Effective Classroom Teaching Can Be Measured: What Do Effective MinnesotaTeachers Do?

Updated 5/2/2013  MinnCAN gently let me know that my figures for “agree” did not include “strongly agree”.   I’ve changed the polling results below and added an image. Also, here’s what they define as “effective” teaching:  “For the purposes of this survey, teacher effectiveness is defined by the ability to advance student learning such that, on average, students demonstrate at least one year of academic learning during a school year.”

Effective and efficient teaching is in the news.  Minnesota apparently missed out on some Race to the Top funding.  And we need funding.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, the Center for American Progress and the American Enterprise Institute all gave Minnesota Ds for its teacher evaluation systems. And one of the reasons the state missed out on federal funds through the Race to the Top program was because of a poor rating on instructor assessments.

Here’s background on Race to the Top and teacher evaluations:

President Barack Obama signs into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which, among other things, sets aside roughly $4.35 billion for states to improve their education systems.

The competition, known as Race to the Top, distributes funding to states that meet specific requirements and set up concrete plans to improve their schools. One key area of reform, as laid out by the law, is teacher evaluations. As such, the contest sparked a whole host of reforms, many of which have lead to a number of conflicts between unions and government officials.

Also, Minnesota and many other states apply for a waiver from some No Child Left Behind requirements.  No Child Left Behind modified the ESEA law and those requirements are expensive.  We need to remember part of the waiver requirement involves teacher evaluation:

Lawmakers should also consider the fact that Minnesota applied for and received a waiver from federal No Child Left Behind rules — in part because of its commitment to have the evaluation system in place by 2014.

minncan2MinnCAN, a Minnesota non-profit which does research and policy, communications and mobilization, and advocacy has been thinking about teacher evaluation, and just published Teachers on Education Reform which asked teachers to agree or disagree with these statements:

1. Teacher effectiveness should play a role in determining whether or not a teacher receives tenure.
(57.3% 82.6% agreed)
2. A persistent lack of teacher effectiveness should be grounds for a teacher losing tenure.
(55% 74.8% of teachers polled agreed)
3. A persistent lack of teacher effectiveness should be grounds for a teacher losing tenure.
(57% 74% of teachers polled agreed)
4. If teacher layoffs are required, seniority should be considered, but the primary factor in deciding which teachers to lay off should be based on teacher effectiveness.
(38.8% 52.8%of teachers polled agreed)

From the answers (and answers to other questions about teacher evaluation law) we can see:

-Teachers want to bring more accountability to the profession. Nearly 90 percent say evaluations and professional development that are aligned will help advance student learning.
-A large margin of teachers say that receiving and keeping tenure should align with effectiveness in the classroom. Eighty-plus percent say teacher effectiveness should inform whether or not a teacher receives tenure.
-Teachers say student progress is a better measure of teacher effectiveness than absolute achievement.
-The more familiar teachers are with Minnesota’s new teacher evaluation law the more strongly they tend to support it. Of those familiar, 50 percent had a “somewhat” or “very” favorable reaction; 23 percent of those unfamiliar felt the same.

Yes, teacher evaluation is in the news.  I see noble effort to advocate for effective teaching in Minnesota but I notice there is no one specific definition of “effective”.  That is probably why we  have no good, clear plan to  measure “effective.” We should first start by defining “effective”.  And we all should be interested in how this plays out as this movement to evaluate could produce historical results.  Hopefully it will erase Minnesota’s achievement gap problem.

Anyway, I have  master’s degree in education.  I learned how to set and attain objectives, how to manage a classroom so learning wasn’t disrupted, weigh assignments and award grades, clearly deliver information,  appeal to special interest, allow for varied learning styles and reteach what didn’t get learned.  I pursued my master’s classes and learned many great things  only to realize I couldn’t apply a lot of what I had learned. In today’s educational system here is very little time for anything beyond the cookie-cutter approach:

cookie cutter [only before noun] American English: almost exactly the same as other things of the same type, and not very interesting

There’s 36 kids in one classroom and teachers  have about 180 kids a day. Young and talented teachers often find themselves desperately trying to keep up with other teachers who are teach the same curriculum.  Standardized tests are good for measurement, but testing days take away learning time and the tests themselves need improvement.  They don’t measure measure higher-order thinking and often measure prior learning (not what is being learned in the classroom at the time).

But teacher effectiveness can be measured and is important to measure especially if there is failure.   Here are my own thoughts on evaluation:

1. Teachers function as a group and should be measured as a group.  Decide to measure teachers together in a specific cohort.

2. Curriculum is decided upon by several people.  Teachers, school officials, parents, state legislators, and federal legislators all help to identify what is taught.  This should be taken into account when measuring”effective teaching”.  Should we spend more time evaluating curriculum to decide if it works, and does it work for all?

3.  Teachers fail when students fail.  Students should not be allowed to fail even one class without the attempt to use several stopgap methods.

4.  The “system” needs to be more flexible  and allow for reteaching. Teachers should take into account various learning styles, monitoring and adjusting accordingly. 

5.  Students should understand the value of an education and be ready to participate.  Teachers should repeatedly connect learning to later success (success that matters to the student).  Learning patterns should be identified and in some cases corrected. 

6. More money should be allocated for the purpose of small classrooms and better resources especially if a district is identified as having certain needs (higher percentage of achievement gap situation, for example).   Also, more money should be paid to teachers in districts with identified problems.   Keep evaluating those teachers but start them out at a higher pay rate.

7.  Effective teachers do things. We should identify these activities and look for them to be done by other teachers and incorporate teacher activity into our definition of “effective”.

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