team of rivals

Seven ed research heavyweights to head to Albany to help direct evaluation overhaul

Education research heavyweights are headed to Albany next week to offer their advice about the state’s imminent overhaul of teacher evaluations, and they represent many sides of the contentious debates around how to rate teachers.

Seven researchers, economists, and professors accepted an invitation to weigh in on the debate at a May 7 summit being held by the State Education Department and Board of Regents, according to a department memo obtained by Chalkbeat. Officials are required by law to collect public comment on how to design the regulations that will govern how a teacher’s performance in the classroom gets graded, a process that must be complete by the end of June.

On Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s side is Thomas Kane, an economist from Harvard University who last week penned an op-ed praising the governor and the evaluation system he pushed into law earlier this year. Kane is best known for directing the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Measures of Effective Teaching study, an influential project that many states drew from when designing their new evaluation systems over the last half-decade. (Disclosure: Chalkbeat also receives some funding from the Gates Foundation.)

Kane’s three-year, $45 million project ultimately recommended that 33 to 50 percent of a teacher’s rating be determined by student growth as determined by their state test scores, 25 percent by student surveys, and the rest by classroom observations. (New York’s new system puts a heavier emphasis on student growth, but prohibits the use of student surveys.)

Kane will have some intellectual allies on the panel, but he’ll also be joined by several experts who are less supportive of Cuomo’s ideas. They include University of California at Berkley economist Jesse Rothstein, who analyzed data from Kane’s MET study and found substantial differences in value-added scores for the same teacher when different tests were used. Rothstein has also questioned whether state tests are the best assessments to capture teacher quality.

“If it’s right that some teachers are good at raising the state test scores and other teachers are good at raising other test scores, then we have to decide which tests we care about,” Rothstein told Chalkbeat in 2012. “If we’re not sure that this is the test that captures what good teaching is, then we might be getting our estimates of teaching quality very wrong.”

Also due to offer their opinions are Catherine Brown, vice president of the left-leaning think tank Center for American Progress, which has published papers endorsing the use of value-added methodologies; Manhattanville College professor Stephen Caldas, who once called New York’s evaluation system “psychometrically indefensible“; and Teachers College sociologist Aaron Pallas, who has been critical of New York’s system and served as an expert witness in lawsuits brought by teachers unions challenging low teacher ratings.

Balancing out the panel will be Sandi Jacobs, a vice president at the National Council on Teacher Quality, an organization that has pushed states to adopt stringent evaluation systems that rely more on student learning measures, and Leslie Guggenheim of TNTP, an advocacy organization whose influential 2009 paper “The Widget Effect” was critical of districts for not using teacher performance to make important policy decisions.

It’s unclear what influence the researchers and policy analysts will have on the state’s work, given that much of the evaluation system has been prescribed by the law passed in April. Still, officials have decisions to make about what types of student performance should be factored into evaluation plans and how those scores should be used.

According to the memo, the state’s invitation was turned down by several other prominent researchers. One was Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond, who said in an email that she was working with the California’s education department and couldn’t travel. Another was Sean Corcoran of New York University, who has found that the city’s teacher ratings calculated by value-added measures were highly volatile from one year to the next and often riddled with errors, and said he was traveling.

Six of the seven experts will appear in person next week, where representatives from teacher unions, superintendent associations, and other advocacy groups will also be in attendance. A spokesperson for the department said the experts will get about 45 minutes to present their views on teacher evaluation policy before taking questions from Regents members.

Meanwhile, the city teachers union got a jump start on its attempts to influence state education officials, sending a lengthy letter and documents to the Regents this week outlining its own goals for changes to teacher evaluations.

The letter stated for the first time that the union wants the state to eliminate the use of “group measures” of student growth, which can be used to give ratings to teachers based on test scores of students or subjects they do not teach. Those measures are among the most frustrating aspects of evaluations for teachers of non-tested subjects like art, music and physical education, but also allow schools to reduce the time students spend taking subject-specific tests.

The union also pushed for as many aspects of the evaluation system as possible be left to districts and their unions to negotiate, rather than be decided by state officials.

“Every district is different, and a top-down, one-size-fits-all system will not meet the needs of all students and schools,” Evelyn De Jesus, the union’s vice president for education wrote.

student teaching

Building a teacher pipeline: How one Aurora school has become a training ground for aspiring teachers

Paraprofessional Sonia Guzman, a student of a teaching program, works with students at Elkhart Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Students at Aurora’s Elkhart Elementary School are getting assistance from three aspiring teachers helping out in classrooms this year, part of a new partnership aimed at building a bigger and more diverse teacher pipeline.

The teachers-to-be, students at the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education, get training and a paid job while they’re in college. Elkhart principal Ron Schumacher gets paraprofessionals with long-term goals and a possibility that they’ll be better prepared to be Aurora teachers.

For Schumacher, it’s part of a plan to not only help his school, but also others in Aurora Public Schools increase teacher retention.

“Because of the nature of our school demographics, it’s a coin flip with a new teacher,” Schumacher said. “If I lose 50 percent of my teachers over time, I’m being highly inefficient. If these ladies know what they’re getting into and I can have them prepared to be a more effective first-year teacher, there’s more likelihood that I’ll keep them in my school in the long term.”

Elkhart has about 590 students enrolled this year. According to state data from last year, more than 95 percent of the students who attend the school qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. The school, which operates with an International Baccalaureate program, has outperformed the district average on some state tests.

The three paraprofessionals hired by the school this year are part of the teaching program at UNC’s Lowry campus, which has long required students to work in a school for the four years they work on their degree.

Students get paid for their work in schools, allowing them to earn some money while going to college. Students from the program had worked in Aurora schools in the past, but not usually three students at once at the same school, and not as part of a formal partnership.

The teaching program has a high number of students of color and first-generation college students, which Rosanne Fulton, the program director, said is another draw for partnering with schools in the metro area.

Schumacher said every principal and education leader has the responsibility to help expose students to more teachers who can relate to them.

One of this year’s paraprofessionals is Andy Washington, an 18-year-old who attended Elkhart for a few years when she was a child.

“Getting to know the kids on a personal level, I thought I was going to be scared, but they’re cool,” Washington said.

Another paraprofessional, 20-year-old Sonia Guzman, said kids are opening up to them.

“They ask you what college is like,” Guzman said.

Schumacher said there are challenges to hiring the students, including figuring out how to make use of the students during the morning or early afternoon while being able to release them before school is done for the day so they can make it to their college classes.

Schumacher said he and his district director are working to figure out the best ways to work around those problems so they can share lessons learned with other Aurora principals.

“We’re using some people differently and tapping into volunteers a little differently, but if it’s a priority for you, there are ways of accommodating their schedules,” he said.

At Elkhart, full-time interventionists work with students in kindergarten through third grade who need extra help learning to read.

But the school doesn’t have the budget to hire the same professionals to work with older students. The three student paraprofessionals are helping bridge that gap, learning from the interventionists so they can work with fourth and fifth grade students.

Recently, the three started getting groups of students that they pull out during class to give them extra work on reading skills.

One exercise they worked on with fourth grade students recently was helping them identify if words had an “oi” or “oy” spelling based on their sounds. Students sounded out their syllables and used flashcards to group similar words.

Districts across the country have looked at similar approaches to help attract and prepare teachers for their own schools. In Denver, bond money voters approved last year is helping pay to expand a program this year where paraprofessionals can apply for a one-year program to become teachers while they continue working.

In the partnership at Elkhart, students paraprofessionals take longer than that, but in their first and second year are already learning how to write lessons during their afternoon classes and then working with teachers at the school to deliver the lessons and then reflect on how well they worked. Students say the model helps them feel supported.

“It’s really helping me to become more confident,” said Stephanie Richards, 26, the third paraprofessional. “I know I’m a lot more prepared.”

Schumacher said the model could also work in the future with students from other teaching schools or programs. It’s a small but important part, he said, toward helping larger efforts to attract and retain teachers, and also diversify the ranks.

“You’re doing something for the next generation of folks coming in,” he said.

surprise!

Teachers in Millington and Knoxville just won the Oscar awards of education

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Millington English teacher Katherine Watkins reacts after learning that she is the recipient of a 2017 Milken Educator Award.

Two Tennessee teachers were surprised during school assemblies Thursday with a prestigious national teaching award, $25,000 checks, and a visit from the state’s education chief.

Katherine Watkins teaches high school English in Millington Municipal Schools in Shelby County. She serves as the English department chair and professional learning community coordinator at Millington Central High School. She is also a trained jazz pianist, published poet, and STEM teacher by summer.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Paula Franklin learns she is among the recipients.

Paula Franklin teaches Advanced Placement government at West High School in Knoxville. Since she took on the course, its enrollment has doubled, and 82 percent of her students pass with an average score that exceeds the national average.

The teachers are two of 45 educators being honored nationally with this year’s Milken Educator Awards from the Milken Family Foundation. The award includes a no-strings-attached check for $25,000.

“It is an honor to celebrate two exceptional Tennessee educators today on each end of the state,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, who attended each assembly. “Paula Franklin and Katherine Watkins should be proud of the work they have done to build positive relationships with students and prepare them with the knowledge and skills to be successful in college and the workforce.”

Foundation chairman Lowell Milken was present to present the awards, which have been given to thousands of teachers since 1987.

PHOTO: Milken Family Foundation
Students gather around Millington teacher Katherine Watkins as she receives a check as part of her Milken Educator Award.

The Milken awards process starts with recommendations from sources that the foundation won’t identify. Names are then reviewed by committees appointed by state departments of education, and their recommendations are vetted by the foundation, which picks the winners.

Last year, Chattanooga elementary school teacher Katie Baker was Tennessee’s sole winner.

In all, 66 Tennessee educators have been recognized by the Milken Foundation and received a total of $1.6 million since the program began in the state in 1992.

You can learn more about the Milken Educator Awards here.