Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Minneapolis Teachers / Schools Conundrum

Beth posted an interesting article at MinnPost.  It discusses Sunday's article in the Star Tribune that details how many of the "highest performing / senior teachers" reside in the schools that have have the fewest unlucky students.  Whereas the schools with the most unlucky students tend to get more of the new / poor teachers. It also includes a letter from Supt Bernadeia Johnson to the Teachers...

I left a few comments there, including these:
"The article says:  "School administrators, union and district officials say high-poverty schools often have the least experienced teachers. Those schools generally have the most openings when more experienced teachers move on."

How did you extrapolate this to "Edina teachers are miracle workers and North teachers are vile scum"?

The reality is that seniority allows Teachers to choose where they teach, therefore they move out of the most challenging schools when given the opportunity. And the silly "steps and lanes" comp policies limit the ability of Districts to pay Teachers more to stay in the more challenging schools.

If districts actually had the freedom to pay Teachers on their performance and the difficulty of the position. Good Teachers at North would be paid more no matter how many degrees they had or how many years they had worked in the district." G2A

"Excellent coverage !!! What I found most interesting were the following. I am very curious if they "fired" any tenured teachers or just those in the "probation" status. That "catch them early" seems telling.

"Minneapolis Public Schools fired more than 200 teachers last year over performance issues, more than any other year in recent history."

"District officials would not talk about dismissals at specific campuses.

“We catch them early,” Nordgren said. “We don’t let them go 20 years being ineffective.”" G2A

"How old are your kids and do you speak with parents that have older kids? Some teachers get all praise, some get mixed reviews based on the style of the other parents.

But sometimes there is consensus that a teacher is just disorganized, communicates poorly, can't control the classroom, etc. And then you will wonder why the Union puts that employee's job before the welfare of your kids." G2A


John said...

Jerry left this comment over at G2A School Cliques, however it will just be wasted there since people rarely check back that far. And it seems related to this post also.

"You know I dislike requests for sources, but here you are:
New Teacher: Only 1 Way

Now riddle me this. If our choices for the number one factor in achievement are a) teacher effectiveness or b) poverty and/or lack of parental involvement, which do you think our government and society can most quickly and effectively change for the better? And if the one we can most easily change is number two, rather than number one, should we not do it while we wait for generations to fix number one?"

John said...

Some Background on the source.
Ed Week Wong
How to Attract and Retain
Six A's of Education Reform

John said...

It looks like he is advocating less time in the classroom and more time learning and preparing. I am not sure how that works with the current school budgets.

"Therefore, this is how to create a world-class school:

1. Teach classroom management skills and have school-wide procedures.

2. Create a school culture or family.

3. Have school goals and religiously collect and analyze the data.

4. Have an induction program for new teachers."

John said...

Ed MN Teacher Evaluation
Ed MN Teacher Learning
Ed MN Higher Ed

jerrye92002 said...

I like most of those 6As, which our public schools simply do not do well except maybe for "assessment," and a great deal depends on what you DO with that information. I was also surprised at the notion that we would recruit from the highest achievers in college, rather than the current "those who can't, teach" philosophy that seems to prevail. When Louisiana instituted a basic testing requirement for new teachers, something like 90% of them failed to pass in their subject area. Minnesota probably isn't that bad, but notice that Ed MN is adamantly opposed to such simple measures?

Anonymous said...

The Star Tribune published what I think can be considered a companion piece in today's op ed section.


John said...

Star Tribune Opinion Piece

John said...

That was an excellent opinion piece, of course if the administrators are truly conducting the Kindergarten teacher evaluations as described... Then they are the ones who should be fired.

jerrye92002 said...

On the other hand, while I agree that these evaluations sound unlikely to say anything useful about "teacher effectiveness," then the answer is to improve the evaluations (like not giving a survey requiring reading to kids that can't read), not getting rid of the evaluation. Kindergarten teachers in particular are critically important.

The main point I would reiterate is that "good people in a bad system produce bad results." The system is not geared to provide a safe learning environment for children or for teachers, and that is a fundamental requirement. I don't doubt these teachers care about the kids, but most won't tolerate the danger involved in something that should not be dangerous at all, leaving the job to people who can't find something elsewhere.

So, it would seem correct that simply firing these "bad teachers" is enough. We have to be hiring GOOD teachers, and giving them the tools and incentives necessary to keep them there.

Laurie said...

As someone who has taught in a variety of schools for the past twenty years it seems like I should have some sort of comment on this topic. I think the topic is too big for me.

I think at the district level the focus should be on getting a good principal in every building. The principal should have an evaluation system that results in dismissing the weakest teachers.

To me dismissing 200 teachers in 1 year sounds like a lot. I assume most were teachers at the start of their career on probation. OTOH, Maybe if new teachers can't figure out how to manage a difficult class with some level of effectiveness they should consider another profession.

OTOH, teaching well in modern day schools varies from challenging to extremely challenging and principals and district level administrators should be figuring out how to better support new (and all) teachers.

Also schools should be ranked by level of difficulty and teachers paid more accordingly.

jerrye92002 said...

"...principals and district level administrators should be figuring out how to better support new (and all) teachers."

Hear! Hear! I'm sure teachers enter what they believe is a noble profession with its own rewards, and then find out that they catch the flak on both ends. They're told how to do their jobs on the one end, and then blamed when they can't get results on the other. I'm watching now as our teachers are struggling with the new Common Core math, which doesn't make any sense to anybody, and you watch-- they will be blamed when the kids don't "get it."

Principals ought to establish some sort of firm discipline policy and ensure a proper learning environment, then evaluate teachers and offer help to those struggling in one area or another. The proposed "career track" with apprentice, journeyman and master teachers would offer higher pay and better teacher development.

Laurie said...

btw Minnesota uses its own standards for math. I have no objection to common core. I just stay focused on first grade level reading and second grade level math. For reading if the books I buy with reading practice passages say Common Core on the cover, maybe the comprehension skills taught will be slightly better focused for passing the test (if I can ever get my students to a level where they can decode a grade level passage)

I think MN still makes its own reading tests, though with Common Core Core for reading I am not sure. When I have looked at higher level Common core reading questions they seem a little harder to me than what I am used to.

On topic, districts and principals should give teachers good tools for collecting data on students achievement and that is what should be used to evaluate student learning. My school has a ways to go on data collection, especially in reading. We have been trying to identify more kids that might have a learning disability and the swamped teachers don't know much about their low students other than they're low and have no data to suggest whether or not they are progressing.

jerrye92002 said...

I wasn't implying an objection to Common Core in principle. The notion that there are certain things every child should know, and when they should know them, is very good, especially if those standards are reasonably high. The problem comes in when the zealots start to mandate HOW we must teach these standards. I would wager I can teach addition without that cumbersome, mind-deadening drawing of squares that CC requires. I think teachers are smart enough to figure out how to teach and teach best when given that authority. If a master teacher or principal can evaluate and then guide young teachers into these "best practices" sooner, that's great. If through good student evaluation we identify better best practices, that's continuous improvement, and if those student evaluations help us to concentrate on those who are struggling or even modify our approach to do so, that is exactly what's needed so we have "no child left behind."

It was rather funny, a few days ago, when discussing some of the changes in the math curriculum, a teacher asked me, "what do we do about the tactile learners?" I had always smirked at the notion that there were different kinds of learners until I ran into (and eventually overcame) an extreme example at work, and so I now immediately relate when somebody tells me about children who are similarly hampered by some "one-size-fits-all" instructional technique dictated by some bureaucrat who doesn't understand that kids are not all the same "size."

jerrye92002 said...

By the way, an article in the Red Star and Tribulation (sorry, a common name for the Strib in my circles) says that non-violent students of color may not be suspended without a review by the superintendent, and that already minority suspensions have dropped by half. This is supposedly part of a settlement with the US Civil Rights dept. They are also eliminating most of their police officers in the schools.

I don't know. The fact that they can drop 50% and still not include violent students tells me that maybe it's OK. But considering what we have discussed here about safety being paramount and avoiding classroom disruption would seem a close second, I can't help but wonder if we aren't going at this incorrectly-- reducing suspensions of minority kids just because they are minorities? Seems counterproductive to me.

Laurie said...

I teach addition to almost all my students and I am not familiar with a "cumbersome, mind-deadening drawing of squares that CC requires". I am curious, as I like to learn to strategies /representations, though some are confusing to my spec ed students. I tend to mostly stick to standard algorithms.

As for suspensions, I tend to support out of class, in school interventions. The disruptors need to interact with more caring school staff, who can be supportive problem solvers and teachers of needed social skills. The trouble is funding for behavior interventionists.

Anonymous said...

Pay for performance poses interesting questions. Maybe we should give some thought as to how it would work in practice. How would we define the performance that would be rewarded. Let's define it as test score improvement. Who gets helped, who gets hurt? Obviously teachers in already high performing schools would get hurt. Since there numbers are already high there is little room for improvement. No matter how well you teach, kids in the 99th percentile can't move up. So presumably, if incentives determine job choice, those teachers would move to power schools where there is at least the potential for raising scores. And of course, teachers in poor performing schools would move to high performing schools where they would get an automatic performance bump.

Would doing this improve our schools?


jerrye92002 said...

Laurie, to explain that process for addition would take a long time in words. I think it's similar to the thought process we use normally, and might take roughly the same number of words to explain, the difference being that we normally teach the concept and go on, rather than forcing the child to laboriously show all of the mental steps on paper every time. I liken it to the big battle over phonics versus whole-word or "whole language" reading. There is research (and common sense) which says that most kids best learn reading by phonics. But at some point, the kids must be taught that transition to whole-word reading or they will fall behind. Same thing here-- once the kid grasps the concept of place value and of "borrowing and carrying," (which I teach by telling them to draw vertical lines through the problem marking off the place values) then so long as they get the right answers we can move on. [Another way of looking at it is teaching them to work symbolically rather than by counting objects.]

Interesting side note.... When we moved here from Mississippi it was January, and my second-grade daughter brought home a note that said, "we are about to begin teaching borrowing and carrying in addition and subtraction. Since these are difficult concepts for second graders, you may want to take some extra time to review these with your student this week." To which my response was, "Of course these are difficult concepts for second graders. That's why, in Mississippi, we teach them in the FIRST grade!"

R-Five said...

This is one of those stories where everyone knows what's going on and everyone knows why and everyone knows who will nonetheless deny what's going on and why. Still, it's good to actually see it in print.