Archive for February 24, 2012

Managing Exclusively Through Fear is Not Leadership

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When educators work under constant fear of hearing the Queen of Hearts’ war cry, “Off with their heads!” this fear tickles into classroom practice creating a teach-to-the-test mantra of pure terror: raise test scores or die! I have heard this mantra of attack chanted more and more often here in Chicago during the past ten years.

This reign of terror seemed to escalate exponentially when Arne Duncan left to become Obama’s Secretary of Education and data crunching became the sole means of determining success in order to meet the high bar set for receiving Race to the Top funding. Then, when principals had their salaries determined by test scores after Arne left, well, things really became really horrendous fast. It seemed nothing mattered besides test scores as our principal whipped herself into a frenzy of finger-pointing enforcement: with the bottom line becoming: raise test scores or I will get rid of you with using whatever means possible, regardless how unethical because that is what is going to be done to me if tests scores are not sufficiently raised!

The principal’s corrosive fear of test based salary incentives trickle down to the classroom where it could under mind teacher performance, thus student test scores. One teacher, who returned to the classroom this year after being on the admin team the previous year, said it all one day when she pulled me into her classroom hysterically confessing: “I just had my formal evaluation and afterward I found myself screaming at my students! I’m so stressed out about raising test scores, I can’t even teach! I can’t believe this – now I know how all of you have felt the last three years!”

Basing teacher, as well as principal, evaluation entirely upon one test score, or even multiple test scores, is a form of pedagogical intimidation resulting in dumbed down, mind-numbing, adherence to a scripted curriculum predetermined by “research proven” curricular materials sold by publishers who guarantee successful test taking. When fidelity to the curriculum takes precedence over critical thinking then having experienced educators doesn’t matter. In fact, experienced educators can be a liability when fidelity to the curriculum becomes paramount: most experienced educators question a fill-in-the-blank, teach to the test mentality, whereas an inexperienced teacher might accept a wholly formed curriculum to be unthinkingly adhered to.

Although Arne Duncan proclaimed on Jon Stewart last week “We cannot fire our way to the top, we have to much better support talent.”, I think this is the strategy of choice for improving CPS test scores as witnessed this week by the closing of seventeen schools for turnaround. “Off with their heads” as well as the heads of all the students and parents too!

AUSL Takeovers Continue

When AUSL has complete control over schools, and there’s no mechanism in place for oversight and raising objections or concerns about what is happening, it’s going to keep being the same thing—they’ll move into a school, establish a large presence for maybe a year or two, and then move out and on to the next batch of sick schools.


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When educators work under constant fear of hearing the Queen of Hearts’ war cry, “Off with their heads!” this fear tickles into classroom practice creating a teach-to-the-test mantra of pure terror: raise test scores or die! I have heard this mantra of attack chanted more and more often here in Chicago during the past ten years.

This reign of terror seemed to escalate exponentially when Arne Duncan left to become Obama’s Secretary of Education and data crunching became the sole means of determining success in order to meet the high bar set for receiving Race to the Top funding. Then, when principals had their salaries determined by test scores after Arne left, well, things really became really horrendous fast. It seemed nothing mattered besides test scores as our principal whipped herself into a frenzy of finger-pointing enforcement: with the bottom line becoming: raise test scores or I will get rid of you with using whatever means possible, regardless how unethical because that is what is going to be done to me if tests scores are not sufficiently raised!

The principal’s corrosive fear of test based salary incentives trickle down to the classroom where it could under mind teacher performance, thus student test scores. One teacher, who returned to the classroom this year after being on the admin team the previous year, said it all one day when she pulled me into her classroom hysterically confessing : “I just had my formal evaluation and afterward I found myself screaming at my students! I’m so stressed out about raising test scores, I can’t even teach! I can’t believe this – now I know how all of you have felt the last three years!”

Basing teacher, as well as principal, evaluation entirely upon one test score, or even multiple test scores, is a form of pedagogical intimidation resulting in dumbed down, mind-numbing, adherence to a scripted curriculum predetermined by “research proven” curricular materials sold by publishers who guarantee successful test taking. When fidelity to the curriculum takes precedence over critical thinking then having experienced educators doesn’t matter. In fact, experienced educators can be a liability when fidelity to the curriculum becomes paramount: most experienced educators question a fill-in-the-blank, teach to the test mentality, whereas an inexperienced teacher might accept a wholly formed curriculum to be unthinkingly adhered to.

Although Arne Duncan proclaimed on Jon Stewart last week “We cannot fire our way to the top, we have to much better support talent.”; I think this is the strategy of choice for improving CPS test scores as witnessed this week by the closing of seventeen schools for turnaround. “Off with their heads” as well as the heads of all the students and parents too!

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It’s been a month since my last post and I have just about had it with all the flap over our new contract, specifically “value-added” test scores of students being used in the evaluation of teachers.

Using “value added” to evaluate teachers is actually, in my view, value-addled evaluation of teachers. Supposedly. sing value-added data wizardry, student test scores can determine the “value” of what a teacher contributes to student achievement. Assessment experts say the method is highly unreliable, but that hasn’t deterred policymakers. That is why I have coined the term value-addled teacher assessment: it is senseless to hold teachers alone accountable for students achievement when so many other factors impinge upon student test scores.

Value-added is actually value-addled because every teacher does not have equal students, classes, and resources yet tests scores are viewed as objective, empirical, and quantitative just because tests scores are numerical data determined by standardized tests scores which are viewed as objective. However, test scores are not completely objective data and thus are not more reliable in value-added teacher evaluation, instead they are value-addled factors used to determine a teacher’s worth.

Below I will use four major problems with value-added teacher evaluation outlined by the mathematician John Ewing, in his Washington Post article de-bunking value-added teacher evaluation, to validate why such evaluation is actually value-addled teacher evaluation.

1. Influences. Value-added teacher evaluations are actually value-addled because test scores are not truly objective: scores are influenced by many factors other than time spent with one teacher over the course of a single school year. Test scores are impacted by numerous factors: parental support, level of achievement coming into the classroom, attitudes of peers and previous teachers. It is impossible to determine the sole influence of one teacher during one year among all these influential variables.

2. Polls. The poll-like nature of 1 – 3 standardized tests per school year reduces value-added to value-addled due to the reductive nature of polls: a sample of student achievement covers a minute fraction of material from the much larger domain of curriculum covered over the course of a school year. Student tests scores do not represent how much has been learned on material covered in a school year, and, unless numerous tests are used throughout the year, tests begin to resemble polls – they can be misleading.

3. Intangibles. Value-added is also value-addled due to endless intangibles which impact test scores such as: attitude, engagement, self-motivation, and individual ability to learn independently. The impact of such uncontrollable intangibles on student test scores rise exponentially when students do not have parental support and live in poverty. Furthermore, these intangibles were up-front biases of standardized tests readily acknowledged by the “father of modern standardized testing” (See Ewing article cited above for citation on the reserach.)

4. Inflation. Value-addled is a better term for value added because test scores can increase with out student knowledge increasing. According to Ewing, this has been well documented, but is largely ignored by many in the education “establishment”. How is this possible? As every teacher is well aware, teaching to the test – narrowing the curriculum to only what will be tested – can have a profound effect on test scores. In fact, evidence shows that tunnel-vision teaching for tests can dramatically increase tests scores yet decrease student learning: “test scores are not the same as student achievement.”

For further debunking of teacher-addled evaluation, I encourage you to go to the Washington Post piece cited above which I liberally made use of in the four points above. Ewing makes it clear value-added is just another falsity used to undermine public school teachers, thus public education, in a mindless race to hold only teachers accountable for student achievement, when actually, in the real world outside of politics, there are many other major factors impacting student achievement.

Where’s the RESPECT? CPS Places Additional Swords of Testing Above Teacher’s Heads

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Has Brizzard, or anyone at CPS, heard of the new federal initiative titled RESPECT touted by Arne Duncan in a town hall meeting and then on the Daily Show last week?  (RESPECT is acronym for Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching) Read more

Protesting CPS School Closings in Suburban Winnetka

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How brave of these protesters to foray into the ritzy suburban enclave of Winnetka this morning to protest Chicago school closings right at the door of powerful CPS stakes holder Tim Cawley, the Chief Administration Officer of CPS.

What the WBEZ piece about the protesters failed to mention: Tim Cawley comes to Chicago Public Schools from the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL) in Chicago – this is the same nonprofit organization that will profit indeed from closed schools by receiving the funds to manage them as turnaround schools. (AUSL is a nonprofit organization that partners with Chicago Public Schools to manage and turnaround chronically failing public schools.) Read more