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Archive for the ‘Teaching Standards’ Category

American students are losing ground in education attainment compared to countries from Korea to Estonia. In a recent edition of @Brookings, a weekly podcast by the Brookings Institute, expert Grover “Russ” Whitehurst poses provocative solutions for students from kindergarten through college.

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This week’s link of the week comes from eSchoolnews.org. Several state officials and public broadcasters are creating digital resource centers that coincide with state education standards and student data systems to help teachers find high quality education materials for their student’s learning needs. A fascinating subject indeed! Read the article and let NSSEA know your thoughts!

 

Free Digital Resource Centers on Tap
By Meris Stansbury, Associate Editor

An effort is under way in several states to create digital teaching resource centers that are aligned with state education standards and connected with student data systems, so teachers can find free, high-quality educational materials to help them address their students’ learning needs.

The effort comes from a partnership between the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). It’s a way of helping states provide 21st-century tools to increase student achievement, by leveraging public television’s vast collections of educational content.

The idea for the project arose a few years ago, when Gene Wilhoit–who is now the executive director of CCSSO–was Kentucky’s education commissioner.

“It all began when we tried to solve some simple problems in the state, such as [knowing] what’s going on in schools and how can we monitor that. But we couldn’t answer anything, because there were no robust data systems in schools,” he explained. Read More (Source: eSchoolnews.org)

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By Jeff Pett, Fleetwood Group, Inc.

I just finished reading the review in this week’s NSSEA Essential’s Weekly of Teachers, Performance Pay, and Accountability: What Education Should Learn from Other Sectors by Scott J. Adams, John S. Heywood and Richard Rothstein.  If you missed it and have ever thought about how to better evaluate and pay educators it is worth your time.  I have not yet read the book, but it is now on my “to-read” list.

Having spent a few years in the classroom as a teacher, over 20 years in the private sector in large and small businesses, served on school finance committees, school boards and been employed as a school administrator I have seen the debate up close and personal.  Business people on school boards are often frustrated that teachers are not evaluated or paid based on their performance.  It most often comes down to years of service and level of education that most often forms the basis for determining pay levels for educators.  I will confess that I have sometimes been one of those frustrated businessmen.  However, over the years I have come to appreciate just how difficult this issue is to resolve.

There are two key areas of difficulty when it comes to using a “pay-for-performance” model in the classroom.  First of all teaching is a very different kind of work.  You are typically assigned to a room with 25 or so students.  You don’t usually teach in a “team.”  You don’t have the kind of ongoing interchange with other professionals over the course of the day usually experienced in a business.  And your “boss” rarely, if ever, sees you in action over any meaningful stretch of time in such a way as to be able to assess how effective you are.  And what objective measures do you use?  Using student grades would likely lead to inflated grades by many teachers.  And using test scores by any outside organization moves education toward teaching to that particular test when it may not be the best measure of educational achievement.

The second area of difficulty is the comparison to a business model—as if there is just one of those. That is just not the case.  As the book reviewed in Essentials this week seems to point out, the pay-for-performance model in business is not a uniform thing, and it is certainly not perfect.  The best ones do not JUST use objective measures but have incorporated subjective feedback on how a person performs to areas of importance to a particular company.  Objective measures are always a part of it to the extent possible, but good evaluations in the business world go well beyond that.  And yet it seems that most of the evaluation models in the education world have attempted to apply only the objective measures.

When educators try to respond to the directives of business people on their boards they are often chasing a very imperfect model.  And if they land on a plan to pay teachers based on objective measures alone they are missing some key elements that make good pay-for-performance systems work.  And why not combine subjective measures with objective?  Partly because it’s hard to do, partly because evaluators would have to spend “quality time” in the classrooms of those they are tasked to mentor and evaluate, and partly because allowing subjective evaluation requires someone to be “judgmental”, and that is distasteful to many.  However, businesses that do it well help weaker performers either improve or move on to different, ultimately more satisfying, lines of work; and stronger performers are recognized, better rewarded, and have greater ownership in the success of the organization and better reasons to stick around.  Applied properly in schools we should expect to see very similar results… and maybe fewer schools would be characterized as underperforming.

What should be the primary goals of evaluating someone’s performance?  They are to hold that person accountable to some level of expected performance, and to help that person to be more successful.  A stronger better performing person helps create a better and stronger organization that is much more likely to deliver a better more competitive product.  It works in the business world because there are often more obvious and easy to quantify objective measures of performance; and because someone has defined the subjective aspects of a job that are important to the success of the organization; and there are usually more opportunities to observe someone’s performance to those subjective expectations.

In a well performing professional athletic team everyone knows the objective numbers related to each persons performance in their individual and team stats.  But there are always many subjective aspects to an individual’s performance that are “obvious” to the fans of that team.  Many times the “best” players on a team will not have the “best” stats.  And sometimes the player with the “best” stats has to be traded for the good of the team because of their poor performance in the subjective areas.  You wouldn’t dream of having a professional sports team pay everyone evenly and treat everyone equally based on time of service.  The best players would leave for teams that were willing to pay them for their skills, and the worst players would not have that option so they would have to stick around.  The team would become so-so at best, and more likely move quickly to the “basement” of their league.

Having a good performance evaluation system that is applied evenly, reasonably, and consistently can help any organization to help its team members become better performers.  And it will help the weaker performers, those who may be in the wrong organization or the wrong profession, move on to find a line of work that they are better and happier at.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could put in place such a system in schools?  If it was easy we’d already have it.  There are many businesses and some schools that have done it well.  Let’s not be afraid of it, but let’s also recognize that the “business model” is not one size fits all.  It will take a lot of work.  But having great schools staffed by great professionals should be worth it.

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In an effort to improve the quality of education in America’s schools, the Obama administration plans to incorporate new guidelines to evaluate teachers. Current guidelines for testing teacher quality vary by state, but the Department of Education plans to institute specific guidelines requiring states to report good and bad performance. Districts must report the number and percentage of teachers performing at each evaluation level.

 

The purpose of teacher evaluations is to see where improvement is needed and provide an opportunity for that. Depending on a teacher’s evaluation score he or she could be paired with a more experienced teacher to help drive up performance. But if no improvement is seen, eventually a teacher could be fired, or perhaps, not have his or her contract renewed. A lot of the focus in education has been on student performance, but teacher performance is also important, and the Ed Department’s new guidelines address that.

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People often wrongly equate quantity with quality. When it comes to education this is not the case. Education Sec. Arne Duncan proposes extending the school year to give students more time to learn and absorb material. But more hours tacked onto already lengthy days and more days added to the school year will not make American schools better or the students smarter. We all realize students in U.S. schools rate poorly in comparison to their international counterparts, but extending the school year won’t change that. Change, real change will come from a comprehensive revamp of our educational system.

 

Why not borrow from a template that works? Finland is among the world’s 10 top performing countries in terms of education, according to the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)—an international assessment of education. Instead of focusing on strict guidelines like an extended school year, increased homework or extra testing mandates Finland schools focus on aspects that produce results. Finland fills its schools with the best teachers, and the market is highly competitive. Instead of a strict curriculum, teachers are allowed freedom to shape lessons to fit their particular students. They target weaker students and work with them early on before they fall behind their peers. Finns don’t begin school until age 7, but from day one a high quality of education is maintained.

 

Of course, the U.S. has its unique challenges, so no country’s educational model can be relied upon exactly. But the U.S. should look at the obvious and act accordingly: Reduce class sizes, implement more aggressive teacher training and grade teachers just as well as students to ensure that quality teachers are properly preparing students. Hold all schools to a uniform standard of success to ensure that all students are meeting the same benchmarks.

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Should public money be used to subsidize private education for students in struggling schools? This is the contentious debate surrounding Sen. Robert Ford, a South Carolina democrat, who endorses a bill that would provide scholarships and grants for students from low-performing public schools to attend private schools.

 

Ford’s decision is a swift reversal from his position as recently as last year against putting any public dollars toward private school education. His new support for the bill that would allow the public to private school transition could be seen as an opportunistic move, given his run for governor of the state. Ford has said he supports the proposal simply because poor and middle class families deserve the right to send their children to decent schools. A family’s wealth should not dictate the quality of education its children receive.

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Rebecca Haden

A Plus Educational Supply

 

I firmly believe that the school supply industry is part of the education community, and that we can help teachers give the best possible start to the young people of our nation. One of the areas in which we could make a difference is in the teaching of science. But I think we have to begin by acknowledging that there are some real problems with the teaching of science in American schools.

The first big problem is lack of knowledge. Elementary school teachers don’t study much science. We see the results of this everywhere. Our state got new science standards last year. Our primary level students are required to learn how climates change with the seasons. (They don’t.) They are supposed to demonstrate the relationship between mass and weight. (Step right over to the antigravity chamber, children…) They are supposed to learn how states of matter affect pitch. (Actually, I had an exciting conversation about this last spring with a group of elementary school teachers, as we tried to come up with an experiment that you could do in a first grade classroom that would test this. Melting a saxophone might have been the most amusing possibility, though the underwater tuning fork experiment was also a jolly prospect.)

Even the reasonable topics on the new science standards list caused consternation as teachers tried to get things like estivation and complete versus incomplete metamorphosis clear in their minds. Most simply never have studied these things.

While it would be good if teachers had stronger backgrounds in science, this would not be such an issue if they had the resources they need. After all, we are talking about intelligent, educated, dedicated people. Unfortunately, few elementary schools have labs or even sufficient equipment to pass around.

Add to these issues the constant time crunch in the classrooms, and we end up with weak science programs.

How can the purveyors of educational materials help?

·        We need to provide science materials that can be used without much background or equipment. When we think about what science materials to carry, we should try to go for kits, books with glossaries, and exploration-focused materials.

·        We should try to have all the accessories on hand. That cool book of science experiments may really be stopping teachers dead in their tracks because they don’t know where to find the beakers or test strips. Why shouldn’t we have the beakers and test strips right there with the book?

·        We should think about offering some practical support. We all have working scientists in our communities, and many of them would be very happy to share their knowledge. When we’re setting up our spring workshop schedules, we could fit a little science in with the make and take centers.

It’s not our responsibility to improve or oversee the local schools, thank goodness, but we can help – so why shouldn’t we?

 

 

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