Thursday, April 22, 2010

Teacher Evaluation Legislation and Report on New Orleans Schools

House Bill 1033 as we explained in an earlier post, is similar to legislation in Florida designed to link teacher evaluations with student improvement on state tests. Senate bill 6 in Florida was vetoed recently by Governor Crist, according to news reports because of a major outcry in opposition to the legislation by parents, teachers and students. Many citizens in Florida pointed out the same concerns we have expressed in this blog; mainly that such a scheme ignores other critical factors affecting student performance over which individual teachers have little control.

The Louisiana “value added” teacher evaluation legislation has not yet been heard in committee, and there are reports that the bill is still undergoing changes by the bill authors. It is important that educators and school board members study this legislation carefully and express their opinions to their legislators on this critical issue while there is still time. The following are some of the key provisions of HB 1033:

1.HB 1033 establishes a new teacher and school principal evaluation system monitored by the State Department of education which measures teacher and principal “effectiveness” based primarily on student performance and improvement on state tests. These annual evaluations would determine whether or not an educator would be allowed to retain his/her job and certification to teach or serve as a school administrator in Louisiana.

2.In effect the State Department of Education would control the employment of teachers and principals in local school systems based on the state designed evaluation system. The legislation would require the firing of any teacher or principal who is classified as “ineffective” by the new evaluation. “Effective” or “ineffective” performance would be determined by student test scores.

3.All teachers and principals without regard to successful past performance would be constantly at risk based on the annual evaluation. The grievance procedure in present law which provides an opportunity for educators to challenge errors in their evaluation would be repealed and a new procedure would be adopted by BESE. Educators classified as ineffective would be placed on an intensive assistance program for no more than two years. If at the end of this assistance program, the educator is still determined to be ineffective, the local school board would be required to initiate termination procedures.

4.To make matters worse, the legislation removes the present law requiring assistance and mentoring of new teachers by experienced educators during their first years of teaching. It removes the formal Assessment process in present law that is designed to properly prepare a new teacher with the skills necessary to succeed in the teaching profession in Louisiana.

Comment: (or why I think this legislation is naive, impractical and disrespectful of the teaching profession and the rights of local school boards)
HB 1033 would dismantle some of the most critical support and assistance programs for new teachers; particularly the mentoring by experienced teachers as part of a teacher's induction into the teaching profession. It puts all teachers and principals at the same level professionally whether they are just out of college and hired with no training in education (such as Teach for America recruits), or 30 year professionals who may have been recognized over the years for teaching or administrative excellence. All of them would be judged primarily by one standard: that students in their classroom or in their school show a certain quota of “value added” improvement on state assessments. The authority of school boards to retain educators they judge to be effective would be mostly nullified.

When the only thing that matters in judging a teacher or principals' effectiveness is student performance on tests, the teaching process could become a grueling, boring process for teachers and students. Principals, instead of functioning as educational leaders for students and teachers could be forced to transform their schools into test rehearsal factories. We have already seen too much of this trend with the implementation of No Child Left Behind. I believe this approach generally devalues the teaching profession and will drive our best and most experienced teachers to early retirement. Also, many dedicated teachers who have made a commitment to teach in some of the most difficult schools with the most challenging students would be motivated to transfer to the “country club” or magnet schools where students are more motivated and receptive to instruction.

Instead of this repressive and punitive system, Louisiana should respect teachers for the professionals they are. Instead of making teachers the scapegoats for the failures of education policy makers to design an education system that is attractive and motivating to students, we must find ways of helping teachers and principals in working with the community and parents to develop a positive and exciting learning environment in each school. We must recognize that student motivation and engagement in the learning process is at least as important as the performance of each teacher, and that it comes as much from the ideals taught in the home and community as from a bag of tricks the teacher brings to the classroom. I urge teachers, administrators and school board members to talk with their legislators about these critical issues.

Cowen Report On the New Orleans Recovery District Ignores Key Measures of School Performance
The Cowen Institute at Tulane recently issued an update of earlier reports on the progress of New Orleans schools since the takeover of much of the school system by the Recovery District. This report gives results of voter and parent surveys that express generally favorable opinions on the progress of the New Orleans public schools since the takeover. The report also cites improvements on state assessments by students in Recovery District and Charter schools serving a majority of the students. The general conclusion of the report is that while there remain important challenges, the schools have improved significantly. But the report ignores two critical factors used by the state to measure effectiveness of Louisiana school systems.

An important factor not addressed by the Cowen group is a comparison of the school performance scores of the schools in the Recovery District with all other school systems in the state. The stated reason for the Recovery District as expressed by the architects of this plan is to close the performance gap between New Orleans students in takeover schools with other schools in the state. In the 2008-2009 school year, schools in the Recovery District had an average growth of 2.6 points on School performance scores, while all other public schools in the state had an average increase of 4.7 points. (the school performance score is calculated by the State Department of Education based on student test scores, school attendance statistics and graduation rates) This slow growth in the last year is even more concerning when we note that the Recovery District is by far the lowest performing system in the state. It would need to show a greater rate of growth to catch up.

The other important factor ignored by the Cowen report is the abysmal graduation rate of the Recovery District students. This is arguably the most significant factor in judging the progress of the school system. Unsatisfactory scores on the critical components of the Spring 2009 graduation test (the GEE); 40% failure on the English test and 38% failure on the Math test, either of which prevents the student from being awarded a diploma is over three times the state average. When this failure rate is combined with the alarming dropout rate, my calculations produce an estimated graduation percentage of less than 40% for the students who made it past the 7th grade in Recovery District schools.

To add insult to injury, a report released by the Texas Department of Education last week claims that New Orleans students who transferred to Texas have been preforming remarkably well on their state tests.