Category Archives: teacher quality

Quick Reactions to #Satchat

All of these could be longer posts but I need to go outside and battle the weeds some more, so for now, you get a punch list of things I am thinking about after being part of the #satchat Twitter chat:

1. I bristle whenever I hear someone say EVERY and ALWAYS whether it’s about testing or rearranging the room or, even, coding.

2. I believe you can be passionate about your work but also have other interests. Teachers who do not participate in tweet chats are not bad teachers. We shouldn’t make teachers feel guilty about not being passionate enough to devote every waking hour to their work.

3. If we–leaders, coaches, teachers–truly believe that collaboration ala Twitter or other media is an important part of professional learning and growth, we must find time for it in the work day. If there isn’t enough time, then we either get rid of something else OR we lengthen the work day OR we find some way to give credit for it like we do when you take a graduate class.

Finding the People in the Picture

This fall, I will be teaching an introductory qualitative research course. My own dissertation research used a qualitative methodology to learn more about how teachers plan for the use of technology. I interviewed and observed teachers at work in their classrooms with their students. I wrote short vignettes describing that work and the challenges they faced from high-stakes testing to inadequate access to resources. While I’m sure my research will not have much of any impact, I am proud of the way I represented the complexity of the classroom through the voice of the teachers.

For me, that’s the value of this kind of research. Certainly, quantitative research with its percentages and statistics and measures of error, is useful for wider “big picture” sort of research, providing access to general trends and suggestions for practices that might lead to greater success in whatever given area is being studied. But, qualitative research paints a different picture, of the people themselves, the ones who make saying anything definitive about education very difficult. I am often much more interested in those personal stories and insights than in the big picture ideas because they remind us that education is first, and foremost, about human beings.

If you’ve been following the news about the school in Rhode Island that had decided to fire all its teachers as part of its reform efforts, you’ve seen a glimpse of this tension between the big picture and the individual people. The latest news is that the administrators and teachers have negotiated an agreement and they will not be fired after all. My thoughts about the agreement itself are for another post, what I’m interested in here is the way the story plays out in the version I read at NPR.

You have to scroll all the way to the bottom to find the people in the story. The teachers are only present in the person of the union boss while the school district itself is represented by the Superintendents and a state administrator. They aren’t really “people” in my book but talking points who are saying all the right things about this agreement and the efforts they are making to improve education in their district. Even the Obama administration plays a role, but again, one that is preordained and peppered with words like “accountability” and “chronically underperforming.”

But there, in the last few sentences are the people: the parents and students who haven’t been involved in the agreement and yet who will be influenced by its outcomes.

The teachers largely have won the support of students and parents, many of whom believe the staff has been made a scapegoat for the woes of a high school in one of the state’s poorest cities. Norma Velez, whose 15-year-old son, Jose, is a sophomore, said she was pleased to see the teachers return. “When the teachers teach to students — some of them — they don’t want to cooperate with the teachers,” Velez said. “They just do what they want, and they hold up the rest of the students.” Julia Pickett, a 17-year-old senior, bristled at the description of the school as failing. “I don’t like that perception of us. I think we’re a great school,” she said. “Just one test score doesn’t determine whether a school is good or bad.”

Here’s that glimpse of the real people behind the “facts” of the story…the brief insight into the kinds of classrooms these teachers face each day. The momentarily glimmer of the idea that the human beings behind the numbers don’t see themselves as failures. And, in support of my own bias, the suggestion that teachers are not the only ones to blame but have been part of a wider failure of imagination throughout the education community that has developed simplistic, easy to evaluate definitions of student achievement and success. It does often get boiled down to a number–just one test score–and the human beings get lost.

Surrounded by Community

I spent most of yesterday online with educators, exploring the meaning of community.  Several hours were spent in Elluminate as part of Powerful Learning Practice‘s ongoing professional development program.  From there, I moved to Second Life for VSTE’s weekly meeting where we explored educational groups.  We ended the evening with a snowball fight and, as you can see from the picture below, I dressed for the occasion.  (Always wanted to have wings!)


I just felt energized the whole day, having access to all these fellow travelers without having to leave my house!  We shared both professional and personally; we learned; we had fun. It was the kind of experience I would wish for learners of all ages.

Besides being reminded of the power of online community, I learned some specific content.  I was introduced to Google notebook, a tool I had not explored before.  I installed it and was eager to try it out this morning.  So, I logged into Twitter, knowing that someone would have a link to a good article to read.  Twitter has increasingly become a big part of my virtual learning community in a way that I could not have imagined when I first joined.  I was not disappointed this morning as Will Richardson had posted a link to a New Yorker article on teacher quality from Malcolm Gladwell.   My primary job right now is working with pre-service teachers and identifying good teachers is always a concern.

I read the article and, as Will suggested, skimmed the football stuff.  When I got to the first paragraph that was really about education, I discovered that it had already been highlighted by someone else, using Diigo.  I moused over to read the comment and discovered it had been made by Michael Scott, who I had just seen last week in Roanoke and who is a member of the VSTE Ning.  I took a break from reading to add Michael as a friend in Diigo.  The next highlight and comment came from Clay Burrell, a fellow Twitterer whose blog, Beyond School, is always thought provoking.  All I could think of is what a small world it was since, according to the Internet World Stats, there are nearly 1.5 billion people online these days.

I think the lesson here is that online is a real community, as real as the face to face community I enjoyed at last week’s conference in Roanoke.  It’s something my non-networked friends just don’t understand.  And it isn’t something that happened overnight either.  But it is part of my life now, and as I sit at my desk working alone from home on a rainy day, I feel the presence of that community.  Thanks to you all!

A Statistically Valid Way

I’ve been arguing in my writing–both candidacy paper and literature review–that we (researchers, administrators, policy makers, etc.) need to adopt a new view of teachers as professionals, people who actually know what they are doing, people who work in incredibly complex environments.  This is not really th kind of job that would seem to be best described by a numerical rating.  But, for the second time just today, I read an article about school divisions who are trying to do just that…base teacher salaries and raises on a number.

Here are the first few paragraphs from the article in today’s Dallas Morning News about the Dallas school district’s plan to assign a Classroom Effectiveness Rating (CEI) to teachers:

“The Dallas school district wants to base a $22 million employee bonus project on an arcane, decade-old teacher rating system that, until now, has been largely ignored.Through a complex statistical analysis, the evaluators say, they can convert student test scores into a number, 1 through 100, that measures a teacher’s effectiveness. The district’s plan would give bonuses of up to $10,000 to teachers with the best “Classroom Effectiveness Index” ratings, or CEI for short.

DISD administrators say the CEI is a statistically valid way of identifying good teachers based on their students’ scores on standardized tests.”

These CEIs have been around for a decade, but no one really understood them or what they were good for.  I’m so glad that DISD has figured it out!  Not surprisingly, teachers are a bit mistrustful.  And, ultimately, the debate gets at the larger philosophical debate about teaching:

This sort of information, if reliable, is gold to education reformers, some of whom believe the biggest factor holding back public education is the quality of its teaching force. Evaluation systems that claim to quantify the quality of individual teachers are despised by many educators and teacher union officials who say teaching is more an art than a measurable science.”

Art? Science? A mix of both?  I’m probably somewhere in the middle, but the idea that somehow what I do every day in the classroom can get translated into statistics that yield one score for my effectiveness just seems ridiculous to me.  Am I that effective for every student?  Or is it just overall?  In this age of NCLB, shouldn’t I get an effectiveness score for each subgroup?

I think teachers should get paid more…not a bonus for some bogus statistic.