Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Grading LA's teachers -- and Charlotte's

A Los Angeles Times article rating the effectiveness of teachers there is creating a lot of buzz around the country -- and getting close attention in the top offices of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

The newspaper commissioned a researcher with the Rand Corp. to calculate the "value added" ratings for more than 6,000 LA elementary-school teachers, based on test scores going back seven years. Those whose students gained more than expected had high ratings; those whose student gained little or regressed rated low. The Times plans to publish a database listing each teacher's rating later this month, but first is giving teachers a chance to view their ratings and comment.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has no plans to use such data. But CMS does.

Value-added ratings are part of Superintendent Peter Gorman's plan to roll out teacher performance pay in the coming years (he expects to announce a timeline this fall). He calls Rand "a very reputable company" that CMS has worked with, though he isn't familiar enough with the formula used in LA to say how close it might come to what CMS eventually develops.

He's been fascinated to see what the newspaper came up with -- and watch the reaction.

"Contrary to popular belief, the best teachers were not concentrated in schools in the most affluent neighborhoods, nor were the weakest instructors bunched in poor areas," the article says. "Rather, these teachers were scattered throughout the district. The quality of instruction typically varied far more within a school than between schools."

Even in high-performing schools, principals weren't always good at sizing up which teachers were effective, the reporters found. Highly effective teachers vary in style and personality, but "perhaps not surprisingly, they shared a tendency to be strict, maintain high standards and encourage critical thinking."

The LA teachers' union is pushing for a mass boycott of the Times, calling the publication of the database "an irresponsible, offensive intrusion into (teachers') professional life that will do nothing to improve student learning."

In Charlotte, Gorman says he's convinced some type of value-added rating should be part -- but not all -- of what determines a teacher's pay.

"One of the discussions we've had: As you calculate a value-added, is it a public record?" Gorman said. "And if it's a public record, do you get parents saying, 'I want so-and-so because they have the highest value-added?' We're paying close attention to how this is playing out."

Even among the nation's education reporters, opinions are mixed about the merit of listing individual ratings, given the limitations of testing to size up what kids have learned. (Read what Linda Perlstein, public editor for the Education Writers Association, has to say about the article here.)

Gorman says he and his staff "purposefully slowed down" since announcing plans to push performance pay in CMS. He said he wants to make sure local teachers and principals have a say, and wants to learn from other districts' experiences.

"This is a situation to watch from afar," he said.


Anonymous said...

After a big NC research study was completed, the Observer seemed very reluctant to publish which NC universities are supposedly producing the most "highly effective" teachers.

Not surprisingly, the LA teacher's union is pushing for a boycott of the Times if they release research information about teacher quality. Is the Observer prepared to face similar reaction from local teachers? Are you sure?

Also, why am I not surprised that "effective" teachers have a tendency to be strict. Over the years, my children have occasionally complained about certain teachers being "mean". I've always been quick to try and differentiate the difference between being "mean" and being "strict". More often than not, my children have conceded that certain teachers are just more strict. Based on my own unscientific observations, strict teachers tend to produce higher results. This doesn't indicated strict teachers are less caring. In fact, I believe the opposite is true. Running a tight ship with high expectations and standards is hard work. I'm really not interested if my kids would prefer to "Friend" certain teachers over others on Facebook.

* Yes, I know NC doesn't have a teacher's union.

Anonymous said...

Last year, one of my children received a "C" in an AP class led by a teacher who had no tolerance for late, partially completed or missing assignments with unrelenting quizzes and tests. My child almost quit the class several times but, with the teacher's encouragement, he/she continued. My child scored a 4 (out of 5) on their national AP exam in this subject area which many colleges accept for credit. Guess which teacher my child requested to have again this year?

Mike said...

I would have to sgree 7:59 that "strict" teachers show that they care by being strict. It is true love for the child to be strict, set rules and boundaries, etc. Too many parent(s) just want to be a friend to their child.

Anonymous said...


One teacher being better rated than another isn't new.

What would be important to me is to know what to expect from teachers as they progress from novices to the best they will ever be. Even better would be to know how and when all that metamorphous occurs.

MikeFisher821 said...

Good Morning Ann,

Someone sent your blog post to me this morning over Twitter, and it resonated in relation to the blog post I wrote last night on the same topic: http://digigogy.blogspot.com

I am amazed that administrative folks (and the public at large) would invest any further thought in this type of ridiculousness, but everybody likes numbers and values perception over reality.

-Michael Fisher

Anonymous said...

The Times school coverage was right on. That's why the teachers union came out so strong against it. With a notoriously thin skin, the LA union will do anything to protect the rank and file that also include under performing teachers. As a parent who had 2 kids go through the public school system, it's obvious poor teachers are out there. And when a union is involved, your best bet is to hope your kid does not get in a class with the low end of the teaching pool.

Anonymous said...

Let us not forget that some teachers are successful, if test scores are indeed a measure of success, because they are the principal's pals and their students are hand picked, because the principal has the power to set up class rosters and assign the best students to favorite teachers. I'm sure such political realities are not factored in to these "expert" studies.
If "strict" means having high standards and expectations, then such teachers are more likely to be successful because they are preparing students for the reality of the work world, not due to "good" test scores. Yes, where a boss has high expectations and standards, too, or you are out the door. Certainly, "late", "Sloppy", "incomplete" have no place in the competitive workplace. Hats off to all teachers who remain dedicated to "strict". You are truly helping children.

Anonymous said...

One big problem here. A very small percent of courses have a EOC to measure. Therefore you won't have data to grade the teachers. Also, CMS and the state is currently paying no bonus money, whose to say the economy will improve enough to pay for all of this?

Anonymous said...

Much ado about zero.

Anonymous said...

The flaw isn't in the numbers, it's in those who twist them to make whatever point it is they're trying to make.

How many taxpayer dollars are we going to spend to determine that Teacher A has a 3.25 score while Teacher B has a 2.9. Also, some kids respond better in strict environments while others don't perform well in those situations.

As for boycotting the LA Times. I think it's a great idea. I read a dozen or more papers a day (online) but wouldn't waste a penny on any of them. I say go for it.

The quality of reporting in newspapers, on television and on the radio is far, far worse than the quality of our public education system.

An aside to the story: When I was in school, nearly 20 years ago, the worst teachers were the most popular ones. The best were the most demanding. My guess is that hasn't changed much.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of a recent project in Louisiana that tracked student achievement and traced it all back to where the teachers were educated.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like Gorman is tickled pink about these "value added ratings". Some teachers don't even know that they exist! Some principals are not sharing this information with their teachers.

It's been known by some for years that the district is ranking teachers, but we've yet to see that list.

I would like to know where I stand. I do not think it should be the Oberserver's place to share this with the public, but the district should at least share it with its teachers.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that we have never seen one evaluation for Pete Gorman. His grades should be posted right along with the teachers.

Anonymous said...

The surveys teachers fill out about the district are never publicized.

Ann Doss Helms said...

Not true that teacher surveys are never publicized; I've written extensively about the ones CMS does. It's been a little harder to get that data this year.

The statewide working-conditions surveys used to get such lousy participation that they didn't give good data on a lot of schools, but I think they're a lot stronger now. And you're right on that; I haven't had time to delve into this year's results: http://ncteachingconditions.org/

Anonymous said...

That's an idea, Gorman. Require/reward teacher's who maintain high standards and re-direct teachers who don't maintain high standards. My husband is a teacher who continually gets criticized by parents and his co-teachers. The complaint - you expect too much of these kids. That basic complaint comes if he penalizes a student for late work, if he expects them to write coherent sentences or if he asks them to be prepared for class by doing the assigned reading. I don't know how teachers tolerate their job, and I don't know what I am going to do when my kids are old enough for school. I do know that too many teachers take the easy route of low expectations which is a huge part of the problem in our schools today.

Anonymous said...

So Ann,

Is the Observer going to try to get CMS's teacher value added data?