Friday, October 16, 2009

Final Thought on Friday

It’s certainly been a rough and tumble week on the blog! So, just a few thoughts before I head home to the kids:

It’s no surprise how passionate people are about public education and how deeply people care about the children in our community. It is surprising to me how that passion translates into some of the content and tone throughout the various threads this week – but, that’s what makes blogging interesting.

I said at the beginning of the week that we’re new at this and would make mistakes – still true -- but I also think we learned something every day this week. My only disappointment is that we spent more time thinking about blogging and getting our feet on the ground than actually getting to the important questions. Stick with us – over the next weeks we want to address as many of the substantive questions raised as we can.

Let me say this in the meantime – this week for us was about teacher quality. The NCTQ report sparked an enormous amount of conversation. That alone is probably a good thing but I would be the first to say that it is insufficient if the conversation doesn’t inform our thinking and drive change. The report is one resource. This blog is another. We as a community have a lot of work to do and I am confident we’ll keep at it.

Patrick D'Amelio, CEO


  1. Patrick,
    You write that passion has translated into "content and tone" on this blog that "surprises" you.
    Can you describe which content and what tone you refer to?
    Maybe we can use your answer to discuss the passion and how it might best be energized to continue teaching children in the best possible way.

  2. The week was about teacher quality. What is "teacher quality"? I still don't know. I have yet to see a definition of it. People talk about improving it, but I have yet to see a measure of it. How can we talk about teacher quality when we don't know what the term means and how can we talk about improving it if we can't measure it?

  3. Here's a possible definition, Charlie:
    Teacher quality is the ability to teach the most curriculum to the most possible amount of students, given the various levels of scaffolding students bring with them, the issues they bring with them, and their ability to understand and learn from a given pedagogy.

    In other words, a good teacher educates the most children possible, given many variables and recognizing that external factors may be insurmountable.

    Additionally, while using data to assess and remediate where possible, a good teacher recognizes that the fluid nature of both the classroom and the students (and him or herself) dictates that outcomes will be uncertain. Yet even amidst this uncertainty, even while woefully unsupported by outside forces that might mitigate some of the more onerous variables (lack of food; lack of stability; lack of hope; lack of parent/guardian support at home...) a good teacher soldiers on.

    A good teacher also tries to react to, and enact, new demands by the numerous stakeholders (including, but not limited to, the business community) on a yearly, no, monthly basis without throwing up his/her hands in frustration.

    A good teacher realizes that such propagandish statements as, "this SCHOOL is failing!" are ridiculous on their face. PEOPLE make mistakes, people sometimes do a bad job, students sometimes struggle...but whole schools? They're just brick.

    A good teacher realizes that he/she is accountable to their principal, who is accountable to the elected Board (and its Policies,) who is accountable to the citizens who elected them and pay the bills.
    Of course a good teacher is also accountable. in her/his heart, to the students who come into the classroom and will need the skills taught therein.

  4. And how would you measure that quality?

  5. I would just hate to see determining teacher quality tied to computerized student assessment such as MAP that everybody seems to be touting the latest greatest classroom tool. There are way to many variables that could give a teacher a poor quality review based on assessment.

    Years ago, my son was in a class where there was a lot of turmoil, a parent died, there was a very sick student, who later died over the summer. It impacted the teacher. In this year, these students may not have "on paper" progressed from Fall to Spring in comparision to the other classes. But there was a different kind of learning going on in that classroom, one that could never be measured.

    Computers are great, but they have limitations. So please tread slowly when thinking about computer-based testing to determine teacher quality.

  6. SPSmom, Yes, there is much learning that is not measurable at the end of the quarter of the year. Some learning might not manifest for years: Learning about metaphor might not evidence itself until a person has more independent life experiences that allow them to understand how one story can tell another. Another example might be music: Skills learning in middle school band might not become apparent until other connections are made, the player plays with some other combo, thus providing an outlet for those lessons many years before.

    This speaks to measuring what a teacher does in the classroom as opposed to what a group of students, or a particular student learns. As I wrote before, outcomes are unpredictable: There are too many variables. But INPUTS can be seen, if not measured completely. As Charlie has pointed out, a GOOD principal can observe good teaching. Charlie asks how this might be measured...This is the sticky wicket - do we provide principals with some sort of formula, or do first make sure the principal is "good" (capable of seeing good teaching) and then rely on their judgement?

    A set of "evidences" that a principal might look for could include:
    *Is lesson scaffolded to expected previous learning?
    *Are assessments formative (do they change teaching strategies that follow?)
    * are lessons designed to access various ways of learning and various cultural perceptions?
    * Are transitions quick and smooth?
    * is classroom management predictable and consistent, yet transparently flexible enough to acount for particular issues a student might bring that day (discipline need not always be the same for each student - students are different and have different needs.)

    The one I listed about formative assessments is key, and also points to a fallacy about outcomes: outcomes might change mid-unit or even mid-lesson. How do you measure that in a student at the end of the quarter? I suppose one could redesign summative (end of unit) assessments on the fly, but again the variability is enormous. Another caution against expecting similar outcomes accross similar classrooms - each class, each student is slightly different, so unless on scripts the lesson compeletely (heaven forbid) and repeats the script over time, there is no way to use the data thus generated to study efficiency and efficacy.

  7. Oh, regarding measuring teacher performance using the accountability metric I mentioned above:
    Board is overseen by public;
    Ed Director is overseen by Board;
    Principals are overseen by Ed Director;
    Teachers, IAs and staff are overseen by Principal.
    Students are overseen by the above three.

    Each knows what is good work at the level below and checks for it. Each holds those below accountable for their performance.

  8. Mr. D'Amelia, please favor me with a reply to the questions and assertions contained herein

    (not to mention the numerous thoughtful, relevant--and as yet unanswered--questions and assertions submitted to this blog site).

    How is A4E assisting the District in moving toward a TQ assessment system, other than hosting the NCTQ workshop Oct 13, 2009?

    Please rebutt the following assertions:

    With respect to current efforts within SPS and its (business) Community Stakeholders ("partners" to "public-private partnerships") to design and to PREPARE to put in place a TQ Assessment System, two purposes are

    1) to create data-based decision making infrastructure/exostructure [see note at end of comment for definition of term] that anticipates the District's overcoming teachers' union resistance to incentive, merit pay, and ending of seniority-based placement/promotion/retention/etc. policies;

    2) to provide another entry point for private business to earn income by providing contract services to the District.

    Let's suppose we could suspend, for a moment, the second purpose as a priority.

    Now, let's put our creativity, insight, intelligence, and research skills into contemplating this question:

    What are appropriate objectives for any TQA program?

    Can we conceive of a sensible, cost-effective, meaningful, and respectful TQA system which serves well the intended objectives, and which is likely to be well-received by teachers, principals, Directors, and the public?

    I suggest that the answer would not look like a Reformist-friendly solution--such as NCTQ (a Reformist advocacy group) might propose--, because Reformist solutions must satisfy additional objectives, the most obvious being these:

    --Provide an opportunity for business income.
    --Maximize the potential business income.

    I look forward to and welcome a response to my question, and a rebuttal of my assertions.


    Joan Sias ("Joan NE")

    Note: I use term "exostructure" to mean the outsourcing to private business entities functions that will be required to support data-driven TAPPPS (Teacher Assessment,Promotion, Pay, Placement System), including technology-based assessments, data archiving, data-analysis, and Instructional Leadership professional development (for training principals to coach and monitor teachers for fidelity to core-curriculum objects).

  9. Mr. D'Amelio, you've been non-responsive to the questions posted on this blog. If you don't regard the questions as serious or worthy, then please say so. If you have no intention of ever answering any of them regardless of their merit, then please say that. It would be helpful if we knew the ground rules under which this blog will operate.

  10. morning, Charlie.... thanks for your comment - I was just wondering the same thing... my guess is that AFE is in a bit of a quandary, not sure how to handle what has come firing back at their (naive or arrogant?)attempt to step more directly and publicly into the roles of reform evangelists, opinion-shapers and fact manipulators...

    I've found the timing of this attempt really interesting - there's a campaign rolling out in the media right now, of articles saying the same thing the NCTQ report did... see this LA Times piece just out (note the lack of attribution):

    Method challenges some education myths
    Districts and states that use the 'value-added' approach have had some surprising results: Class size, student background and schools' funding appear to be less critical than has long been believed.
    By Jason Song and Jason Felch

    October 18, 2009

    For years, schools and students have been judged on raw standardized test scores. Experts say this approach is flawed because they tend to reflect socioeconomic levels more than learning.

    The "value-added" approach attempts to level the playing field by focusing on growth rather than achievement. Using a statistical analysis of test scores, it tracks an individual student's improvement year to year, and uses that progress to estimate the effectiveness of teachers, principals and schools.

    Academics have also used the approach to test many assumptions about what matters in schools. Scholars are still puzzling over what makes for a great teacher or school, but their results challenge orthodox assumptions like these:

    All teachers are equal. For decades, schools have treated teachers like interchangeable parts. Value-added results suggest there are sharp differences in teachers' effectiveness.

    More money, more learning. The highest growth among students is often in poor schools with low achievement scores, according to districts and states that have adopted the value-added approach. Students at affluent schools sometimes have high proficiency scores but make little new progress year to year.

    Teachers can't overcome a student's background. Recent research shows that with several effective teachers in a row, students can overcome disadvantages. Some studies suggest minority and poor students make as much progress as other pupils when placed with the same effective teachers.

    Class size is key. Modest changes in class size have been shown to have little to no effect on student learning.

    Bad teachers tend to teach in poor schools. Several studies suggest that there is more variation among teachers within a school than across schools. Effective instructors are often distributed across rich and poor schools, and they tend to stay at challenging schools longer than at ineffective ones.

    Teacher experience matters. Although teachers are generally paid more for years of experience, research suggests that instructors show dramatic improvement in their first few years and then level off. Teachers with 20 years of experience are often no more effective than peers with five.

    Teacher education matters. Schools routinely pay higher salaries to teachers with graduate degrees. But several studies have found that educators with advanced degrees do no better than those without, with the possible exception of high school math teachers.

    Teacher credentials matter. Most public schools pay teachers more for certifications and advanced credentials. But several studies have shown that non-traditionally prepared instructors -- such as those in the Teach for America program -- have similar or slightly better outcomes than certified ones.

    Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

    As one of my colleagues commented, it sounds like a regurgitated Broad press release... if I remember correctly, Broad has been trying to buy the LA Times...

  11. Seriously, I don't understand the thinking behind the use of the blog format if you're not going to engage in interactive, two-way communication. If you're not going to respond to the comments, then you might as well do an online newletter instead of a blog.

    Your unexplained failure/refusal to respond to direct questions can only be interpeted two ways:

    As arrogance - you think that you are above questions from the "little people".

    As forfeit - you have no answer to the questions that does not acknowledge that your position is wrong and you don't want to make that admission.

    Either way, it is not the robust interactive communication that you promised.

    I will remind you of your commitment:

    Be assured that we will listen.

    Are you listening? Do you hear people asking you questions?

    We’ll work hard to understand and analyze your insight.

    Do you understand that people are asking you questions?

    You do not appear committed to an authentic and interactive engagement. That's disappointing.

  12. Perhaps they think that by ignoring us we'll go away and there wont be a problem and they can go on their merry, manipulative, manoeuvring way without anyone calling them on it... perhaps they only want to preach to the choir, 'engage' with those already converted to their message...

    But you know, I kinda feel sorry for must be hard/what else can you do when you get called out on something and you dont have anything valid and solid to stand on, behind you, to validate the propaganda you've been putting out...

    No where to run, no where to hide, nothing real to offer if you stand up and face us, so perhaps the only strategy left is to ignore us and pretend we dont exist/dont know...

  13. And Meg Diaz's piece on KUOW yesterday.... now the public will be asking the same questions we have been asking.... what will they do/say in reply? How long will they be able to hold out against the flood of questions that will begin to build up? What fuzzy wuzzy words that dont really say anything will they come up with to try to dispute and disparage Meg's data?