Tag Archives: Alex Rodriguez

How’s this for “Full Disclosure”? A Counterproposal for Publishing Teacher Data

It seems my worst fears have been realized, albeit in a delayed form.

Last year, like so many others, I sounded the alarm on the so-called “rotisserie league” system of teacher evaluation, using stats like baseball cards to determine effectiveness.  At the moment, I thought my lesson had been learned, at least when using Alex Rodriguez as an example.

(By the way, he again is a failure this season, according to NCLB standards)

The recent release of teacher data by the Los Angeles Times has shown the ghastly effects of such unscrupulous shaming.  Morale is at a new low.  Attrition is rampant.  Few would want to enter a school system where taking the courageous stand of teaching children with special needs could land you on the front page with a noose over your head.  Most shockingly, one teacher committed suicide over perceived low scores, even though colleagues and administrators alike touted him as an exemplary teacher.

Now, the grand poobahs in New York City want the same thing.

Last week, the UFT went to court to stop the New York City Department of Education from publishing Teacher Data Report scores for 4-8th Grade teachers in the city.  The TDRs, as they were called, were a program designed to show teachers—and only teachers—how their students have done over time via standardized testing and other assessments. 

The move is so controversial that even the CSA, the principals’ union, broke ranks with the DOE and sided with the teachers.  When the TDRs were implemented last year, principals explicitly told their teachers that the data would be for their eyes only.  Publishing these scores would not only undermine teacher morale, but also the integrity of administrators citywide.

Yet even with the injunctions, motions, stoppages, etc. teachers may probably still face the prospect of public data reports.

Harping about the validity (or lack thereof) of the data or the data collection will do little good.  Nor will the constant chirping of union reps and teacher advocates, since the education reform crowd has already labeled teachers as the enemy.

What’s needed now is a counter-proposal. 

If the city is going to publish teacher data, it must publish student and parent records alongside each teacher’s evaluation. 

If the city wants to make everyone accountable in education, then all the cards should be face-up on the table.  Let’s make data evaluation truly public—after all, we know all the intangibles and background that surround the stats in baseball, basketball, football, etc.  There’s the differences in field surfaces, in flooring, in wind directions, fan attendance: all of which add up to some effect on the overall performance of the individual athletes.

The same could be said for teachers.  If a teacher has a class that cannot read at their grade level, show the records that indicate their improvement, as well as any individual needs, problems, situations that help or hinder the classroom experience.  If a teacher misses some phony cutoff in test scores for bonuses or whatnot, make sure the record shows the anecdotals of the little bastards who never do squat in the room.

Parents shouldn’t be off the hook, either.  Alongside the data reports should be the page upon page of meeting notes with parents—parents who never show up for meetings, parents who get belligerent, parents who “yes” the teacher to death in order to get her off their back.  Yet also show that parents who genuinely try to help, but are often frustrated with the curriculum themselves.  The problem rarely just stops at teacher and student.

Thanks to privacy laws, this proposal will probably never see the light of day.  Yet what makes teachers so worthy of exemption from professional courtesy?

 It can’t be because of our status as public employees: no other public agency would allow such open pillorying of their staff.  Nor is it because of our special relationship with children: parents have an even more intense bond, yet their results are hardly scrutinized in public.

Perhaps it’s because the inhuman, artificial nature of data allows administrators to show that they care about children without ever being involved with children.  It’s like the old line about the imperious city planner Robert Moses, “He loves the public, but he hates people.”

Publishing student and parent data, while a pipe dream, can be an even better way to evaluate a teacher’s performance.  It provides a holistic, broad-based picture of the circumstances each teacher must deal with.  Then, and only then, should test data be considered.

After all, how can you score a baseball game if you haven’t watched a single inning of it?

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Rotisserie Teaching: Tests, Stats and Teacher Tenure

In a few years, teaching will be a lot like fantasy baseball.

Principals will be selecting their draft picks, organizing their order to fill difficult slots, like math, science and special education.  As for myself, the stats show I’m a solid .700 hitter, with an 80% pass rate last year.  I’m a good pick for power and distance, although I may fade down the stretch into June.  As long as the bullpen comes through in the clutch, I should be alright.  God help those teachers on the waiver wire.

It would be incredible if every aspect of our professional lives can be effectively reduced to a number.  Classifying and ranking would be much simpler.  A simple graph would tell who was pulling their weight and who couldn’t hit out of a paper bag.  How many principals would love to shove a chart into a failing teacher’s face, bellow out “the number’s don’t lie!” and give the unfortunate loser the boot.

If education were only that simple.  It isn’t.

Recently, the New York Post ran a story about the teacher’s union, the UFT, allegedly obstructing efforts by Mayor Mike Bloomberg and schools chancellor Joel Klein to include student test scores as a factor in determining teacher tenure.  The State Assembly recently killed any hope of even creating a commission to investigate how test scores can fit into the process–a commission supported by UFT president Randi Weingarten and the larger umbrella group New York State United Teachers.  The commission was seen as an olive branch in the feud between the Department of Education and the Union over the test scores issue, and was even included in this year’s controversial budget.  Yet the chair of the Education Committee in Albany, Catherine Nolan, refused to even allow a vote on the matter.

Teacher tenure is an issue that really bothers me.  On the one hand, many teachers who have long since proven a disservice to students are protected by the tenure system.  I won’t name names, but i’m familiar with a number of teachers in various schools that probably do more harm than good, yet are protected by the system.  Even if they are excessed by a principal, these teachers are guaranteed a salaried position by union contract.  While this is helpful to most, it can also be detrimental by keeping bad teachers in play.  Just like the Yankees who are obligated to keep and pay for useless players based on contract (Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, etc.), the system of tenure, when abused, can create a class of benchwarmers that drain resources for next season.

However, tenure is also an important safeguard for teachers against the lesser natures of administrators–especially those with no experience in the classroom.  An administrator without classroom experience can quickly turn into a bean counter.  Statistics, numbers, charts, graphs–the quantifiable data that is so useful in the business world makes little sense in education.   If your supervisor had no experience handling children in a classroom, he/she will probably not be sympathetic to your terrible class forged by Lucifer.

Like baseball, teaching also has those “intangibles” that cannot necessarily be controlled.  Who knows if Ted Williams would have hit a .406 batting average in 1941 had there not been a ridiculously shallow right field in Fenway ParkSandy Koufax, the great Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher of the 1960’s, had the benefit of a concrete monolith in Dodger Stadium, where home runs were few and far between.  In public schools, we cannot cherry-pick our students.  Nor can we adjust the facilities.  Our schedules are often held hostage by meetings, workshops, common planning periods and the like.  Test day is also stressful; not everyone is a great test taker, even the really bright children.  There’s also the home to consider: not everyone lives in an environment conducive to achievement.  If Daddy is playing Grand Theft Auto with his son during homework time–which is sometimes the case–you can be sure that school isn’t much of a priority.

So let’s assume that test scores will play a factor in determining tenure.  How much weight should they carry?  Will the criteria include just tests, or a basket of assessments (portfolio, written work, observations, etc.)? Should all tests be used, just State assessments, or a selection of subjects?  How will one set of scores compare to another?  Should the raw score be used or the scale score?  Are we looking for set targets, or windows of progress over time?  Can we adequately assess a teacher’s skills based on the work of previous teachers in previous years?

Test scores may be numbers, but the factors surrounding them are anything but tangible.  This is why using them to determine teacher tenure can become a volatile issue.  If student work is to be used in assessing teachers, then that assessment should be done within a framework that fellow teachers can understand.  Test scores must be viewed in context to a holistic learning experience that includes various assessments, observations and data.  Scores alone cannot determine performance, since it is but one indicator of a complex process.

Let’s return to baseball for a moment.  If Alex Rodriguez were to be assessed based on cumulative, one-shot annual state exams, he would be considered a failure.  Look at his record in October and see if you doubt me.  However, he is not judged merely on his October stats (though maybe he should be) but rather on a season-wide scale.  This would include slumps, tears, injury periods and the like, producing results that look good on a stats sheet, even though he can’t perform during the playoffs.

I was actually looking forward to a commission studying how test scores can be used.  It would have provided some form of closure to a contentious issue that mistakenly blames teachers as being against student acheivement.  It would have also provided some real data to see how reflective are test scores to actual student learning.  For now, I guess we will have to live with tenure as it is.

Funny, I would’ve gotten a kick seeing my principal watch some kindergarten teacher getting swamped, then make a call to the bullpen.  Make sure you’re loose.

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