public school advocacy efforts are tremendous, and their mission work is similarly thoughtful, trustworthy, and well-grounded in the local communities.

Let’s help our friends in Japan continue to have the sweetest joy of life – working hard for the children.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.