Curtis Whatley is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

Here’s what educators, advocates, wonks and policymakers are talking about today:

News & analysis

Studies give nuanced look at teacher effectiveness
The massive Measures of Effective Teaching Project is finding that teacher effectiveness assessments similar to those used in some district value-added systems aren’t good at showing which differences are important between the most and least effective educators, and often totally misunderstand the “messy middle” that most teachers occupy. Yet the project’s latest findings suggest more nuanced teacher tests, multiple classroom observations and even student feedback can all create a better picture of what effective teaching looks like. Researchers dug into the latest wave of findings from the study of more than 3,000 classes for a standing-room-only ballroom at the American Educational Research Association’s annual conference here on Saturday. “The middle is a lot messier than a lot of state policies would lead us to believe,” Cantrell said. “Teachers don’t fall neatly into quartiles. Based on the practice data, if I look at the quartiles, all that separates the 25th and 75th on a class (observation) instrument is .68—less than 10 percent of the scale distribution. In a lot of systems, the 75th percentile teacher is considered a leader and the 25th percentile considered a laggard. …This would suggest they’re a lot closer than being off by two categories.” (Inside School Research)

Minnesota: New tool to standardize teacher evaluations in Minn.
When Todd Marder changed careers from swim coach to science teacher, he wasn’t ready for kindergarteners. But he said things changed when he met with a seasoned teacher who modeled lessons, suggested reading materials and did in-class observations as part of the school district’s teacher evaluation process. The kindergarteners, he said, started listening. “They haven’t learned how to sit in a classroom yet and follow a teacher’s instructions … she had me really focus my energy correctly so that kindergarteners would respond,” said Marder, 31, now in his second year at St. Paul Music Academy. The mentoring that Marder found helpful may soon turn up in schools across Minnesota. Even as Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP lawmakers have skirmished this session over teacher performance issues, a group of over 39 teachers, administrators, parents and lawmakers has been quietly developing a new statewide tool for teacher evaluation. Until recently, state law required only probationary teachers to be evaluated regularly. Some districts evaluated teachers as a requirement of Q Comp, the state program that pays schools when student test scores improve. Otherwise, districts could evaluate tenured teachers, but those reviews varied greatly from school to school in regularity and toughness. A law passed last year will require all public school teachers to undergo evaluations with a standard tool by the 2014-15 school year. (MPR)

Minnesota: Mpls. teachers approve new contract
Minneapolis teachers have voted to accept a contract with the school district. President Lynn Nordgren of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers said 83 percent of voting members supported the contract Saturday. The contract calls for Minneapolis teachers to work four extra school days, and about an hour more per week. They would be paid a little more than $3,000 more a year for the extra time in the classroom. The contract also includes two preparation days for teachers during the opening week of school. And it limits class sizes in an effort to improve student performance at 16 struggling Minneapolis schools. The school board will vote Tuesday on whether to ratify the contract. (MPR)

New York: Teacher ratings renew evaluation debate
How do you measure who is an effective teacher? More states are wrestling with that question, now that the Obama administration is encouraging schools to evaluate teachers with a combination of student test scores and classroom observations. The question of whether teacher evaluations are reliable indicators for teacher effectiveness has long been controversial. But New York City reignited the debate when it rated thousands of teachers with test scores alone — and then released those ratings to the public. (NPR)

New York: State teachers union leader Dick Iannuzzi bends on evaluations
The head of the state teachers union signaled for the first time Friday a willingness to let parents see teacher evaluations — but nobody else. New York State United Teachers President Dick Iannuzzi said the union could accept parents having limited access to teacher evaluations, if it were done to help individual students and not shame teachers. He steadfastly opposed the widespread release of the teacher report cards, a position favored by Mayor Bloomberg. “Clearly there’s got to be a way to find a balance between teacher privacy and a need for parents to have enough information to improve their students’ learning,” Iannuzzi said on “The Capitol Pressroom” radio program. Gov. Cuomo, who wants a compromise, is currently engaged in talks with state lawmakers on legislation that would limit release of the information, but a fix that achieves the needed balance hasn’t been found. Iannuzzi said releasing the teacher data to all would be more about “shock value” and “selling newspapers” than improving education. (Daily News)

New York: Pol a charter “fool”
A powerful state lawmaker has proposed a new bill that would block the opening of new charter schools and limit educational options to parents and kids, critics charge. The controversial legislation — advanced by Harlem Assemblyman and Manhattan Democratic Party Chairman Keith Wright — would give 32 community-education councils the power to veto plans to put charters in buildings also used by traditional public schools. Under the bill, which is backed the influential teachers union, the 11-member parent CECs would vote to approve or reject such co-location plans. If they disapprove, the mayoral-run Board of Education would be prohibited from even voting on charter locations. “Co-locations by executive fiat has not worked. It has torn communities and neighborhoods apart. I have seen police officers called in to go after parents. That doesn’t make for a good educational environment,” Wright said. “This bill provides a better way to satisfy space concerns and educational concerns of the entire educational community. Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t know better than Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant and the South Bronx,” he added. But school-choice advocates worry that giving the local councils veto power could spell the death knell for charter-school expansion. It would be akin to giving community boards — whose members have advisory input over land issues — the power to unilaterally kill building projects. “Giving power to decide co-locations to a group of bodies that were created specifically to be advisory only will do much to restore us to the failed system of decentralization that may have worked fine for adults, but was an unmitigated disaster for children,” said James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center. (New York Post)

Texas: The Posse Foundation comes to Houston for 2012-2013 school year
Starting this fall, high school seniors in the Houston Independent School District will have an opportunity to vie for one of 30 golden tickets to a unique higher-education experience. Teachers, principals and community leaders will get to nominate students to become members of the city’s inaugural “posses” — groups of students from large, urban districts organized by the Posse Foundation, which sends them to elite colleges and universities as a unit to serve as a pre-established peer support network. The New York-based nonprofit, which has been lauded by the MacArthur Foundation and President Obama, is making its first foray into Texas. In the fall of 2013, 10-student posses will be sent from Houston to three institutions of higher education: Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, Texas A&M University and the University of Texas. Tamkinat Firoz, who graduated from Bryn Mawr as part of a posse from Boston, said the students should be prepared for a life-changing experience. “You make friends in school, you make great friends, but Posse is a family,” Ms. Firoz said. “They will see you at your worst, see you at your best, and they will still love you.” Deborah Bial started the foundation in 1989 after a student told her that he would not have dropped out of college if he had had his “posse” with him. “This was back in the ’80s, when ‘posse’ was a more hip word,” Ms. Bial said. (New York Times)


Mike Magee: Save Rhode Island: Do the math
Rhode Islanders have a general sense that low math achievement plagues our urban school districts, though perhaps most are not aware of how drastic the situation is. Of the 1180 11th graders in Providence Public Schools other than the select Classical High School, only 40 – less than a busload – are proficient in math. Imagine them on that one bus with a few seats to spare. Secretary Duncan’s point, however, was that poor math performance is not restricted to Rhode Island’s most disadvantaged students. It is epidemic. Teaching Americans math and science has been essential to the health of the U.S. economy for a long while. According to the National Science Foundation (2004), scientific innovation has produced roughly half of all U.S. economic growth in the last 50 years. Going forward, it will be even more important: according to a report prepared for the U.S. Department of Labor in 2007, “of the 20 fastest-growing occupations over the coming decade, 17 will be in health care and computer fields.” An emphasis on teaching science, technology, engineering and math (the so-called STEM fields) makes economic sense. We hear more about STEM every day, and yet the rhetoric is not matching our practices. With the second highest unemployment rate in the nation, persistent in a way that defies the recovery of neighboring states, Rhode Island simply must adopt bold and proven educational strategies to improve outcomes for our kids. (GoLocalProv)

Star Tribune: A final to-do list for the Minn. state legislature
The Legislature’s minority DFLers have already tipped their campaign-theme hands to the Republicans who control both legislative chambers for the first time in four decades. They’re already calling this year a “do-nothing session” and are questioning GOP capacity for sufficient compromise to govern. As Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk noted recently, DFL Gov. Mark Dayton is not on the ballot this year. In a political sense, he does not truly “need” anything. To Dayton’s credit, that’s not the message he sent GOP leaders last week. In a conciliatory letter, Dayton made clear that he wants enactment of a number of major bills remaining on legislative dockets, He indicated willingness to compromise — within certain limits, such as no raids on reserve funds. Dayton’s wish list includes several items we’d like to see … [and] one item Dayton did not mention. We renew our plea for him to sign a bill that would allow school districts to consider teacher performance as well as seniority when staffing levels are reduced. “Last in, first out” (LIFO) seniority rules too often take top young teachers out of the classroom and out of the profession. State law should give school administrators more opportunity to preserve teaching quality while downsizing. Dayton still has time to ask for improvements to that bill to satisfy his concerns. He should do so, and should be met with cooperation if he does. The LIFO bill belongs on this cycle’s list of accomplishments. (Star Tribune)


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