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Keep the Faith

I'm pleased with the pick of Arne Duncan for Ed Secretary.  ButChange  I never understood all that panic over Obama’s educational soul. The Center for American Progress, led by Obama adviser John Podesta, issued a report on the maldistribution of teaching quality by Raegan Miller and Robin Chait, and it was excellent. "When it comes to teacher quality ... high poverty schools can not get a break" because of: tenure, due process, poor human resource department practices, poor evaluation processes, overburdened principals, teacher burnout due to harsh conditions, and individual preferences. Solutions are difficult because impoverished urban areas produce few college graduates, shrinking the talent pool for tough schools; a lack of knowledge about measuring teacher effectiveness and how policies interact; and the "revolving door" atmosphere of struggling schools.

We must address the "dance of the lemons," or the reshuffling of an estimated 5 to 15% of tenured teachers who are incompetent. But even in non-union states, little progress has been made in creating a more efficient system. Since 69% of teachers and the leadership of the American Federation of Teachers agree that we must clean up the profession, a CAP/AFT alliance should be a no-brainer.

Besides, common sense seems to be breaking out all over, as is evidenced by Robert Manwaring’s excellent post. He cited research showing that Value-Added Models "to predict individual teacher performance are in their infancy." VAM "is not much better than random" in predicting post-tenure performance. The VAM’s are not stable enough for compensation decisions, meaning that they are not nearly ready for the more subtle task of ending a teacher’s career. By just changing from one test to another, 5% of teachers are shifted from the bottom to the top in teacher effectiveness!

The answers, of course, require more research and more conversation, as well as abandoning simplistic ideologies. Hey! Isn’t that the Obama way? - John Thompson


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You're right. The battle over the President-Elect's soul served as a convenient narrative for reductive versions of reform. We'll all be better served by more constructive debates that honestly acknowledge the benefits and risks of any reform strategy.

I've been trying for a while to get folks to explore the disconnect you mention about the "dance of the lemons" and the fact that even in non-union states, the process is not much better. It's interesting that you cite the Miller/Chait report with its conclusion that high-poverty schools can't get a break on teacher quality, and the first two reasons listed are tenure and due process. I work with the Licensure Commission in our (non-union) state, which oversees the hearings for removal of teacher or administrator credentials. In my seven years on the Commission, I have yet to see a teacher or administrator brought up for removal of credentials due to incompetence. It's easier to simply let their contracts expire at the end of the year and move them along than to gather evidence to document the poor performance. Due process is important; people should not be removed from their livelihoods without the opportunity to defend themselves, but what does it say about our educational systems that we are routinely unable to prove whether a teacher is effective or not? Clearly, the current teacher (and administrator) evaluation systems are defective.

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