Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Weighing Professional Development in a Tight Budget

Weighing Professional Development in a Tight Budget

I don't think any of the professional development that I've ever attended is worth having larger class sizes and fewer teachers...

NM Effective Teaching Task Force Recommendations

Here are the recently released NM Effective Teaching Task Force Recommendations for evaluating teachers and school leaders. I haven't had the chance to read them thoroughly yet, but they seem fairly reasonable.  The one thing I'm wondering about, though, is that teachers in un-tested (by a Standards Based Assessment) grades have 25% of their evaluation based on their school's letter grade A-F.  I guess that has the potential to get teachers to care about how their school does as a whole, but it seems more likely to de-incentivize working in traditionally low-performing schools.  I definitely think, considering how many low performing schools there are in New Mexico, that we need to create incentives for our best teachers to be working in our most difficult schools - and not the other way around.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


Washington DC/ OPINION: My Favorite Teachers, Part 1 and 2
By Steve Mariotti [Founder, Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship]
Huffington Post []
August 29, 2011

I have taught entrepreneurship and business to low-income students for the past 30 years, and have often thought about the teachers who have had an impact on my teaching philosophy and career. I would like to present four great educators who touched me personally.

1. Jaime Escalante

Born in Bolivia, Jaime Escalante came to this country in 1970 to teach math. As his accreditation in Bolivia was not recognized here, he had to recertify his educational credentials. In the meantime, he worked nights as a dish washer. His first teaching position came in 1974 at Garfield High School in Los Angeles, which is located in an extremely low-income area. By 1978, he was teaching his students advanced calculus. Four years later, 18 of his students passed the Advanced Placement exam in calculus, an astonishing number considering their backgrounds. However, many had the same mistakes on the same problems, which made the authorities suspicious. Each of his students was made to retake the test and each one passed it -- again. Seventy-three of his students had passed the Advanced Placement exam by 1987. Jaime became an instant legend through Stand and Deliver, a wonderful movie in which he was played by Edward James Olmos. I had begun to read about Jaime in the mid-80's and he instantly became an inspiration -- his effect on my career has been incalculable.

I was a 32-year-old teacher in New York in 1986, when I called Garfield High and left a message for Mr. Escalante. That night, I got a call at home, and through a thick Spanish accent I heard:

"Is this Mr. Mariotti?"

"This is me."

"It's Jaime Escalante. You wanted to talk to me?"

I almost fell over. The legend was returning my phone call. "I'm a special ed teacher in the South Bronx," I told him. "I really admire you. I'm going to in L.A. to accept an award and wanted to visit your classroom."

He said, "Of course."

Two weeks later, I was waiting in the lobby of Garfield High when Jaime walked up and gave me a hug. "Let's go, Steve." He showed me his classroom, a large, auditorium-like space, with each row of seats up a step, so everyone would have an unobstructed view of the front of the room. On the wall I noticed blown-up photos of the Los Angeles Lakers.

In his office Jaime showed me the large filing cabinets he used to stay organized. He had a lesson plan and handouts for each class in a folder. On any given day, he pulled out the appropriate folder and was good to go. We went back to the classroom. I sat in the back row, so I was looking down over the entire room. Jaime walked up a couple of steps, and seemed to be talking to me as well as to the students.

It was a brilliant presentation. He used three overhead transparencies: one to present the objective, one to show a sample problem, and one to demonstrate a more difficult example, which he would make explanatory notes on with a Vis-A-Vis pen. (To this day, these pens are the only writing instruments I use -- with the clips bent back, as Jaime did.)

The students would then break into groups to solve the problem, after which two of the groups would be called to present. In the last two minutes of the class, Jaime would give a lightning quiz that the students would self-grade in 30 seconds. He followed this same routine every day that I was there.

Many of my own classroom techniques were eventually based on watching this great educator. I learned the importance of emphasizing punctuality (later I would call it the "Lombardi rule" -- after football coach Vince Lombardi of the Green Bay Packers -- but I really learned it from Jaime). I saw the importance of providing role models for the students, which is why Jaime had pictures of Einstein and Galileo and Newton on the walls, along with Lakers stars. He taught me the importance of group work in the classroom, and always being prepared. I also learned the value of drills combined with constant self-evaluation. Perhaps most importantly I learned the significance of visuals in teaching; he had basic mathematical formulas posted all over the room. In just 48 minutes, Jaime utilized teaching strategies that could reach any learner in the class.

He explained that he followed the same format every day so the kids would get to know the routine. He stood by the door and shook the hand of each student that came in. He closed the door the moment the bell rang, and no student was allowed to enter late. He had a "do now" problem already written on the board; the class was silent as each student thought about the problem. When the bell rang and after he closed the door, he would take out of his desk a large stuffed animal and randomly toss it. The first kid it touched had to go up to the board to solve the problem in writing. He tossed the toy four more times. Five students would then be at the board simultaneously working on the same problem, while the rest of the class watched.
You could hear a pin drop while they were working. Then, one by one, each student would present his or her answer and show how it was arrived at. Once the five had presented their solutions, Jaime would give the class new material.

Jaime had me over to his house for dinner twice, and we ate lunch together almost every day. In one of the highlights of my teaching life, he let me give a 20-minute lesson on math and business. Jaime was the greatest educator I ever knew personally. I was proud to call him a friend and mentor. He died on March 30, 2010. The last time I spoke to him was in the late 90's, when he was teaching in Sacramento. The last thing he said to me was: "Get the routine and the audio visuals right and assume the students can do anything." I have never forgotten that.

2. John Holt

A great book can change one's life. I read John Holt's How Children Fail in Ann Arbor at the University of Michigan library in 1977. No book has ever had a bigger impact on me. Holt was a genius. It made me think that I wanted to be a teacher at some point in my life. That came to pass seven years later, in the South Bronx, when I had created a program to teach entrepreneurship to low-income children. Holt's concepts and methods had an important influence on my practice, especially the importance of driving fear from the classroom. So many students fail because they are afraid to make errors because they will be ridiculed and judged.

Holt attended Harvard, became an elementary school teacher, and then attracted a great deal of attention in 1964, when he published How Children Fail. In his three groundbreaking works (the other two were How Children Learn and Escape from Childhood: The Rights and Needs of Children), he argued for a teaching methodology that was student-driven. Holt believed that children had an innate love of learning and could teach themselves almost anything. He argued that the job of the teacher was to be a guide, coach, and reference source.

When I came across Holt's book in Michigan, I was in my second year of MBA studies, but decided to add classes from the School of Education. Our professor asked us to go to the library to find and read any book on education, and that's how I found Holt -- totally by chance. I wrote half a dozen letters to him with comments and queries in regard to teaching and education. He returned each with a written answer next to the paragraph that contained the question.

I continued to follow his work and I subscribed to his newsletter. The first time we spoke it was on the phone, in 1979, shortly after he had published Never Too Late: My Musical Life Story. In that book, he writes about teaching himself the cello at the age of 56, partly to discover how people learn. I spoke about my learning issues with letters and colors and he told me of his own. We laughed about how hard it was to admit one's weaknesses. After that, I called him maybe once a year just to chat. He would always speak to me and the conversations were always stimulating. I remember that in 1983 I thanked him for his life's work. I have never forgotten what he said:

"Thank you, Steve. I have enjoyed getting to know you."

"But we've never met," I said. "Yes we did. We exchanged ideas on teaching. How could we have been closer?"

Are you my Mentor?

In John Merrow's book The Influence of Teachers he compares teacher training and nurses' training.  He says something about how the nursing profession is more highly regarded than teaching, because no one would ever take someone who'd studied political science at Dartmouth, give him a summer's worth of training, and then allow him to go become a nurse.

Since I became a teacher through one of these crash course summer trainings, I can't say that I disagree with them completely - but it is crazy to think that just because one attended school as a student that one has the skills necessary to run today's most difficult classrooms.  Yet, are 4 year college programs really doing a much better job than the summer crash courses?  I've never been through a 4 year education concentration program, but based on today's dire circumstances, I assume that teacher training programs could - across the board - improve.

So... what do I think a teacher training program should look like?  Well, I really like the Teach For America model where you teach for 1 period per day, receive feedback every time you teach, lesson plan in groups, and attend classes when you're not teaching.  I wonder if simply elongating the process would help teachers leave training programs better prepared to teach.

I got a degree in biochemistry, and I'd say I was very ill prepared to become a biochemist.  I would have needed to spend a lot more time in the lab, earning my PhD.  What's the difference between becoming a biochemist and teaching?  I guess I would have spent my time in a lab under a professor, who would spend nearly 6 years guiding me to my independence as a biochemist.  Meanwhile, I would be doing work to support the lab - benefiting my professor as she imparted her knowledge to me.

Teaching - during college as well as the "graduate" part of the program during someone's first few years on the job - clearly doesn't provide effective mentorship.  I've been asked to mentor other teachers before and I simply can't do it well, while running my own classroom.  There needs to be something better in place than just saying one teacher is another's mentor - with no training, benefit, or oversight.  It seems natural that becoming a mentor teacher - teaching significantly fewer classes throughout the day - and working as more of a manager - with higher pay - would be a next step/promotion after being a full-time classroom teacher, with kids all day.  Has any school district tried something like this?  A structure with a principal and then a set of master teachers who teach maybe 1 or 2 periods per day and spend most of their time observing, providing feedback, and mentoring all of the other teachers in a building?  Is this too much of a business model?

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Transparency Wars: AFT and StudentsFirst

The Transparency Wars: AFT and StudentsFirst

I was hoping that education was moving toward becoming a more professional profession...

My Thoughts: NY's Ruling on the Use of Standardized Test Scores in Teacher Evaluations

I recently read the article Court Limits Use of Standardized Tests to Evaluate NY Teachers at the request of the VIVA project.  Below you'll see the prompt from VIVA as well as the response that I posted on Edweb

This week, the New York Supreme Court ruled in favor of the New York State United Teachers in a case that challenged the state's plan to base 40 percent of a teachers' evaluation on standardized student test scores. The judge ruled the state could use standardized test scores for only 20 percent of a teacher evaluation.

We would love to hear what you think. Take a look at these three stories about the ruling, one from Education Week, one from the NY Times and one from Huffington Post:
Then let us know your reaction to this news. Is it much ado about nothing? Is it a ridiculous waste of union and public resources to litigate this question? Is the union right? Wrong?

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Melissa Wauneka - 1 hr 30 min ago - Aug 29, 2011 2:37 pm (#1 Total: 1)   Edit this messageDelete this messageReply to this message

Posts: 10
As always, I'm torn about whether it is a good idea to use students' test scores as part of teacher evaluations.  On the one hand, we need more stringint evaluations than are currently in place - where teachers are nearly always deemed at least satisfactory and left alone to continue doing what they're doing.  Yet using test scores seems to incentivize things like teaching to a test and/or outright cheating.
In my mind, standardized test scores certainly have a place in our educational system.  They illuminate the gaps that exist between low-income and high-income school districts and I'm glad that the education community is at least talking about what kinds of outcomes we should be looking for in low-income communities - test scores or not.  I also think test scores give teachers and students a very concrete, results-oriented goal to shoot for - instead of just "getting through" the curriculum or meandering through a set of lessons until time runs out.  I, for example, know that the test is coming up and that my students' scores depend on the material that I've actually taught them before that test lands on their desk.  If there were no test scores to care about, I certainly wouldn't have the same sense of urgency that is so necessary in low-performing public schools, where students fall further and further behind each year.
Yes, scores also depends on students' reading levels, test-taking skills, and their attendance (during the school year and during test dates), among other things.  They depend on lots of things that are out of teachers' control.  And they cause teachers (me anyway) to wonder whether it's worth it to assign things like projects, because they take time away from learning content in the format of the test (although I have come to think that projects help kids retain what they've learned - which is always good for "the test").
And my point is.... I don't really know what to think about blocking NY from using test scores as 40% of a teacher's evaluation.  To me, 40% sounds about right - considering the limitations of the test.  I'm wondering what constituted a teacher being deemed "ineffective" and what professional development opportunities were in place to help teachers whose scores weren't high enough.  I wish NY would have tried out the new teacher evaluations instead of going to court before ever finding out whether they made a difference.  My state - NM - is attempting to put similar, new teacher evaluations (50% based on student performance) in place.
I personally don't think they'll be enough to, in and of themselves, make a difference in teaching quality or test scores.  It will really depend on the implementation levels.  And whether there are teachers in line to replace those "ineffective" teachers.  We'll see.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Truth

I love to have conversations about how I would improve public education.  I think those conversations are important and worth having, but I've got to admit that they seem pretty irrelevant after days like yesterday.  I am a math teacher in a charter school in Albuquerque, and I work really hard to make sure my students have a top-notch math education.  However, the reality is that I don't reach all of them and that they aren't getting the same level of math education that I did as a high schooler in an upper middle class suburb of Detroit.  In some ways, their education is better than mine was - there is more concern for relevance and higher order thinking.  There is also a whole lot more apathy, less work accomplished, and less attention to students with special needs - and it's my fault! 

When I hear about "excellent teachers," I'll admit that I consider myself one of them.  Maybe I shouldn't, but I do work really hard in general and I constantly make changes to improve my teaching techniques and content.  I communicate with parents and I have high expectations.  The truth is just that getting students in traditionally low-performing schools to perform as well (on high stakes tests or otherwise) as students from traditionally high-performing schools is THE HARDEST THING EVER.  It takes so much more than just being smart, cool, or organized.  It takes consistent, relentless, creative hard work that encroaches into all other areas of your life.  And people have conversations about how our schools are failing and our teachers need to do a better job like it's nothing.

I don't intend that we give up, but we need to keep in mind the difficulty of the task at hand when discussing the future of public education.  It only took me 1 summer to start forgetting what it's like in the classroom.  Just because I had some successes getting last year's students to care about math doesn't mean I have less of an uphill battle starting off this year.  It seems like anyone who's in a position to make major decisions affecting education needs to spend time in some of the toughest classrooms and talking to the teachers who are in charge of them. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Early Education and Race to the Top

I've been reading lots about how the new Race to the Top competition is devoting a large chunk of its money for states that commit to improving their early childhood education programs.  While I am a real fan of early childhood education, I recently heard about a study found that Head Start has no long term benefits for its attendees.

It's always hard to interpret data that goes against one's expectations.  My mind immediately begins to think about the "why."  Although I'm sure early childhood experts have better "whys" than I possibly could, I'm thinking.... perhaps it has to do with what happens between kindergarten and the third grade follow up.  Perhaps it has to do with the gap that already occurs in children who enter Head Start around age 3 or 4.  If Head Start is run completely on tax dollars, it seems that the federal government should have data to support its effectiveness.  However, I'm certainly not going to say "can the program if its not getting results."  As a teacher of high schoolers, I know how difficult it is to turn things around for kids who have been behind for 9 or 10 years of school already.  Head start is currently our best option to make a difference while the gap in performance for low-income and minority students is still small.

And it seems like the new Race to the Top was written with similar ideas to mine.  Head start isn't enough, so lets let states improve their pre-k and early ed. programs on their own.  New Mexico's programs could certainly do with a more coordinated effort (I have no idea about quality).  I recently tried enrolling my son in the state-funded Pre-K program, and it was difficult to find centers that offered the program and then far more difficult to find a program that wasn't already full.  We had luck though, and Jeremiah will be starting preschool in two weeks!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Top Ten Edu-Earthquake Tweets

What? A 5.8 magnitude earthquake in DC?

Top Ten Edu-Earthquake Tweets

Carrotmobbing for Education?

I was listening to NPR this morning on my way to work, and I heard about Carrot Mobs - a group of people who ask businesses to compete for capitol by promising to make their places of business more energy efficient.  The first carrot mob happened after Brent Schulkin went around to 23 convenience stores telling them that he'd get hundreds of people to purchase goods at their store if they'd be willing to donate a percentage of their revenue from that day to installing energy efficient lighting.  One store agreed to use 22% of their revenue and then Brent went around posting fliers and getting people to show up and shop there on the particular day of the carrot mob.  Since then, I guess there have been 100 or so carrot mobs "encouraging" places of business to green-it-up.  I love it when people figure out how to organize people and use capitalism for good!  During the interview, Brent talked about getting enough people involved... say... getting millions of people to commit to buying either - say - Budweiser or Coors for their Superbowl parties based on which company is willing to make the biggest environmental change or even, he said, to adopt a particular new maternity policy.  If enough people are willing to change their buying habits for a day, you could really ask for anything.  Brent is one smart cookie.

I always get a little scared when "education" and "capitalism" are uttered in the same sentence.  I really don't think that business practices are the solution to fixing an "industry" that doesn't really have clear-cut products or a bottom-line, per se.  I do think, though, that when communities get involved in their schools - things are more likely to change.  Is there a lesson about public education to be learned from carrot mobbing?  At the very least, students could use carrot mobbing to help generate change in their communities.... but how about something more fundamental? Any ideas?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Be There or Be Square

This morning I read an article from a small New Mexico town about increasing its school attendance.  Here are my thoughts (the article is pasted below my comments):
One of my beliefs about improving low-performing schools is that it requires students to spend more time learning... longer school day, longer school year, more time on homework.  Yes, I think there are improvements that can be made given the time that students have in school - but I don't think those improvements will really close the achievement gap by much.  Part of what enhances students' performance in high-income areas is their access to things like vacations to new places; trips to museums, plays, etc.; music lessons and so on - learning experiences that happen outside of school walls.  Low-income students have an equal number of learning experiences - just not the kind that are usually valued by school systems.  If what I'm saying is true, then high-income students spend more time learning the skills valued by public schools.  In order to even things out, low income students need to spend more time in school - not necessarily sitting behind a desk, but doing things like participating in clubs, going on field trips, and using technology.  That many low income students miss so many days out of the minimum 180 is, in my mind, a huge barrier to school success - one that needs to be addressed if low-performing schools are to succeed.
I guess it begs the question, why should the kids be in school more if nothing useful happens there... and then... why do anything useful in school if many of the kids will just be absent and have a hard time making it up.....The old chicken or egg scenario....   It sounds terrible, but I've definitely considered not doing science experiments or multi-day projects because of the difficulties in creating groups when so many kids are absent.  And then what to do when a kid misses?  Not to mention having kids give presentations.  Even though it may not be the kid's fault, it's hard to schedule class presentations when group members are missing.  Or to do things on a computer, where one student has the password and then isn't there so the rest of the group can't do any work for that whole class period.  OK.  Now I'm just ranting.  But, really, attendance is a HUGE problem in low performing schools - at least the ones I've worked in.  One that cannot be ignored if a school hopes to improve outcomes for its students.

Socorro/ Tackling School Success One Absence at a Time

By Suzanne Barteau 

El Defensor Chieftain
August 20, 2011

When school leaders were asked in July what parents could do to help their children succeed academically, almost all of them answered the same way: make sure your children get to school every day, on time, and stay until the very end of the last class period.

"We can't teach them if they're not in class," said Midway Elementary Head Teacher, Cari Scholl.

Reducing absences, tardiness and early pick-ups were top priorities from Zimmerly Elementary School all the way up to Socorro High School.

How important is it that children don't miss school?

"It's huge," said Superintendent Dr. Cheryl Wilson. "It has an impact on both the child who is absent and on all the children in the class as a whole."

When teachers have to take time to help a child who missed classes catch up, Wilson said, it has the effect of taking teaching time away from the other students in the class and slows down everyone's progress.

"Obviously, that's been a part of the profession forever," Wilson said, "But the more lightly we take the importance of attendance, the more disruptive it is to the entire classroom and to the individual child's progress."

If children who frequently miss school are at risk of falling behind, children who are poor are at even greater risk. 

  • According to reports published by the National Center for Children in Poverty in 2008 and 2010, low-income children are not only more likely to have chronic absences, they are also less likely to recover when they fall behind. 
  • Other studies, compiled and promoted by an advocacy group called Attendance Works as part of a nationwide effort called the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, suggest that students who fall behind are more likely to drop out of school.

The Socorro Consolidated School District calculates local poverty statistics from Free and Reduced Lunch forms given to families at the start of every year. A family whose income is 130 percent or less than the Federal Poverty Level — $22,350 for a family of four — qualifies automatically for free lunch. A family whose income is 185 percent or less than the FPL qualifies for reduced price lunches.

"Data we compiled at the end of last school year for the year ahead showed 1,321 students out of 1,928 were eligible for free or reduced lunch," said Associate Superintendent Anton Salome. "That means 600 either were not eligible or didn't fill out the form."

Overall, close to 70 percent of the district's children can be classed as low-income, although the rate is different at each school. Cottonwood Valley Charter School had the lowest rate, at about 45 percent, and San Antonio Elementary School was next lowest, with about 62 percent.

Attendance rates also vary from school to school. Two years ago at Zimmerly Elementary, for example, 34 children out of 202 had more than 20 absences and a couple were absent 40 days or more, Wilson said.

Poverty is not something the schools can address directly, but each of the schools is trying in their own way to improve attendance.

"They all have some pretty unique approaches and campaigns that all have elements of encouragement and consequences," Wilson said. "At Midway, for example, every Friday they have an assembly where they recognize the students, and at Parkview they've had drawings."

All the schools, Wilson said, routinely make phone calls to the parents to notify them when their children are absent.

"We've switched over to an automatic dialer, so we can make those calls immediately, every day," Wilson said. "And then there are the legal requirements in state statute, with letters home and eventually with referrals to the district attorney."

Attendance isn't just a school problem, Wilson said. It effects the community as a whole.

"Attendance leads to graduation," she said. "If kids don't graduate, the economic impacts to the community are huge."

For one thing, Wilson pointed out, the lack of an educated workforce can make Socorro appear less desirable when recruiting new businesses for economic development.

If attendance increases the odds of school success, then school success also increases the odds of lifting children out of poverty. A report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2010 indicated that people without a high school diploma earned, on average, almost 60 percent less per year than people with a bachelor's degree, and 30 percent less than people who had managed to at least graduate from high school. On the flip side, the unemployment rate for people without a high school diploma was three times that of people who had a bachelor's degree.

According to Attendance Works, communities across the country are recognizing that helping parents and schools work on improving attendance is in their own best interest, and are coming up with creative ways to help. In New York, for example, a campaign called WakeUp NYC was launched last year that places automated wake-up calls from celebrity athletes such as Magic Johnson and Jose Reyes to chronically absent students in 25 schools.

In Socorro, parents and business owners are doing their part as well, by donating small prizes to schools that can be used to reward good attendance.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Front Lines

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to meet with a small group of educators and former educators.  We heard from experts on the extent of and the effects of homelessness on Albuquerque's schools and on the NM drop out rate.  We also had a Q&A session with the state's new Secretary of Education, Hannah Skandera.  I got to think outside of my role as a classroom educator about the support services and the policies that affect public education.  I came away overwhelmed; there are so many caring, dedicated people in this country who are working to improve the educational system, and it's still essentially the same as it has been for hundreds of years now.  It really is no wonder that so many educators throw up their hands, close their classroom doors, and do the best that they can with what they're given.  Not that we can't to do better.  Despite being overwhelmed - I think things can improve.  It's just necessary to keep in mind that the most important part of teaching is what happens inside of each classroom, every day.  Perhaps what happens in a school as a whole.  Policies and programs are important, but - in my opinion - not as important as making sure the interactions that happen between teachers and students each day lead to the best possible outcomes.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Teacher Coaching!

I just finished reading the article Teacher Coaching Boosts Secondary Scores, Study Finds, which reports on the findings of the study An Interaction-Based Approach to Enhancing Secondary School Instruction and Student Achievement.  I am excited to see a study that puts forth a method by which classroom teaching may be improved - not through a particular technique that may or may not work for all teachers, but by actually having teachers observe one another and provide feedback - and then expect changes to be made based on that feedback.

As the article states, professional development for teachers is such a slippery slope and, in this data-driven age, is still such a guessing game in that there's no real way to know which PD is effective in improving student performance.  There are too many factors at play, including levels of PD implementation and then levels of teacher implementation of the strategies learned in PD into their classrooms.  However, as a graduate student and as a Teach For America teacher, I've certainly experienced PD that positively impacted my students' learning.  Most of which involved someone observing me teach and then providing me feedback about what I could do better.  All of which involved my own willingness to accept criticism and then to make changes to my classroom practice.  That said, I've also been partnered with a master teacher in my school district as part of a mentoring process and didn't change my teaching practice at all as a result - making up BS observations and reflections to put into my "mentor binder."

I do know that the main type of PD that occurs - in-services and demonstrations of new activities and techniques - never makes much difference on my practice.  It might give me an idea of a new activity to try or a new way of reviewing vocabulary, but it never asks me to really examine my own practice and improve the way that I teach.  I'm not sure what the factors are that separate "good, effective coaching" from "just another thing to BS the day before it's due coaching" but I suspect that the coach's level of commitment to the process makes a big difference.  At WNMU and TFA, the people who observed me and gave me feedback were no longer classroom teachers - it was their main job to help teachers become better - not to maintain a classroom themselves.  It's probably very hard to be a good coach when you have a classroom to run!  I also think that the teacher being coached has to know that someone will care about the changes that are being made in their class - and will not simply check off the observation as being complete.  Last of all, how do you make teachers WANT to change a practice that they've been honing for the duration of their career?  I was coached as a brand new teacher - I knew I needed help.  It's probably not going to go over so well for someone who's essentially been left alone in their classroom for the last 5-25 years.

Anyway, I was happy to read about the above-mentioned study and I hope its results are highly publicized and included in future discussions around PD.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Recommendations from NM's Latino/Hispanic Education Improvement Task Force

ABQ/ OPINION: Adopt Bold Plan to Fix Education
By Garth Bawden & Antonio D. Herrera [Latino/Hispano Education Improvement Task Force]
ABQ Journal
August 18, 2011

Only 13 percent of New Mexico schools made “Adequate Yearly Progress” in educating our future work force. Our Latino/Hispano Education Improvement Task Force sounded the alarm about this crisis three years ago.

There should be no higher priority than to educate our children. Lawmakers, business leaders, educators and the community all agree on this point. Yet, New Mexico fails to educate more than half of our student population. Without an educated workforce, is it any wonder we are one of the poorest states?

Gov. Susana Martinez promised “bold education reform”, then brought in Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera and eight other outsiders to fix us. Skandera promised a bold plan by April 2011 – four months ago. That’s fine, but do they really think a group of outsiders will fix New Mexico’s crisis?

We are not blaming anyone in particular. We believe all New Mexico stakeholders share responsibility – and will share the consequences – of our broken education system. As members of our community, we ask: What can we all do to solve this crisis? Our statewide task force has no high-powered paid consultants, but we would like to offer our own bold 10 point plan.

1. First, address the “New Reality.” Our “ethnic minority students” compose nearly 75 percent of New Mexico’s population and are actually now the permanent majority. This new reality must be addressed with concrete proposals that address why schools are failing the vast majority of these ethnic populations.

2. Create a statewide climate for educational change. There are 89 school districts in New Mexico. Every community should initiate a local campaign to eliminate the achievement gap by addressing its unique needs and resources.

3. Implement the mandates of the Hispanic Education Act addressing the Latino education crisis in New Mexico.

4. As a result of Serna vs. Portales (1974), the federal courts mandated that bilingual and bicultural education be taught, and that every educator demonstrate cultural proficiency skills. These proficiencies must go far beyond organizing a taco day or celebrating ethnic holidays.

5. Every high school graduate should be proficient in two languages. Most of the global community has at least dual language skills. Let New Mexico lead the way in this country.

6. Start using accurate numbers to count dropouts. Schools only count dropouts during the last four years of school. Dropouts need to be counted for the other eight years. How can we identify solutions without accurate numbers?

7. Address the individual needs of children and stop jamming them into universal “one-size fits all “educational models. Then assess and keep track of their achievement growth through guidelines that address their linguistic, cultural and economic backgrounds.

8. Provide state, city and county employees one hour a week release time to tutor and mentor an at-risk student. This, alone, would provide individualized attention to at least 150,000 at-risk students!

9. Actively involve every parent in all stages of their child’s education at every school.

10. Invest in education. Education budgets have been slashed to their lowest level ever. Properly fund an adequate education for every child. Redirect existing resources – money and human – to educate our students properly. Or, tap our financially sound “rainy day” permanent fund to confront our education crisis. As taxpayers, it is our responsibility to adequately fund appropriate and sufficient education for children from preschool through post-secondary education.

New Mexico has been declared the flagship state in addressing the Latino education crisis. The failure to acknowledge and assure the education of our majority population costs every New Mexican. We have a moral and legal responsibility to reverse this reality.

We challenge everyone to improve on our bold plan. Better yet, we challenge every community to design and implement a bold, responsive and responsible plan. The future of our state depends on it.
My Thoughts:
A few of the above 10 points are really great ideas.  I especially like the idea that NM lead the way in dial language proficiency and, if that ever happens, I hope that the state would recognize Native American languages as a valid second language for today's high school students.  The list also has a general tone of community involvement and grassroots efforts helping lead the way to change.  I definitely agree that change will happen more readily when whole communities begin demanding and putting forth effort to make it happen.  
I am wondering, however, why the entire list says nothing about what happens in today's classrooms.  It was, perhaps, kind of the task force to avoid blaming teachers, but the items on the list seem somewhat peripheral compared to implementing more effective classroom practices.  It's not that I think teachers aren't trying their hardest, it's just that we can't really ignore what happens inside of classrooms (including students' presence or lack thereof) if we hope to make real changes in our NM educational system.  And if there is no way to maximize the hours that students spend inside of classrooms, then we are doomed - taking more data, learning language, and mentoring are helpful but not enough.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Does Size Matter?

New York NY/ REPORT: Transforming the High School Experience with Small Schools
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Report
June 2010

Over the last decade, New York City has been the site of a system-wide high school reform effort. Since 2002, 
  • the school district has closed more than 20 failing high schools, 
  • opened more than 200 new secondary schools, and 
  • implemented a centralized admission process for their 80,000 high school students.

At the heart of these reforms lie the new "small schools of choice" (SSCs) — small, academically nonselective, public high schools that were opened between 2002 and 2008. Serving approximately 100 students per grade in grades 9 through 12 and open to students at all levels of academic achievement, the SSCs in this study were created to serve the district’s most disadvantaged and historically underserved students.

This report presents encouraging findings from an unusually large and rigorous study, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, of the effects of SSCs on students’ academic achievement in high school. 

Key findings include:
  • Higher on-track to graduation rates in small schools than non-small-schools after only one year
  • Increased graduation rates in small schools over non-small-schools
  • Positive effects for all demographic groups, including males of color
My Thoughts:
Let me start by saying that I work in a small school - about 75 students per grade level 9-12.  That said, I have a hard time with "small schools" as a solution to low test scores, high drop out rates, etc.  It's really only because I went to a big high school of 500 kids per grade and then a big college.  I thrived in both places and think that many kids can and do thrive in big schools that have the resources to provide AP classes, lots of different electives, and varied after school activities.  I feel very fortunate to have gotten to participate in debate, to have played lacrosse, to have taken a number of AP courses, and to have been in a school play.  Not that every kid in my school took advantage of those things and not that I was a particularly at-risk kid.  On the downside, I didn't graduate with any close relationships to school staff. 
I do see many immediate benefits to small schools - first of which is the staff's ability to build relationships with students.  In many cases, those relationships with caring adults are way more important than the chance to be on a dance team or to take a fashion design elective.  (I just wish there was an easier way to do both!) I also think that the staff of a small school has more chance to build relationships with one another and to collaborate on curriculum and other school-wide issues.  
I think that both small and large schools have benefits.  Maybe the benefits of small schools outweigh the problems for at-risk kids.  It's possible.  Schools in poverty-ridden areas have a whole host of problems to deal with beyond making sure kids get to take AP classes... although I think that all kids should have access to AP classes! My hunch, though, is that any school where staff are empowered to be teacher-leaders and are encouraged and trained to really work together to solve a school's problems is more likely to succeed, whereas any school where staff are ordered around, demeaned, and disrespected is more likely to fail. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Influence of Teachers: Reflections on Teaching and Leadership

I just finished reading my free (from VIVA) copy of John Merrow's new book The Influence of Teachers: Reflections on Teaching and LeadershipOverall, the book echoes my sentiments that both parties currently receiving a lot of media attention (Save Our Schools-ers and Bottom Line-ers) are taking the wrong approach to truly fixing our public schools.  Maintaining the status quo is obviously not doing much to improve public schools.  I also don't believe that asking very high performing, enthusiastic teachers in low-performing schools, without doing anything to change the profession as a whole - to fight against the stagnation and isolation that pervades even top-performing schools - is a long term solution.  So, cheers to John Merrow for agreeing with me... just kidding.  I really enjoyed reading his book from cover to cover, and I encourage others to read it as well.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Critical Friends and Helping One Another Succeed

On my first day back to school today, my colleagues and I did a full day's worth of training on the use of critical friends group protocols.  I'd done critical friends group protocols in the past, although I wouldn't say I've ever been part of a critical friends group (CFG).  After today, if i had to define a CFG, I'd say it's a group that meets regularly to try and improve the teaching (or some other profession's) practices of its members.  The point of CFGs, in my mind, is that they give teachers a way to actually meet and productively discuss their teaching practices.

I know it sounds stupid, but those types of meetings don't happen naturally in schools.  Really.  Teachers meet and discuss the current bell schedule, a certain student's discipline problem, or what snacks we want to provide for parent-teacher conferences.  Logistical items.  Since leaving college and Teach For America, not once have I been in a meeting where teachers discussed their actual teaching practices in a way that wasn't just bragging or complaining.  In a way that invited constructive criticism and room for improvement.

Aside from changing recruitment practices and higher ed. teaching degree programs, helping teachers within a school learn from one another is the most important change that could be made to turn around schools today.  From what I've seen in public education so far, teachers almost never watch one another teach.  If they do, it's very difficult to provide constructive criticism and there is no incentive to actually act on that criticism.  I understand - it's difficult to invite criticism about something as personal as teaching style.  But the current system provides very few methods or incentives for improvement.  Just blame and once-a-year test scores that are difficult to tie in with actual daily teaching practices.  If it were part of the teaching practice to be observed, to receive regular feedback regarding your teaching practice, and to be expected to act - in some way - on that feedback, I think things would be drastically different. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tomorrow's the Big Day

Haunting Words to Inspire Every Teacher

I just read the above blog post.  OK... now I feel bad about my whiny post from 2 days ago.  I already felt kinda bad directly after writing it, and now I'm debating removing the post out of embarrassment.  I won't, though, because I do actually feel that way a lot of the time and because I do think that teachers should be valued more and paid more.

However, I'd like to thank Marilyn Rhames and her colleague for reminding me that I always need to consider my impact on the lives of my students when making decisions - including the decision to complain about my career choice.

I start back to school tomorrow, after spending the summer time home with my family.  Of course, it's bittersweet.  Now that I have a family,  I'm not the same teacher who can spend every waking moment thinking about how to improve my lesson plans, tracking methods, and homework return rate.  I've had to strike a balance.  I am excited, though, to begin the school year anew - to have a chance to act on the ideas to improve my teaching that I was too lazy to implement in the last few months of last school year. It's great to have the summer off from work, but it's almost equally great to have this fresh start every school year.  A real chance to make changes in the way things are done.  I don't think other jobs provide such an obvious opportunity for reflection and improvement.  I'm looking forward to tomorrow.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A-F grading scale in place of NCLB

Jeb Bush to Duncan: Set High Bar for State NCLB Waivers

The above-linked article discusses Jeb Bush's former Florida policy to grade schools A - F rather than using just the current pass/fail designations of NCLB.  New Mexico is one of the states that has agreed to use the A-F scale and which is working on a waiver to use the scale in place of federal AYP.

The positives: A-F is slightly more nuanced than pass/fail.  That's the only positive that I see so far...
It's possible that more will go into the grades that just a schools standards based test scores.  That would be great.  Things like student and parent satisfaction with the school.  Otherwise, it seems to me that test scores aren't very different from the status quo.  If they're just another way to display state test scores without actually doing anything to help schools improve those scores, then I don't see the point.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Nothing New Here *Be Forewarned.... I am whiny on this post.

ABQ/ Teachers, APS Reach Tentative Deal
By Hailey Heinz
ABQ Journal Staff Writer
August 4, 2011

A tentative contract agreement between Albuquerque Public Schools and the Albuquerque Teachers Federation is the best that could be expected given budget constraints, ATF President Ellen Bernstein said Wednesday.

The agreement makes some minor changes to the teachers’ contract, but the most dramatic change – an increase in the amount teachers must contribute to their retirements – was mandated by the state Legislature as a cost-saving measure.

Bernstein was critical of state lawmakers, while saying APS had been a good negotiating partner.

“APS and ATF worked well together, solving problems and making future plans,” Bernstein said in a news release. “However, as everyone knows, the state Legislature and governor slashed education funding again this year. This is the third consecutive contract without any salary increases. In addition, the state saved over $100 million on the backs of school employees by shifting the state’s portion of the retirement costs to the employees – again. The year’s decrease is an average of $60 of take-home pay a month. This decrease in pay is a demoralizing financial blow to all of us.”

Teachers also will not receive cost-of-living raises, which are guaranteed only when the budget allows. This is the third consecutive contract without raises. Teachers can still earn raises by advancing through the three-tier licensure system, earning advanced degrees or attaining National Board Certification.

Bernstein said the lack of raises and the additional retirement contributions come as teachers brace for an expected 7 percent increase in class size.

“The upshot is, truly everyone’s going to be doing more with less,” Bernstein said. “More kids, fewer supplies and resources, and less money in their paychecks.”

She did point to a few bright spots in the contract. 
  • The district has restored the stipends teachers receive for doing extra tasks like coaching or being instructional leaders. The stipends, which are called differentials, were cut by 15 percent in last year’s budget. They have been returned to the full amount for the coming year.

  • APS also agreed to a small increase in preparation time for elementary and middle school teachers. Under the contract, schools must make a good-faith effort to add the planning time this year. If that is not possible with their schedules, they must add it by next year.

The agreement must still be ratified by union members, and a vote has been scheduled Aug. 8-12. The contract must also be approved by the APS school board, which is expected to vote at its Aug. 17 meeting.

Bernstein said she is urging her members to approve the contract as the best possible agreement under the circumstances.

“I wouldn’t put it out there if I didn’t think they should vote ‘yes,’ ” Bernstein said.

My Thoughts:  
Blech.  I guess the light in my students' eyes when they learn something new will have to make up for the lack of a cost of living wage increase this year :)  

I do enjoy my job... I do think it's important... but I can't stop being bitter about teacher salaries and things like decreasing stipends for coaching, etc.  If you want teachers to put in the extra time and effort that it will take to bring student performance up, then PAY them for it.  I have a Masters degree, work full time as a teacher, and make below 200% of the poverty line.  My kids qualify for Medicaid (which I'm thankful for)...but is that supposed to be one of the "perks" of my job with the school district? 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Get Rid of the Tests? I'm not Convinced.

Los Angeles CA/ EDITORIAL: Overreacting to Cheating
States should not work so hard to prevent cheating on school tests — even when the cheating is done by teachers — that new problems are created.
Los Angeles Times
August 3, 2011

Students don't generally like tests, and a certain number of them cheat. Yet it's a rare educator who would advocate eliminating tests or not including them in a student's grade. Why, then, does each new scandal involving cheating teachers and administrators lead to a fresh round of calls to eliminate tests or at minimum not make them count for anything?

In the last few months, teachers or administrators in different parts of the country have been caught cheating. Locally, two Crescendo charter schools were shut down in July by the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the four others face possible closure, after students were shown the test questions for upcoming state standardized tests. The scam had allegedly been ordered by the head of Crescendo.

Also in July, an extensive investigation by the state of Georgia found rampant cheating in Atlanta under school leaders who allegedly covered up wrongdoing. Now, Pennsylvania is examining dozens of schools that were flagged in an examination of tests that had suspiciously high numbers of erasures.

Is this sort of thing more common now that tests count for more? Probably. Schools face closure or the loss of staff and in some parts of the country teachers risk critical job evaluations if test scores don't rise enough. Some people who feel threatened will cheat to protect themselves. It's also true that the parameters for what counts as adequate improvement under the federal No Child Left Behind Act are out of line with reality. In addition, critics rightly point out that states' annual standardized tests are limited measurements of what students have learned; they were never designed to count for half of a teacher's performance evaluation, as several states and school districts are doing.

Yes, those problems must be fixed — No Child Left Behind is long overdue for a rewrite — but not because they might contribute to cheating. Academic dishonesty is unacceptable no matter the cause. States should take reasonable steps to rein in cheating by regularly examining samples of tests each year for high numbers of erasures, a sign that a teacher may have changed wrong answers, and scrutinizing schools whose scores seem a little too good to believe. Any school professional who cheats or sanctions cheating should be fired. Yet states should not work so hard to prevent cheating that they create a whole new set of onerous regulations; in New York, educators complain that it is now so difficult for students to change an answer that many don't bother.
Most teachers aren't cheaters, and they shouldn't be treated as though they are. Nor should standardized tests be eliminated because some educators respond by taking unethical shortcuts. Cheating is wrong; accountability isn't.

My Thoughts: 
It's been a while since I read the book Freakonomics, but I recall an anecdote about how a daycare decided to change it's late pick-up policy by charging an extra $5 or something each time the parent came late.  The original thought was that late pick-ups would go down, because of the new penalty.  In fact, late pick ups increased dramatically, because the penalty was so low and parents no longer had to feel guilty about picking their children up late... because they were paying.

Somehow, standardized tests (and everything else that occurs in the real world, I guess... ) seem to have all sorts of unintentional consequences... just like the daycare's late pick up penalty.  Although the tests have the good intention of illuminating educational gaps that exist across the country (and I think they actually achieve that goal), they have the unintended consequences of incentivizing cheating and teaching to the test.  (Personally, I think our whole school system is designed in a way that encourages teaching.... but that's another thing... ) Does that mean we should stop using standardized tests?  I don't really think so.  I think it means that they should be taken as just one piece of data among many regarding student learning and performance.  I guess that what's missing is any other form of evidence that could be used to compare schools state- and nation-wide.  In our research institutions, there are all sorts of forms of respectable qualitative data.... there's got to be SOMETHING that can compliment standardized test data.  To show how well students problem solve, work together, etc.... all the things that don't show up on a multiple choice or even written answer test. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

TFA and Student Gains

TFA Selection Criteria Linked to Student Gains

I believe this... and not just because I'm an alumna of TFA.  Not only does Teach For America recruit some of the most prestigious college grads in the US to its ranks each year, it turns some of them down, because they don't rate high enough in particular characteristics like organization or perseverance.  To me, it only makes sense that TFA corps members do better than a lot of recent college of education graduates.  That's not to say that every TFA corps member can outperform every college of ed. graduate - but I think the odds are in TFA's favor.  And that's what TFA's selection criteria is all about: odds.  They un-apologetically look for the qualities that, on average, will lead to higher levels of success in the classroom. 

I appreciate how the above-linked article ends:
"It is also clear that teacher quality is not an immutable characteristic. Research has shown for a long time now that teachers improve over their first few years on a job, and a more recent study indicates that quality feedback helps teachers to get better. A focus on strategic hiring, in other words, does not absolve principals or school districts of giving teachers support and professional development to improve. (TFA, for one, invests thousands of dollars in professional supports for each of its teachers.)

Finally, the paper notes that "improved selection is only beneficial to the extent that there exist effective teachers who are unhired." The bottom line here is local labor markets affect selections, and that the ability to be choosy only works when there is a surplus of folks seeking a position."

My Thoughts: 
TFA corps members may do better during their first year than non-TFA teachers, but I believe that difference disappears within a few years on the job.  In my opinion, not very many people are great teachers during their first year.  TFA corps members are maybe just "less bad."

One of TFA's best qualities is that they recruit people into the profession who wouldn't otherwise have considered teaching.  Including me.  TFA can be choosy because so many people want to join their institution.  Right now, I don't think colleges of education can.... at least to the same extent.  What can we do, as a nation, to change that?

Not So Happy Myself

From the State Edwatch blog at Education Week: 

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel called the debate over the debt ceiling a "reckless game of political brinksmanship," but said a default would have been a catastrophe.

The NEA voiced concerns about whether a bipartisan congressional committee, created through the agreement, would protect funding for student financial aid and other education programs going forward. And Van Roekel suggested in a statement that the deal was tilted in favor of protecting wealthy Americans from tax increases—a view shared by many Democrats—and will result in government services' being slashed at the federal and state levels.

"It's offensive to the cafeteria workers, librarians, and teachers who got pink slips as state budgets dried up," he said, "and it's offensive to the students they served who will soon be piling in to overcrowded classrooms, riding longer bus routes to school, and will find narrowed curriculums when the school bell rings in a few weeks."

My Thoughts:
I guess that when the economy suffers, just about everyone suffers... government employees alongside small business owners, blue collar workers, etc.  It's awful to think that students are also part of that list.

I guess that the idea of trickle down economics - keeping more money in the pockets of business and the wealthy in the hopes that they will use the money to provide more goods at lower prices and more jobs to middle and lower class individuals - is A theory of economics.  I heard another theory somewhere, though, that makes more sense to me.  That when money is placed in the hands of low or middle income citizens (including myself), that far more of that money ends up going directly back into the economy rather than when money goes into the hands of high-income citizens, who can afford to save a greater portion.  

Anyway, I think we need to do whatever it will take (including raising taxes) to keep classrooms from becoming too crowded.  While there are some students who can learn simply from listening to the teacher and then practicing, a number of students need direct contact and frequent check-ins in order to "get it" each day.  I'm not a member, but I'm with the NEA on this one. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Effective Teaching Task Force

The Governor of New Mexico created a group called the Effective Teaching Task Force and assigned them to come up with a way that teacher evaluations could be altered to be based 50% on student performance.  They invited public commentary today, in person, in Santa Fe (I couldn't attend) or in writing.  Here's the email that I sent.  I'm not sure how far along they are or whether the invitation is anything more than just a chance for people to speak their mind before the task force does whatever they wanted in the first place.  Anyway, here's the email that I sent:

I'd like to start by saying that I'm glad that a group of interested parties has been meeting to discuss improving education in New Mexico.  Regarding the idea that student performance become 50% of a teacher's evaluation - here are my comments: 

1. I think it is important to be clear what the purpose of using student performance in teacher evaluations is.  Is it to provide incentives to teachers who perform well? To punish/reform teachers who perform poorly? To simply broaden the current conversation about test scores belonging to whole schools rather than individual educators?  Educators are so often blamed for the current state of affairs; I hope that using student performance as part of NM teacher evaluations does not become just another way to put educators down.  The NMSBA has all sorts of punitive repercussions for poor performance and no incentives for growth and/or good performance.  When designing new teacher evaluations, please consider ways to reward and motivate educators for even small successes.  

2. Most teachers who are currently in place in NM schools were told they were good enough to be there by their passing scores on NMTA tests and by receiving their degrees and licenses in education from NM universities.  If student performance is to become part of teacher evaluations, the state really needs to start reconsidering how it recruits, hires and trains teachers.  In fact, I think this should come before changing teacher evaluations.  If we were to begin firing teachers for poor performance, who would replace them?  How can we get motivated, energetic, creative, and intelligent people into the teaching profession, and how can we train them to really affect student test performance?  

3. In my limited experience, teacher evaluations are fairly meaningless when it comes to actually making changes in my classroom.  Every year I choose a few competencies to work on, set a few goals, and then forget about them until I have to write a reflection toward the end of the year. That's not to say I'm not a good teacher and don't try to make positive changes in my classroom based on the needs of my students.  It's just that goals don't mean anything when they aren't publicized and worked toward every day. How can student performance be woven into daily conversations in schools... department meetings, staff meetings, parent-teacher conferences, etc. instead of just another part of a meaningless ritual of paperwork that must be completed each year. 

4. It seems to me that the assessment techniques currently used in most classrooms in NM don't provide timely enough or user-friendly enough data to really help teachers make positive changes in their classrooms.  It's great that teachers and administrators will be asked to more closely examine student performance as it relates to what happens on a daily basis in a classroom, but the more important piece is what comes next. "Ok, so your scores aren't where we'd like them to be.... "  What is the task force putting in place to help foster positive changes?  Without next steps for professional development in place, this could just turn into another version of NMSBA scores, where teachers know their students aren't performing well but aren't sure what to do about it. 

5. Using student performance as a part of teacher evaluations won't work unless teachers and administrators trust and value the data from the assessments.  I'm not exactly sure how to increase buy-in from all stake-holders, but I am sure that building in methods and time to do so are necessary.  One possibility would be to give schools more autonomy in selecting their methods of assessment and their goals for their students.  If this new teacher evaluation is to work and is to have any staying power, schools MUST be convinced that it is good for students and it is good for teachers.  I believe that, during the first couple years of the new evaluations, buy-in is more important than being strict or even consistent.  Teachers need to feel that if they work hard toward a goal they care about, then they can affect the outcome of their students' performance.  Currently, I think teachers don't value test data - in part because have no control over anything about the test and in part because they feel that no matter what they do on their classrooms, it won't change the outcome.  A change in teachers' attitude toward assessment will do much more to improve student performance than shoving poor test scores in teachers' faces and telling them they need to do better. 

Thanks for your time.  Good luck in putting together your list of recommendations for the state. 

I wish...

I think that most problems in education would be fixed if the profession were more prestigious and attractive to the top tier of college students or business professionals.  It would definitely help if the wages were higher.  I chose teaching as a career, but I do have a really hard time qualifying my decision to myself knowing that I make 3 times less than my parents did when I was growing up.  And half as much as my friends and family who are the same age as me.  Yeah... I know that money isn't everything.... and there are perks to feeling fulfilled by my career choice and the impact it has on the world..... but it sucks to have to curb eating out and buying coffee and talking on my cell phone in order to support my career choice.  Grrr.  

That said, I have no idea how state governments could afford to pay teachers more, considering the current financial situation in the country.  I'm wondering if there couldn't be greater incentives for teachers, like more leniency in forgiving student loans, discounts on health care or... SOMETHING.

I'd also love to see more of a "ladder" to climb for ambitious teachers who do want to take on leadership roles within their school and/or school district.  It seems silly that New Mexico's 3 tiers in teaching come only from creating a portfolio and dictate no changes to a teacher's role whatsoever.  I'm thinking that roles like department head or educational coach could become more clearly defined (and meaningful) and could allow teachers 1 extra period off from teaching per day in order to observe novice teachers, organize meetings, and manage various facets of the school.  Each of these positions could be considered a promotion, and could come with a significant wage increase - not a joke-worthy stipend of $500/year spread out of 26 pay periods.