Posts tagged ‘education’

First Glance at Teacher Effectiveness Data

How can we create a climate of continuous quality improvement for educators? The job is complex,; the work is difficult, and the intangibles are highly valued. And, no matter how well the students perform each year…a new cohort arrives and the process starts all over again.

Each year, teachers are hired, provided job descriptions and terms of engagement, and assigned course loads and student rosters. Textbooks, curricular objectives, and pacing guides may be available. Orientation sets expectations for the culture, academic goals, policy, and procedures of the school. Day one ends and the business of educating students begins.

Facing one’s job as a teacher can be daunting. A complex mix of lonely autonomy, resource constraints, and unpredictable challenges must be met with courage, resilience, and flexibility. Often, time is the scarcest commodity, and the start of a new school year marks the end of personal leisure time and lifestyle choices. Students come first, and teaching them must be its own reward.

This would seem like an administrator’s dream – highly motivated people wanting to do what is best for children. However, it is that same independent spirit and devotion that creates conflict in teacher evaluations. How do you create a climate of continuous quality improvement for a collection of individual contributors whose motives are so sincere and whose commitment is so complete as to be deemed beyond reproach?

Some ground rules are needed…

  • Level the playing field for all teachers. No good guy/bad guy dichotomy. Teachers resist even minor constructive criticism in a culture marked by exemplars and losers.
  • Create teacher effectiveness reports and share and validate the data before implementation.
  • Balance the subjective content with generous quantities of objective data that link accountability to parameters under each teacher’s control.
  • Be sure to include any behavior that is valued in the tool. Attendance may not be the most highly valued attribute, but if you presume it, you will lose it.
  • Limit the impact of data gathering for teacher effectiveness reports with automation, student participation, and integration into existing routines.

So, how do you evaluate teacher effectiveness? How well that teacher does his or her job must be assessed using a variety of data sources to answer a range of questions. Some are as simple as what were the most basic terms of engagement, and were they met? Or, did you hire a “whole” teacher or one who has qualifiers concerning readiness to teach? Did the teacher fulfill contingencies for continued employment, make reasonable progress toward continued preparation? What are the values of the school? Did the teacher support the culture in a positive way? For example, did the teacher collaborate effectively, resolve conflicts well, support collegiality?

What was the outcome for the students? Were students engaged in education? Did students complete the course successfully? Were they satisfied with the teacher/instruction? What did their portfolios show about their instruction and assessment? How well did they perform on formal assessments? How did their parents respond to their educational experience? Too many questions, but I would rather design a tool around too many than too few.

1st Draft  of Teacher Effectiveness Framework


Data Source

Data Use

Is the teacher meeting basic terms of employment? HR record Attendance, participation in professional development, professional conduct
Is the teacher highly qualified? HR Profile Credentials, progress on plans
Is the teacher meeting curricular expectations? Teacher planning documents Evidence of unit plans, robust lesson prep with differentiation
Student notebooks Evidence of course content
School-wide curriculum tracking system Adherence to pacing guides, content standards
Is the teacher maintaining a safe and effective classroom environment? Continual classroom walk-throughs, casual observation Visible evidence of student-centered design, organizational support, student engagement, and visual content reinforcement
Record of interventions Discipline issues, pro-active problem-solving
Are the students successful? Attendance record Attendance rates, patterns
Local assessments Scores on assignments, informal tests, formal assessments
Student portfolios Samples of student work, student record of academic and psychosocial accomplishments, peer review
Student report cards Pass rates, grade distribution
Student follow-up records Advanced placement, graduation rates
Student’s actual and predicted scores on standardized tests Teacher value-added to test scores
Parent surveys Parent satisfaction with instruction, classroom environment
Can the teacher deliver a strong composite snapshot of his or her practice? Classroom observation Teacher’s practice in action
Peri-observation data bank Documentation of practice in terms of curricular goals, lesson prep, student record and work samples, teacher’s standard records and personal progress data
Pre and post-observation conference Teacher’s reflectiveness, response to feedback
Does the teacher support the school’s culture and values? Teacher peer review Evidence of collaboration, vertical course alignment, professional conflict resolution
Professional development portfolio Contribution to school culture and value system, participation in organizational growth goals, personal growth record

This  is just a starting point for discussion. Many issues remain for customized format, such as…

  • How well developed was the assignment in terms of deliverables? How creatively was the gap between defined and discretionary deliverables closed? Was the program academically rigorous?
  • Was there unusual challenge in the course load and roster? Is there hardship duty to be assessed?
  • Were there added dimensions of special needs or English language proficiency? Did this involve co-teaching or unique curricular requirements?

Comments welcomed.


April 13, 2011 at 10:55 AM 4 comments

Seven Keys to Education Reform (extended)

Seven Keys to Education Reform

  1. Build the data infrastructure for the next generation of education leadership, from formulas for government funding to data on student outcomes and teacher effectiveness. 
  2. Make teacher pensions portable.
  3. Place teachers and administrators in a shared incentive system linked to student achievement in their school.
  4. End pedagogy wars.
  5. Reinvent school leadership modeled on the general manager role and asset-based management.
  6. Open up the dialogue on Special Education to include the children prior to high school.
  7. Value people of all ages.

(1) Build the data infrastructure for the next generation of education leadership, from formulas for government funding to data on student outcomes and teacher effectiveness.

Regulation accounting thwarts good fiscal management within schools. Districts can only keep one set of books, and that is the set that gets them the most funding. It is nearly impossible to find a link between investments and outcomes for education. Regulators must work with educators to develop a common system of financial reporting that allows school districts to intend the outcomes that are to be rewarded. To avoid further funding of bureaucracies, a student-centered decentralized distribution of resources must be part of this plan.

Data on student outcomes must have more depth, be actionable, and document longitudinal progress. The current state of the art seems to focus on poor test results and allowing all constituents to weigh in on possible reasons. It’s still guess work masquerading as data-driven leadership. In addition, systems for feedback to students are cumbersome and incompatible.

Merit-based contracts for teachers cannot be drafted in the absence of data. Leaders must build a system around student outcome objectives and validate the data before asking teachers to accept it as a basis for their employment and compensation. This is NOT a chicken and egg conundrum.

(2) Make teacher pensions portable

A defined benefit retirement plan that optimizes benefits only for those past age 55 with 30 or more years of service creates a pension trap for experienced teachers who feel they cannot afford to change jobs. It also fuels high turnover among new teachers who experience mandatory payroll deductions but cannot envision staying long enough to ever reap the benefits. The net result is a dichotomy between career teachers who pursue the path of security and tenure and a highly mobile short-term workforce. Schools become myopic as they lose the sustained vitality of knowledge and experience from beyond their communities.

(3) Place teachers and administrators in a shared incentive system linked to student achievement in their school.

Paying teachers and administrators to work together to achieve a short list of goals for students is a logical first step toward a more robust system of merit pay. This action creates a reward for desired outcomes while limiting the focus to collective accomplishments. It celebrates interdependence, collegiality, and a results orientation, all of which are crucial to long-term success.

(4) End pedagogy wars.

Dogma can be the enemy of diverse learners. It is not news that children are smart and different. When lessons fit their styles, students internalize teaching methods and begin to activate strategies independently. Even the best techniques become stale over time as singular approaches to formal lessons. However, it is not that the strategy has become obsolete. Rather, it is the lack of creative alternatives being presented.

Pedagogical fads come, go, and come back again because each represents good instruction when presented to students for whom they are new or particularly well suited for style. Each generation of learners misses out on crucial strategies that are out of vogue. In addition, the pinball approach to pedagogy fosters cynicism and intensifies the new school/old school divisiveness among the faculty. Case in point, the current battle being waged over algorithms versus exploration wastes the energy needed to learn how to teach both well.

(5) Reinvent schools leadership modeled on the general manager role and asset-based management.

Instructional leaders must become general managers as they assume new responsibilities for decentralized budgets and education delivery systems that extend beyond the school walls. This new role will require enhanced managerial decision models for resource allocation as well as an expanded functional skill set.

In addition, it takes counterintuitive insight to sustain optimism in schools. Budget constraints limit decision-making to zero sum games. A culture of blame highlights the problems children bring to school from home or the lowest common denominator among educators. Historically, many teachers became administrators without benefit of transformative leadership training. Despite the best of intentions, a legacy of dysfunction remains.

The current mantra about getting rid of bad teachers plays directly into an age-old practice of making an example of someone each year to gain cooperation among staff. A remnant of this is a toxic culture in which an invisible hand within the learning community can deliver a failure with precision – a major barrier to innovation and collaboration. A naive leader can easily fall into the trap of addressing cultural change through opinion leaders who are the worst offenders behind the scenes.

Each member of the school community needs to have room to grow and excel. The children come first, but their best interests can be enhanced through programs that open doors for their parents and teachers as well. Gifted leaders raise the level of discourse without a heightened sense of competition, without winners and losers.

(6) Open up the dialogue on Special Education to include the children prior to high school.

Currently, we begin to train children to be their own advocates in the management of their learning disabilities as part of transition planning for the end of high school. By involving younger children in their diagnoses and education plans, we can draw on their insight and motivation to help them overcome obstacles and resolve some issues earlier. In addition, engaging children in very private exchanges safely preserves confidentiality while lifting the shroud of secrecy that has left many children unnecessarily sensitive and confused about the learning style issues that have the grown-ups so worried.

(7) Value people of all ages.

Older teachers and administrators have become acceptable scapegoats in education. For administrators, they represent a cost burden at budget time. Often their younger colleagues were warned in school about their alleged backward ways of teaching. Opportunists find that one of the easiest ways to connect with a challenging student is to take his side against an older adult in the building.

A system that values diversity and embraces its students as emerging leaders in their communities must be intolerant of any form of discrimination. Further, a system that marginalizes its most mature members then blames them for its ills gets distracted from diagnosing the real problems and developing viable solutions for the children.

March 24, 2011 at 10:41 AM 2 comments

Student-Centered Accounting

Student-centered accounting holds the potential to shrink bureaucracies, redefine resource allocation for teaching and learning, and improve student outcomes. How we achieve this will depend on how we respond to key questions in each education sector.

Under the current education finance system, governments fund bureaucracies and special programs; educators teach students. Financial incentives for innovation come in the form of short-term grant allocations that generate paper and accounting exceptions. In the end, they depend on economic factors and politics more so than their own merit. Over time, even the most enthusiastic educators experience learned helplessness where they once dreamed of possibilities for their students and designed programs to support them. To resolve the problem, we must sort out the financial data issues and retrain education managers to think like entrepreneurs.

How the money is counted impedes a district’s ability to intend its students’ outcomes. Each year, school districts receive general purpose funds and special purpose funds. They distribute general purpose funds at their discretion, while the special purpose funds target specific populations or programs and must be spent according to preset rules. Accounting systems have been set up for regulatory reporting that track expenditures in this way. Unfortunately, this approach makes it difficult to make a direct link between the overall money spent and the students who benefit from the resources. Outcomes of the education process get lost to retrospective analysis and remedial special programs.

In general, school leaders have tended to manage their share of general funds; district leaders have managed special programs. Ironically, while grant money targets student populations, supervision of each new program has created an overhead cost at the district level. The legacy of a burgeoning bureaucracy has outlived many education initiatives. In addition, centralized operations have further obscured the vision of money for outcomes. Never mind managerial accountability. It is totally diffused.

Innovative programs supported by grants do not have a systematic path to sustainability. Education programs have unnatural life cycles driven by the vagaries of government funding. In good times, particular programs that merit consideration receive generous grant funding. During economic downturns, spending is cut from all but the most politically viable programs.

Who says you have to end good programs that have lost their political backing? Once the availability of funding is threatened, program proponents publicly rally around the cause even as they privately begin to shut down. If an innovative program is to be truly effective, it must have a means to achieve more permanent funding on its own merit.

Student outcomes can be more predictable if districts knowingly maximize their investment directly in their students. Further, that investment must be stable enough to allow for orderly management of change.

Education finance is a complex issue. I have purposely simplified it to illustrate major inconsistencies between financial incentives and mission. Serious inquiry will be needed to realign the two. Some questions to ask as we explore possible solutions to the problem include…

  • Can systems be developed that meet the needs of regulatory oversight while keeping student-centered budget data intact for districts and schools?
  • Can we smooth education finance by accumulating trust funds during good times to use during lean years?
  • Where does discretion for funding of ongoing innovation belong? Would districts benefit from more discretion in their use of special funds?
  • How can we create an orderly transition to sustained funding for successful new programs that precedes the sunset clause on their grants?
  • Diffusion of best practices means they become an integral part of business as usual…does that always mean a compensatory drop of outmoded practices?

March 17, 2011 at 7:26 AM Leave a comment

On cultural change through teacher leadership…

Some time ago, I worked on a Strategic Practice grant to expand a teacher leadership program at my high school. Found this among my entries…

 “The distributive leadership model is being explored to empower teachers as content leaders and mentors. While these roles have been designed to sustain momentum in academic disciplines and improve staff retention rates, incumbents also enhance the cultural diffusion of new values throughout the organization. Teacher leaders represent access to decision-making, goal-setting, and professional growth. As credible change agents, they endorse new programs by getting involved. As rank-and-file teachers, they stimulate interest in leadership values among peers as colleagues reflect upon their own professional aspirations in a new light. As a result, the current cohort of teacher leaders directly affects pedagogy as well as tacitly motivating their own successors. Ultimately, every member of the faculty should expect to have an impact on organizational growth and an opportunity to demonstrate leadership in and out of the classroom.

I continue to agree with this model; however, I would suggest some caveats below. 

  • Teacher leadership opportunities must offer authentic roles, not merely compensation for the absence of administrative assistants for content areas or professional development. The latter merely reinforces the bureaucracy by encumbering an exemplary leader with more low-level tasks, rather than genuinely supporting his or her career progress. Similarly, it reinforces a dues-paying mentality more so than creativity as a driver of career success.
  • Cultural change cannot occur unless peer leadership is empowered to challenge colleagues past the point of complacency with existing performance. There must be a shared sense of urgency for professional development along with the commitment to a participatory change process originating with senior management.
  • Having the intent and ability to lead is intrinsic to the teaching process. A culture of instructional excellence must recognize that strength across the faculty and encourage sharing of each unique voice. Access to leadership opportunities cannot be perceived to reside among a privileged few who share a common point of view.
  • Student-centered learning is nearly always on the agenda for professional development. Ironically, that is modeled through teacher-centered professional development whenever the teachers are being asked to learn something new. 
  • Teacher leaders should reflect the diversity of the faculty and the students over time. 
  • Institutional mentoring programs are by definition artificial and may reflect a lack of respect for maturity among teachers. Staff members should be encouraged in their search for kindred spirits and natural mentoring relationships. Time should be allowed for faculty relationships to evolve and genuine professional nurturing to emerge. School-assigned “mentors” should not be part of the long-term solution.

In keeping with my point of view…I resigned my teacher leader role after one year to make room for the next voice to be heard.

March 14, 2011 at 12:00 PM Leave a comment

The Paradox of Success

How success in urban middle schools has muddied the waters for high school educators

In leadership meetings…“What’s going on? The data looks good, but the kids are a mess. This must be a bad cohort year. And that’s what I thought last year…until I met this group.” In the halls…”What’s wrong with these kids? They’re smart but they’re so spacey. They’ve got no ability to focus or follow the simplest direction. It’s those damned video games.” Or, in the teacher’s lounge…“It’s those charter schools…skimming all the good kids. This is what we’re left to deal with. Can you believe it?” Fault-finding missions may be obscuring early signs of student success, costing us our faith in good programs and the insight to preserve their long-term benefits for students.

Sometimes progress takes strange forms. Suppose…

  • The student who suddenly seems unclear on any concept is merely overwhelmed by emerging abstract thought at an earlier age than we have come to expect.
  • A high-risk student returning to school after heavy absenteeism feels like a fish out of water and is tempted to give the social cachet of rebelliousness or underground cultural experience priority over the challenge of catching up academically.
  • Students who follow others are trying on personas without the insight to back them up. They support the cultural shift at their grade level but are genuinely clueless.
  • Concrete thinkers who are more independent form cliques socially as a defense mechanism, some finding refuge in adult guidance while others spin out of control.

Each of these cohorts responds to a different set of coping strategies, and recognition of their motivation is crucial to successful intervention.

As a special educator, one of my greatest privileges was to witness the convergence of knowledge, maturity, and stamina evident in students with emerging abstract reasoning. It was the surest sign that they were ready to clear one of their toughest hurdles, the high school graduation exam requirement. Often they were juniors or seniors before they finally “grew up.” But what is happening with the children in general education who are arriving at that intellectual age at a younger chronological age?

As urban adolescents begin to catch up with their peers elsewhere, teachers and administrators must make accommodations to stay head. The range of skill levels, especially in ninth and tenth grade classrooms, creates a greater need than ever for differentiated instruction. Students regressing behaviorally as they cope with that giant leap into the world of abstraction need greater academic challenge combined with help getting organized. The returning drop-out needs respectful and private remediation along with leadership opportunities. The concrete thinker benefits from scaffolding to create a bridge to abstract concepts as well as peer tutoring to stay connected with student leaders. Every student needs a chance to share his or her strengths in class.

Beyond the classroom, advisories and activities must offer opportunities for students to reinvent themselves as young adults with positive identities in meaningful communities. Alienation abounds. Students drop out of school not only as a self-fulfilling prophecy of academic failure, but also to protest their failure to find their voice in the setting. Even the most engaged students need safe ways to challenge authority, assess risk, and test boundaries. There must be rewards for carrying the burden of greater knowledge at a younger age, the chance to apply it in freely chosen ways.

Progress is being made. New management challenges are the price of that success. Many current frustrations in education replace complaints such as, “My students are so concrete they could sink a ship.” Or, “I quit teaching math because I felt like I had to start over each year. The students never remembered anything.” Those were not the good old days.

 We cannot turn our backs on math and literacy basics yet. However, the new model for the urban high school must include a broader range of options for academic content, electives, and extracurricular activities. Talented and well-educated youths need opportunities to grow in multifaceted ways as they explore their interests. They must become leaders for their own cause as they reach for new possibilities in careers and higher education.

March 1, 2011 at 2:28 PM Leave a comment

Student Outcomes – The Macro Picture

Student data is useful at many levels. Attendance, grades, and test scores are standard records tracked by guidance staff or registrars. In addition, teachers collect a vast array of evidence to document that students are meeting curricular objectives. Increasingly, however, more extensive data is being gathered by students for daily motivation and for portfolios demonstrating their progress in school. This information often offers a clearer picture of the total student and his or her development intellectually, emotionally, and socially.

At a macro level, students are asked to…

  • Attend
  • Participate
  • Be in charge
  • Get results

A few examples of how these basic success factors can be tracked are presented by category below:



  • Record of attendance
  • Prep chart of preparedness
  • Presence in activities during unstructured time or outside of school
  •  Class participation record
  • Peer evaluations
  • Involvement in extracurricular activities

Be in Charge

Get Results

  • Achievement of psychosocial benchmarks for age group
  • Citizenship awards
  • Evidence of leadership
  • Discipline record
  • Informal assessments
  • Grades
  • Formal assessments
  • Merit awards

A portfolio of student accomplishments and outcomes is necessarily begun by the teacher in the early years of school. However, ownership of this record should be transferred to the child gradually throughout elementary school to facilitate the development of self awareness and self control. By adolescence, the notion of being in charge expands to include responsibility not only for self but for relationships with other people and institutions. Authentic assessments, periodic progress reviews, and student goal setting are integral to that process.

 Next step…psychosocial benchmarks 

March 1, 2011 at 9:43 AM 1 comment

No-Fault Education Policy

Better public schools are full of people with good intentions doing wonderful work. Exemplary models for educating children are being developed across the country, and each has instructional leadership at its core. They depend on excellent teachers. So why did I list the seven keys to education reform without a single entry about the best teachers? The short answer is that plenty of people are addressing the issue already. The slightly longer version turns on the difference between building a better educator and building a better education system.

Education policy is about the entire system of public education. A sustainable system must be robust enough to serve its mission while being inclusive of the general population of students and teachers. It cannot break down in the absence of a hand-picked collection of education’s finest participants.

Further, the current system did not break down because of its incumbents. It has collapsed under the weight of data limitations, institutional myopia, bureaucratization, and a mismatch between mission and incentives. It has become abundantly clear that a bad system can drive good people to do bad things. What we need is a good system that makes it easier for all people to do better things.

February 23, 2011 at 12:52 PM 2 comments

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