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Paul Bruno
Oakland, CA
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Thanks for this...appreciate your lists and miss them when they don't come out.
It's probably worth noting that TfA does not send teachers to representative schools, and schools with more low-income students tend to have more diverse teaching staffs. So, for example, this morning Michael Pershan and I managed to find teacher demographics for schools with >75% of students on FRPL: In 2012, in low income schools were 63% white, 16.5% Hispanic, 15.2% black. The 2014 TfA corps is now *much* more racially diverse than teachers as a whole, but roughly as diverse as teachers in low-income schools.
Thanks, all. I'm sure I'll be around the internet in some form or another.
Thanks, Mike!
I've been contributing posts to This Week in Education since January 2012, when Alexander kindly invited me to begin writing. This, however, will be my last post here. Last week I submitted my resignation at my teaching job which, for a variety of reasons, was not a good fit for me. I don't have firm plans for what I'm going to be doing next - possibly teaching, possibly some consulting work, probably something education-related - but investigating other opportunities was going to be easier for me if I wasn't simultaneously working full time. (And if you've got suggestions for cool jobs I should be applying for, let me know!) While I make these transitions - including, potentially, the transition out of the classroom - I'm going to be scaling back the blogging. To some extent this is about time constraints and focus, but it is also because it's less clear what "point of view" I will represent going forward - teacher? former teacher? consultant? interested citizen? - and I don't want to have to worry about my credibility in the eyes of readers. I may still write at my personal site, and you can always find me on Twitter, but... Continue reading
Posted Aug 14, 2014 at This Week In Education
John - The entirety of their argument is, basically, if twice as many students are considered "below grade level" when they enter HS, twice as many students will drop out for academic reasons. That's crude, to say the least. Changing the standards doesn't actually change the distribution of abilities with which kids enter HS, so kids' perceptions of their abilities *relative to their peers* will probably remain mostly unchanged. If more kids start dropping out for academic reasons, that's probably because their perceptions of their abilities would change *relative to school and classroom standards*. But why should that change much? A certain percentage of kids drop out for academic reasons now largely because teachers and schools are comfortable pushing that fraction of kids out of HS by giving them work of a certain difficulty. But there's no reason to think teachers are suddenly going to raise their standards so suddenly and dramatically that twice as many kids get overwhelmed and quit. In other words, you seem to be assuming that teachers, schools, and states are basically robots who don't have the programming or ability to adjust *other* factors when the standards go up. (Note that the report technically does *not* assume this, since it stipulates that their numbers only apply if there is "no improved support" for students. This is an obfuscatory way for them to admit that the dropout rate will not, in practice, double.) In reality, educators and policy makers will handle things exactly as they do now: they will lower the practical bars for students until they are comfortable that not *too* many kids are being pushed out of school. That's why kids who are "below grade level" graduate now, and it's why they will almost certainly continue to graduate at very similar rates under the CCSS. (My guess is that the dropout rate is due for a bump anyway since we're at an all-time high and the economy is improving. That's probably inevitable with or without the CCSS.)
I've only scanned the report, but I don't understand the mechanism by which the CCSS are supposed to double dropout rates. To graduate students aren't "held to the standards", they just need some combination of passing grades in the relevant courses and adequate performance on exit exams. Graduation standards, in other words, aren't the CCSS, they're teachers' standards and exit exam standards, both of which are bars that can be relatively easily adjusted to graduate the desired number of students. Way more students graduate *now* than are "college & career ready" (or whatever). Why would that change under the CCSS?
@Harry - As I said to Educator, that's a very narrow definition of "collaboration", and while it would probably be discouraged for rock star teachers, it's not obviously ideal to just expect that sort of "collaboration" as a matter of charity. I don't think many rock star teachers exist to begin with, and even fewer are actively donating their time and effort today anyway. It seems to me if administrators want that sort of charity from them they should be paying them for it directly anyway, for both efficiency and fairness reasons.
@Larry - Whether performance pay schemes grade on a curve is a design choice, and I don't know whether most do or don't. But it mostly doesn't matter for present purposes. *If* collaboration is *usually* helpful for *most* teachers, then most forms of collaboration would probably be encouraged by a scheme that rewards effectiveness *even if effectiveness is graded on a curve*. It's always going to be possible to design a performance pay scheme to discourage collaboration if you really try, but most performance pay schemes - even if they grade on a curve - don't just compare you to the teachers with whom you collaborate. Rather, they put you on a curve with a much larger pool of teachers. It's an important distinction, because while collaboration may not improve your effectiveness *compared to teachers with whom you collaborate*, if it improves your effectiveness in absolute terms it will improve your effectiveness *compared to other teachers in the pool*, who are not benefiting from collaborating with you. More concretely: if you and I collaborate, there are a few possibilities. If you and I benefit and benefit equally, we are not advantaged relative to each other, but we're suddenly more competitive than our peers who didn't collaborate with us. The more likely scenario is that I would benefit much more than you, but if you think you would benefit at all, that would still give you a leg up compared to all of the others who didn't collaborate with us and reap some of the benefit. Now, if you think - entirely reasonably - that you would not actually benefit noticeably from collaborating with me, then it's true that a performance pay scheme would discourage you from doing so. After all, it would occupy some of your time and energy and nudge you a bit lower down on the curve. But that was part of my point: if we think that performance pay schemes discourage collaboration, it's because we think collaboration is very limited in its utility: perhaps useful in some situations, by no means universally valuable. As I said, I'm ambivalent about when collaboration is and is not helpful, and I don't really have a dog in that fight, but my point is that the more highly you think of collaboration in general, the less you should worry about performance pay schemes discouraging it. @Educator - It may be that self-assessed high performers tend to think they don't get much out of helping weaker teachers. I agree that such interactions would, in that case, be discouraged by most performance pay schemes, but I also don't think of that as "collaboration" so much as "mentorship" and if high-performers really don't get much out of such interactions we should probably be compensating them separately in any case.
Australian teacher Harry Webb (not his real name) has four big objections to performance pay. I'm more sympathetic to differentiated compensation than many teachers, but I very much understand his first three concerns. Measuring teacher effectiveness is definitely hard, for example, even if we're making progress on that front. And subjective assessment of teachers remains a huge problem, especially given the "faddish nature of school improvement". Harry's fourth objection to performance pay, though, is a very common one that I do not understand: that it will "reduce incentives to collaborate" due to "competition for a limited pot of bonuses." Read on for more (below). I'm actually very ambivalent about teacher collaboration and am not sure how much of it teachers really engage in. If you're worried about performance pay discouraging collaboration, however, you presumably think that collaboration is a good way for teachers to improve their effectiveness. But if collaboration helps teachers become more effective, why should we expect performance pay discourage it? On the contrary: if a teacher thinks that collaborating in some way will make him more effective - as measured by the performance evaluation system - shouldn't he still prefer to collaborate under a performance pay system?... Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2014 at This Week In Education
@Ben - That's definitely another possibility. FWIW, that is not at all my (limited) experience with the public sector, at least as a teacher. My experience as a teacher is one of more-or-less constant pressure to 'carry your weight' as a colleague, and the only coworker I ever had who struck me as clearly ineffective was aggressively engaged by the administration. That said, I do often hear stories about obviously ineffective teachers who don't feel any external pressure to perform, so I'm sure they're out there.
Caroline: To clarify- 1) E4E does not require a 'loyalty oath' - whatever that means - as I can attest as a member. They are explicit about their core principles when you sign up - the sort of transparency we should expect - but it would be hilariously misleading to characterize that as a 'loyalty oath' or that it means that all members agree about any particular principle. 2) I didn't actually say what range of viewpoints E4E represents. 3) Not all E4E members agree with Menya on everything. I've seen the disagreements between members, even on issues of differentiated compensation, firsthand! So even if you weren't caricaturing E4E in several ways, I don't know what your point is supposed to be.
From time to time, Educators 4 Excellence puts together teams of teachers to research and make recommendations on various aspects of education policy. This month, the Los Angeles chapter released reports from two such teams, including one about how to revamp the way we compensate teachers, which you can find summarized here. The report - authored by thirteen current classroom teachers - suggests attracting teachers with additional compensation for hard-to-staff placements and recommends selectively retaining teachers by offering incentives for teacher and school impacts on student growth. It also argues that rather than paying teachers bonuses for graduate credits and degrees, we should offer teachers rewards for 'mastery-based' professional development of specific skills or for taking on well-defined leadership roles. Since many of these proposals are controversial among educators, I wanted to hear more from actual teachers who support them. Last week, I sat down with one of the report's authors: sixth grade English and Social Studies teacher Menya Cole (pictured). Menya taught in Detroit through Teach for America and now teaches at a charter school in Los Angeles. It was another TfA alumnus who connected her to Educators 4 Excellence. A transcript of a portion of our conversation, edited... Continue reading
Posted Jul 1, 2014 at This Week In Education
Frankly, I hadn't followed the case that closely. Where were the plaintiffs going to school such that they weren't subject to tenure statutes? Charters? I thought (maybe just assumed) they were in district schools.
I'm not entirely clear on the logistics of the New Orleans system, but the article linked above describes it this way: "All 33,000 students in the district must apply for a seat at one of the 58 public charter schools, relying on a computerized lottery to determine placement." That sounds similar to Oakland's system for district school choice. I'd guess that, like Oakland, they let families rank more than one school preference. In any case, it will be interesting to see the dynamics if some charters want to throw up more barriers to entry than others.
The big news out of the New Orleans Recovery School District last week was that they're shutting down their last traditional district schools and becoming a district consisting entirely of charter schools. A great story by Lyndsey Layton documents some of the biggest issues to worry about here, including inequitable access to individual schools and the large number of African-American employees terminated while charter schools expanded. But it should not be forgotten that even fairly recently critics of charter schools were calling on charter operators to take over an entire district to demonstrate that their apparent success was not merely the result of "creaming" the easiest-to-educate students. At least as recently as 2012, Diane Ravitch issued "a challenge to KIPP" to "find an impoverished district that is so desperate that it is willing to put all its students" in the charter operator's care. Granted, that challenge was issued to KIPP specifically, to put their most strident claims to the test. The logic of the challenge, however, was that KIPP schools could not legitimately claim to be providing a superior education as long as they might be "cherry picking" the most advantaged students from - and "dumping" the most disadvantaged back... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2014 at This Week In Education
As I said, I think it's fine to point out study limitations, although I'd emphasize (again) that the body of research literature comparing teachers recruited/prepared in different ways is quite substantial at this point and the various studies all tend to reach roughly similar conclusions despite variations in context (e.g., state) and methodology. I certainly hope the field is moving toward more rigorous evaluations of prep program value, though I worry that the "traditional prep" camp (such as it is) might find it difficult to unify around them. Even in my own (highly-respectable!) prep program there was a strong vein of "teaching-is-ineffable-and-indescribable" among both faculty and students and it'll be interesting to see how that faction handles the push for more concrete program comparisons.
It's natural enough to assume that a professional who has received more job training will be more effective than one who has received less. So when critics of alternative teacher certification casually assert that it would be "bizarre" to expect a "a five-week long TFA training camp" to be as effective as a year of traditional teacher training (as Anthony Cody does) or that traditional certification is required to make sure teachers are "fully prepared" (as Nancy Flanagan does), readers could be forgiven for assuming supporting evidence exists, even if the authors don't present any of it. In reality, however, there is a considerable body of research on the effectiveness of alternatively-certified teachers, and taken as a whole it suggests that such teachers compare favorably to their traditionally-certified peers. Indeed, just in the last few months at least two more studies on the subject have come out. One found that alternatively-certified teachers were about as effective - and in some cases more effective - than traditionally-certified teachers in North Carolina. Another found that some of the most effective teachers studied (in Florida) were produced by alternative certification programs requiring the least pre-service coursework. One could reasonably argue that any or... Continue reading
Posted Jun 5, 2014 at This Week In Education
"Small" gains? That's 24-26pts for all three subgroups in a single generation.
When discussing education reform, it's common to talk about "teachers" - e.g., "teacher quality" or "teacher training" - as if "teachers" are one big, homogeneous group. In reality, teachers working in different contexts are often systematically different, and this has implications for education policy. For instance, via Libby Nelson, this nifty interactive chart from Ben Schmidt helps to illustrate that primary and secondary school teachers tend to have significantly different academic backgrounds. Below the fold, I'll discuss teacher differences in more detail and explain why they might matter for education reform. Unfortunately, in Schmidt's data elementary and middle school teachers seem to be grouped together, but you can still see that over a quarter of these teachers majored in elementary education, and another 20% or so studied general education. click to enlarge And remember, that chart combines elementary and middle school teachers. To see how teacher backgrounds change as students get older, here's the chart for just secondary teachers: click to enlarge At the secondary level, there are still a fair number of education-related degrees but teachers are much more likely to have majored in subjects - like math or biology - related to the specific courses they teach. Differences... Continue reading
Posted May 27, 2014 at This Week In Education
As the teacher job search season begins to warm up, Roxanna Elden suggests teachers consider a school's "Kool-Aid Factor": "the degree to which everyone in the building must share the same beliefs and behaviors". This is sound advice, particularly for elementary and middle school teachers who already have some experience teaching and have settled into a style that they're comfortable with. Something that makes measuring a Kool-Aid Factor (KAF) difficult is that many schools claim or aspire to a level of consistency that they do not possess in practice. My sense is that schools with very high KAFs are rare, and concentrated in the larger chains of the charter sector (e.g., KIPP). If teachers were to try to assess schools using interactions with administrators, however, they might come away with the perception that most schools have relatively high KAFs. This is because administrators often want to increase their school's KAF - in part by selecting for new teachers who are prepared to "drink the Kool-Aid", so to speak - and because principals may wish to contribute to the perception that their school's KAF is high, as this can make a school seem more "together" and "effective". The reality at most... Continue reading
Posted May 21, 2014 at This Week In Education
When charged with "ignoring poverty", many education reformers will respond that in fact improving education is the best way to fight poverty. Arne Duncan once went so far as to say that "the only way to end poverty is through education." Is that correct? I'm skeptical. As Matt Bruenig has pointed out, educational outcomes have been improving for decades in the United States, and yet poverty rates haven't really budged. And what about internationally? Certainly, many developed countries have much lower poverty rates than the United States. Is that a result of superior educational performance? One preliminary way to look at the evidence would be to see if countries with better academic performance also have lower poverty rates. Out of curiosity I decided to take a first crack at that using results from the 2012 PISA, which tested 15-year-olds in reading, math, and science. Click below to see what I found. To get an overall picture of each country's performance I added up the three subject area test scores. (This may not be an OECD-sanctioned method.) I then compared each country's overall PISA performance to its pre-tax, pre-transfer poverty rate. (That's the poverty rate before the government "steps in" by... Continue reading
Posted Apr 22, 2014 at This Week In Education
Fair enough; standards are important in their own right, though we probably disagree about the amount of improvement we could expect from even the best standards. Still, my main point is that the "standards are not a curriculum" defense represents another front on which CCSS supporters are retreating. Once upon a time the CCSS were going to drive significant instructional changes. Now supporters are the first to point out that, actually, standards and curricula are completely separate things. As I said, it's not that that defense of the CCSS is "wrong" so much as it underscores the limits of standards per se as an education reform.
@David - What I'm saying is that it's far from established that an evaluation system that incorporates VAM is "the worst option and significantly counterproductive". Once we acknowledge that all evaluation methods have limits, it's simply a matter of determining - rather than assuming - which methods or combinations of methods work best for which purposes. I'm not sure why you think I'm "endorsing" VAM for evaluation. I'm simply declining to rule it out. (Indeed, in this respect - declining to endorse - I am in many respects hewing closer to the positions of many of those expert organizations than you are.) It's not just that "nothing is perfect", it's that (1) I see no reason to assume a priori that the limitations of VAMs are worse or more insurmountable than the limitations of other methods and (2) there is evidence that VAMs capture useful information with some reliability and (3) there is some preliminary evidence that evaluation systems incorporating VAMs have at least some positive effects. (I'm not nearly so quick as you to dismiss these studies out of hand, and I am typically suspicious when one "side" in a debate comes to the conclusion that all of the studies inconvenient for their position are "flawed" but the studies convenient for their position are mostly fine.) If I can't point out that "other methods are flawed, too" (even though you seem to agree with this), presumably it's unfair to just stipulate that the flaws of other methods can be overcome (or are worth the trade-offs) but the flaws of VAMs can't be. "Nothing is perfect" is obviously not enough to justify any particular evaluation method, but nor is "let's assume only the flaws of my preferred method can be worked out or are worth the trade-offs". It's not obviously the case that VAM can stand on its merits. But there are reasons to think it might be able to, so it's by no means obvious that it can't. You are clearly certain about your position but remember that I am merely arguing for agnosticism, which I think is the most justifiable position on the basis of the facts available.
Once upon a time, supporters of the Common Core argued passionately that the new math and English standards would, by virtue of their clarity and rigor, substantially improve education in the United States. In recent weeks, however, supporters - in many cases the very same people - have changed their tone after finding themselves on the defensive about bumps in the road to CCSS implementation. These days supporters seem to dedicate most of their time to assuring us that the CCSS are not to blame for "fuzzy" math curriculua or "whole language" or questionable history assignments. We are even told that it's just as well if states opt out of the Common Core altogether because they're unlikely to gain much from implementation anyway. Arguably, all of these defenses of the Common Core are fair. They are also sorely disappointing for at least two reasons. First, the argument that "standards are not a curriculum" - and therefore cannot be blamed for weak curricula - is essentially a dodge. The point of standards is precisely to motivate and improve curricula, so if bad curricula survive - or even thrive - under the CCSS, so much the worse for the standards. Second, if... Continue reading
Posted Apr 16, 2014 at This Week In Education