Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Teacher, Teacher

I'm not sure if anyone has ever noticed that we actually have three contributors to this blog. I know you've only ever seen  posts from SJ and me, but we do in fact have a third. Our silent partner is a school teacher who is definitely not shy about sharing opinions (except on this site, apparently). Anyway, I've gotten permission to post this piece about the problems of teacher evaluations. Enjoy and please let us know your thoughts. 
Image via WikipediaLast in, First out. In a time of such budget cuts and many failing schools, which teachers are the most valuable to retain in schools? Many keep hollering, "Evaluation!" But what does that mean?

Very controversial. Fraught with problems. A tremendous quantity of questions arise.

How does one genuinely evaluate a teacher?

Test scores? That leaves a great deal out including issues the student might experience, such as constantly moving in and out of homeless shelters or becoming pregnant. What is or is not the teachers' responsibility when it comes to low test scores? What are the parents' and students' responsibilities and how will they be held accountable?

Lack of good teacher training? Do we lose people who could be an excellent teacher with continued help? Will there be backing to help them or will they be summarily dumped?

By their bulletin boards? How much should a principal who does not get along with something, say the teaching style of a pedagogue, have to say with about retaining and/or rating the teacher?

The budget? What of a school who can afford two new teachers for the price of one more experienced one? What of someone who has loyally worked for the Board/Department of Education for 30+ years? Have we "priced" them out of being worthwhile due to continued budget cuts and hard choices the schools have to make?

Truly, no one in a school wants a lazy or poor teacher. It makes it more difficult on the teachers, students, administration. The one predicament that frightens me most is the budgetary issues schools face. I knew an excellent teacher who taught middle school children for 36 years. The principal, though she was good friends with that teacher, outright told her when she retired that she was happy to be able to have the money from her salary since she could now hire several teachers and an aide for the price of all that experience and education. How does one offer security for such years of genuinely good service when, for a school, it becomes a matter of budgeting (and don't think that there are tons of administrators are so altruistic toward student and teacher that they ignore their budgets, especially when their administrative careers often depend on being able to lessen class size to up test scores, by hiring more inexperienced teachers versus fewer experienced teachers)?

We need to stop thinking that the issue of sorting out "good" teachers in the nation's largest public school system, is a problem, which suggests a simple solution, and begin to understand that it is a dilemma, laden with controversy.
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Jack Jodell said...

WOW---at last we hear from Kersting, the mysteriously always absent member of this blog! I am glad he or she took the time to submit this.

Our society is obsessed with money. Rather, those who run our society are. They boil everything and everybody down to the level of a mere commodity, and then they always attempt to budget cut, lay off, or otherwise economically inhibit workers. Doing so cheapens the worker and has a negative effect on the quality of his or her work. Meanwhile, income keeps funneling upward through one budgetary cut after another.

This let-the-rich-get-richer-and-to-hell-with-everyone-else mentality is destroying this country. When the hell are we going to finally rise up and demand fairness and common sense? Do we have to emulate Tunisia or Egypt? What will it take - riots in the street?

Great points, Mycue23 and Kersting. We all deserve far better than we're getting in this muddled plutocratic corpocracy we are trapped in!

TomCat said...

Kersting, my own experience as a student affected my view. In the 5th grade, I had a teacher who should never have been allowed in a classroom. She had pets and took great pleasure in verbally humiliating everyone else. Because of her, I think that some form of evaluation is necessary, but I agree that good teachers must be protected from termination for budgetary reasons.

Divine Theatre said...

Now there's an option. Do your job well or lose it. Why would you have a problem with that? Should physicians and lawyers be afforded the same luxury as these forlorn teachers? After all, not every illness is the same...and those laws can be so tricky!
Do your job well or lose it. Stop making excuses.

Kersting said...

Dear Divine Theater and TomCat,

I don't think anyone disagrees with, "Do your job well or lose it." We, the teachers, would love the dead weight out of the school as much or even more than most. Every teacher I know, who does his/her job well and works his/her heart out has no problem with a system of evaluation, so long as it is fair, but there hasn't really been one presented that seems very comprehensive. There is even an enormous debate as to what is actually being evaluated.

I had some horrid, cruel teachers and attempt to watchdog myself regularly so that I never become one of them. One year, I watched one of the best teachers I had experienced driven from school because it became suspected she was lesbian. At the same time, the bitter, belittling, poorly trained, jerk of a math teacher was rewarded. His students' scores were adequate while the sports team, of which he was coach, always had a good record. The students of the "outed" teacher had tremendous scores and that teacher taught more than one National Merit Scholar. She moved away. I wonder why the teachers are concerned by the method of how they are to be evaluated.

SJ said...

I agree. The issue is also transparency in any processes that may enable abuses or personal attacks while trying to separate the wheat from the chaff. Clearly the current systems in my State of New York have not worked as well as they could have, as they tend to eliminate new teachers on the simple basis of seniority and allow increasing protection for veterans regardless of the kind of job they may be doing for our students, -there's just too many inbuilt areas in the system for negligence, nepotism, cronyism and abuse.
-This isn't a problem with our pool of teachers in America, but the methods used to recruit and retain them in an underfunded system that has always been asked to to do more with less since the early 60s.

@Divine Theatre,
sadly many lawyers and doctors do get away with precisely the kind of sub-par performance we are all talking about here, -they don't do their job well and get away with it:
E.g. public defenders assigned to people on trial who cannot afford their own attorney (and just as many prosecutors for the state do a shitty bare bones job with actual lives at stake) and as far as doctors go? I'm sure if you think across your own life you'll remember more than a few physicians who were horrible at their job. I can think of three of my own and I'm just in my early 40s. The number is sure to climb as I get older and need more medical services.

Divine Theatre said...

SJ, the only answer is to allow the market to decide.

SJ said...

@Divine Theater,
-sorry but it's not.
"The market"'s been deciding things for decades and we all know that there are professionals getting by across many industries who shouldn't be practicing their trade. The world of finance itself has been a great, sad, recent example in this regard.

Divine Theatre said...

SJ, your response is indicative of one who is unfamiliar with the way markets work.
What you are referring to is Corporate Fascism, wherin governmental regulations and intervention, as well as protection (in the form of tax dollars) plays a role.
No, the Market itself is comprised simply of a system of supply and demand. Producer A makes a superior product or service to that of Producer B, therefore consumers will choose producer A every time. Eventually Producer B will make a better product or service or fall to that wayside as the Market intended.
In such a realm, free of government intervention, the market is successful, hence the phrase" laissez faire" or "hands off".

SJ said...

@Divine Theatre,
I am not referring to corporate fascism, that is your association and assessment of what I am saying and frankly, it's childish.
I'll make my point/position clearer for you since you wasted your time explaining concepts we've all known since grade school.

What I am indicating, is something that you refuse to acknowledge: that the free competition of service providers itself does not eliminate abuse or incompetence.

On another note: Do you seriously think there's anyone in America who doesn't know what Laissez Faire is?

My responses are indicative of someone who does not agree with you, and nothing else.

Divine Theatre said...

My apologies. Your response is indicative of an arrogant, naive individual who hates being wrong. I'll leave it at that.
You have completely reinforced my decision to home school. Thanks!

SJ said...

Thanks for stopping by.

Silverfiddle said...

SJ: You make Divine's point. The financial market is not a free market. It is subsidized by our tax dollars, and we bail out these crony crapitalists every time they shoot craps. Heads they win, tails we lose. This is what happens when a government manipulates the market. It masks the market signals and causes bubbles, crashes and panics.

Privatizing the entire education system would usher in innovation and allow market forces to tell us what works and what doesn't. More importantly, individual schools could quickly adapt to these signals; something a bureaucratic monopoly is unable to do.

Christopher - Conservative Perspective said...

"What are the parents' and students' responsibilities and how will they be held accountable?"

Typical political response I would say in the face of justified criticism; Answer a question with a question.

You speak of responsibility yet shirk your own or at least the bulk of your colleagues which there is abundant proof in scoring nationwide.

To be honest I did not read past that point as your arrogance and ignorance prevented from me doing so.

Yes both parents and students play a part but just where do you justify your pay let alone benefits?

If parents are the answer then we should abolish mandatory school all together following that logic and just where would you end up after that?

The real problem lies ihn your "education" being it was faulty at best due to the same union(s) or non-existent as evident by your collective results.

Mycue23 said...

I was going to respond to your note but to be honest I did not read past the point that your arrogance and ignorance prevented me from doing so.

Divine Theatre said...

Mycue: With that clever response we are all led to believe that you did not understand the remainder of Christopher's post and decided to obfuscate the issue.
Perhaps you would prefer to respond to the post before that one, then?
Silverfiddle made some excellent points. Are we to assume you agree?

Mycue23 said...

As in your response to SJ, you have once again displayed your almost supernatural powers of deduction. I'm not sure how you could deduce my level of understanding or lack thereof from such a brief statement, but clearly there are higher powers at play which are beyond my comprehension. The post is not mine. I simply posted it from another source for one of our contributers. I did however write a post about education. If you care to read it, ( you will then be free to impart as much of your wisdom on me as you deem essential to my personal edification. Thanks for stopping by.

Divine Theatre said...

Neither SJ nor Mycue seem to be capable of answering simple queries. I wonder why that is? Again, we are led to believe they do not understand the topic.
If such is not the case, I urge you to respond to the original posts.

Christopher - Conservative Perspective said...

@ Mycue,

Excuse me but explain please, did I make the post or did you?

If one makes a public statement they should be ready to reply.

You once again show your arrogance by using my word's in not responding to legitimate concerns that you yourself raised.

If you wish legitimacy then you must show you are worthy of it and as of yet you have not done so.

Mycue23 said...

You call me arrogant but then claim to be the arbiter of my "legitimacy". I have no idea who elected you to that exalted post but as I stated previously, there are forces at work that are clearly beyond my comprehension. As for the comments, I found nothing worthy of a response. From you claiming that the writer was arrogant and ignorant to questioning the quality of education the writer received, there was nothing constructive in your comment. Abolishing public education is a nonsense response to a real problem. I have yet to glean a question posed in your response.
As always, thanks for stopping by.

SJ said...

@Silver fiddle, Divine Theatre and Christopher,
-my apologies (I’m not being sarcastic), I'm just seeing your responses now for the first time. In all frankness I didn't think Divine Theatre would be back since I'm so "arrogant" and "naive" in his/her view and was going to leave it at that. Whatever you may think Divine Theatre, I don't post on here to upset anyone.

You all make some excellent points in reminding us about the fact that there is "interference" of kinds in what would otherwise not be in place in absolutely free markets, whether that interference is in fact the problem is another matter as said interference can be the subsidies and unions you are mentioning or the very laws of the land themselves.
So I tell you what, I'll submit something from my own recent experience which I hope help you understand why I do not support absolute free markets (as Divine Theatre appears to I don't from his/her earlier comments), since I assume you are all here at his/her invitation, though ultimately at my own, mycue23's and Kersting's welcome. I sincerely mean that.

A few years ago, Hasbro, (F.D. a company I was heavily invested in through a fund) historically a very innovative toy company responsible not only for toys I grew up with like the original GI Joe started manufacturing partnerships for their small scale plastics castings with Chinese factories. They were knocking down various operational bottom lines, and shareholders like myself benefitted. All seemed well, and when shareholders like myself asked what about American job losses, Hasbro told us the American workforce was too expensive for this particular line of production. Fair enough.
Then their toys made in China started testing positive for lead.
When this hit the news a few years back if you all remember, the repercussions, -as you all know very severe. Their stock prices crashed, they lost contracts to produce licensed toys to fast food companies, and shareholders like myself divested: This is the part of free markets regulating themselves that you are all speaking about; and this worked. Hasbro was more careful moving forward, its competitors benefitted from their folly and irresponsibility.

My question is, do we really think its wise to allow the market to just correct itself and punish/reward actors in the market when human beings, in this case children might be harmed?

You may say I'm "arrogant" or whatever you may want to call me to dismiss what I’m saying, but again what I am pointing out is this:
the free competition of market itself does not eliminate abuse or incompetence.
Furthermore in many cases, the market, business, what-have-you existing without regulation will take too long (if at all, E.G. without regulations there's no lead testing to expose harmful toys) to keep bad services from reaching/harming the public.

Silverfiddle said...

@SJ the free competition of market itself does not eliminate abuse or incompetence.

Of course not! Nobody has a magic wand to eliminate the evil, the venal, the greedy and the incompetent. It's just that free markets are better at sifting them out than monopolistic bureaucracies are.

You Hasbro example is a great example of the free market working.

As for regulation, neither Christopher, Divine nor I have advocated wiping out all regulation.

Simply put, a free market requires less regulation than a manipulated one. The profit motive keeps companies in line. Businesses that poison, maim and kill consumers generally do not do as well as those who deliver a safe product.

Anyway, we have government regulating agriculture and what do we get? Millions of pounds of e coli-laced beef and tomatoes, poisoned eggs...

I know many young energetic teachers who are shackled by red tape and convoluted union rules. I would love to see these young teachers set free to in turn free our kids.

SJ said...

then we're agreed, to a point. I simply don't agree with you that free markets are better at sifting them out without oversight. My concern being in certain industries that affect lives directly. I agree with you that bureaucracy isn't an answer (and I agree it's central to the problem we find ourselves in) in fact much of our bureaucracy is a problematic end in an of itself.
But letting an industry like, let's say pencil makers, sort themselves out, is very different from letting the medical teaching institutions of America sort themselves out. None of us would want to be at the mercy of a generation of doctors coming out of a free market who didn't meet certain long hard-fought-for standards. Certainly the weakly educated doctors would get sorted out eventually... but not until after a lot of damage.

Silverfiddle said...

SJ: Where your argument breaks down is that students do not go from medical schools directly into practice.

They have to pass licensing exams and other practical evaluations.

A school with a high failure rate would not be as attractive as one with a high pass rate.

SJ said...

@Silverfiddle, that's a very good point. They do have to intern, and repeatedly "test" as it were. But they do all of it under watchful eyes of practitioners bearing a standard citing regulations for procedures (some with legal bases), working toward a license. So I'm imagining a free market in which some people could get by without a universal standard or even that vetting process.
I agree with you 100% that failure rates would be a deciding indicator for consumers/patients (I still count on it myself in regard to electronics). I'm just not confident that it would be as quick or thorough as many existing regulations and standards, and even some of the dreaded regulatory commissions nobody is a fan of.

And lest I forget to express it, -Silverfiddle, whatever our different perspectives, I want to thank you, Christopher and Divine Theatre for your contributions to a subject few give enough time to.
I mean that sincerely and I mean it however judgmental yesterday/today's discourse may have become.

Mycue23 said...

Glad you came back to this conversation. Obviously you're in a mellow mood today.

SJ said...

even after I read the new posts this afternoon, I couldn't post that first response for a long while due to some glitch on the blog. -I reported it to Blogger btw.

Silverfiddle said...

I used to enjoy debating with those of a more liberal or big government state of mind, but I found it too time consuming. (I am a rightwing libertarian, if that even makes any sense)

I think there are few subjects more important that education. I served in the military and I am far from a pacifist, but I dare say we could hardly do better than disentangling ourselves from farflung lands and concentrating on fixing our education system.

I am not against spending more on it, but more money alone won't fix it. We need innovation.

I apologize in advance for blog pimping, but here are two posts that explain my point of view.

The first you will probably disagree with, but I think you will be nodding in agreement with at least part of the second one.

SJ said...

Thank you for your service to the nation. I greatly appreciate your service to our Republic in its armed forces.
You are right, money has hardly ever done it on its own in regard to anything in America.
I'll be sure to check out your posts, many thanks for the links.

Divine Theatre said...

I must say that I am not an advocate of regulation on business. There is a reason criminal and tort laws exist. It already IS illegal to administer poison to an individual, no matter the methodology.
Regulation, as I am certain you would agree, adds an expensive level of bureaucracy without a guarantee of success.
Take, for example, the FDA. When a new drug is "discovered" it requires 10 years and millions of dollars to have it approved. As you know, FDA approval is no guarantee of safety. How many MILLIONS of innocent people have died from side effects of FDA approved drugs? Further, there are people DYING of diseases who would readily take an "unapproved" drug but are not allowed to. Ten years is a long time to wait when you are dying!
How many truly effective and lifesaving drugs will never see the light of day due to governmental red tape?

As an aside, I would like to see the 17th amendment repealed, which would devolve power away from the national government and drastically reduce the influence of interest groups.

SJ said...

@Divine Theatre,
and I guess that's just where we disagree, although I think the true distance between the positions we are discussing here are a question extent and degree. Ten years is too long for anything in which lives are in the balance. But I also think a testing and regulation mechanism has to be in place despite the FDA's historically slow and flawed record. The FDA may not work the way we want it to, but in my opinion, we still need an agency fulfilling that role. Drug trials have to be loosened up for patients willing to try them.
I agree with you on special interest groups and I'd go as far as to suggest that lobbying should be outlawed in all forms. If memory serves, the nation's capital was moved to DC in order to keep the legislature away from outside influence. Now we have K street. Go figure.

Kersting said...

I have been somewhat fascinated reading the responses to my contribution and don't even know where or how to start reacting. I would reiterate that there is no good teacher out there who wants the bad one with them in the school. It makes it horribly difficult on us to try and run a school with dead weight in it as well. There are many a teacher that has been horrible to my students that I wish we could get rid of, but they are not just the older teachers, there are many a new, young teacher that are problematic as well. That is an issue of personality. If I could wish for anything it would be that all teachers be psych profiled before being allowed into a school.

For the people who seem to respond by thinking that the only way to solve this problem is to let the "market" sort it out, I believe you are simplifying a systemic dilemma, which was part of my initial warning. I have a good child who is on her 5th homeless shelter this year and doesn't know where she might be sleeping the next night. There is another girl who is pregnant by a 25 year old man, with the blessing of the mother who lets him live in the house because that is the role she believes is the best for her daughter, pregnant with a man to take care of "them" (who if he is going after under aged girls, I doubt will be there in 5 years - we called Child Welfare, but the mother and daughter lied and that ended the case). One student, who could care less if he is failing, attacked a guard when they tried to take his cell phone (as Dept. of Ed. regulations require). If a kid bullies another, the child who must leave the school is the one who files the restraining order, not the bully, thus rewarding the perpetrator. I teach in an area where becoming a prostitute and selling drugs is a viable way of life for even some of the nicest of children because it feeds the family. For none of those fairly (and sadly) typical cases, is doing well on a math test their top priority. I'm at a loss as to how letting the "market" sort out teachers is going to magically change those issues.

- continued in next post -

Kersting said...

- continuation -

When I began teaching in NYC 17 years ago, there were some excellent teachers, but they were far overshadowed and numbered by the abysmal and mediocre. That came from a problem, predominantly, of salary (there's a lovely market aspect - getting what you pay for). Why teach in a such a difficult system when you can cross the border into Westchester or Long Island and get, easily, $20,000 more? Finally, the city attempted to rectify the situation in-house after the press pointed out the drastic measures the Board of Ed. was taking, including flying in and providing housing for foreign teachers. Slowly I have watched better teachers begin to fill the system. Now I wonder who is going to want to join a system when they are repeatedly the person to be blamed, have no incentive to stay since they will be priced out of the "market" and have little chance to even make it to their pension since it will be damned near impossible to make the years because after a certain point no one will want to hire someone with a vast level of experience and education due to the salary cost placed upon individual schools. The schools that will hire those teachers will again be Westchester and Long Island. All the strong young teachers that everyone wants to protect will promptly leave. The "market" at work. Chappaqua can afford them and NYC Public can't.

What I was looking for, through all those comments, was one real idea of how to sort out the good from the bad teachers and nowhere did I see any true suggestion (and if you think test scores is it, then you have little hope of ever understanding the depth of the situation). I did, though, see from certain people who seem to think that this is an easy problem to solve, a great deal of simplification and whining. For Divine Theater, I have no problem with home schooling and think in many cases that might be the best possible solution. Sadly, unless my own child were to get into a very few certain schools, I would never send him/her to NYC Public and many other public school systems in this country. Most of my real learning came from my parents augmented by some good teachers at school. I anxiously and gratefully await genuine suggestions as to how to solve the issues.


Divine Theatre said...

It's late, so I will be brief. Kersting, why do you choose to work in that particular system if a better school system is willing to hire you based on your education and experience? I am merely curious.
There are several issues here. The first one is the fact that you work in a district that pays very little due to the low tax base. The low tax base comes courtesy of irresponsible people breeding. Nothing more, nothing less. If people are willing to have children they can ill afford you can guarantee that irresponsibility permeates every aspect of their lives. That includes their children's education. Hence, the high pregnancy rates, higher rate of violence, etc. Nothing will change until parents are forced to take responsibility. The War on Poverty and the Welfare State have churned out generations of marginalized children. That is a topic unto itself, I think.
That being said, there are also good parents in these areas who, through no fault of their own are forced to place their children in schools alongside the aforementioned group. Why should these responsible, taxpaying citizens and their children be disenfranchised? Shouldn't they be provided with options such as waivers?
In a free market, the responsible parents have the option of sending their child to a school where the teachers can concentrate on teaching and the students solely on learning.

Silverfiddle said...

Kersting: To add to what Divine is saying, poverty and social dysfunction are not the fault of the schools, and teachers did not cause it.

I see these as additional factors that complicate an already broken system.

How to teach our kids for the 21st century, and how to deal with poverty and social dysfunction are two distinct issues.

I think some areas need special schools where perhaps kids do all homework at school since there is no chance they will get any done in their broken home.

Divine Theatre said...

I agree, Silverfiddle.
The market would allow for variances that a bureaucracy does not. There are myriad types of "consumer" and the permutations are endless as to how to address the needs of each.
Imagine that! A school that meets the demands of the client!

Mycue23 said...

Divine Theatre,
I am reposting something that you wrote in one of your responses:
"The low tax base comes courtesy of irresponsible people breeding. Nothing more, nothing less. If people are willing to have children they can ill afford you can guarantee that irresponsibility permeates every aspect of their lives. That includes their children's education. Hence, the high pregnancy rates, higher rate of violence, etc."

There is so much wrong with that statement that I can't even begin to dignify it with a response. I will ask that you take your views elsewhere. No need to respond to this. Just don't come back.

Thank you. The management.