Race to the Top shouldn’t be a Jump to Conclusions

By Gail Rasmussen of Eagle Point, Oregon. Gail is the president of the Oregon Education Association.

Since President Obama’s Race to the Top program was first announced, many in the field of public education, most especially educators, have been suspicious. Past education “reforms” have been long on gimmicks and short on results. Many “innovations” have only served to add complexity to the already demanding world of teaching and learning in our public schools.

Even worse, educators have been left out of the process of designing strategies to improve student achievement altogether, and then held accountable--even blamed--for their spotty results.

All of this may well prove true again depending how one state or other designs its plan to obtain federal Race to the Top funds. But, one shouldn’t jump to a conclusion about Race to the Top based on what they read in the newspaper. It is important to understand what our state’s collaborative design process has produced to meet the specific needs of Oregon’s public schools and students.

It is important to begin with the understanding that the Oregon Education Association has been at the table from the start. Our members have been part of the state’s Race to the Top Design Team, working to integrate our core values as educators into Oregon’s plan. We fundamentally believe that any school improvement strategy must promote equity and access across our educational system, provide for high- quality professional development, and affirm the value of the collective bargaining process in giving educators a voice.

Oregon’s plan has been designed around the importance of the instructional core, which we as educators, define as the interaction between student, teacher and content. Serving this instructional core means creating systems of support for educators in order that they can be effective in helping every student succeed.

In this regard, Oregon’s plan calls for increased funding and support for professional development led by professional educators. It also encourages the use of student data as an evaluation tool to guide instructional decision-making at the teacher and school level. In fact, the plan speaks frequently of using the collection of student data for the very specific purpose of helping teachers help their students.

This does not mean tying student test scores to teacher compensation, or merit pay, as some would claim. According to Oregon statute, the purpose of teacher evaluation “is to aid the teacher in making continuing professional growth and to determine the teacher’s performance of the teaching responsibilities.” It is not a basis for determining compensation.


Furthermore, the models of evaluation mentioned in Oregon’s plan “emphasize strong collaboration and local innovations that do not violate current agreements or existing contracts, and are voluntary.” This means the state’s role is to develop a framework for what good evaluation systems should look like. With OEA at the table in this state-level discussion, we will have the opportunity to assist educators at the local level in designing sound evaluation practices that serve teachers and administrators in improving student outcomes.

While the Oregon Education Association supports Oregon’s plan for Race to the Top, some have made this sound as if we are exuberant about provisions that don’t even exist in the plan. Case in point: Tuesday’s Oregonian. “Oregon gets huge buy-in for its Race to the Top Plan” was the headline. The Oregonian credited “the architects” of Oregon’s plan with bringing the state’s teachers union on board. This was asserted without acknowledging that members of the Oregon Education Association were fully engaged in its design, even in maintaining concerns that the plan must be carefully implemented so as to truly support educators in their professional practice.

By signing on to the state’s application, The Oregonian and some merit pay advocates would like Oregonians to believe OEA supports this unproven and unsound approach to educator compensation. However, linking educator evaluations to data measuring student achievement (data the state already collects) isn’t merit pay. OEA strongly opposes merit pay and has helped to defeat it at the ballot four times.

As educators, we have firsthand knowledge that teachers and other instructional employees are intrinsically motivated to higher performance by student learning. Student performance is often impacted by a number of factors unrelated to the school environment. In fact, student and teacher performance problems are too often caused by poorly performing systems. Thus, focusing on compensation to motivate educators precludes districts from addressing systemic problems.

Oregon’s Race to the Top plan recognizes this fact. Oregon’s Design Team rejected merit pay as an approach to school reform. It decided instead that any compensation issues would be bargained at the local level where OEA members will participate in the process.

Comments

  • Greg D. (unverified)
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    Interesting article in this month's Atlantic Magazine on teaching reform and union opposition.

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/201001/good-teaching

    I don't have a dog in this fight directly, but the battle between education reform groups and the unions should be interesting to watch.

    However things work out, hopefully the winners will include the school kids and the national interest in quality education.

  • Steve Narx (unverified)
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    "Past education “reforms” have been long on gimmicks and short on results"

    You mean kind of like public education today? We pour more money (Ted gave education 20% more in 2007) and the class sizes grow and no money gets to the classroom experience.

    "Student performance is often impacted by a number of factors unrelated to the school environment."

    Tres jejune - Perhaps educators could tell us what they can do to make student better that is within their control. Always using the excuse that we can never do better because of what happens outside of school seems a rather convenient excuse for porr performance.

    Have you every studied why some students from a poor environment do so much better than others from the exact same envinroment?

    PLus how do you intend to improve the poor teachers (which directly impacts student performance) and share the wisdom of good teachers without some sort of student performance measurement?

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    Great article Ms. Rasmussen. That the Oregonian and others assume that all educators have to be "led" is, of course, based on a calculated insult which the repeaters of said insult need not even be aware of. (Please forgive the sentence structure)

    That said, it's worth noting that incentives and performance measures shouldn't be dismissed out of hand, just because opponents of public education don't care to understand the mechanics.

    There are working models where the implementation of incentive based performance measures in the federal government, have led to both increased efficiencies and higher employee satisfaction.

    Just to be clear, I don't have a cookie cutter in hand ready to recommend the specifics to you.....

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    I am for honoring teachers, giving them more respect and paying them more. They do difficult and important work. That said, I don’t understand why it is not in the interest of teachers as a professional group to have a good, solid system of accountability for the performance of individual teachers. I don’t think we have such a system now, and I think it reflects badly on teachers as a group.

    As for Oregon’s Race to the Top proposal, I am impressed by the long list of supporters and hope the proposal gets federal funding. I am disappointed that the proposal did not do more in the important reform areas of expanding online learning and strengthening foreign language programs, especially creating a Go Global High School Study Abroad Program.

  • Betsy Hammond (unverified)
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    Gail: Thanks for posting this in a public forum. I think it's helpful for all Oregonians who care about education to get a chance to hear the nuance of your, and your association's, positions on policy choices.

    I feel compelled to put in a word or two in defense of The Oregonian and the author of a couple of the articles you discuss here (that would be me).

    I don't have a desire to mislead any readers of The Oregonian, and I certainly did not write in any news story that the Oregon Education Association supports merit pay. My front-page news article and three posts to The Oregonian's online Chalk It Up local schools blog have all been accurate in their characterizations.

    I think I made your group's position clear in my front-page article. Not only did I not assert that merit pay was endorsed by your association, I affirmatively made many of the same points you did above, including this text directly from the article:

    "That doesn't mean teachers will get raises or be fired based on their students' test scores. Any use of test scores in teacher evaluations would be decided at a school district level after negotiations between the administration and teachers union."

    And this: "Courtney Vanderstek, assistant executive director of the Oregon Education Association, said her union was comfortable signing off on Oregon's plan because teachers, principals and school support staff were included on the planning team and felt their views were heard.

    Vanderstek and Redmond Superintendent Vickie Fleming, who headed the planning team, said the main reason to connect student test results to teachers is as a tool to help teachers do better, not to punish them.

    'This is not going to be used to say, 'We want you moved out of this school or moved out of this district,'" Vanderstek said. "It is about helping teachers and administrators know how students are doing ... so we can help kids do better.' "

    I also posted an item on our Chalk It Up blog to directly explain why OEA had signed on to the state Race to the Top plan and linked directly to your two-page letter of support so that my readers could hear from you in detail in your own words on the matter. And I included this text in my posting:

    "Oregon's plans under Race to the Top could have been much, much worse from the perspective of the statewide teachers union if OEA hadn't been included as a team player and allowed to squelch proposals it found most offensive. As Rasmussen notes, Oregon did not bend to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan's urgings that it promise to close down low-scoring schools or look to charter schools as a means of educational salvation. The plan, as written with OEA help, doesn't mention merit pay and speaks respectfully of collective bargaining."

    I fail to see how this can be held up as a "case in point" that The Oregonian has tried to make it sound as if your association is exuberant about provisions that do not exist in the plan.

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    One educational researcher recently wrote, the latest innovation under consideration is the bribe to the flop. The researcher's evaluation of Race to the Top is too harsh but cautions all who value public education to be thoughtful and to look harder at the requirements for the federal dollars being dangled.

  • Lou Fleming (unverified)
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    Betsy:

    Unfortunately, the Oregonian seems to be having some issues these days when it comes to misleading its readers. Maybe it is time for you guys to resort to some good old collective action and send Christian down to dinner at the Crab Cooker and ask him never to return.

    Playing fiddle for John Birch does not bode well for your integrity.

  • Public Education Parent (unverified)
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    Betsy,

    I appreciate that you provided more nuance in your on-line articles. But, your paper still has to be accountable for its misleading headlines and its editorial on the same subject. You should not be surprised at all at OEA's reaction.

    Where is the article that applauds the OEA for moving cautiously forward while holding on to its principles? There is a lot of good work happening in our public schools. We should all be proud.

    There is no silver bullet like stable and adequate school funding. Only then will we truly be able to support music, pe, civics, professional development, mentoring, full-day kindergarten and other programs that we all understand are good for our students and good for raising responsible children to be productive, thoughtful members of our community.

  • Os West (unverified)
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    Betsy Hammond writes in her response today, "The plan, as written with OEA help, doesn't mention merit pay..."

    Yet, The Oregonian posted a story online this week, written by Betsy Hammond, with this exact headline:

    "What's controversial in Oregon school reform? Duh -- merit pay"

    In that very story, Betsy writes:

    "I've been wondering what, exactly, would prove to be the most controversial part of Oregon's mammoth plan to win federal Race to the Top money...

    "Bottom line: Merit pay -- phrased in the application as "using evaluations to inform compensation, promotion and retention" -- is hands-down more controversial than any other element."

    Misleading? You be the judge.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Rather than vague comments like "a system for accountability" why not talk more specifically?

    Ever heard of AVID? http://www.ed.gov/pubs/ToolsforSchools/avid.html

    It is an excellent if unsung program for secondary student achievement leading to students getting lots of support, strong academics, good grades, and getting into college.

    It is about teamwork among adults, students learing to work together in groups, learn organization and critical thinking skills.

    But it is about education, not political debates which vaguely talk about "merit pay", for instance without mentioning specific programs that work.

    How's the teacher evaluation program in Toledo (where teachers weed out lousy teachers) or the pay for performance system in Denver working out?

    Or can't we talk about those because teachers were involved in producing those systems, and they shouldn't have that right because some people have an agenda about keeping teachers under their thumbs?

  • LT (unverified)
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    The question is, do people want an intelligent discussion of what works in 21st century education, or are the debates just a carry over from the 20th century:

    "merit pay" "accountability" etc.

    For an intelligent debate, read this:

    http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/standardized-tests/ravitch-data-driven-activity-i.html

    Is education just about data, or about teaching skills which can't be measured on a multiple choice test: public speaking, writing essays, teamwork, critical thinking skills, etc?

  • Steve Buel (unverified)
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    As a past union president and a 40 year member of an NEA affiliate I have to say one of the disappointments of the last several years has been OEA's acceptance of standardized testing as the center of education and its acceptance of the multitude of "cover your rear" educational trends (supported by supposed educational research -- almost always highly flawed) purported to be the reforms to fix educational problems and sold under the guise of teacher improvement. Maybe someday the OEA will figure out this is one of the main problems in our failing educational system.

    Remember, the OEA is a union, one I support, but it is a union and their inclusion in something like Race to the Top in no way enhances improved education for students (who aren't in their union). OEA is interested in making sure teachers' rights, salaries, and working conditions are protected -- and I am darn glad they are there doing that. But improving education for kids is not their agenda and a lot of the public doesn't get it.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    I was just watching the BBC last night, a program on the history of the Royal Navy, and they were describing how it turned into a world beater. The real turning point was when leftenants had to start taking verbal exams, their version of standardized testing.

    Two points were glaring. Paper and pencil <> verbal interrogation, PARTICULARLY where real world competence is involved. Second, and I know this as a statistician and psychologist, those few companies that run standardized tests are a racket. For all its ills, the British Civil Service is light years ahead on requiring actual competency.

    I think those points have become confounded with the debate. People that are against the way we test, are painted as against testing. We all agree that if you're supposed to have learned something that the best way to check is to test, and if your job is to teach it, that should reflect on you. There's more than a devil in the details, though. They are legion. I particularly like the way that Dutch uses a single word for "test", "check", and "control". It is the only way to control something.

    It's also frustrating the way people pick a pet issue to change the world with. We are a sad, sick, dysfunctional society! You cannot give care and attention to one area, whilst all around you the country loses it's head! You cannot be towing the line for business as usual on your mortgage, or family planning, or at work...but work for quality education. You must not only be the change you expect, but you must be that change in all areas of life, for it to penetrate into the areas you are interested in.

    My other hobby horse would be that college ed. for teachers has to get better. It varies a lot by state- certainly Indiana has got a lot right- but in most, education majors are right there with PE majors for demonstrated, verbal intelligence. That's one of the reasons the measures are vital. You will never find the funds do improve that lot, whilst living hand to mouth in the classroom!

  • Joe Hill (unverified)
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    People who are for this kind of standardized testing (and they are legion, and they include, sadly, the present administration and many of its acolytes) have a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of teaching and knowledge.

    Begin with this. A Steinway Model M grand piano has about 11,000 moving parts, IIRC. Any competent pianist that wants to buy one of these will go to New York and play through a bunch of them at the Steinway factory (about 10 stories of keyboardy goodness) because, even though they are made to ungodly exacting standards, the pianos don't sound or play the same. I'm a pretty bad pianist but even I know this.

    On the other hand, a human brain has about 100 billion neurons. We know very very little about this beast - we are just at the stage where we are sticking it in magnetic loops and seeing where things light up when we expose it to certain stimuli. We're at the "gross" stage, not the precision stage. We know that though people mostly DO learn alike (the "learning intelligences" thing is mostly a myth, pace Gardner), the way that the 100 billion neurons mature into fully baked brownies (which typically takes well into one's late twenties, at least) doesn't happen in the same order or in the same way in everyone. Everyone isn't ready to learn the same things at the same time. And we can't tell who or when. We can talk about "the wonders of science" all we want, but the truth is, we don't understand ourselves very well right now. Our own machine is too complex to understand by many orders of magnitude.

    However, that doesn't bother the standardized testers.

    It is completely true that, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. All we have is Taylorism in a soup of late-stage capitalism. And so we conceive of knowledge as this THING that we can divide up into units and lesson plans and dole out and test for and measure.

    Why do we do this? Not because it works. It manifestly does not work. Just as you can never step into the same river twice, you can never test the same material on the same students twice, so you can never replicate results. Hence, it's not science. In fact, there's a little whack analogue of physics' Heisenberg uncertainty principle here. The more you use a particular test, the more you can improve it, but the lest trustworthy it becomes because students adjust to that particular style of test. Not to mention the fact that you're frequently measuring your growth with next year's students.

    Back to the brain and teaching and knowledge and why standardized testing is a goofy idea.

    Although understanding is sequential, growth is not. (Cue the neurons speech again.) The reason that education is so expensive is that you have to have highly trained very smart very loving people around the students when the students are ready to learn. You have to create a safe environment for the students to learn. You have to allow the students to believe that learning is worthwhile, i.e. that their own lives are worth living. If you remember your own childhood and adolescence, this is a non-trivial undertaking. And I haven't even mentioned familiarity with the subject matter yet.

    I haven't mentioned familiarity with the subject matter yet because it is quite true that too often teachers are drawn from the bottom of the barrel, intellectually speaking. They don't know languages, they can't write, they don't know history, and they don't continue their education, they can't do math, they don't do science, and they don't understand themselves as scholars in their own field.

    Of course we know how to fix this. In the words of (I think) Deion Sanders: "Pay the man!" (adjust for sexism). Teaching should be a very competitive occupation, at least as hard to get into as law school or medical school. We ought to compete with those schools and with engineering for the best and brightest. We don't now, by and large.

    So, again, why do we do ineffectual, expensive, standardized testing, take two? We do it because it is ineffectual and because it is expensive.

    The public school system is supposed to be a sorting machine that takes students and, without regard to race, color, creed, religion, national origin, social class, economic condition, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, or anything else that I'm missing, places deserving high ability students in higher education situations that will stretch them (think Ivy League) and places low achieving students in educational situations that will either prepare them for trades or let them sort out their lives while their brains bake a while longer (think PCC).

    Actually, however, the people who march into the black box of K-12 public high schools look almost exactly like the people who march out - that is, if your parents went to Harvard, chances are, you're going to the Ivy League as well. If your parents never finished high school, you're going to be lucky to get a diploma. As it turns out, what is supposed to be a merit-sorting machine is actually a very effective class-replication machine. And since class replication is very important to American society, we can't have any kind of a test that would disrupt that. Thus, the SAT.

    We also need it to be expensive because if it weren't, no one would care. This is capitalism, remember? Somebody's got to be making a buck on it. Lehman Brothers, before they went belly up in the Late Unpleasantness, used to hold a yearly seminar in how to profit from privatizing public education. Charter school mania is all around us. This is the last peace of virgin public sector around. Hell, Neil Bush has his money here. There are beaucoup de bucks to be made on this - a veritable race to the top! - and there is also the threat of a good example to be avoided. We don't want public schools to succeed, otherwise the myth of "government is bad" would be undermined. Thus the expensive, ineffectual tests. Thus the "merit pay."

    I don't know if Betsy Hammond is reading this. I'd feel better if I knew she had read Alfie Kohn, Henry Giroux, even conservative Daniel Willingham. Michael Apple for God's sake. I just wish there were someone there at the Oregonian who could hold a conversation with a real teacher, instead of just reprinting the company line and then decorating it with a quote.

    And Gail Rasmussen: I wish you knew the despair and rage that was on the face of each teacher the day they saw in the paper (in the goddam PAPER that is trying to rip our lungs out, you know the PAPER) that you had signed us up with this goddam swirl to the goddam bottom. I'm in your union, but you didn't ask me.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    Joe made me think of two other points. His bit about merit pay at the end is based in statistical fact. You can rig any predictive equation to predict the mean of the distribution by using poor predictors and low validity tests. The statistical technique is called linear regression, because, lacking variables that predict otherwise, the model will regress toward the mean of the distribution. Hence, a poorly designed merit pay system is no different than a COLA.

    No one has discussed middle management apart from teachers, and, personally, I think that's where the major reform needs to happen. THEY are the ones that don't want real predictive tests to base merit pay on. Middle management thrives on their compensation not being tied to any measure of performance. That is why testing in America never gets off the ground. Higher ups are always thinking how they couldn't survive that regime, and manage to water it down.

    The other idea Joe reminded me of was about the human brain being very complex and not fully understood. I think that belies one of the biggest problems in American education. That American dream gets translated into everyone striving to be the very best. That's BS, and unrealistic. A lot will be blue collar work-a-day average blokes and ladies. I think the Germans have this down to an art. From any age, you can target a blue collar track education and be very successful, and feel fulfilled. Alternatively, not everyone gets to go higher, without demonstrating competence. Couple that with the Japanese idea that government should be tightly coupled with education to produce what business wants, and those two ideas alone could cause a sea change in American education.

    I can tell you from personal experience that our "shoot for the stars" mentality doesn't work very well in practicality. I studied French for 12 years, and know grammar that would make a Parisian envious. Unfortunately, my comprehension of speech is about at a 6 year old level. So, I say something, end up using some obscure verb tense, the listener gets uptight like it was a language challenge, and responds to me in the most esoteric manner, while I'm listening like a six year old. On the other hand, I studied Dutch for 6 months, then moved to Holland for 2 years, and I know it much better today, with equal comprehension. It's not just being there. I lived in Texas and my Spanish is more consistent than my French, just from having used it practically. That is totally lacking in American language education. We act like everyone is studying to be a UN translator. They aren't, and it just doesn't work. It's a good example, imho, of the kind of thinking that has to change to get the system working better. I can't believe that people don't know this on some level, and that affects their attitudes toward funding.

  • Steve Marx (unverified)
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    "But improving education for kids is not their agenda"

    Thank you. That helped me make up my mind on 66/67.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Steve, I'd like to hear from you a list of 3 things that "improve education for kids ".

    Class size? Adequate funding? Adult volunteers (SMART, for example)? Effective afterschool programs? A school district which emphasizes ongoing professional development for teachers, incl. mentoring / learning coaches?

    Or paying administrators whatever the market will bear (incl. in some cases car allowances) while complaining that teachers (many have Master's degrees) get paid too much and how dare they expect a job with benefits?

    Check out www.avidonline.com and tell us whether you think the secondary schools using are helping kids get a better education.

    Or maybe you care less about kids than about political potshots.

  • Zarathustra (unverified)
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    The irony is that everyone's agenda is keeping their job. Life seems to be a lot like chess. What you do depends on how many moves ahead you are looking.

  • Steve Marx (unverified)
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    "I'd like to hear from you a list of 3 things that "improve education for kids "."

    I'd love to hear the same from the teacher's unions. All we ever hear is give us more money. And if kids fail, it's never the teachers fault, its a bad home life just like above.

    However, to amuse you, here's eom suggestions: 1) Standardized way to measure teacher performance 2) System to share the knowledge of good teachers and implement their skills in all classrooms 3) System to identify and improve the performance of poor teachers

    Every time we even attempt to meaure teacher perf, its gets shut down and we are stuck where we are at now - Education funding goes up 20% (a la 2007) and there is no improvement in the classroom experience.

    If you're happy with the status quo, then you can ignore all the above and just accept mediocrity.

    We owe it to our children to make the learning experience better if we are ever going to expect society to improve.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Steve, why does bashing unions help students? Because education was so much better back before collective bargaining? Because school administrators don't need oversight but by golly those unionized teachers had better prove their excellence to your satisfaction or else?

    Do you attend school board meetings?

    In answer to your 3 things:

    1) Where is the research that shows standardized testing makes schools better? I know it is an article of faith with people like you. I also know there are scholars that disagree. Why do you know more than they do? Or is it all about keeping score? Do all students learn in the same way?

    Do employers ( or colleges )want students who can pass standardized multiple choice tests? Or students who can write well, use technology, work well in groups, use critical thinking skills?

    2) Do you approve of a district system like this? http://www.salemkeizer.org/content/pro-development/academy-teaching-and-learning

    If so, would you talk to your school board/ state legislator about trying it in your locality? If not, what do you suggest?

    3) The best system I have heard of regarding poor teachers is the one used in Toledo Ohio. (I have seen poor teachers---don't tell me that anyone who disagrees with you thinks all teachers are excellent!) There is also an interesting pay for performance system in Denver, Colo.

    However, both were developed WITH the involvement of teachers and their unions, not imposed on them. Study those and tell us whether they meet your standards or not.

    I was flipping through CSPAN channels and came upon one of those "state of the state" addresses to a legislature. The Gov. said "the success of our state is tied to the success of our students, and the success of our students is due to dedicated teachers". Is he wrong?

    When Mike Huckabee was running for President, he was asked a question which would have given him an opening to bash teachers unions. Instead, he said their biggest problem with teachers was burnout in the first 5 years. Regarding poor schools, he said "When the state had to take over an underperforming school, first we fired the Supt. and then we told the school board their services were no longer needed".

    Do you believe school district management is infallible, or should they get at least as much scrutiny as frontline workers?

    Did I say I was happy with the status quo? I have had some intense conversations/email exchanges with school board members and was involved in recent school board elections.

    How about you?

    Or do you think the way to excellence can only come when all good people say "standardized tests are infallible, unions are bad"?

  • Steve Marx (unverified)
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    "Did I say I was happy with the status quo?"

    Not really, but you've only spent several paragraphs arguing angainst any changes without coming up with anything meaningful.

    Nothing against the union, but tell me what in the past 25 years they offered to improve the student experience in the classroom?

  • Steve Buel (unverified)
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    Voting against 66 and 67 based on what I said is rediculous. While teacher unions don't very often get involved in issues directly affecting kids, they have made teaching an attractive profession bringing in many more quality teachers than otherwise might not have chosen that profession thereby helping kids a great deal. Almost all of what they do is good. Their actions are not in any way the reason for education in America floundering. I just wish they would stand up stronger in some areas which directly affect kids. Teachers themselves do, by the way, stand up every day.

    Besides, American education itself is not the problem. Good schools in America, and there are plenty of them, are as good as any public schools in the world. The problem is in the inequity in the system. Lincoln v. Marshall. Take a close look and you can only be appalled.

    Here's three things that would help education in poor schools (where the problem is) a great deal:

    1)Make sure the middle grades have engaging education. Activities, athletics, music, art, good access to computers etc. Too many kids learn to hate school in these middle grades and when they don't have those activities etc. there is no carry over to high school.

    2) De-emphasize the testing and broaden the education, while making sure the kids who are really behind get the basics in a major way, not just as part of a broad testing program. (This is also mostly a middle grade problem though aspects of it apply to both high school and grade school.)You also need to follow through with individual students concerning their general approach to learning.

    3) Quit basing educational improvements on faulty educational research (it pretty much all is flawed) and instead work hard at improving the individual schools themselves. Forget the educational trends, figure out why your school isn't working and fix it.

  • LT (unverified)
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    Right on Steve!

    In any area, there is a marked difference between schools. It has a lot to do with size (urban high schools over 2000 students are different than rural high schools where everyone knows everyone else's name, for instance), local neighborhood, demographic makeup, parent involvement, quality of principal, turnover of students and staff.

    For all the talk about high stakes testing and how one class did against the previous year, there is a variable some people don't want to discuss.

    Suppose the first day of school teachers get a roll sheet for their class with 25 names (all day class for elementary, perhaps for first period class in secondary).

    In some schools, the names may be familiar---members of the family may have attended the school for years. In some cases, all those 25 names will be on the roll sheet in June.

    But in some cases, maybe half the students (if that) who start school in Sept. will still be attending the same school in June.

    Some of the NCLB measures compare this year's students to last year's students.

    First of all, kids are not widgets, and sometimes the kids in the year behind are more mature than the kids who are a year older. Second of all, is it a fair judgement of school/ teacher if the same students are not in one school all year?

    Unless, of course, schools are supposed to be factories putting out a "product" rather than educating human beings.

    Some of the students may have easier lives / more stable homes than others.

    To say teachers should be miracle workers with all students and parental involvement (or nutrition, or student health, or any other factor) doesn't matter is to be out of touch with the real world.

  • Steve Marx (unverified)
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    "To say teachers should be miracle workers with all students and parental involvement (or nutrition, or student health, or any other factor) doesn't matter"

    Parental invovlemnet does matter, but how much control do we have over that?

    We can have control over making good and bad teachers better and that was my issue with the union. In my experience volunteering at schools, I've seen great young teacher who bust their behinds at low wages.

    Then I've seen teachers who are terrible making great wages. About the only way (and I am not even sure of this) they are gone is if they commit a felony.

    Tell me that the young teacher doesn't see this and it starts to eat at them and their performance.

    So let's keep the status quo going LT since every other solution isn't perfect!

  • Steve Buel (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Steve Marx, I have often been bothered by the same disparity in salary. Experience does count, but for how much? Of course, all the older teachers were once the younger teachers (or at least at their pay scale) so in the long run things even out.

    One thing to keep in mind is that all teachers are college graduates (now most have Masters degrees, even if they are not as a group at the top of college academic achievement). Since this is the case there is much less chance of getting poorly qualified or poorly educated people as teachers than at many jobs where this isn't so. Also, you have to have a decent work ethic usually to get through college. Over my 40+ years of teaching I have only seen a handful of truly poor teachers -- ones that really should be in a different profession. If you make this assumption, which I believe to be true, then it has a huge affect on how you terminate teachers. What many teachers are afraid of is that they might be terminated not on their teaching ability but on their reluctance to play the educational game, therby stiffling their creativity and their ability to speak out against poor educational methods. Also, I don't know how we benefit from trying to get all teachers to teach alike. There is no best way to lawyer, or doctor, or paint, or parent. Why is there only one best way (reference "best practices") to teach. Besides teaching is a lot more complicated than most other professions.

    I have long advocated a school district being able to easily terminate a VERY limited number of teachers with declining numbers each year. It would take care of the truly poor teacher and protect the integrity of teaching itself.

    I also agree that pretty much all schools can really do is create opportunity for kids. Can't change the parenting or the society in any large way. We can help create students who could do both however.

    Also, the points about disparity in classrooms is a good one. I have had classrooms which are terribly easy to teach, followed by a classroom which is incredibly difficult to teach -- and in the same school and the same grade and the same subject. One kid, or five, can make a huge difference as can millions of other variables -- yes, I said millions. Kind of makes me wonder about how they are going to reward me, as the wonderful teacher of the easy class, or the struggling teacher of the hard class.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)
    (Show?)

    I am glad to see the OEA and others discussing what could be meaningful reform. For too long reform has been about control: administrators controlling teachers, school board controlling parents, teachers controlling students and the unions controlling the teachers.

    The definition of insanity, etc, etc, etc.... Perhaps we are finally ready to actually discuss making education better rather than uniform and make accountability for performance a cornerstone for students, teachers, administrators and parents.

    I am an eternal optimist and look forward to a workable solution.

  • bpeterson1931 (unverified)
    (Show?)

    Since the 1980s we have had a string of political and economic problems that have affected education. Rather than solve these underlying problems it appears that we are going to pour money into the assessment business, and rely on Federal programs like Race To The Top (RT3). All forms of testing and assessment extract energy and money from the system. In connection with RT3, I would think that distributing Federal education funds based on competition as opposed to need would be unconstitutional. Also RT3 holds children hostage to a State's political philosophy and to any peculiarities in judging the competition. I would suggest that the first steps in fixing the system would be to insure that every teacher has appropriate sized classes, a first class educational environment, and a reasonable wage. For students I would recommend a TLC environment with proper nutrition, parents with jobs that provide a reasonable income for the hours worked, and a home not in foreclosure.

  • Steve Marx (unverified)
    (Show?)

    "I have long advocated a school district being able to easily terminate a VERY limited number of teachers with declining numbers each year. It would take care of the truly poor teacher and protect the integrity of teaching itself."

    100% agreed, as long as we find some way to share the teaching skils of the truly gifted teachers and implement those to make the average (I know it doesn't exist) teacher better. Plus increase their pay while slowing the increases for the poorer performers.

    <h2>The union seems to be this rigid one size fits all that just rewards people sticking around regardless of their ability to teach which is troubling when you think of the cost in students.</h2>
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