LA Times publishing data on individual teacher performance
August 20, 2010 9:59 AM   Subscribe

In coming months, The [Los Angeles] Times will publish a series of articles and a database analyzing individual teachers' effectiveness in the nation's second-largest school district — the first time, experts say, such information has been made public anywhere in the country. This article examines the performance of more than 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers for whom reliable data were available.

Union leader calls on L.A. teachers to boycott Times

Via Marginal Revolution, which comments that:
Unfortunately, we have little idea how to train good teachers.
As at least one commenter on the Marginal Revolution post suggested, perhaps some answers could be found in Doug Lemov's work on propagating effective teaching methods, as discussed previously on Metafilter.
posted by Anything (53 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This is going to make the "good" teachers' lives hell as helicopter parents descend upon their schools demanding that their children be in the class of the teacher identified as the most effective.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:04 AM on August 20, 2010

NPR on the subject.
posted by cjorgensen at 10:06 AM on August 20, 2010

Although many parents fixate on picking the right school for their child, it matters far more which teacher the child gets.

Blue? Blue......
Background noise.
posted by Mblue at 10:07 AM on August 20, 2010

"Some teachers have kids use new words in their own sentences," Caruso explained. "I think that's too difficult." She dismissed the weekly vocabulary quizzes that other teachers give as "old school."

Not done with the article yet, but I think we've figured out why Caruso's students are losing ground.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:13 AM on August 20, 2010 [6 favorites]

Although many parents fixate on picking the right school for their child, it matters far more which teacher the child gets.

And for the teachers, it matters greatly just what sort of spoiled little sociopath the parents are schlepping off to school. Though, for some reason, the students (and parents) themselves are rarely looked at when it comes to evaluating a school's performance. I don't care what kind of saint a teacher is, you can't work miracles with a school full of kids who have grown-up hearing nothing but how terrible their schools and teachers are, and simply want nothing to do with any of it.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:15 AM on August 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

If a teacher teaches the heck out of a 7th grade English class all year, then next year the student does well, who get's high marks?

If an English class full of low income English language learners and is compared to a class in an up-scale suburban school where students have college grad parents, which class will score higher? Will that score reflect the skill of the teacher?

I am convinced that testing students who are exposed to a teacher for one school year doesn't tell us much about any one particular teacher.

Furthermore, at least in California, the number of students receiving free or reduced cost lunches darn near perfectly predicts the test scores for a school. To me that means all this testing is a giant waste of money and energy that would be better spent on education itself.
posted by cccorlew at 10:15 AM on August 20, 2010 [9 favorites]

I wonder what initial pretense the Times used when approaching the school district and John Smith about the story, especially the photo leading it. Something tells me they didn't go to Smith and say, "You're a shitty teacher, and we're going to single you out for tarring and feathering in front of the entire world. You're cool with us doing that, right, and including your photo with it?" This story leaves a really bad taste in my mouth.
posted by The Straightener at 10:16 AM on August 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

I was a difficult elementary schooler, and the other 'problem child' and I were placed in the same class every year. This was not the case with any other student- we were the only two kids to be consistently placed together.

I strongly suspect that this was deliberate. I don't know if we were given to the strictest teachers, or the best ones, or the ones who the administration disliked, or what- I was too young to tell the difference- but it strikes me that, if a similar tactic is used anywhere in LA, it's going to skew the results.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:17 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sounds to me like it's going to make someone else at the school's life hell, not the good teachers who become in-demand.

It would, if helicopter parents were the reasonable sorts that work through the school system and go through the proper people. No, this is going to lead to calls at the teachers' homes demanding that they take in precious little Bobby because it's very important that he gets the best education possible and since you're a good teacher I knew if I called you you'd understand why this is important and so on and so on.

They're helicopter parents. They're not reasonable, and they don't have any regard for the system at all. They intend to get what they want when they want and they don't give a damn how it affects anyone but themselves. The LA Times is basically handing them a guidebook to who to harass and bother.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:17 AM on August 20, 2010

who get's high marks?
posted by lumensimus at 10:18 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

That's not a surprise to me. I've been in magnet high schools where there is one or two bad teachers put of 30. Top achieving school, national award winners, etc. It does matter, and just like college knowing what teachers to avoid can help tremendously.
posted by SirOmega at 10:18 AM on August 20, 2010

It's easy to be a good teacher when you've got good kids. It is unfair to judge the one without measuring the other.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:20 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I guess it was inevitable this piece of garbage would show up on the Blue. So I'll repeat here what I wrote to the LATimes:

What an irresponsible, disingenuous & truly immoral piece of propaganda you've served up here! Your entire report is based on one man's "research." It is nothing more than a press release served up as earnest journalism. But there is no journalism here; there is just the crude & shameful public scapegoating of public school teachers in service of a corporate, for-profit ideology. Shame on you, Jason F (your comment system says his last name is "profanity", so I can't put it here), Jason Song & Doug Smith for a one-sided hit piece.

Your source for this "article" is Richard Buddin, a RAND Corporation hack. He has been employed by RAND since 1974 and has never held another job with any other company. He has been a "dissertation advisor," and an economics professor at UCLA and the RAND grad school of Santa Monica. Buddin has never held a public education job; never taught elementary or secondary school; never been a teacher. To the Times: Has Buddin ever had students from diverse backgrounds take a corporate, for-profit standardized test and had the results published publicly in a national newspaper? Thought not. To the 3 "reporters": how long have you covered education? Ever taught a class? Ever been certified to teach in California? Ever even spent an hour in an LA Unified class room? Thought not.

Buddin's publications and presentations reflect his focus - the promotion of charter schools, even though some of his own research have shown that charters are no more effective than public schools.

How about some more journalism? The RAND Corporation itself was created in 1946 by General Hap Arnold along with Gen. Curtis LeMay (the rightwing running mate of George Wallace in 1968; LeMay is known for his comment that the North Vietnamese have "got to draw in their horns and stop their aggression, or we’re going to bomb them back into the Stone Age.") They took $10 million in left-over taxpayer funds from World War II to start the think tank, and brought in Donald Douglas the aircraft maker and his chief engineer and the engineer's assistant; General Lauris Norstad, assistant chief of air staff and plans, and a consultant to the secretary of war, Edward Bowles. RAND has been a key in defining US military strategy since the 1950s.

RAND alumni include Henry Kissinger, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, convicted felon "Scooter" Libby, Paul O'Neill … in other words, a who's who of neoconservatives.

So we have this … this so-called "article"! This is what you think is "analysis"? A RAND propaganda study without any questioning on your part of this so-called "value-added" nonsense being perpetrated on the nation's education system?
Yes, I'm a former California public school educator currently teaching in Tennessee. I'm also a former journalist. I recognize this junk for what it is.
What a thoroughly dark day in American journalism. And an extremely sad and damaging day for LA's public school servants.

Best of the Web Metafilter? Worst of Journalism, you mean.
posted by AirBeagle at 10:21 AM on August 20, 2010 [27 favorites]

Furthermore, at least in California, the number of students receiving free or reduced cost lunches darn near perfectly predicts the test scores for a school

"URL or something?"

Not for California, but here's some data showing a fairly strong correlation in Seattle. This shouldn't be surprising. Socioeconomic status and home life quality are huge predictors of educational performance. This is not to say that education reform isn't a laudable goal, but it's not a panacea and may not be a sufficient condition for improving ultimate outcomes.
posted by jedicus at 10:25 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thank you for that insightful history of the Rand Corporation. Now what was actually wrong about Richard Buddin's analysis.
posted by otto42 at 10:29 AM on August 20, 2010 [12 favorites]

The value-added analysis approach used in this study is supposed to largely control for factors like language, income and prior learning by comparing individual students' scores against their own scores in previous years, instead of against the scores of other students. The idea is that it's measuring rates of progress, and students should be making some educational progress whether they're rich or poor, regardless of primary language, etc.

Can someone who is more hardcore about statistical analysis than me point out the flaws in this approach? Because on the surface of it, it looks like much more accurate way of measuring teacher effectiveness than by comparing classroom test scores against each other.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:34 AM on August 20, 2010

It's easy to be a good teacher when you've got good kids. It is unfair to judge the one without measuring the other.

You've got a really good point, but this particular statistical approach is supposed to control for that. I'm wondering now whether or not it actually works.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:35 AM on August 20, 2010

The article left a bad taste in my mouth as well. Are we so comfortable with the idea that standardized tests are effective measures of educational progress that we want to start publicly shaming teachers and making hiring and firing decisions based on them? Do we really understand enough about how students are placed into classrooms to be comfortable with the assumption that measured differences are only teacher-related?

An animated woman with a blond ponytail flowing from the top of her head into her bespectacled eyes...

On the other hand, having this description published in an article with three authors should be grounds for some firings.
posted by Killick at 10:42 AM on August 20, 2010 [2 favorites]

Many moons ago I worked a job as a private in-home SAT tutor. The company I worked for charged anywhere from $1000 - $3500 depending on the number of sessions and materials covered. Because of this high cost, most of the kids I worked with came from affluent homes, lived in affluent areas and thus went to generally higher performing high schools. Yet the students themselves were at all levels in terms of educational performance.

What I noticed is the best students had the most engaged parents. I certainly had my fair share of helicopter parents who were grilling me about my credentials, the company, the process, etc; on the other hand I had a number of parents whom I never met, or they would open the door when I arrived, yell upstairs to their kid that I was there, and I wouldn't see them for the rest of the session. I can tell you the direct correlation doesn't have to do with the schools, it has to do with the parents. Personally I can't imagine paying over a grand for someone to spend 90 minutes per session with my child and not investigating at least a little bit. On the other hand some parent's frankly don't give a shit, to them I was just a glorified plumber; there's a problem, please fix it and bill me. Good teachers help inspire kids and I don't think you can have a good school system without good teachers, but at the same time, you can't have a good school system without good parenting, not just helicopter parents concerned about their snowflake, but people who cared about why their kid was under performing, making sure the homework assignments were completed and communicating with the teacher about what the kid might need outside the classroom.

It's beyond money, legislation, unions and specialized testing.
posted by Scientifik at 10:43 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

forgive me in advance if I am writing her out of sheer ignorance. My notion of magnet schools: put a school in a fairly bad area. Get the good programs and teachers and put them at that school. This attracts children from the burbs or the better (wealthier) parts of the area. The kids living close to the magnet school, get lottery tickets and some get into the magnet; most do not.
The good school then offers great education for kids from outside the area but also helps a great deal those kids in the area who had, till that time, terrible schoolsl

Now, if what I am saying here is correct, then basically we have a known way of improving schools but we do it in tiny pieces and it is great for a very limited number of students, though we could if we wanted do this in ALL places within the school system.
posted by Postroad at 10:44 AM on August 20, 2010

I kept thinking, "Oh, surely these are pseudonyms..." and then I read the caption for the first picture (of John Smith. See, you would think it's a pseduonym!)

I'm of two minds about this - I don't think that standardized tests tell the whole story, or a necessarily true story. I do think that some metric is needed, though. It's like the SATs. They're not perfect, but they're standard. With grade inflation and the variations in grading between teachers/schools/districts/states, the SATs provide a valuable metric for judging students.

But still. It seems like this information should be kept confidential and used for internal training and evaluation, not to identify targets for stoning.
posted by punchtothehead at 10:52 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think this is neat but the idea that all we need to do to have all great teachers is just get rid of the almost all of them that aren't great teachers and then replace them with all great teachers is crazzily naive. I'm not saying that there couldn't be bennefits from firing some teachers and that number likely could be more than we do know but let's not go crazy here. Nothing works anything like this!
posted by I Foody at 10:56 AM on August 20, 2010

I guess it's only fair play to link Frontline's four part series News War that highlights, in part, how companies like the Los Angeles Times managed to completely implode chasing shareholder gains. Maybe Frontline should have shoved a camera in the face of a random beat reporter and put him on blast as the reason why the company was going broke rather than focus on the executives.

Episode 3:

"What's Happening to the News" also goes inside the embattled newsroom of the Los Angeles Times, one of the few U.S. newspapers still covering major national stories. After his newsroom had already lost hundreds of jobs, managing editor Dean Baquet was told to lay off more reporters by the paper's owner, the Tribune Company. He refused and was fired. "The people who own newspapers … are beholden to shareholders," Baquet tells FRONTLINE. "They want for the paper to be highly profitable, and sometimes that view of what a newspaper is supposed to be and my view, which is that a newspaper is a public trust, sometimes they come into conflict." Charles Bobrinskoy, vice chairman at top Tribune investor Ariel Capital Management in Chicago, says the L.A. Times needs to rethink its mission. "There is a role for probably three national newspapers: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and USA Today. Each has its own niche; all three are national newspapers. We don't think there's any demand for a fourth."
posted by The Straightener at 10:59 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think this is neat but the idea that all we need to do to have all great teachers is just get rid of the almost all of them that aren't great teachers and then replace them with all great teachers is crazzily naive. I'm not saying that there couldn't be bennefits from firing some teachers and that number likely could be more than we do know but let's not go crazy here.

I don't think anyone is suggesting that almost all teachers should be fired. You do know that the number of teachers we fire now is very, very close to zero? Only the most egregious incompetence will cause a teacher to be fired.
posted by ssg at 11:02 AM on August 20, 2010

I am ambivalent about this. The problems with this are (to me) pretty clear and have mostly been covered here already: standardized tests are flawed to say the least, public humiliation of teachers = nasty, this will be a tool for helicopter parents to be even more interfering-ey and bobby-is-a-special-snowflake-ey, there are all sorts of reasons not captured in the numbers that someone's numbers might be crappy while they're still a decent teacher, this feed into the current wave of anti-teacher / anti-union rhetoric infecting this state. Etc.

And yet ... there *are* crappy teachers. The LA school system, as I understand it, does badly even when compared to equivalent school districts. The bad teachers are presumably part of the reason for that. They should not be teaching. This method, however imperfect, will probably locate many of them. If it were not public, the odds of it being used in any effective way in the near future would be near zero. So, ambivalent.

I wonder if someone over at the Chronicle is pondering doing this for SF schools. (Probably not, too busy covering important shark / evil panhandler / crazy mayor gossip news.)
posted by feckless at 11:09 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

A link to the Buddin paper w/statistical method (pdf warning.)
posted by carping demon at 11:28 AM on August 20, 2010

Okay, so I hate the Rand Corp. as much as anyone, but at the core this type of analysis is a good idea and can be very useful to teachers and administrators. John Smith seems willing to make a change after seeing this data. It can also help schools identify good teachers that can model their practice for others.

Also, when I saw the value-added numbers for my students this past year, I did a little dance. It was extremely gratifying to see that my hard work was making a difference that was visible not just to me, but that could be measured on a national test.

However, the idea that we should publish these results in the newspaper seems a bit extreme. Teaching is difficult work, most people who do it are well-intentioned and hard-working. They don't need public shaming to motivate them to adopt better practices, they just need the right kind of guidance and support.
posted by mai at 11:35 AM on August 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

A very popular teacher once suggested that those who teach ed classes should spend an occasional year in a classroom. She felt that her degree had done little to prepare her for actual class management with real students.
posted by Cranberry at 11:38 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I demand improvements to our educational system that someone other than myself should pay for!
posted by Legomancer at 11:50 AM on August 20, 2010

The LAT has changed so greatly since the Frontline piece that it's hardly the same paper (most of the editors in the show are gone, ownership has changed, etc. )

This sort of unpopular-with-the-powers-that-be investigation is huge for them.

LAUSD has some good schools, but it's a large, disorganized district with a lot of administrators who seem to have no idea as to what's going on.

Joanne Jacobs has been blogging about this, if you don't know much about the issues.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:32 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Listening the teachers by name does seem a bit tacky--but the more I read the comments, thought about the difficulty of implementing change in educational systems, working through union resistance and the apathy/neglect of many parents and administrators this is a start in controlling what you can control. Also, I did not see much posted or linked by the most vocal of dissenters in the way of alternative evaluation mechanisms. I only have minimal familiarity with alternative evaluation methods--mentoring, peer evaluation, progressive feedback, etc--but I would imagine they are time consuming, expensive and lack scientific rigor. Personally, I am glad to see this happening and congratulate the paper on the risk and initiative. I certainly would not want to be one of the teachers 1.5 to 2 standard deviations out on the negative end--even more--I would not want to be the parent of one of their students who trusted and hoped.
posted by rmhsinc at 12:36 PM on August 20, 2010

The World Famous: I have no idea how old showbiz_liz is, but when I was in elementary school in the 80's, this was common. It was called tracking, and you'd notice that overall, lots of the best students tended to be in the same classes, middle students in another, and problem students in another. The theory was that having kids that are closer to the same level together would help everyone get more out of the classes, rather than having a few bored geniuses reading by themselves while the teacher spends all their time dealing with the disruptive or below grade-level kids.

I also went all the way through elementary and middle school in the same class with my best friend, and I know from my Mom telling me (see below) that they kept us together on purpose.

In the 90's and later this mostly went out of fashion, under the theory that it's wrong to classify kids as "smart" or "dumb" so early in their lives. And there was no doubt that all the kids knew exactly what was going on, so there's a good argument to be made for not doing it on that basis.

On the whole, I'm glad they did it. I suspect that tracking is worst for students who are on the upper and lower margins of "average," and best for the best and worst students. So I guess it's always a balance.

Anyway, my Mom was a teacher for thirty-something years, and I also know through her that they did take a very direct and personal interest in which kids went in which classes, even in a large school district. It's not all computers shuffling randomly. It's probably not even a little that.
posted by rusty at 12:46 PM on August 20, 2010

we were the only two kids to be consistently placed together.

That sounds kind of unlikely to me though. I mean, surely there were lots of other classes with other kids that could have always been together and never in the same class as them? I don't see how you could really know.
posted by rusty at 12:48 PM on August 20, 2010

LAUSD has some good schools, but it's a large, disorganized district with a lot of administrators who seem to have no idea as to what's going on.

It's ridiculously huge.
700,000 students, 45,000 teachers, close to 40,000 "other" employees.
Its own police force, for cripes sake.

There's no way an organization that large is going to make any sort of meaningful change.
posted by madajb at 1:02 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

The idea is that it's measuring rates of progress, and students should be making some educational progress whether they're rich or poor, regardless of primary language, etc.

I'm not the statistical guru you're looking for, but my first thought about this approach is that it might not take into account how rates of progress themselves are affected by a student's living situation.

A student from a background that promotes academic achievement will continue to benefit from that background throughout their school career, and it's very easy to imagine that that would cause them to progress faster than their less fortunate peers.

Or, to use a horribly constructed analogy: Two kids are having a race. One is given a starting line several meters behind the other, and wanting to be fair, you decide to judge the race based on how fast the kids run, rather than who reaches the finish line first. However, you've completely forgotten that the kid who is starting behind also has lead weights tied to his feet.

It's definitely a better approach than simply measuring test scores, in my opinion, but I'm skeptical of how much it can actually tell us about a teacher's performance. A teacher who can coax moderate progress out of a difficult classroom may be a million times more talented than a teacher given more privileged students who get better scores.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:28 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Anyway, my Mom was a teacher for thirty-something years, and I also know through her that they did take a very direct and personal interest in which kids went in which classes, even in a large school district. It's not all computers shuffling randomly. It's probably not even a little that.

Just one data point, but I know from first hand accounts that as of today in my local public elementary school district the teachers in a given grade get together and decide which teacher each student will get in the next grade. It's partially to match up students with the style of teaching that would work best for them (strict vs more relaxed, etc.) and partially to avoid loading up any given teacher with too many special needs students and whanot.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:32 PM on August 20, 2010

The LAT has changed so greatly since the Frontline piece that it's hardly the same paper (most of the editors in the show are gone, ownership has changed, etc. )

It is the same paper in that it lost another 14% of its readership this past year. Why? Which reporter is not doing his job? Why aren't those reporters who aren't doing their jobs and subsequently causing the Times to lose readers not being publicly outed or fired? Or, while there may be reporters at the Times not always operating at optimal efficiency, is the issue really more a macro-level problem facing print journalism itself? Believe me, I am friends with a shit ton of journalists and they are the first to scream that their industry-wide problems with lost readership have nothing to do at a macro level with lazy, incompetent reporters, so it's weird that in this vaguely analogous situation they would viciously target an individual teacher inside a completely dysfunctional macro-system.

Do you really think comprehensive education reform is going to come through witchhunting all those lazy, fat cat union teachers and running them out on a rail? Because it vibes a lot more like a union busting campaign run backed by an ideologically driven think tank with a clear private industry agenda to me.
posted by The Straightener at 1:37 PM on August 20, 2010 [4 favorites]

I don't think you necessarily would have to be a helicopter parent to advocate to get your kid into a certain teacher's class. I have two different friends who've had kids in schools where it is widely known that, of the two teachers teaching, say, third grade, one is very good and one sucks. If you were in that situation, would you not do something, if you could, to get your kid in with the decent teacher? Another mom was telling me that the two middle schools in our district are markedly different in the quality of their infrastructure, what equipment is available to the kids (one has a pool, the other doesn't for instance.) So you cross your fingers and hope your kid gets assigned to the modern, better school and not the old crappy falling-apart one.

The local school district has a published policy against letting families choose their kids' teachers, or modifying school assignments, and I do understand why...I wonder how often they bend it, if at all?
posted by not that girl at 1:54 PM on August 20, 2010

I think they should go one step further, burnmp3s. Give each teacher a budget--say $260. Make the teacher fill a number of requirements that need to be satisfied by their course roster. These can be obvious ones like so many from various ethnic backgrounds or so many of a given gender and maybe a few weird ones like at least one left-hander. Before the beginning of the academic year, but after the probable student pool has been defined all of the teachers get together and the students are auctioned off. Throughout the academic year each student's performance is measured in some predefined categories. These individual performance stats are added up and used to rank each teacher's performance. Each rank is assigned a certain point value and these are added up to give a final value by which a teacher's performance is evaluated. At the end of the academic year, the top three teachers split the bonus pool 60% / 30% / 10%.

Special rules can be developed for advanced school districts whereby teachers can identify priority for specific students in earlier grades and the like.
posted by Fezboy! at 2:02 PM on August 20, 2010

I used to train teachers for a for-profit company. What I discovered from my own time on the job was this: training can make a slightly below-average teacher into an acceptable teacher as long as there is constant supervision and reinforcement. It cannot turn an outright bad teacher into a good, or even acceptable one. Talented, enthusiastic teachers need no more than minor adjustments to shine. I could almost always mark the standouts from the very first training session; they were few, and it didn't require a battery of standardized tests to figure out who they were.

In the case of most public school teachers, you're already talking about people with a significant amount of training under their belts. The notion that what they need is more training assumes that lack of training was ever the problem to begin with. My (admittedly anecdotal) experience says that this is rubbish.
posted by 1adam12 at 2:24 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Straightener--"so it's weird that in this vaguely analogous situation"--I believe the operative word is "vaguely". I don't know a lot of journalists but I do know quite a few union leaders and members and I am confident they would agree (in private) that there is a significant minority of teachers/social workers/nurses/etc who are simple not good at what they do and it is not solely a management failure. And when management does focus on them they (the union) will publicly defend them on principle and in fact. Since you seem to think it is a macro problem (which it might be) does that mean micro and targeted solutions are off limits.
posted by rmhsinc at 2:25 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just have one more thing to add, I think. The decision to publish specific information about individual teachers seems ethically dicey to me; our local newspaper published a database with all state government employees' salaries a few years ago, and this seems kind of analogous. It's a controversial decision. On the other hand, I'm always interested in these threads in how quick people are to dismiss the idea that teachers are at all at fault or should be scrutinized when students don't learn.

As a former teacher, I know how hard it is to teach students who don't want to be there, aren't prepared, are over-tired, and so on (and I taught college freshmen, nominal adults). At the same time, as someone who spent 13 years in public schools and more than I'd like to admit in higher education, I know just how many crap teachers there are, and they're not an insignificant minority. I'm not even sure that in my experience in what was known as a good school district, they even were the minority. Certainly there were more crap teachers than really gifted, good ones. I'm just not sure whether they outnumbered the "middling, good-enough, not brilliant" group of teachers. But how many crap teachers do you have to have before your whole education is tainted? Especially if you're short on other resources at home or in your community? Shouldn't we be ruthlessly weeding out the very worst teachers, at least, who are now almost impossible to get rid of? I'm sorry if the scrutiny makes the middling horde uncomfortable and offends the gifted handful, but maybe they just need to get over that.
posted by not that girl at 2:42 PM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your favorite child/teacher/school/pedagogical-technique sucks.
posted by blue_beetle at 4:36 PM on August 20, 2010

As an eight-year high school English teacher in the Bronx, New York (the only U.S. school system larger than L.A., with over a million students and about seventy thousand teachers in the five boroughs), I, for one, welcome an objective measure, if that's what this is. In the last few years, I've seen a lot of veteran teachers harassed out of their jobs, including, last year, an Advanced Placement Spanish teacher with seventeen years experience and top AP exam results. In NYC, teacher salaries used to come out of a central budget. But for the last eight years, salaries come out of individual school budgets. Schools, therefore, have an incentive to push out higher salary veterans. Believe me, it's not that hard to get rid of teachers. Administrators will do everything from loading classes with disruptive students, to withholding supplies, ignoring disciplinary referrals for students, writing letters to the file for petty offenses (one teacher was written up last year for being one minute late in a snowstorm), to conducting excessive, predetermined "observations", to outright lying. An objective measure like this, if it's as objective as it seems, comparing students to their own previous performance, could help. But I've learned to be skeptical and ask what the agenda behind the platitude might be.

As others have mentioned, in the last decade, especially, there seems to be a push against teacher unions and tenure and seniority rights. Why? Because they're expensive. The goal: a revolving door of cheap, new teachers who leave teaching before they move too far up the salary scale (assuming salary scales survive) or earn retirement benefits. There's even a push to allow programs like Teach for America, where very few stay beyond their two-year commitment, and certainly not in high-needs areas, to "certify" new teachers without using colleges or universities (would you like your doctor or lawyer not to be college trained?). Unfortunately, all these "innovations" seem more about money (lower costs/lower taxes/segregated charter schools and/or so-called "gifted" programs that save parents thousands in private tuition) than students.

Here in NYC, when Mayor Bloomberg was running for re-election (for the third time, overriding term limits), the state test results showed remarkable "progress." English and math results for elementary and middle school students were way up. Everyone was popping champaigne. The mayor's reforms were working. Two years after his re-election (and after the national math and English assessments showed little to no improvement), the same students in the same schools with the same teachers have now dropped by the same so-called increases and then some. What changed? The tests changed, and the passing threshold changed. Why? Because the mayor and chancellor would like to use these lower test results to continue to close schools, increase charter schools (where teachers generally have very few rights or say) and press the union (we haven't had a new contract in almost a year). Funny how the same "objective" measures had such different results and happen to fit perfectly such different agendas. Skeptical? You bet.
posted by pips at 5:53 PM on August 20, 2010 [3 favorites]

If a teacher teaches the heck out of a 7th grade English class all year, then next year the student does well, who get's high marks?

I'm guessing the one that taught the proper use of apostrophes.

posted by mecran01 at 7:04 PM on August 20, 2010

Some separate issues arising here. One is the appalling idea of publishing the names of teachers whose results are poor. That's the equivalent of a public pillory and a tidy little recipe for lawsuits. Another is the idea that "effectiveness" means test results, an idea which has had a naive "common sense" appeal for Americans for the last century and has driven public policy in some marvelously deleterious ways. While correlated with some indicators of success in school and in later studies, test results are only loosely connected with what most people, if they reflected a little, would consider real learning--that is, the ability to solve real-life problems, learn new information and skills, think critically, and bring a rich and well-informed understanding to novel situations. A third issue is how horribly our public schools and our media treat teachers in general, as if they were sullen, surly serfs to be punished into competence, and then we are so surprised when not all of our teachers are wonderful. Learning to teach well is incredibly hard. Most people have an image of teaching which is based on their own vague memories of their experiences as students, and on the cultural lie that it is direct transmission of factual information from one person's brain to another.
posted by Peach at 7:29 PM on August 21, 2010

Oh, yeah, and a fourth issue: People who think that teaching correct apostrophe use is easy and/or a reflection of good education, even when an entire society (and my iPhone spell checker) conspire against it.
posted by Peach at 7:31 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Define "good teacher" or even "effective teacher." if your description contains criteria that can be singularly measured via standard test score or grades, then I can accept this action by the LA Times as reasonable.
posted by mdaugherty82 at 7:51 PM on August 21, 2010

iPhone: it's spellcheck is a special sort of he'll.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:22 AM on August 22, 2010

Larry Cuban, as usual, says some thought-provoking things about the idea.
posted by Peach at 2:53 PM on August 22, 2010

Postroad - Re: Magnet schools:
The good school then offers great education for kids from outside the area but also helps a great deal those kids in the area who had, till that time, terrible schools

the first part is right, but the second part is wrong - the kids who actually live in the bad area where the magnet school is placed continue to be tracked into the General Education program, and are not placed in the Magnet Academy without some caring person throwing a spectacular tantrum.

Also - how many commenters, complaining about how unfair it is to cherrypick school and teacher grades from affluent suburban schools, actually read the article? The point of the study was to find the Value Added score of the teacher, which means *how much better* the students were at a given subject after a year's contact with a given teacher.

What the LAT found was that in many cases the highest scoring Value Added teachers were in apparently failing schools - that is, schools with a crappy (sub-800) API. These tended to be districts with lots of immigrants with Low English Proficiency, which is hard on test scores. However, the high VA teachers in these schools were taking students from well below grade level and handing them off greatly advanced - on or above grade level. By contrast, lots of schools in high income areas were skating by with high APIs based on the fact that their affluent students came to school ready to learn, full of advantages. The low VA teachers there got good students, but they didn't improve them significantly.

The point of the story was that LAUSD had the data available to calculate value added on everybody - they just hadn't bothered to do it because A) Value Added scores would be too complicated for parents to comprehend and B) Teachers in the LAUSD who had low Value Added scores but who had always *done their jobs* might get their feelings hurt.

Anyway, the rest of the stories are up now. Check it out.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:45 PM on September 1, 2010

whoa, sorry homunculus ;-(
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:46 PM on September 1, 2010

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