consultants are sandburs

Friday, October 03, 2014

Effective teachers.

And is negative learning helpful? Learning from an anti-role model?

These are questions those bellowing about reform of K-12 education need to face, and few really do that. Learning one thing by seeing the opposite? A "Man I don't want to ever turn out like that," experience and Gestalt?

What is the definition of an effective teacher?

At the Perovich-Whelan fourm, Whelan in one point of the opening period mentioned "effective teachers" in passing. That later let to the question, basically, what is an "effective teacher" and how can the question be concretely faced and fostered in St. Paul?

It was an audience question, Perovich going first.

He focused upon the profession being best placed to make teaching decisions, and Whelan largely agreed. Both echoed the other, the effective teachers need to be recognized and kept and rewarded. But how can you do that when unable to put your finger on some generic definitional norm? On a case by case basis administrators, having had experience teaching, are left to cull and buy out those not wanted. And an ever present danger is that younger, newer teachers are less expensive and a mediocre school board will make the easy mediocre decision, go with price and try to cut the higher salaried high seniority folks.

Next the links.

The easiest way to present the links is as discovered online; here, here, here, and here.

The litigated issues are teacher tenure and LIFO inventory treatment of a K-12 school factory's faculty [for those unfamiliar with inventory acounting, LIFO, the opposite of FIFO, stands for Last In First Out, and regarding corporate taxing, say for a utility buying coal to produce electricity, if prices are trending down the utility wants to be taxed on net income per FIFO while if prices trend up LIFO is favored - either way to minimize the accounted-for net income].

The notion behind the California case is that LIFO can remove some very effective teachers, that tenure may thus cut against best interests of the student, and that hence tenure and LIFO should be thrown out with the bathwater. Roughly that. I have not seen any online link to the case but shall give a google link before closing the post. For now, the secondary source quote of note (from mid-item with links omitted):

California and the teachers unions filed an appeal of the court's decision, but the state's and teachers unions' continuing defense of these nonsensical laws likely won't succeed.

The facts and the law overwhelmingly support the trial court's decision. The California Constitution provides powerful protection for the educational interests of students — particularly for those less fortunate students whose future depends so mightily on a quality education. The trial record compiled over two months leaves no doubt that California's teacher tenure, dismissal and layoff laws subject students to exactly the kind of direct and substantial harm that should not be tolerated by the California Supreme Court. In particular, the judge said the evidence of the harm of grossly ineffective teachers on students' long-term success "shocks the conscience."

It should shock taxpayers, too. According to the testimony of the plaintiffs' expert witness, a student assigned to just one grossly ineffective teacher loses $50,000 in potential lifetime earnings. If only 3% of California's 275,000 teachers are grossly ineffective, and each teaches 25 students per year, California students lose more than $10 billion in lifetime earnings each year.

Progressives should be part of the solution. We can't succumb to simplistic defenses of the distorted teacher protection schemes.

What sort of a junior grade mind would attribute any evidential value to that sentence, "According to the testimony of the plaintiffs' expert witness, a student assigned to just one grossly ineffective teacher loses $50,000 in potential lifetime earnings." That is nothing but pure and simple extrapolation from hither and yon to produce pure bullshit. What manner of "expert" would trade in such nonsense and be taken seriously?

Until you can define for me, in a cogent way, the difference between what ultimately is a subjective and not any manner of easily measured thing, the difference between an "effective," and an "ineffective" or "grossly ineffective" teacher; please spare telling me it's a measure of fifty grand and not a dollar three-eighty, per student/per "grossly ineffective" teacher. Get real.

And the dunce who wrote that? Laurence H. Tribe. Google that. It is scary what you find. An emperor unclothed by his own use of what a fifth grader with ordinary common sense could see as in the least questionable massaging of somebody's data from somewhere, extrapolated with multiple assumptions. It is actually a laughable contention to be attributed to an expert witness, since it could as likely be a viewpoint of some bum who wandered into the courtroom off the street with prejudices to share.

The California case is Vergara v. California and at least good Mr. Tribe and his USA Today editors named the case but without providing a link to anything like the court's opinion or court documents, while linking to much else under the sun.

And while this Google discloses query return items with blurbs such as "the most important court case [fill in the blank];" readers, check things on your own, find me a citation and something in an online record from the court's record of the case.

So, until you can do what two legislative candidates could only talk around - not from their limitations but from their comprehending the difficulty of the question - until you can define for me in some sensible way "effective teacher" please then shut up and go with what both Mr. Perovich and Ms. Whelan each said, the professionals in the system day-in and day-out know best and idiots should not intrude, interfere, or pontificate.

It IS what they said and is perhaps the wisest answer either could have given to the question. And if you believe that fifty grand per student in some classroom headed by an "ineffective third grade teacher" with a class size approaching 40 students all seated and to different degrees attentive, costs each one of the forty a forty grand hit down the line - somewhere down the line, cumulative; and unless you are an absolute idiot, you would have to say the best answer is to lower class size so that the "effective teachers" can be most effective and the "ineffective teachers," ordinarily or grossly so, do minimal damage by head count alone.

[UPDATE: Perovich noted he had little faith in or liking for standardized testing, and Whelan said nothing to contradict that being a shared impression.]

If you fail to understand that class size is the most important factor that school boards have any control over you fail to understand K-12 education; and that means school boards have to spend on hiring enough teachers to reduce class size, or they compromise fiscally with what the community will tax itself and then accept some supposedly optimal cost-benefit balancing degree of ineffectiveness, cumulative presumably in a school system and not simply third grade problematic, all others top notch.

The talking-down Wannabe, Mike McFadden, bellows and back-pats himself about Cristo Rey, a school the SJ is responsible for and not him, yet he glosses over the one-off hard-to-scale nature of that enterprise, and most importantly he does a total glide and slide over the incredibly low student to teacher ratio at play in that experimental environment. Try sometime adding a real world job learning experience for every student in Anoka-Hennepin, as implemented at Cristo Rey. The sponsorship for that in the community simply is not there, at that scale, there are not enough businesses, and Cristo Rey is an outlier of little relevance to the major full-scale implementation of "effective" K-12 universal public education on any feasible budget.


Wes Volkenant said...

Eric - the important take-away I had on this question was that Ms. Whelan seemingly suggested that it is within her ability, if elected, to see to it that she get the most effective teachers assigned here in Anoka-Hennepin. I doubt that's exactly what she meant to say, and frankly it was a bit of hyperbole in the moment.

But, remember, if she was a School Board candidate, she might be making some sense. It's the Board's responsibility, through its HR department, to hire the best-trained, most qualified candidates for a considerable number of vacancies. If we think of teacher candidates as being on a Bell Curve, Anoka-Hennepin competes with Lakeville, Edina, Hopkins, South Washington County, Roseville etc. to attract and hire as many off the top 5% of the Curve as they can. But that's a small pool. Most likely, they're trying to hire all, if possible, in that top 50% of candidates.

There's nothing any legislator can do to change this. People graduate ready to teach - some will be good, some will be excellent, and lot won't be either. A few will even be really bad, and hopefully weeded out quickly.

There is something that legislators can do to affect quality - and not for the better. Assuming that all that is needed is subject-matter knowledge, some places are now directed to scoop up experts-majors in particular tough-to-fill topic areas, give them a crash course over a couple of weeks on presentation skills and classroom instructional design, and then put them out in our high schools and middle schools as new teachers.

Effective teachers need good training/education and they need skilled mentoring on the job. Lots of new teachers, in lots of our schools are "thrown to the wolves", so to speak. Where resources are available, however, experienced teachers and principals work with new teachers to develop good teaching techniques and turn their experience into successfully-achieved challenges.

Teachers don't get to pick and choose which students they'll work with in any given year. From year-to-year, those classes and who's in them change. Your very successful teachers are effective with almost all situations. But again, this is a Bell Curve, and there are only a few of these gems at the top of any district's list. There are a lot of good teachers, but some years are going to be better than others for most of them, and circumstances in life, at school, at home fore those kids - they all ensure that no two years can ever be gauged to look the same.

So yes, let's refocus our attention away from relying on those standardized tests, to measuring if the students have successfully "grown" and "developed" during the year they were engaged by - or disengaged from - that teacher. I think Peter Perovich had the better grasp of these education challenges than did Abigail Whelan.

eric zaetsch said...

Wes - At the high school level, competence in the subject matter is important, and weaknesses there show to the the better attentive students. But as you note it is a hiring process, and the scale of Anoka Hennepin exceeds that of Cristo Rey and it makes my blood boil when McFadden goes on and thinks we're too dumb to see the problems with his touting of the Cristo Rey limited size experiment.

He insults our intelligence. He talks down in a way where from the recent debates, Jeff Johnson would have been the better Senate challenger against Franken.

McFadden with his investment banking background, business mergers and job contractions, would likely be better attuned to the lobbying responsiveness expected of those serving in DC, but you tell me, is that a virtue or a vice?

Johnson came across as more sincere and less disdainful of the intelligence levels of those watching forum sessions. Unlike McFadden, he did not dumb down his message nearly as much, but as a candidate for governor he has to show qualities better than Mark Dayton's. He did not. He even backed away from criticism of Wilfare.

Johnson at least is personable.

Back on point - to the question of effective teachers, I feel like Diogenes looking not for an honest man, but for a definition of an effective teacher.

Some suggest cost cutting by lowering the ratio of school system administrative personnel to actual classroom teachers; but as you note hiring effectiveness [however measuered] is crucial, and going short of administrtive talent would be like a pro team making all its scouts be coaches instead.

To a large measure you get what you pay for and if administration and parents are supportive and intent on rapport, it seems schools do better. However, that sword is double edged. The vapidnes of some bellowing loudest during the Anoka-Hennepin anti-bullying hearings was a discouragement in terms of parent participation being a universally unquestionably good thing.

eric zaetsch said...

Wes - Another thing Whelan noted was something of a distrust of St. Paul legislative decision making vs. local control. But local control, as she'd favor but without fleshing out exactly what she expected that term to encompass, gets back to your point - it is a hiring and retention decision process and that's best done locally by a board's professional staff.

A point I worry Ms. Whelan incompletely understands: The lay board members and parents should NOT monkey too deeply in content and curriculum, especially the creationist and "intelligent design" nut cases wanting to perturb science being taught in a way to best ensure intelligent voters and world class competitive future US national economies.

Holy writ impedes sane schooling processes. It's place is among clergy and churchgoers, a voluntary and limited human sampling; not in secular universal public education schools where children of "true believers," non-believers and parents in between all are required to attend and listen. They are a captive audience of young minds and should be treated with the greatest of care and restraint, as to dogmas not universally embraced or practiced diligently and uniformly by their advocates.