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Tie an Incomprehensible Ribbon…

January 10, 2013

Does anyone besides me have an older relative who just says crazy, sometimes inappropriate things that make you shake your head? You always want to say, no, it’s not ok to say that or you can’t talk like that anymore. You love them because they’re family but you still just flinch when they say those things.

That’s how I feel when the SDE talks about things like VAM, and poverty, and … well … children. I just want to say, it’s not ok to say that. The difference is of course that I don’t find them all that endearing, like an aunt or a grandfather. Come to think of it, that was a pretty bad analogy.

Speaking of bad analogies (and segues), have you heard the one about how teaching is like gardeners raising oak trees? This very idea is central to the SDE’s argument for VAM in Oklahoma. I’ll explain more in a few paragraphs.

By the way, if you’re humming a Tony Orlando song right now, you’re welcome! It’s just because I want you thinking about anything related to Florida – the promised land of education reform.

I decided to watch yesterday’s videoconference for prospective participants of the TLE working group. Watch it if you’d like, but if you’d rather not, I completely understand. I kept a running log as I was watching.

  • 4:28 The presenters tell us that if the overview is old news for us, we should feel free to check our email.
  • 4:48 The presenters explain the widget effect. Teachers think they’re irreplaceable. We’re told they’re not.
  • 5:37 We hear that teachers don’t want to be told that they’re excellent.
  • 8:00 We hear about research from 1996 that in no way is based on the current methods being proposed for judging the extent to which teachers add value.
  • 9:00 We see a quote from Lee Shulman, that reads in part, “classroom teaching…is perhaps the most complex, most challenging, and most demanding, subtle, nuanced, and frightening activity that our species has ever invented.” (By the way, if this is the justification for VAM, I’m completely lost. Why would you take something subtle and nuanced and try to find the most standardized way to evaluate it? You’re admitting that teaching is an art and then applying spreadsheet logic to it.)
  • 11:00 We see that 37 states have or are revising teacher evaluation systems and a list of states that our SDE considers leaders in this area. Predictably, Florida and Indiana are at the top.
  • 14:04 We see a breakdown by percentage of the components that will eventually make up teacher evaluation: 50% qualitative, 35% test scores, 15% other quantifiable academic measures.
  • 16:12 The presenters explain that the SDE – along with the “education coalition across this state” – is proposing to delay the implementation of the quantitative part of TLE for one year. This would make them go into effect the year we start testing over Common Core. While I appreciate the delay, I don’t think they’ve entirely thought this through.
  • 20:27 The presenters explain that most TLE Commission and State Board of Education members are not professional educators by trade. As if we were somehow unaware of this.
  • 24:15 The presenters explain the purpose of the working group.
  • 25:15 The presenters explain that working group members will be expected to have positive attitudes and that their input will be valued.
  • 32:15 The first attempt is made at showing a 10 minute video on how teaching is like raising oak trees.
  • 34:52 The presenters receive technical assistance and get the video to work.
    • The analogy uses starting points and ending points to evaluate the performance of each gardener.
    • The environmental factors such as soil condition, average temperature, and total rainfall are considered as contributors to the annual growth.
    • Predicted growth is then adjusted for these conditions to level the playing field for the gardeners.
  • 45:20 The video mercifully comes to an end, at which point the presenters begin to explain to us why poverty is not one of the environmental factors that impacts student performance.
    • At this point, I pause the video and Google VARC – the producers of the video. They are a grant-funded project housed at the University of Wisconsin.
    • I read on their website that VARC’s methodology includes controls for “the likelihood that school effects are not random, but may be correlated with school-level variables such as race, ethnicity, and income status.”
  • 55:00 The presenters ask whether test scores from other subjects should be used in part to evaluate other teachers. My answer to that is absolutely not.

The rest of the video is fairly uneventful. After viewing it, I still haven’t decided if I want to participate in the working group. I’d rather not lend my name to this effort, but at the same time, whether I join the discussion constructively or not, VAM is happening. Art and music teachers (in schools still fortunate enough to have them) will be evaluated, at least in part, by the test scores of students. Whether this happens by 2013-14 or 2014-15, it’s going to happen. I need to be in a position to keep teachers and administrators informed so they can work to protect themselves.

I don’t like to picture a world in which teachers are going to be jumping in front of each other to claim some credit for the successes of students. I also don’t want to see them throwing each other aside when students fail to make gains. If salaries are relatively close around the state, working conditions are not. The introduction of VAM only amplifies this disparity. The result – as happens with all reforms – is fewer teachers wanting to teach in the schools with the neediest kids.

As usual, we are left with a reform that subtracts value from the profession.

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  1. terri kruse
    January 10, 2013 at 9:08 pm

    i received an invitation to be on the TLE working group and i noticed that to participate i would have to miss three full days of school. since the email mentioned this schedule was tentative, i emailed and inquired whether or not the daytime/week days could be tentative, too, and suggested maybe there could be an additional option for participation without leaving the classroom…..i received an abrupt and scathing reply which basically implied if i wasn’t willing to make sacrifices i would be left out of the group. i agree teachers need to be an integral part of this process but taking us out of the classroom to get it done just further evidences the state supt.’s agenda that public schools be systematically dismantled.


    • January 11, 2013 at 5:49 am

      Thanks for your comment. I find it disappointing that you were treated that way. They should know better than to be negative in their responses. Even if they were thinking that, they should’ve put a better spin on it. It just shows how little many SDE staffers get what teaching is like.


  2. Jen
    January 10, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    I attended the conference and I appreciate your analysis. We seem to have noticed some of the same things. The presenters said at the beginning how valuable our input as teachers is, but then also noted that it may be difficult for us to leave our classrooms to attend the working group. You think? The whole process makes me want to scream, “Did anyone really think this through?” The answer, of course, is no, and furthermore, we’re stuck on a timeline that forces decisions in a limited amount of time in a rush to implement. As a speech, debate, and drama teacher, I want to have input, but as an observer of how things seem to work in this system, I also think that my input will mean very little in the end.

    The oak tree analogy irritated me! How in the world can we control for every variable on a student’s results that the teacher has no control over??

    I also thought it was striking that the presenters were very clear that input that criticized the system itself is not welcome.


    • January 11, 2013 at 5:46 am

      Thanks for your feedback. I agree that they really don’t t have any use for dissent. Let me know if you participate how they treat the groups. Surely, with this interest this has generated, there will be an abundance of different thoughts at the meetings.


  3. January 12, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    I am a Commission member and agree that it does not relfect educational experience and votes pretty well as they are told by the Chair. I attended and participated in Work Group #1 on OAM but found that its efforts were ignored by staff and not presented to the Commission. Rep. Ed Cannaday


  1. February 1, 2013 at 7:17 am
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