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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Should We Concentrate On Building Better Teachers in Greeley Colorado?

Greeley-Evans School District 6 is my idea of a good example. It is a "hiring" problem. But that's not all. The article below on Building Better Teachers shared from the New York Times talks about the problem in common terms we can all understand. Although that isn't the only reason it is a great article. The article looks at the complexity of the problem of measurement and attaching pay to that measurement. Very long but a worthy read for the profession, for parents, and for voters. It focuses the debate on change in a reasonable and identified target area.

I am thinking about the content a lot. For me a hiring problem, like the one I have described underlying Greeley District 6's problems (these are performance problems prior to the fall back in State and Local Taxes), is a management problem. To say that hiring a good Human Resources Director is crucial kind of undermines our common dislike of such people. And most people I know are just happy to have a warm personality in the job. But this job is so very important to a large organization and developing a productive strategy and atmosphere we should get beyond the stereotypes. I've had to do this job and I've got to say there is a good reason the personality types tend to be cool and distant. It also clarified to me why Unions are a good thing to have around as a check and balance. It is not a fun job when all the human drama in an organization gets dumped on your lap and, personally, I didn't find many rewards in it except I was forced to learn an abundant amount of regulations which come in handy. Along with the various methods large organizations use to shed nonperforming employees, measure performance, and how to build a rubric for, and assess, candidates for new positions. Oh, and I know how to read 'ERISA' language and understand the 401k statements before I went to business school. That helped in a course or two.

There are three million teachers in the United States. Unless the merit pay (or similar) idea is used I don't see how education expects to only attract the cream of the crop. As I have said earlier in this blog--some of your teachers are bound to be average. In fact the bulk are likely to fall under the curve.

I'm not convinced either that really low performing districts shouldn't start with the management and the semi-skilled ideologues running the show. Train the human resources department at least. The Director can help train the Boards.

I get the measurement idea but the most effective teachers have something beyond mechanized skills in their pocket. They have spontaneous innovation and a vast breadth of learned material to draw upon. This could be addressed by better education of teachers. I stayed in a fifth and sixth year, before it was "cool", to do so in order to take the courses they didn't make the teachers take. I took the advanced math, genetics, chemistry (the professor thought I was nuts enrolling in bonehead course when I didn't have to), and later pursued upper level economic courses.

Still I remember clearly one of the questions on the teaching credential test. It isn't much of a math test certainly. "If Sue bought a car in 1973 and Bob purchased a car in 1978, how much older would Sue's car be than Bob's in 1980?"

But I digress. On to the article. I'll post a couple paragraphs below from the beginning. And spread it around please.

"But when it came to actual teaching, the daily task of getting students to learn, the school floundered. Students disobeyed teachers’ instructions, and class discussions veered away from the lesson plans. In one class Lemov observed, the teacher spent several minutes debating a student about why he didn’t have a pencil. Another divided her students into two groups to practice multiplication together, only to watch them turn to the more interesting work of chatting. A single quiet student soldiered on with the problems. As Lemov drove from Syracuse back to his home in Albany, he tried to figure out what he could do to help. He knew how to advise schools to adopt a better curriculum or raise standards or develop better communication channels between teachers and principals. But he realized that he had no clue how to advise schools about their main event: how to teach.

Around the country, education researchers were beginning to address similar questions. The testing mandates in No Child Left Behind had generated a sea of data, and researchers were now able to parse student achievement in ways they never had before. A new generation of economists devised statistical methods to measure the “value added” to a student’s performance by almost every factor imaginable: class size versus per-pupil funding versus curriculum. When researchers ran the numbers in dozens of different studies, every factor under a school’s control produced just a tiny impact, except for one: which teacher the student had been assigned to. Some teachers could regularly lift their students’ test scores above the average for children of the same race, class and ability level. Others’ students left with below-average results year after year. William Sanders, a statistician studying Tennessee teachers with a colleague, found that a student with a weak teacher for three straight years would score, on average, 50 percentile points behind a similar student with a strong teacher for those years. Teachers working in the same building, teaching the same grade, produced very different outcomes. And the gaps were huge. Eric Hanushek, a Stanford economist, found that while the top 5 percent of teachers were able to impart a year and a half’s worth of learning to students in one school year, as judged by standardized tests, the weakest 5 percent advanced their students only half a year of material each year."

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