Friday, October 16, 2009

Community Responds to Teaching Quality Forum

Happy Friday! As you may know, we had a great public forum about teaching quality last Wednesday at Seattle University. Below you will find comments from our roundtable discussions that express the public’s reaction to the presentation of the report: Human Capital in Seattle Public Schools: Rethinking How to Attract, Develop and Retain Effective Teachers. A special thanks to all of the wonderful community members who participated in this provocative dialogue. You play a critical role in providing the support necessary to ensure student learning and academic success. Enjoy the comments and feel free to post your thoughts. Please click on comments to view the community responses.

Have a great weekend!

Solynn McCurdy, Community Engagement Manager


  1. Question:
    Do you agree with the recommendations for improving teacher quality that were proposed in this report? Why or why not?

    Community Response 1: General Feedback
    A lot of this makes some sense. For parents to buy in, they need to feel like there is something that happens to teachers that they don’t feel are effective.

    Community Response 2: General Feedback
    Look at the data; blaming doesn’t help. Support teacher development. There should be benchmarks and support systems. We don’t have enough instructional time for our children period. Being defensive doesn’t help our kids. The passion has to be about our children. It’s not about the master’s degree it’s about teacher proficiency.

    Community Response 3: General Feedback
    Teacher – I’m tired, stayed after school, don’t feel very valued. Enjoy talking to anyone involved with Education. Concerned about tenure of conversation, feels adversarial. Can’t agree with much of it [the report]. Principal quality is important. You know the good principals and want to keep them. More money & support for good principals would be crucial. There is a lot of student achievement that does go into evaluation. Empower teachers to be self reflective and want to improve.

    Community Response 4: Site Placed Hiring
    Given the gaps in the data that were presented I agree with some of the recommendations. The ones I agree with are: site placed hiring – teachers who do not match the climate can bring down the whole school.

    Community Response 5: Teacher Evaluation
    Seattle’s evaluation system doesn’t work. Broad brush from the highlights. There are amazing teachers in the system and underpaid. Principals need training on assessing quality of instruction in teachers. They can’t lead what they don’t know and they don’t know instruction.

    Community Response 6: Teacher Evaluation
    There were many interesting points, some recommendations I agree with and some not. Evaluation system in Seattle Schools does not work. How would we qualify teacher effectiveness? There are so many factors to measure standard. Kate Walsh’s blanket statements about [continuing education] degrees; find it very hard…very general. It was a put down for educational courses. Teachers have things they would like to do better. If a teacher needs to improve in a specific subject, they would register in those classes for improvement. I did not agree with the trainer’s comment about faster pay, faster time….

    Community Response 7: Absenteeism
    Experts and private sector imposing their opinion of teachers turn them off and cause absenteeism.

    Community Response 8: Absenteeism
    Sick leave—trivial bunch of baloney. We won’t make better teachers by telling them not to use their sick leave. Teacher try very hard not to be absent but they shouldn’t come to school sick.

    Community Response 9: Teacher Mentoring
    Not enough mentoring for teachers – not even enough for new teachers. Teachers that need help aren’t getting help, and concerned that people get evaluated out of their job.

    Community Response 10: Professional Development
    How do you tie teacher effectiveness to teacher performance? This presentation didn’t really get to it. You’ve got to have time for professional development, time to plan and build. The time just isn’t there with our current structure.

    Community Response 11: Continuing Education for Teachers
    We should consider continuing the investment in continuing education [for teachers], as long as it is directed to a teacher’s specific discipline and competency.

  2. Community Response 10: Professional Development

    I suggest talking to our teachers, and PD is a very good place to start. As a parent, who obviously knows a lot of teachers, I rarely hear them come back and report great things from the PD. There is some great teacher testimony from a school board meeting last spring prior to the adoption of the high school math. A teacher really gave honest testimony about her "math PD." And I think she had some excellent points. When you think about it, why are we adopting all this curriculum that means teachers have to spend days learning how to "re-teach" math? Once you are certified to teach math, that is what you do, teach it. Not spend PD time learning how to teach what you are certified to teach.

    Go back and listen to that testimony, it is sometime before the May 6th vote, or maybe on May 6th. In any case, teachers spoke out, you should have a listen to what they had to say last spring.

    I have also wondered, do teachers get to submit evaulations for their trainings? If so, is the district responding to them, improving training? If teachers are not evaulating training, why not?

  3. I think we have known for a very long time what makes a good teacher and what works in the classroom... its no secret... someone who loves children and is passionately interested in and has a gift for helping them grow and unfold, someone who has had the training necessary to reach children in all their various learning styles, someone who has an excellent understanding of the material/knowledge being taught, someone who has access to the resources necessary to help him/her impart that knowledge to the children in their care, someone who is supported by his/her peers, his/her seniors and the community, someone who is honoured(and FEELS honoured) for the invaluable service they are performing on behalf of society, someone who is feeling secure in their profession and position and doesnt have to waste valuable energy, focus and time looking over his/her shoulder to see where the next hired gun is coming from...

    Education is a strange beast - organic, totally dependent for the quality of its outcomes on what happens day by day, subject to thousands of variables which cannot be controlled for.... in most other endeavours, when something is not producing the desired result, one looks for the common denominator and adjusts for any shortcomings there...

    To focus on teachers as the common denominator and to then preach that if we 'fix' teachers (and have them all mouthing scripted lesson plans and working through a standardised curricula and materials) we'll improve our kids' "performance", is completely wrong-headed.

    We are not dealing with a production line, turning out widgets... we're dealing daily in the classroom with infnitely variable circumstances that you just cannot neutralise. And most of those circumstances are the creation of a dysfunctional society, so its plainly silly to expect teachers to carry the burden for all of us, of countering/'fixing' those problems, most of which problems were caused by (or at least contributed to in a huge degree) people such as Broad, Milken, Sloan, Stuart, Gates etc...

    What we need to 'improve' our kids' 'performance' (the better words to describe this process would be "what we need to enable us as a community to nurture and nourish our children, the next generation, into the expression of their highest potential, whatever that might be for each unique child"), is an expansion of the definition of what education is, more money and resources, smaller, multi-age classes, individual education plans and vertical curricula, integration into the wider community....

  4. Continued

    But reformists like Broad, Gates, The Alliance, Milken etc dont actually want to commit to these strategies, because at the end of the day, their agenda is about turning out the most consistent product for the least cost... that is, making a profit from education... Milken said it in plain English - the intention is to turn out appropriately skilled, submissive workers and expand the consumer base...

    The very sad, distressing, depressing reality is that they are willing to advocate and work for the continued 'cut pricing' of education, knowing full well that this approach results in huge individual and societal costs.... costs in the failure of each child to reach their potential in whatever area they have gifts, passion, skills and talents, costs to society in that lost potential and costs to society in having to be the "ambulance at the bottom of the cliff", dealing with the dysfunction, harm that results with this approach to growing up our children, our greatest asset, our legacy to the future...

    And these people know this, and yet still proceed... They do not care about children... they have an outcome in mind and they will do whatever is necessary to get to that place, never mind the damage done along the way...

    This is why your activities and buy in to what is going on educationally here and around the country (and yes, in other countries also) has drawn such a harsh tone from some of us... the arrogance and disregard for our children and us as parents/community is staggering....

    And dont get me started on the absurdity that is the idea that standardised testing is a valid mechanism for measuring either child progress or teacher performance....

    If you want my support (and I'm not just a lone voice in the wilderness), you'd stop sucking up to the big money players for the strings' attached handouts, but would work for economic and taxation change so that education (and health and other social services)would be properly and consistently funded... you'd be working for an income tax and for closure of all those tax loopholes and benefits that allow Microsoft/Gates, Boeing, Broad et all to pay next to nothing in tax on their company profits. Make these companies contribute directly to society and their communities (which they are in fact raping and exploiting) on a daily basis, rather than going to them cap in hand begging for their largesse...

  5. In my opinion, an effective teacher must be sufficiently competent in two main areas: Classroom management/behavior, ability to teach the required content.

    How do you measure this?

    Teaching content:
    1) Use of tools such as MAP testing.
    2) Principal evaluations
    3) WASL? If you followed a child's performance on the WASL from year to year?

    Classroom management skills:
    1) A principal or lead teacher should sit in on classes and evaluate performance.

    Other measures

    1) School/district should be responsive to ongoing and chronic complaints against a teacher

    2) The use of surveys could be useful. Family surveys at the younger grades, and surveys done by the students themselves in high school. I don't think the feedback should be used in a formal evaluation of the teacher, but would certainly be useful to a principal. It could be a tool used to identify a teacher who needs further training or discipline or to identify and give recognition to superior teachers.

  6. Texas,
    Regarding teaching content -
    1) and 3) are relatively useless measures of teacher performance. MAP takes approx 30-50 minutes, asks about 45-50 questions, and is adaptive, meaning it changes levels to address students answers: right answer makes harder next question, wrong answer makes easier.
    So: It's short, with few questions, and thus doesn't assess a heckuva lot; It's subject to student vagaries - as has been noted over on the SSSblog, some students figure out that it's easier if they mark a wrong answer, so they answer a question wrong in order to make the test easier...

    Both MAP and WASL are highly susceptible to a) how the student feels on a particular day; b) test anxiety - student freezes; c) cultural biases; d) test failure - test itself provides multiple "right" answers to a question...

    Tests like these, given across a district to measure teacher performance, are not fair to teachers as some students will do better, some not, some classrooms will have many high-performers, others not as many...While a value-added test (say, every ten weeks to measure "growth" over time) might seem to give an indicator of whether good teaching is happening, the same disparity applies: If a teacher is lucky enough to get a classroom full of students who get support at home, who are well-fed, have stable lives...those students will do better over ten weeks than a student who doesn't. So a teacher in a classroom with students who struggle will show less value added. How is THAT fair?

    #2), principal evaluation, is a good start. Principals should be seeing what teachers are doing. But the principal him/herself must also be evaluated for GOOD skills, as must his/her Ed Director and Superintendent - Principals aren't always the great and wonderful leaders we might hope for. Some might have biases against particular teachers, etc. Some might just be lazy. So having the principal evaluate is also fraught with problems.

    Before we continue to discuss evalaution (at all levels) perhaps we ought to ask outselves, "what is it that teachers teach?" This would give us some idea about the tools we might use to see if it's happening. For instance, are educators creating citizens, employees, humame humans, or some combination? Is it just content? Is it citizenship? Is it teamwork? Empathy? ELL? CTE? IB? How do we evaluate PE? Art? Drama?