Thursday, November 15, 2012

Economists says smaller classes and higher teacher salary make a difference. Teachers say duh!

From the Dallas Morning News, by Terrence Stutz

 Larger classes typically trigger higher dropout rates and wind up costing more in the long run with less educated workers who pay less in taxes, an expert witness in the Texas school finance trial said Wednesday.
The testimony comes as school districts across the state continue to increase class sizes to make ends meet.
Clive Belfield, an economist at Queens College in New York, said there are several steps school districts can take to increase their graduation rates, but most involve spending more money, and there has been resistance to funding increases in Texas and other states.
Over the long term, he said, raising teacher pay, reducing class sizes and funding other improvements has a direct impact on how many students will graduate from high school — and he offered several examples of the return Texas could expect if it were to finance such upgrades.
In class size, for example, Belfield said significant class size reductions in kindergarten through third grade — similar to those in Tennessee and other states — could increase the graduation rate by 11 percent.
“It is a very popular policy from the teacher perspective, but unfortunately it is a costly intervention,” he said. Many states don’t want to make such an investment, he added, even though it is in their best interest for more to graduate.
“In a class of 15 students, the teacher can spend more time with struggling students. With a class size of 30, a student who is having difficulty is more likely to be left behind,” he said, pointing out those students are more likely to eventually drop out.
His testimony came as new figures from the Texas Education Agency indicated that a large number of elementary classes will again exceed the 22-pupil limit for kindergarten through fourth grade this year.
Already nearly 5,500 classes at about 1,000 campuses have been excused from the 22-pupil limit as districts try to offset the massive funding reductions approved by the Legislature last year. In all, 170 districts have obtained waivers from the state allowing them to exceed the limit, with most citing financial hardship because of their funding cuts.
Belfield, an expert witness for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, also said raising teacher salaries has a positive effect on high school graduation rates. His analysis indicated that if Texas raised average teacher pay by 10 percent, it would increase the graduation rate by 5 percent.
He cited two immediate benefits — veteran teachers would be more likely to stay in their jobs and the applicant pool of teachers for vacant jobs would be larger, with more graduates from elite colleges.

Study says Florida public schools do better than its charters

From State Impact, by Gina Jordan

While charter schools are an increasingly popular option for Florida students, a University of Central Florida researcher says they don’t perform as well as district schools.

Dr. Stanley Smith, a professor at the University of Central Florida’s business school, analyzed school grades of Florida elementary schools last summer, examining the effect of poverty and minority status on those grades.

Smith found that “when the poverty and minority characteristics of the student population are controlled, the average charter school performs significantly lower than the average traditional public school.”

Smith used complicated formulas (see documents) to conclude that:

The average charter school is doing about the same as the non-charter school when no adjustments are made for poverty and minority statuses. When the adjusted scores are considered, the average charter school performs significantly worse than the average non-charter school.

These results call into question the emphasis by state education leaders — particularly Republicans — on charter schools, Smith said.

“Although charter schools may be cheaper for the state to fund, the adjusted scores suggest that Florida is also getting a lower return on these schools,” Smith said. “Is the lower average return on these schools worth the lower cost?”

According to the Center on Reinventing Public Education, “charter schools offer the potential to create high-performing public schools in districts typically plagued by poor student outcomes…To know whether charter schools are fulfilling their mission, we need rigorous evaluation of their performance, costs, and ability to address the unique needs of disadvantaged students.”

Charter schools can add requirements for their students — such as additional tutoring — to address problem areas such as math or reading.

A StateImpact Florida/Miami Herald investigation previously found that most charter schools don’t serve severely disabled students.

Dr. Smith says his findings do not suggest that all charters perform worse than traditional schools, but for now, he does think parents should take more care when enrolling kids in charters. Charter schools were more likely to earn an ‘A’ on state report cards last year, but also more likely to earn an ‘F’ as well.

Sweeping generalizations and false assumptions about teachers

From the Washington Post's Answer Sheet, By Carol Burris
As a high school principal, it is my job to evaluate teachers. I take this responsibility very seriously — it helps ensure that our students receive the rich opportunities to learn that they deserve. With strong teachers, evaluation may entail reaffirming good practice, supporting innovative practice and facilitating ways for them to share their expertise with their colleagues. For novices or those who struggle, we work to improve their practice and, when necessary, to counsel them out or let them go.
  It is because instruction is so important that the sweeping generalizations and false assumptions that have fueled recent teacher evaluation policies are of such concern to teachers and school leaders alike.  The waves of misinformation about evaluation undermine confidence in our schools and result in “solutions” based on opinion and gut-level hunches, not research evidence. The recent Phi Delta Kappan opinion piece, entitled “Million Dollar Baby,” is an example of the misguided critiques that appear all too often.
Let me begin by saying that I have always been a fan of the Kappan, which skillfully takes scholarly research and makes it accessible to educators who do not have time to pore over academic journals. Despite that fine track record, the generalizations that form the argument in this month’s editor’s note cannot go unaddressed.   It is time to get the record straight and address three common fallacies that dominate the new rhetoric on teacher evaluation:
 1.     1. Every former teacher evaluation system was the same and that unitary system was terrible. To quote from the opinion piece, “Unfortunately educators must bear the bulk of the blame for allowing such a lousy system to exist.” In reality, there was never one evaluation system nor was every system “lousy.” Rather, each school district has had its own system of teacher evaluation, and some of those have been better than others. That doesn’t mean, of course, that we don’t have substantial room for improvement. But it does mean that it’s ridiculous to start a reform discussion with the contention that all districts should abandon their evaluation system regardless of its track record. I would wager, for instance, that Kappan’s editor would agree that the Montgomery County Maryland School System has a nationally acclaimed system, and that Cincinnati Schoolshad a system, before Race to the Top, that has been shown to not only improve the craft of teachers but to increase student achievement. Neither system incorporated test scores. In the small districts on Long Island, most of us did an excellent job evaluating teachers—dismissing probationers who do not merit tenure, helping teachers continue to develop, working with and counseling those who needed to improve or to leave the profession, and building on the strength of even our most expert practitioners.  Among Long Island principals, you will find few fans of New York State’s new evaluation systems, based on APPR.
  2  2. Tenure is the problem. It is a job for life and it is unique to teaching. The Kappan editorial states that tenure is one of the “unique privileges that teachers enjoy.” But in truth due process before dismissal (tenure) is not unique to teaching. In fact, it is more difficult for a principal to dismiss a custodian due to civil service protection than it is to dismiss a teacher. Civil servants enjoy seniority rights, probation periods, salary schedules, and due process rights for dismissal just like teachers. Civil servants, who are broadly defined as those who work for government, include librarians, police officers, firefighters, transit workers,  secretaries, and accountants.  Due process should not be understood or practiced as a “job for life,” but it should remove the threat of political or arbitrary dismissals.
 There are excellent reasons for such protections. The civil service was established in the late 1800s because prior to its establishment, government jobs were given to political supporters as spoils. The protections were put into place to make sure that public employees were hired on merit and could not be dismissed on the whims of the incoming administration. This remains a concern. Public schools are run by politicians—in some cases by mayors, in other cases by elected boards of education.
 As an alternative to tenure, the Kappan editorial suggests that teachers “should receive a contract for a limited period of time, say three or five years”.  Although this may sound reasonable, consider the clear consequences. Without the protection of tenure, educators could be dismissed for not pleasing the interests of powerful parents. They could be dismissed in order to bring in friends and relatives of newly elected mayors or board members.  Teachers could be pressured to pass students who did not deserve to pass a class or be pressured to not discipline a student when warranted. Presently, there is one person in every district who works on a renewable contract: the superintendent. Nationally, the average time that a superintendent stays in a district is seven years. For an urban superintendent it is fewer than three years. And the constant turnover of superintendents does not serve students or schools well.  Tenure promotes stability and community in our schools.  Teacher turnover, even when it is the less effective teachers who leave, has a negative effect on student achievement. Likewise it has been found that churn in the principalship is not good for schools. Such instability does not  promote excellence and the courage to make the tough decisions that are not politically popular but serve the best interests of students. Again, this isn’t an argument against pursuing ways to streamline the dismissal process; it’s an argument against poorly thought through changes.
 3.    3. High-stakes evaluations are fine as long as they do not rely on a single measure This is the new popular rhetoric. It is a partial acknowledgement of the many problems associated with using students’ test scores and growth models in teacher evaluations, problems that have been repeatedly documented. And yet the Kappan editor and others still insist on the inclusion of students’ test scores in teacher evaluation. Multiple measures are indeed wise, but the effects of including any given measure need to be understood. Current policies do in fact place test scores in a prominent role, one for which they are not valid or reliable and because of which school districts can expect to be (justifiably) challenged in court by dismissed teachers (as explained in another article in the same November issue of the Kappan). The troubling reality is that these policies will promote teaching to standardized tests and a narrowing of the curriculum.  
 The editorial suggests that we also include other untested ingredients, such as student surveys, in the evaluation mix. We should do this, apparently, even though there is as of yet no reliable research base to support the idea. As a high school principal, I thoroughly enjoy working with teenagers. I find their opinions to be frank and refreshing. But I do not think it is fair or wise to give 14 year olds a formal role in teacher evaluation. It is bad enough that we are undermining the student-teacher relationship by basing evaluations on those students test scores.
 The magazine’s editor concludes by asserting that “every classroom should have excellent teaching every hour of every day.” I would add that every child should also have an excellent parent who serves them excellent food and provides them with an excellent home in an excellent neighborhood. Let’s also add excellent healthcare and excellent supervision every hour of every day as well. If we could accomplish all of that, we would have the highest achieving students on earth. But the rhetoric itself accomplishes little. What we need are research-based policies supported by lawmakers willing to provide the necessary resources.
 In the meantime, while we wait for those wise lawmakers to emerge, perhaps we all could back off and allow teachers to enjoy the same humanity we seem to graciously grant to others. Teachers aren’t perfect, but I must tell you that nearly all of the teachers that I have met over the years are darn good at what they do. And the variation in their skill is no wider than the variation that I have observed in other professions whose evaluations we never seem to discuss. Let’s look to improve evaluation systems as well as other parts of our schools. But could we stay within reasonable bounds of critique based on fact and research? If we do not stop this constant drumbeat of criticism there will be no one left to evaluate with our new excellent-every-hour-every-day evaluation systems.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Diane Ravitch, charter schools expand despite evidence of success

From the Diane Ravitch blog,

Joy Resmovits has a good article at Huffington Post describing the growth of charter school enrollments and the absence of adequate oversight.
Currently, about 5 percent of all American students are enrolled in these privately managed schools. In some urban districts, the proportion is much larger. The districts with the greatest number of students in charters are New Orleans, Detroit, Washington, D.C., Kansas City, and Flint, Michigan. In 25 districts, at least 20 percent of students attend charters.
With the support of a bipartisan combination of President Obama, Congress, conservative governors, and rightwing groups like ALEC, these numbers are sure to grow. And the privatization of one of the nation’s most essential public services will continue.
The article mentions that local school boards “argue” that charters reduce their funding. That’s not an argument, that’s a fact. When students leave to attend charters, the public schools must lay off teachers, increase class sizes, cut programs. The more charters open, the more the public schools decline, especially when they lose their most motivated families and students. This is not simply a matter of transferring money from Peter to Paul, but crippling Peter to enrich Paul.
If charters had a stellar reputation, the logic might be on their side. But there are few studies that show charters outperforming public schools even on the crude measure of test scores. With only a few outliers, most studies show that charters do not get different results when they have the same kinds of students.
Chester-Upland, Pensylvania, schools may be an example of what happens when well-funded charters (funded by the district’s own revenues) grow as the host dies. The CU schools have been under state control for nearly 20 years. The local charter is not only thriving but providing handsome profits for its founder. Meanwhile the public schools, having lost half their enrollment to the charter, are dying. A state emergency manager just issued a lengthy report with high benchmarks for future success.
The plan calls for school closings and sets goals for academic gains. The bottom line in this plan for recovery is that the public schools will be extinguished if they can’t meet ambitious targets:
““If the district fails to meet certain scholastic performance goals, such as federal annual progress targets, by the end for the 2014-15 school year, the plan calls for the schools to be run by external management operations such as charter schools, cyber charters, and education management companies.”
Is this the future of urban education in the United States? Will this be the legacy of the Bush-Obama education program?

Dr. Vitti listens to the students but does he hear what they are saying?

Dr. Vitti listens but does he hear?

Meeting with students at LaVilla the middle school for the arts he heard students tell him about how the arts program is what motivates them to do well in their academic classes. LaVilla however as we know is a special school where kids often get to take classes they are passionate about, sadly it is far from the typical school in Jacksonville.

My questions are, what about the schools that have gutted their elective programs, where kids are forced to take classes called research, which is really an FCAT prep course, instead of band, art or drama? What about those kids taking intensive reading and math instead of classes they enjoy, with no real electives to be found on their schedules? What about the interests of the kids at the neighborhood schools?

We make school such drudgery for kids and then we wonder why they do poorly or drop out. I get it, standardized tests are here to say but we have to come up with a plan that doesn’t rob kids of their joy or learning, which is what we are doing to so many of our kids now.

Dr. Vitti listened to what the students had to say, I just hope he heard them, a lot of kids futures are riding on whether he did or not.

Duval County Public Schools schedule kids for failure

As I passed her in the library she had her arms folded under her chin and a frown on her face. She seemed really down so I asked her how she was doing. Fine, she replied but she did so the same way I do when everything is all but fine.

I considered moving on. If you let too many kids in it takes being a teacher from tough to heartbreaking. All of the children seem to have a story. A broken home there a lack of opportunity here. It can be overwhelming if you let it. This however was a good kid. Where her grades were very average all her teachers liked her as she is always polite and respectful and at least during class never failed to make an effort. During a previous conversation she told me how she wanted to be a music teacher someday and how she sang in a family gospel band. After hearing this and finding out and that she wasn’t taking music I introduced her to the schools music teacher in the hope that maybe they would make a connection and could set something up next year. I really love music, was one of the first things she had told me.

Like almost all my kids do, she deserved a little more than a, that’s cool, I’ll see you later, which is often all I can afford to give, from me.

So I asked, “well, how’s school going?” figuring we would either get to what was bothering her eventually or at the very least I would take her mind off her problem for a minute. She then looked up at me and this was the first time during this conversation that we had actually made eye contact and I instantly knew that while trying to take her mind off her problem I had found it.

School is actually one of the biggest problems that many children have. They don’t like it or aren’t interested in it. They are often too young to see the big picture and to realize how important it is. Many can’t really turn to their peers either as many feel the same way. Furthermore their parents aren’t much help either. So many of them are concentrating just on putting food on the table or getting barely by that they don’t have the time or energy to play that much of a role in their children’s education. They trust their kid’s schools to do it.

It turns out school was her problem and she was feeling overwhelmed with it. “Sometimes it’s just too much and I have nothing to look forward to.” she blurted out. I felt for her, many kids have hours of homework to do each and every night for subjects they aren’t or are at best just marginally interested in. I think homework is important but even though they seem to be growing up faster and faster so is being a kid. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for these kids.

Okay, I thought seeing the desperation in her eyes, “tell me what the problem is.”

She started, “It’s my schedule, on A days I have intensive math, intensive reading, biology and world history.” Her B day schedule was the same except biology and world history were replaced with geometry and English II. I did a double take; nowhere on her schedule was PE, art or what she loved the most, music.

Since she had made a two on the f-cat she was required to take both intensive courses which were offered every day. At no time when speaking to me did she mention that her teachers were mean to her or the amount of work she had to do. She also seemed to understand why she was in the classes she was in, though that wasn’t making it any easier on her.

I thought for a moment about what to say, and what I thought was, if I had a schedule like that I would probably be down and feel a little overwhelmed too. Though I knew just because I thought that, I definitely couldn’t say it.

I also didn’t want to say; well I have seen worse schedules, kids taking algebra I which is a prerequisite for geometry and geometry at the same time. Apparently prerequisite has some alternative meaning I was unaware of. Or that I have also seen kids taking English II and III in addition to multiple maths and that she was far from the only student without an elective on her schedule.

I didn’t want to say that the district in its zeal for preparing children for a global economy had no idea what it was like to be a kid today. They didn’t understand that there one size fits all philosophy was actually setting many children back.

I didn’t want to say things were the way they are because the math and science lobby was more aggressive and better financed than the art and music lobby. Actually I am not so sure art and music have a lobby though if they did they should be fired because they are just as important as math and science and it’s time somebody got a clue about that. It’s a shame those classes are always first on the chopping block.

I didn’t want to say, the truth is education is no longer about producing well rounded citizens capable of going to college or entering the workforce. Instead all children are is a line on a spread sheet which says, if this then that. Instead of playing to children’s strengths and desires something that would almost ensure success even in the classes they were marginally interested in, now the powers-that-be had decided that society would be better benefited by forcing all children into a single all inclusive curriculum.

I didn’t want to say sadly you’re enrolled in a school system that on one hand puts so many kids in no win situations and then on the other seems surprised when they don’t succeed. That it should be common sense that children have at least one class built into their schedule that they look forward to if for no other reason than to give them a break from all the core academic classes. Though making sure they wanted to go to school because they had something they were interested in or to look forward to isn’t such a bad reason either.

I didn’t want to say that I get why so many children drop out or quit. They are behind and fall farther and farther behind with their schedules, that there is no wiggle room. I get that they become over whelmed because they don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and then turn to the streets or worse to fill their days.

I didn’t want to say any of those things so instead after I collected myself and I said, I’m sorry, and for a while that’s all I said. She looked at me as if she expected more, some words of wisdom to keep her going, some insight that it was going to get better. So after my long pause I followed up my initial, I’m sorry, with words to those effect.

I sincerely hope she believed my words more than I did.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Dr. Vitti on testing, does he get it or is he putting teacher's jobs on the line

Dr. Vitti said all the right things in an interview with WOKV:

“I actually wanna go back to the days where we talked about just good teaching and learning,” Vitti says.

For Vitti, we have fallen in to an “FCAT craze.” He says teachers have fallen in to this mindset of needing to teach to the test, and they must now be “deprogrammed.”

“My first step is eliminating a lot of assessments we have in the district right now. We have too many,” he says.

He says when teachers are given the liberty to bring creativity back in to the classroom, it will excite them as well as the students, and the higher test grades will fall in after that. He realizes it may be a tough sell because so much emphasis is now placed on teaching to the FCAT and the funding that results from that, but things must change because the district has gone “too far.”

The problem is teachers jobs are now based on how their kids do on standardized tests. Yeah what Dr. Vitti said sounds great and I agree with him 100 percent but how do we ask teachers to put their jobs on the line?

The district needs to give some here. Several counties are already on record as saying they won't count standardized test scores against their teachers or at least initially, if Dr. Vitti wants teachers to risk their jobs it sounds like Duval needs to follow suit.