Saturday, April 17, 2010

NBPTS is the Foundation for Defining Teacher Effectiveness

The National Board Certification process provides a framework that can define teacher effectiveness. Though Senator Johnston has introduced a “quick fix” for teacher and principal evaluation, this is a complex issue requiring money; which is in short supply during these difficult times. The simple and best solution would not require substantial expense. A great solution already exists. This work does need to be addressed urgently, and I would urge the senator to allow the Governor’s Council for Educator Effectiveness to continue its work. This Council, which includes educators at the table, has just begun to define “effectiveness” and would be wise to consider using the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ ( Five Core Propositions and Standards as its foundation.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) was established 23 years ago, and has created teaching standards in 25 different content areas that were developed by and for educators. Recently, the National Research Council, through a congressionally-mandated study, recognized National Board Certification as having a positive impact on student achievement, teacher retention, and professional development. By using the NBPTS framework, the Governor’s Council can achieve its objectives of defining effectiveness, improving the evaluation process, and increasing student learning.

We also know that effective leadership is a critical factor in increasing student learning, and retaining teachers. That is why the NBPTS recently released a standards based certification process for accomplished principals called National Board Certification for Educational Leaders. Now, school leaders have the same opportunity to demonstrate mastery of high and rigorous standards through documented evidence of high quality practice.

I would encourage the Governor’s Council to look at how model evaluation systems are implemented. By using a standards based system similar to the National Board’s process where mastery is based on evidence, it becomes much easier to rate performance based on objective measures. Current statute mandates that ALL teachers are observed annually. I would argue that effective principals are constantly giving feedback to their teachers, and should be able to make a summative judgment based on formative observations within three years. It is essential that teachers are included in the development of the process and it must include multiple measures in the evaluation system. To suggest that they need more time, or that teachers would “return” to probationary status is not sound based on the framework of a well-implemented evaluation.

By allowing the Governor’s Council to continue their work, and to consider best practices in the field of teacher evaluation, we will arrive at a common definition of effectiveness that will serve as the foundation for improving the evaluation process in our state. The National Board has created the platinum standard that has proven to make a difference in student learning. Colorado has the opportunity to harness this success into a system that will positively impact educators and students; let the Council continue its work!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

MSLA in Article in The American Spectator

Yes, teachers unions really can run a school! Here's an article that discusses the latest union sponsored teacher-led schools across the country. I'm very proud that our Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy in Denver made the list of NEA affiliates on the cutting edge of reform!

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Business and Education Don't Mix, says Ravitch

Fascinating article regarding Diane Ravitch's new book "The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education"
It's quite a shift in philosophy from her previous stance in favor of the No Child Left Behind Act. Click to read the Washington Post article (2/26/10)
and the LA Times article. (2/28/10)

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

UTLA gets nod from LAUSD to lead school reform!

United Teachers Los Angeles will take over 22 schools through parent/teacher collaboratives next year! Congrats especially to UTLA Elementary Vice President Julie Washington whose perserverance and vision I admire!
Watch the ABC News story here.

Read the LA Times story here.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Direct Placements and Teacher Evaluation: Setting the record straight...

First, I want to be clear. As a teacher, and union leader, I do not want to see any ineffective teacher in a classroom with students. Teachers go into the profession in order to have a positive impact on students and their learning.

Now, let's talk about what has been happening in Denver. Yes, Mr. Boasberg, it is true that we have been talking about the transfer cycle for a few years. Unfortunately, Ms. Mitchell's article didn't mention that we (DPS and DCTA) overhauled the entire process last spring, and were able to cut the number of direct placements by at least 2/3 in one year. There has not been a seniority based process in Denver since the early 1990's. We also had previously put into place specific provisions that if a teacher were on an improvement plan, that they couldn't be "passed on" to another school. In short, principals have to complete the evaluation process (both formatively and summatively) in the way it was intended.

Mr. Boasberg has proposed eliminating direct placements from all Title I schools. I don't know a teacher that enjoys dealing with the budget realities in our schools, of which direct placements are a result. When education isn't adequately funded at the school level, tough decisions have to be made. Assumptions should not be made about the quality of teachers who are directly placed. If there is a performance issue with a teacher, reducing their position is not an ethically responsible choice, and that teacher should be put on a remediation plan. If a teacher isn't able to meet the expectations of the improvement plan with appropriate supports and resources, then they should be removed.

The notion of having our best teachers in our most at-risk schools is one with which I strongly agree. I am a National Board Certified Teacher, and have always taught at at-risk schools. Does Mr. Boasberg realize that 70.45% of DPS students are on free or reduced lunch? Examining the root cause of this problem is key in finding a solution which effects a super majority of our schools. Some questions that should be addressed are:
• Why are teachers leaving these schools?
• Do these schools have effective leaders?
• Do they have the tools and resources necessary to meet the needs of students?
• Are teachers empowered to make decisions and influence practice to meet student needs?
• Are there adequate monetary incentives to recruit teachers?
• Is there a quality mentoring or professional learning community in the building?

I do know that nationwide, turnover of staff in Title I schools is higher than more affluent schools. I also know that there are many factors that influence attrition in our at-risk schools. The Alliance for Quality Teaching did a great job in highlighting this issue in Colorado. The "take away" here is that there are many factors that affect the quality of teachers in our most at-risk schools. There needs to be a systemic approach to improving the teaching and learning conditions; especially in these schools. The district should look at how accomplished teachers are able to transform at-risk schools in other areas in the country.

Teacher evaluations, as charged in state statute, are to be used to improve instruction. I truly believe if a teacher is found to be ineffective in an area(s) of instruction, they should be given the opportunity to improve. If they do not improve, they should be dismissed.

Speaking of the actual evaluation process, Denver has a standards based evaluation of teachers that includes "records of teaching" that require teachers to demonstrate mastery of each teaching standard. Each standard is rated, and a summative evaluation is given. The evaluation process, in my opinion, is not well implemented. Principals are still conducting "drive by" observations maybe once a year, as opposed to continual observations and formative feedback designed to improve instruction. There are some great examples of quality programs that incorporate an effective evaluation system. Dr. Tilton is beginning to implement "Instructional Rounds", similar to medical rounds, that shows great promise. Other well known models are found in Columbus, OH, Toledo, OH, Montgomery County, MD, and Poway, CA. These models go a step further, and incorporate Peer Assistance and Review.

Interestingly enough, The New Teacher Project conducted an in depth study of the evaluation process in Denver which shows what teachers have been saying for years. This is a systemic issue that needs to be addressed:
“Teachers absolutely do not receive effective feedback,”
-Joan Schunck, The New Teacher Project

So what is the solution?
Yes, the Gates Foundation money gives us- DPS AND DCTA a great opportunity to improve the systems needed to effectively evaluate teachers. It's now up to all of us to have meaningful dialogue and work together to achieve these goals. It will take compromise from both sides to implement an effective system.

The New Teacher Project's report on Denver emphasizes what we as teachers continue to emphasize. Principals are not effectively trained to conduct a meaningful evaluation. We need some joint training on inter rater reliability, and in depth conversations to establish common understandings of the evaluation rubric. If you ask any teacher of principal what it looks like to "meet" or "Exceed" one of the teaching standards, you would come different conclusions. Teachers and principals need to have conversations together as to what each standard looks like in the classroom. This takes time, and must be a priority of the district.

Sure, we can point the finger at teachers, or principals about the evaluation system, and transfer process. I believe it's important to acknowledge how far we've come. More importantly, we must find a path together to determine where we're going. These issues are not isolated and require a systems based approach to reach a mutual solution.

I challenge Mr. Boasberg to work COLLABORATIVELY with DCTA to fix the system. Simply throwing ideas out in the press is not productive.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Reform (with Rights!)

We hear the word “reform” almost daily; yet don’t have a common definition. For some, it means redesigning a school, for others, “fidelity” (my personal favorite), and yet others, it means implementing research-based practices through a rigorous standards based curriculum. At the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy, reform assumes the latter. We designed our school based on what works best with our students. This model includes designing the curriculum, classroom materials/furniture, technology, student contact day, class size, wrap around programs, and peer evaluation.
As the first DPS “Performance School”, we feel the pressure to perform. Being the only teacher-led school, with union backing, definitely ups the ante. Our twelve teachers range from a first year teacher through nearly 30 years of experience. One fourth of our staff in National Board Certified, and our entire staff is going through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards’ Take One! Process. In fact, our professional development is relevant, differentiated, and designed by and for our staff.
We are “on the clock” for 40 hours a week. We all have an hour for lunch, and 55 minutes of planning a day. Wednesdays are early release days, where we do service learning with multi-age groups. While our students are in enrichment programs, led by DCTA-R member Joann Estrada-Mast, we are actively engaged on team meetings led by our own colleagues. Decisions are made by consensus.
For your data team… we are 94% free and reduced lunch, over 90% ethnic minority, and over 50% of our student population is English Language Learners. We are not a charter school, and we did not seek Innovation Status. In fact, our school operates within the contract, and is still able to implement meaningful reforms, based on research and best practices. We did waive state statute so that we could operate without a principal, which is required for teacher evaluations.
The Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy allows teachers to use their professional expertise to best meet the needs of our students. We are constantly reflecting and refining our model and practices. Following our motto, we are “learners, teachers and leaders”… implementing meaningful reform for our students, without giving up our rights.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

NEA has been featuring innovative schools across the country as part of their "priority schools" campaign. Here's a story released today on our Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy.