This is the End – On to New Beginnings

A couple of years back I was in a large district with a mentor who was very high up the food chain. If I had been patient I would have earned a vice-principal or director job soon enough. But of course I am me and I’m kind of an idiot. I went on a lark of an interview and was lured away.

In my defense I was frustrated because the job I was doing was being ignored by just about everyone except my mentor. Then in my interview I felt I was going to work with two kindred souls. People who had very similar educational philosophies. I really thought I was going from a place where I was undervalued to a place where I could make a difference.

I’d really like to spend about 1000 words defending myself, but in the end it doesn’t matter. I made a mistake taking the job and three years later the school district decided to move in a new direction. The hardest part was that last month when all the teachers were gone and the tech crew basically took away all of my access (they were afraid I would sabotage something before I left).

Next week I start a new job as 7th grade math teacher.I’ll be back at the school district I started in 15 years ago. I am excited and nervous. It has been a while since I have been in the classroom full-time. I’ve also never felt I was the best teacher. I know how to teach, I’m book smart that way, but in actual practice I’ve never been satisfied.

My goal this year is a lofty one. I don’t just want to be a good teacher, or even a great teacher. My goal this year is to be teacher of the year. I’ll need your help to do it. If anyone still reads this blog. I’ll need you to encourage me to reflect on a regular basis, I’ll need you to comment and push me to do better. I’ll need you to celebrate my successes and yes, even hand out constructive criticism. And for that I thank you in advance.

My Last Week in Tech – Technology Innovation

This is one of my favorite teachers, and this boat school is an innovative solution to a seasonal problem. One might wonder why we don’t have these innovative schools in America. Probably the same reason we don’t go out back and teach in the dirt with sticks. we just don’t have to. Schools are designed to maximize  the teaching we do. Could there be a better design, possibly, but not for the teaching we do currently.

 

Technology is thought of as a disrupter in education because it comes into the design we already have and makes it possible to change. Many people see this change as computers teaching students. it isn’t.

 

For about 100 years there has been a belief among behaviorists that if we could build a smart enough machine, that it could take the place of a teacher. Many believe and have believed that computers will fill that role.

 

Tools like Plato have been around for about 40 years and they haven’t disrupted schools. Actually, it has been assimilated. Massive online courses were going to disrupt education. The year of the MOOC was 2012. It was the ultimate school choice. It hasn’t disrupted higher education. Instead is seems to be morphing into a college prep for connected students, at least in America. It has been assimilated and is coming to high school.

 

The reason these tools have not disrupted education is because they don’t actually make any changes in education. When we look at technology in education if we are looking at completely upending our entire system we are looking for too much. The change, the disruption, is more subtle.

 

The real disruption with technology in education is the ability to transform traditional education. The R in SAMR. The “goal directed transformation” in the Arizona Technology Integration Matrix. Some would go so far as to say it is a transfer of power from teacher to student. I would say it is taking the responsibility of learning off of the shoulders of the teacher and putting it squarely onto the shoulders of the students.

edit –  I realize the title might be a bit misleading as this post was written to be a follow up to a notification to the teachers I work with that my position has been eliminated. Thus my last week in tech with them

Edcampusa, pedagogy not policy

Monday June 9th, 2014

 

Four days ago it was my youngest son’s birthday. I woke up early and made him breakfast in bed, handed over presents of a Lego Steve and toy light sabers (he is way too young for a real light saber), then I packed my bags.

lego steve lightsaber

 

My wife and I had debated driving all night on the 4th, but instead decided we really didn’t have enough resources to drive the family 1,000 miles away in a car with well over 200,000 miles on it just so dad could go to a conference. Again and again I’ve had to justify to my wife why I was spending my own money to go to Washington DC for a conference. She is used to losing me for the occasional Saturday, especially when the conferences are free, this time I spent close to $400 to pay for the trip.

Luckily I have relatives who would have taken offense if I didn’t sleep in the guest room and eat all their food because my district won’t pay for out-of-state conferences. I also used vacation days, I don’t earn professional development credit, and as career networking goes, well this is education and an edcamp to boot, there just won’t be high-powered executive looking to hire away great talent. I love my job, but occasionally I dream about being able to pay the mortgage on a regular basis.

On Friday June 6th 7:30 AM I showed my driver’s license to the security guard and was permitted to enter the hallowed halls of the Department of Education. Over the past several months an energetic and very excited teacher fellow, Emily Davis (I think the only person, besides myself, at the edcamp who follows more people on twitter then she has followers), had worked hard to carve out space for us edcampers to do what we do at edcamps right there under the noses of the driving force of programs such as Race To The Top.

nametagdoe badge

Mr. Duncan stopped in for a few minutes in the morning and then was off.  The cynical amongst us called it a drive by, others reasoned that one should not expect the Secretary of Education to dump his entire schedule to chat up a random selection of teachers. (Rumor has it that he had an interview with NPR.)

Arnie

There were some folks from the Department of Education in the sessions with us, some more obvious than others. The great thing about an edcamp is one person is the same as another. Perhaps if Duncan had stuck around, all the sessions he took part in would have devolved into a group of people trying to talk at him, (and occasionally throwing tomatoes). It may have been for the best that he left us alone to try to do what we do at edcamp.


topicsThere are always a few session on policy at an edcamp. This of course was edcampusa, some, perhaps all, thought is was the opportunity to have real teacher voice heard at the Department of Education. Whatever, we aren’t the first group of teachers to visit, though perhaps the first grassroots group of teachers.  Edcampers are by no means a political organization, rather they are educators who are actively stepping up to make changes in their schools and classroom.  I guess, being invited to the Department of Education felt like being asked to consult on policy.

policyDuring edcampchicago in 2012 (maybe 2013) I led a session on the RESPECT document. A paper written by former Department of Education fellows about how they envision a “renewed and transformed teaching profession in the 21st Century.” I talked to one of those fellows during that time and she said that as Arnie went on a bus tour around the country they would set up shop at each stop and ask teachers to comment and improve the document. There was space online at the Department of Education website, that allowed interested educators to comment on the document. During my session at edcampchicago of 300 attendees I think 4 showed up.

At edcampusa my session on webmaking with Mozilla was only attended by one person. (the session on maker spaces had 6 I think) She knew more about the subject than I did. As a college professor she was excited to see what happens when kids get a hold of tools such as webmaker and Scratch. On the other end of the spectrum, sessions on “How we should schools be evaluated” and “Measuring Education” were generally full.  I guess we should forget about the classroom and focus on fixing education, isn’t that the way most reformers do it?

At work as a technology integration and professional developer I spend a lot of time talking about pedagogy.  Using technology is not about the technology, it’s about quality teaching practices. The teachers don’t like it, the new boss wrote me up for it. Yet, I refuse to change, I refuse to be a person who teaches tools. (Seriously, when was the last time your boss hired someone to teach you how to use the accounting software at work?)

Most teachers and edcampers aren’t policy wonks, they are interested in changing classrooms. This can be seen as policy talk, but what we really do at edcamp is talk pedagogy, even if we don’t call it pedagogy. Pedagogy is the basis of quality classroom instruction, it is also the bedrock under which we should write school policy.


The natural question is how much of the policy talk actually made it across to the people in the Department of Education. Were the people from the Department of Education, that joined us in session mostly teacher fellows, there for a year and gone, or were they full-time staffers who actually have a voice in creating education policy? (How many people in these huge public buildings actually affect policy and how many just keep the government running?) We certainly had a star-studded group of educators who could speak well on such topics as education policy. Just these 8 could make a think tank worth millions.

Then again, to not have heard what we have been saying for so many years, testing is being misused and is statistically useless for evaluating teachers, schools need to be more student-centered, teachers need a voice, the model of schools we use is hopelessly outdated, and more. All of these things are not new, they are not a big secret. Heck, most of them are in the RESPECT document. They are just not being implemented.

Did we need to go to the Department of Education to tell them? Or do they need to come to us and see what we really do? Tom Whitby suggested that instead of doing a bunch of edcampusa in Washington DC, the staff should leave Washington and visit edcamps around the country. I know they have gone out in the past to visit schools, but the dog and pony shows that happen when outsiders visit a classroom is not a true indication of what really happens in our schools. Take a Saturday and spend 5 or 6 hours with teachers, don’t even tell them you are from the DOE, edcamps are like that, they don’t check your credentials at the door. Just be careful you might learn something.

Reading the Words

Imagine reading a paper (Culture Shift: Teaching in a Learner-Centered Environment Powered by Digital Learning) that said this:

 Learner-centered education dramatically impacts the work of educators, and education systems and school must empower teachers to apply their pedagogical knowledge, instructional skills, and digital tools and resources to meet the needs of individual students.

So teachers should know about the science of teaching and be given the authority to determine best practices for teaching in their classrooms.

Educators are empowered to use innovative approaches and personalize learning in face-to-face, blended, or virtual environments.

Teachers empowered again to choose different approaches.

…opportunities for teachers to learn from each another and from outside experts, …

Teachers as chief learners, right?

…students who have the knowledge and ability to solve problems, think critically, collaborate with others, and communicate in a variety of media.

More important than content is teaching students to think critically, and problem solve.

Deeper learning skills:

  • Knowledge and mastery of … content

  • Critical thinking and complex problem solving

  • Effective communication

  • Collaborative work, self-direction, and incorporation of feedback

We might be able to measure mastery of content with tests, but the rest of those skills require more of an experts subjective observation.

…meeting students where they are and helping them to develop the knowledge and skills they need.

Getting to know our students and tailoring instruction to them.

For example, a student may have the option to utilize simulations or access content that is in a visual or audio format.

Note it doesn’t say teacher creates content in all possible formats but allows students to access.

…open-ended nature…problem-solving strategies and critical thinking are applied…

More thinking skills

…access to learning anytime and anywhere.

This might just require a touch of Connectivism

…flexible…

Imagine a public school (not just a teacher) that is flexible in terms of meeting a student’s needs.

…extend learning opportunities outside of school…

This is flexible. Will the learning I do on my own time have meaning to a public school?

Learner-centered instruction demands that teachers develop different professional roles and responsibilities.

I am willing is my administration? Is my school board?

…shift the teacher’s role from disseminator of knowledge to a facilitator of learning or “education designer.”

A teachers evaluation should not depend on how well students listen.

Formative assessments…

A formative assessment could be an observation while a student struggles with a problem and a well-timed question or comment.

Providing the student with control of his or her learning

Is this possible in public school? Does this fit with Common Core State Standards?

Eliciting student work to demonstrate understanding of specific language and concepts

This is called measurement of knowledge, or mastery of content, through a means that does not include a test. Sometimes known as allowing teachers to be professionals.

…learner-centered teaching encourages collaboration …

Meaning teachers talk about how effective they are, and what they can do better, not how poorly the students listen.

“When teachers collectively engage in participatory decision-making, designing lessons, using data, and examining student work, they are able to deliver rigorous and relevant learning for all students and personalize learning for individual students”

Teachers are part of the decision making process of education. I wonder why students and parents were left out of this process?

Professional learning communities

Emphasis on professional

These other countries dedicate significant resources to professional learning opportunities that are ongoing and sustainable and emphasize collaboration among educators.  …about 60 percent of their time in classrooms.

Done right the most important part of a teacher’s day is his or her reflection and discussion of teaching practices, not time spent in the classroom. Remember from earlier, teachers’ roles are changing. They don’t need to lecture content as much, rather they are “education designers”. They need to spend a significant amount of time thinking, talking, and designing the educational environment. After that the classroom teaching really just happens.

Professional learning: Informal …Communities of practice

Informal yet still professional.

In some cases, teachers who are early adopters of digital learning or other instructional strategies do not have peers with whom to collaborate in their own school or district, so they seek out others on social networking sites or CoPs.

Like students learning for teachers is not limited to within the school walls or what is provided by the district.

…the education system faces many challenges that can hinder the development of strong cultures in schools.

Culture is empowering teachers to be the decision makers. Allowing them to take chances and innovate. Not everything will be perfect and that is what make each child’s education right for the students.

Classrooms many not be as quiet, ad students should be working on different things at different times.

Learning is often social and noisy.

While instructional practice should be evidence based, educators need to trust that it is acceptable to try a new lesson or strategy and possible fail, and that reflection and learning will be encouraged.

Not everything is perfect. No one person or one observation should make or break a decision about the quality of a teacher. It’s a holistic thing.

The culture shift required to move toward a learner-centered model must respect teaching and what is necessary to meet the individual needs of students on a daily basis. The culture must carefully consider collaboration among teachers and the development of professional learning community among educators in which they are all working together toward the same goal.

We are a long way from this and measuring test scores is counter-productive.

  • …understanding …a learner-centered environment…

  • Empower school and district leaders to develop collaborative working environments for teachers….

  • Integrate technology and digital learning into the strategic planning…

  • Elevate the profession of teaching

Again the power of teaching is not in how much content a student masters, rather it is in setting up the best possible environment to facilitate that learning. Measuring teacher quality through student test scores is counter-productive. Instead we should be measuring teacher quality through their ability to adapt to specific situations in their classrooms. This requires close observation over long periods of time. It requires collaboration among equals. It requires teachers to be allowed to make mistakes and honestly implement reforms that may or may not work the first time. reforms that may have to be reevaluated and changed depending on the circumstances. Basically the best teachers are those who are continually changing practices and implementing new ideas based on individual circumstances.

 

I just think if a group is going to say what we want to do but then later implement practices contrary to the stated philosophy then perhaps we should point to their words and hold them to it.

 

 

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I Am Not A Twit

Originally posted on my work blog http://techintegrationblog.blogspot.com/

Some basic resources for effectively using twitter as a teacher.

http://twitter.pbworks.com/w/page/1779796/FrontPage
A wiki to introduce people to twitter. Yes, you can tweet all about your boring breakfast (and worse) but if you would also like to get past that you can.


http://twitter4teachers.pbworks.com/w/page/22554534/FrontPage
A wiki specifically for teachers to learn about using twitter in education.

The real question is:

Why would I bother using twitter as a teacher?

It does make one wonder. This Internet time suck used by celebrities and sports stars, how can it possibly be an effective tool for a serious endeavour like teaching?  

That is the beauty of twitter, you make of it what you want or need. Twitter, along with many other similar social media sites (Google +, Facebook, “yes, facebook”, pinterest, scoop it, etc…), has the ability to connect like minded people. Imagine if you will the teachers lounge, except the other teachers don’t know your students. All they can do is respond to questions with best practice advice, what I did in similar situation, what worked for me.

Twitter in this case has suddenly become what they call a Professional Learning Network as described in “The Connected Educator: Learning and Leading in a Digital Age” by Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach and Lani Ritter Hall.

Professional Learning Networks are about individuals gathering information and sharing resources that enhance their personal and professional learning.


That’s great if I want to spend my evenings with teacher talk. Is it possible to be a bit more formal with our professional development?

As a personal learning resource use one of the links up top to find thousands of quality teachers to follow then check in once a day to see if there is anything interesting. Of course going through thousands of tweets is time consuming. We can sort through all of that by getting out daily twitter paper delivered right to our laptop.

http://paper.li/dendari
Paper.li collects all the links and articles referenced in my twitter stream and  organizes them in a newspaper format based on how often they were tweeted out.

Still that isn’t formal learning. It isn’t professional development.

Social media is about connecting like minded people. Twitter and other media are great places to begin, to get ideas, but they are also great places to meet and connect while working as a more formal group. Below are a list of great weekly teacher meetings held on twitter.

General chates

#ntchat – New teacher chat – learn or mentor – http://newteacherchat.wikispaces.com/

#edchat – The grandaddy of them all a general education chat – http://edchat.pbworks.com/w/page/219908/FrontPage
#cpchat – connected principal chat – http://cpchat.org/
#spedchat – Special Education chat – https://spedchat.wikispaces.com/
Subjects
#sschat – Social Studies –http://sschat.ning.com/
#musiced – Music
#scichat  -Science

There are hundreds more find and learn about them here


Spending an hour once a week chatting on twitter doesn’t seem too big of a deal at first, but then again when it becomes a requirement it can be a big deal. Imagine this scenario though: This weeks #mathchat is “Is mathematics more important than numeracy?” this would be a great topic for elementary teachers to discuss. We decide to discuss it as part of our regular professional development in school. 


A professional learning community, again defined by Beach and Hall.

Professional Learning Communities are traditional school-based structures in which staff–both teachers and administrators–learn together with the goal of improving student achievement.

A teacher(s) or principal could participate in the #mathchat (held at noon or 7PM) then during regular team meeting times a discussion could be held. If nobody can make the chat, or even if they did, the archive can be distributed to the team and a discussion can be based on that. http://mathschat.wikispaces.com/Archive+of+mathchat

Discussions are held, teaching practices are modified or strengthened, and the school as a whole is improved.

So there you have it, two, of many, ways twitter can and does provide professional development for teachers. There are more, many more ways networking through twitter and social media can be a catalyst for growth in our personal and professional lives. I can directly connect my twitter use to a graduate school program, CPDU opportunities, and and even a few job opportunities. In the end though twiiter is what you make of it, good or bad.

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Competing Philosophies of Education

Perhaps this is just my view, but it looks like education is slowly inexorably changing and we have two choices competing for the dominant theory of what constitutes a quality education.

technology becomes the teacher.

This is a nice model for the business community, because, eventually, the costs will drop. The basic premise is that if we design adaptive software students can sit in front of a computer all day and just follow the learning program. Costs will be limited to the hardware (less than $1,000), software, ($5 per student), and a person to monitor students (minimum wage). $45,000 for a class of 30, or $1500 per student, $65,000 for a class of 60 or $1,100 per student. Or about 10% or less of the cost to teach a student now.

teachers AS MENTOR / FACILITATOR.

Instead of the presenters of knowledge teachers become the facilitators of knowledge. Experts in their craft who guide students through individualized learning experiences.

  • Teachers of young children focus more on learning milestones and owning the skills that are the building blocks of different subjects.
  • Middle school teachers focus more on developing burgeoning critical thinking skills.
  • High school teachers give students a wide latitude in finding, creating, and solving problems that are central to learning standards.

Students use technology to explore, question, collaborate, practice, and create.

 

Which system of education seems better to you? Why?

If you had the choice which school would you enroll your children?

JIVE Conference

As many of my friends know this past summer (June 2011) I completed a program at Johns Hopkins University (JHU). The administration program is a partnership with the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). I was very impressed with the quality of the program and the quality of the participants.

A few months ago a few of us who graduated in 2011 felt the need to reconnect. Fresh from organizing an EdCampChicago event I was all for helping to organize a virtual conference. The JIVE (Johns Hopkins International Society for Technology in Education Virtual Conference) was born. To listen to the conference please click here.

Welcome screen shot from conference

The purpose of JIVE is for JHU/ISTE program alumni to get together and share with each other some of what we learned in the program and how we are using it today.

 

Our first presentation is from Gayle Cole who has helped in the creation of iwitness. Iwitness is focused on recording the testimony of Holocaust survivors. This is an amazing site that will make a profound impact on many students.

 

Screen shot from iwitness

Screenshot from http://iwitness.usc.edu/SFI/


Our second presentation is from Ann Johnston. Ann has been an Evernote user for years. She shares with us how Evernote can be used to organize a teachers life as well as streamline methods for sharing online resources in the classroom.

Screen shot Evernote

Screen shot from http://evernote.com/

The first conference was great. I look forward to many more in the years to come. Please, enjoy our first JIVE conference. I hope next June we can host another event and you can be a part of it.

 

The Evolution of a Gate

This post can also be found on my blog

It has been interesting to watch Bill Gates grow and evolve in his efforts to improve U.S.

Betonwerksteinskulptur "Lehrer-Student&qu...
Image via Wikipedia

education. Just an informal overview of the highlights I remember.
There is High Tech High School in San Diego, which I think is a pretty successful group of schools. Technology infused with project based learning.
There was the small school initiative which didn’t work out so well. Reduce the size of the student population. I thought there were better methods (Leads, research) to reduce school size without reducing the options available to students, but Bill tried his methods and admitted failure.
He also tried measuring teacher effectiveness. The idea that teachers are the determining factor on student success has hinged on the research that states teachers have the greatest influence in student success. However influence and determining factors are different.

A lot of educators are wary of value-added measurements and so-called teacher accountability, because used incorrectly it can be a weapon. Most statisticians will agree that the value added measuring done on teachers has too much of a margin of error to have any meaning.

In Bill Gates 2012 Annual Letter it seems he has realised the error of his ways, or at least refined how he proposes to measure teacher effectiveness.
Looking at test data has been relegated to a smaller piece of the puzzle. Instead training teachers and administrators to observe and evaluate teachings plays a central role.
Feedback was a major point in Bill’s letter. Feedback that comes immediately and has specificity is useful. A general statement such as satisfactory is useless to help a teacher improve. Positive feedback is just as important as negative feedback (I added this part).
Let’s try an example:
In the observation I saw three students off task while you were giving instruction.
As opposed to:
Yesterday while you were giving oral instructions the three students in the back row were not listening. Is this normal behavior for them? Do they hear and understand the instructions you are giving? Are they a disturbance to the other students? The school wide expectations are that students listen attentively to the instructions? In this instance they are not meeting school expectations. You as the teacher either need to address the expectation with the students or develop an alternative method of delivering your instructions. I would suggest either moving them closer to you and/or reminding them of classroom expectations, by practising or modelling the expectation. If not that I would suggest delivering instructions in an alternative manner such as written directions.
I kind of combined several different ways of not only providing feedback, but adding corrective measures as this is an essay on Bill Gates’ change in attitude towards education and not a book on supervision and feedback.
BUT I think Bill’s letter is still missing a few pieces of the puzzle.

  • Retaining teachers and administration
  • Too often teachers don’t put effort into changing because they see programs implemented by one administrator only to see that person leave and be replaced by another administrator who emphasises something completely different.
  • Often these programs are based on a small numbers of similar general concepts but teachers are judged ineffective because they are implementing the specific methodology of this particular program.
  • I wonder sometimes if principals should be asked to sign 5 year contracts. That would also require the building leadership team to be involved in the hiring process.
  • To often the best teachers in the worst schools will either leave education all together or transfer to a better school. (I don’t have statistics to back this up)
  • Safe classrooms
  • When the principal comes around to do formal evaluations I see teachers time and again setting up a dog and pony show. Creating that one perfect lesson that meets all the criteria necessary to receive a satisfactory or excellent on the evaluation.
  • Do peer reviews mean reviewers work with the teachers to improve what the teacher is doing in the classroom or is it to make sure they teach the right way?
  • Is there one set of standards that says this is the right way to teach or is it at least partially individual based on the teacher and the needs of the classroom?
  • Differentiation
  • There is still talk about changing the pay scale, but I don’t see talk about increasing the autonomy of the educator.
  • I’m not talking old school autonomy where the teacher closes the door and does what s/he wants. I’m talking about allowing the teacher to choose the method of teacher s/he thinks is most effective. (with justification of course)
  • Whole schools can be differentiated like this. I just think real school choice actually includes choice between the methods of teaching.
  • This doesn’t mean schools are factories that each teacher teaches in the exact same manner, but that they have similar philosophies of education. Then parents can choose how their child is taught and not just who does the teaching.
  • Currently in most district tenured teachers just don’t get evaluated as often
  • What if this were changed to something along the lines of peer reviewers are different for various groups of teachers and/or they look for different aspects of teaching.
  • Newer teachers often struggle with classroom management, but other teachers might have a nice quiet classroom and struggle with engaging students or critical thinking.

The pressure for school reform is having a positive effect.

  • SB7 in Illinois has a large section on teacher evaluations and though test data does play a part it is not tied specifically to one test and the percentage can be negotiated as long as it is replaced with another qualified measure.
  • School districts around the country are working with teacher unions to create better evaluation procedures for teachers. Here is just one example.

I think we can and will continue to evolve in the area of teacher quality and effectiveness. I have been looking at the Regional Office of Education a lot lately. Part of the description of the office as written in Illinois school code is:

To give teachers and school officers such directions in the science, art and methods of teaching, and in regard to courses of study, as he deems expedient.
 To labor in every practical way to elevate the standard of teaching and improve the condition of the common schools of his county

I think schools and districts working on improving the educational practice of their own teachers is paramount to improving education. And I think the method of doing this lies in local central offices empowering teachers and administrators to make the changes they feel appropriate then sharing those changes with educators in the larger area for feedback and suggestions for improvement. Similar to the way an individual teachers would make and apply changes to his or her classroom and submit those ideas to a peer review group for observation and feedback.

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Measure of Effective Teaching

Have you walked on over to the Bill and Melinda Gates sponsored Measure of Effective Teaching Project? This is where Gates tries to answer the question: “How can effective teaching be identified and developed?”

Some would argue that this should have been the first and main thrust of his education efforts. For without the answer to the first half of this question school reform is doomed to failure. Others might say that the answer is and always will be “it depends”.

Some of my highlights and comments about the MET Project Preliminary Findings Policy Brief.

Our goal is to help build fair and reliable systems for teacher observation and feedback to help teachers improve and administrators make better personnel decisions.

From the MET Project Preliminary Findings Policy Brief

For this report, we have studied student achievement gains on the state test and the supplemental tests in grades 4 through 8 for five MET districts. (The comment I have is how effective are gains in standardized tests in measuring teacher effectiveness? Not good as far as I remember)

we measure student achievement gains using two different tests in each subject, the state standardized test and an additional, more cognitively demanding test (It is nice to know they are using more than one measure of improvement)


we anticipate expanding these outcomes beyond traditional tests to include noncognitive measures (When?)


Each student’s performance at the end of the year is then compared to that of similar students elsewhere (just when you thought it was straight value added measurements they throw in a curve, but is it a true measure of teacher effectiveness)




a teacher’s past success in raising student achievement on state tests (that is, his or her value-added) is one of the strongest predictors of his or her ability to do so again (Except that we are using value added measurement to measure the ability to add value so of course this is consistent)

the teachers with the highest value-added scores on state tests also tend to help students understand math concepts or demonstrate reading comprehension through writing.


In many classrooms students reported that “We spend a lot of time in this class practicing for the state test,” or “Getting ready for the state test takes a lot of time in our class.” However, the teachers in such classrooms rarely show the highest value-added on state tests. On the contrary, the type of teaching that leads to gains on the state tests corresponds with better performance on cognitively challenging tasks and tasks that require deeper conceptual understanding, such as writing. (Shouldn’t this suggest that we need to put more emphasis on teaching higher level thinking skills and less on classroom management?)

students report positive classroom experiences, those classrooms tend to achieve greater learning gains

valid feedback need not be limited to test scores (for students and teachers I think)

First we sorted teachers based on student perception surveys and value-added on the state math assessment. (The question I was looking for but didn’t see was something to the effect of: My teacher refused to give me the answer but made me figure it out for myself?)

The difference in learning associated with being assigned a top quartile teacher rather than a bottom quartile teacher was more than seven months— roughly two-thirds of a school year! (This whole notion of putting student learning into grade level broken down by month is really a poor measurement of education. It losses effectiveness with age. Also when we ask students to identify and use specific skills they seem to be less knowledgeable than if we just ask students to solve problems, but that’s just my opinion.)

[project time line for Winter 2011] Preparing systems for multiple measures of teacher evaluation: using digital video, training observers, and meeting data requirements. (I have found using video to observe is wholly ineffective. You can’t switch focus from teacher, to student, to board, to whole class as fast or often enough. I also can’t zero in on a conversation or student when I want to. Finally, how do you ask the students for their feedback?)

CONCLUSIONS
Reinventing the way we develop and evaluate teachers will require a thorough culture change in our schools. No longer should teachers expect to close the door to their classrooms and “go it alone.” (Good teachers will agree with this and have been pushing for collaboration for a long time)

retraining those who do classroom observations to provide more meaningful feedback

we need to be humble about what we know and do not know

 In the end I don’t think this commission is doing the right research to answer the first half of their original question, “How can effective teaching be identified?” The assumption is that effective teaching can be identified by some sort of value-added measure with one or two standard tests. However, the question is how to you identify effective teaching so we should start with: Is this value-added idea working? How do we effectively observe teacher effectiveness in the classroom? What is an effective measure of student growth? The answers to these questions are being assumed and they shouldn’t be.

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