Teachers Quitting In DC

Valerie Jablow points out that there is an enormous problem with DC public and charter teachers being so harassed that they quit: around 70% of them quit by their 5th year of employment. (She adds that this is probably not a bug, but a feature of the DC teacher evaluation program.) I am reprinting her entire column, but you should subscribe to it yourself.

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Let’s Be Clear: DC Teacher Retention Isn’t Just A Problem. It’s A Crisis.

by Valerie Jablow

This Wednesday evening, October 23, at 5:30 pm, the DC state board of education (SBOE), DC’s only elected body with a direct (if relatively powerless) voice on our schools, will take public testimony on teacher retention in DC’s publicly funded schools. (See more information here.)

While public voice is sorely needed in every conversation about our public schools, in this case it’s a bit akin to choosing wallpaper for a burning building.

But that’s hardly SBOE’s fault.

In the wake of years of testimony about horrific treatment of DC teachers, SBOE last year commissioned a study by DC schools expert Mary Levy, which showed terrible attrition of teachers at our publicly funded schools, dwarfing attrition rates nationally.

An update to that 2018 study was just made available by SBOE and will be discussed at the meeting this week.

The update shows that while DCPS teacher and principal attrition rates have dropped slightly recently, they remain very high, with 70% of teachers leaving entirely by the 5-year mark (p. 32). Retention rates for DC’s charter schools are similar to those at DCPS–with the caveat that not only are they self-reported, but they are also not as complete and likely contain errors.

Perhaps the most stunning data point is that more than half of DCPS teachers leaving after 6 years are highly rated (p. 24). This suggests that the exodus of teachers from DC’s publicly funded schools is not merely a matter of weeding out poor performers (as DCPS’s response after p. 70 of this report suggests). Rather, it gives data credence to the terrifying possibility that good teachers are being relentlessly harassed until they give up and leave.

Sadly, that conclusion is the only one that makes sense to me, given that most of my kids’ teachers in my 14 years as a DCPS parent have left their schools–with only a few retiring after many years of service. Most of my kids’ teachers were both competent and caring. Perhaps not coincidentally, they almost always also lacked basic supplies that they ended up buying with their own money; were pressured to teach to tests that would be the basis of their and their principals’ evaluations; and feared reprisal for saying any of that.

(I’m hardly alone in that observation–read some teacher testimony for the SBOE meeting here, including that of a special education teacher, who notes that overwork with caseloads; lack of supplies; and increased class sizes for kids with disabilities are recurring factors at her school that directly lead to teacher burnout.)

In other words, high teacher attrition in DC’s publicly funded schools isn’t a bug but a feature.

Now the real question is why is SBOE apparently the only school leadership body undertaking this work in this manner?

To be fair, DC’s office of the state superintendent of education (OSSE) recently commissioned a report, which showed even higher rates of attrition in DC’s publicly funded schools.

Yet, despite a situation that resembles a full-blown crisis of longstanding proportions, OSSE’s report was weirdly anodyne.

For instance, only 50 of 68 LEAs participated and then, even after citing horrific retention rates, OSSE’s report noted (boldface mine) that “some evidence suggests that DC teacher retention rates may be slightly lower than other cities across the country.”

The report went on to note that “a study of 16 large urban districts found that 81 percent of teachers remained at their schools after one year, compared to 70 percent in DC. National figures suggest that about 84 percent of public school teachers remained at the same school between 2011-12 and the 2012-13 school year.”

Gotta ask:

Is anyone at OSSE at all given pause by the fact that their own citation shows that DC’s teachers are leaving at annual rates more than 10% higher than in comparable urban areas? Or that DC’s 70% annual retention figure above means that a third of DC’s teachers are leaving every year?

Or how about the fact that OSSE’s collaborator on this study, TNTP (founded by former DCPS chancellor Michelle Rhee), has long been the beneficiary of DCPS contracts on teacher performance and training–as well as one of the cheerleaders for rating schools and teachers with test scores, while a former staffer for TNTP recently co-authored a report on DC teacher retention that happily concluded that high teacher turnover can actually increase test scores?

(Yeah–but only for students with teachers receiving the lowest ratings. Yay for us! Oh, and no worries about those kids with those low-rated teachers! Despite the fact that both recent OSSE and SBOE retention reports show that at risk kids in DC are much more likely to have less effective and less experienced teachers who stay for shorter terms, if churning teachers makes for good test scores, perhaps we shouldn’t worry about the collateral damage of taking away the little stability that these kids might otherwise have in their lives. Outcomes, baby, outcomes!)

In fact, OSSE’s recent report on teacher retention appears to be an outgrowth of its recent collaboration with TNTP, the stated goal of which is to “help LEAs develop effective strategies to attract, develop, and retain great teachers to serve their students through robust analysis of staffing data from across the District.”

Of course, that “robust analysis” is only with “LEAs who opt to participate”–which is a charming way to say that whatever OSSE and TNTP have together done on this subject is all, well, voluntary.

Which is kind of like seeing the burning building that is DC teacher retention and not worrying whether everyone has evacuated because choices!

(Or freedom? Hard sometimes to suss out right-wing talking points.)

Indeed, the charter board’s response to the latest SBOE report echoed this (see response after p. 70), noting that “each school pursues its own approach, including its own human capital strategies. In this context, there is no universal “right” rate of attrition, just as there is no universal rate that is too high or too low. The right attrition rate for each school will depend on that school’s approach, their needs and their situation in any given year.”

Despite such official unconcern with the recurring devastation of human capital in our schools, the SBOE is now undertaking to get the council to legislate standardized reporting for teacher attrition, given that we don’t have any standards.

Think about this for a second:

SBOE is asking the council, another elected body with only indirect oversight of schools, to enact legislation to force OSSE to ensure all schools report teacher attrition and retention in a standardized way because we have an emergency here already and no one is telling OSSE to do this. Come to think of it, given the subject matter and its emergency status, you would THINK all this is already OSSE’s obligation (you know, because of  that whole mayoral control thingy).

And yet, right now, there is literally only one person in DC who is doing any fulsome reporting of this emergency–and she doesn’t work for OSSE, despite being twice hired by SBOE to report an emergency situation that city education leaders outside SBOE seem to regard as, well, the price of doing business.

So, to recap:

–Horrific teacher retention in all publicly funded schools in DC;
–No standardized and/or mandated reporting of teacher retention in all DC publicly funded schools;
–Teacher harassment and blame for student and school success;
–No official connection of that to poor teacher retention in DC;
–At risk kids bearing the brunt of teacher mobility, including less experienced and effective teachers;
–DC education leaders begging to differ with all of that; and
–A dis-empowered SBOE trying to get both the council and OSSE to actually fix all of that while the mayor is . . . .

Uh, where IS the mayor, anyway?

Yeah.

What Do the Latest NAEP Results Tell Us About Education “Reform” in Washington, DC?

The usual gang of supporters of bipartisan education “reform” never tire of telling the world how wonderful education ‘reform’ has been in Washington, DC, what with the proliferation of charter schools, Congressional support for vouchers, a seriously handicapped teachers’ union, tremendous churn of teaching and administrative staff, tons of consultants, and direct mayoral control.

I’ve been among those saying that the results are NOT so wonderful. I have documented how virtually none of the promises came true that Chancellors Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson made about 8 years ago. They promised that the improvements in test scores, graduation rates and much more would go through the roof, but in fact, almost none of that came to pass. The recent scandals about truancy, absenteeism, phoney grades and illegitimate graduation rates have shown that much of their supposed successes have been purely fraudulent.

In addition, I showed recently that in fact, progress for a number of DC’s subgroups (blacks, whites, and Hispanics) on the NAEP 4th and 8th grade reading and math tests are further evidence of failure, since improvement rates per year BEFORE mayoral control cemented the rule of our ‘reformista’ Chancellors wee BETTER THAN they were AFTERWARDS.

I was asked by one of the members of DC’s now-powerless board of education to analyze changes over time for ALL of DC’s students as a group (not subdivided in any way) to compare pre- and post-‘reform’.

I made my own graphs using the data on the NAEP Data Explorer page, being careful to use the same vertical scale in each case, and starting at the lowest point, or nadir, of DC’s NAEP scores back in the 1990s. I asked Excel to calculate and draw the line of best fit for the data points. In each case, that ‘trend-line’ of linear correlation fit the data extraordinarily well. In fact, the R-values of linear correlation went from a low of 94% to a high of 99%. I didn’t use the graphs that the NAEP Data Explorer page provided, because they changed the vertical scale from situation to situation – so a rise of, say, 10 points over 20 years would look just about the same as a rise of, say, 60 points over 20 years. And they aren’t! So my vertical (y-axis scale) is 200 points in each case.

I also marked on the graphs where the dividing line was between the time when we had an elected school board (abolished in 2007) and the present, when we have direct mayoral control with essentially no checks or balances on his or her power.

So here are the graphs:

4th grade math, ANSS, all dc, 1996-20174th grade reading, ANSS, all DC, 1998-20178th grade math, ANSS, all DC, 1996-20178th grade reading, ANSS, all DC, 1998-2017

So do you see any miracles?

Me neither.

So what does all of this that mean?

  1. You need a good magnifying glass to see any significant differences in progress on the NAEP test scores for ‘all students’ in Washington, DC when comparing the two eras. The slopes of the dashed lines of best fit are essentially identical on the two sides of the purple line.
  2. Since the proportion of white inhabitants of DC and of students in DC’s publicly-funded schools have both increased markedly in the past 10 years, and the proportion of black residents and black students have decreased markedly, and this has skewed the graph in a positive direction after 2007.* That means that this data, and these graphs, are actually making the overall situation look more favorable to the reformistas.
  3. Anybody pretending that there are huge increases in national test scores after the reformistas took over education in DC, is blowing smoke in your eyes.

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*Why? When you remove low-scorers and add high-scorers (on anything) to a group, the overall average score will go up.

Here is a sports example: A football coach has been given a roster consisting of these players:

  • twenty big, strong, and bulky linesmen and backs and so on. Let’s pretend their average weight is 280 pounds.
  • twenty relatively small, but very fit, place-kickers (actually, they are soccer players looking for a fall sport) who weigh an average of 180 pounds each.

The team’s average weight is exactly 230 pounds (That’s (20*280 + 20*180) / 40) .

At noon,  the coach realizes there is no need for so many place-kickers, and she cuts 15 of the placekickers, leaving five of them. Their papers say that each one in fact weighs 180 pounds.

NOTHING ELSE CHANGES. In particular, none of the players gain or lose any weight during these fifteen minutes that the coach is making these changes.

At a quarter past noon, the average weight of the team has now increased markedly. It is now (20*280 + 5*180) / 25, or 260 pounds – it has gone up by 30 pounds simply by cutting 17 of its least-heavy players.

Is that coach a genius, or what, at bulking up her team?

Actually, although it’s not the direct result of what any Chancellor has done, this situation is somewhat similar to what’s happening in DC. Remember that white students in DC are the highest-scoring group of white students anywhere in the nation, because their parents overwhelmingly have graduate or professional degrees; DC’s white working class left town decades ago. So when relatively low-scoring African-American students (from working-class families) move to PG County, and white students and their relatively-highly-educated families move into DC from wherever, the averages will increase much as they did in my example with the imaginary football team.

Why is it that we keep on testing?

The only actual impact it’s had has been to distort education in a top-down manner, and that’s not exactly a good thing, as Peter Greene points out at Curmudgucation.

A few excerpts, concerning the reasons we were given for all this testing, and how that excuse turned out:

Address Inequity

We would find where non-wealthy non-white student populations were being ill-served. Anyone who can’t figure that out without the BS Test is a dope. And as with the last point, the problem has been that the data hasn’t so much been used to find schools that need help as it has been used to find schools that are vulnerable and ready to be turned into somebody’s business opportunity. Instead of focusing our will to address educational inequity, test-based accountability has highlighted our lack of will (and wasted the good intentions of some folks).

Informing Instruction

Teachers were going to get their data spreadsheets and figure out, with laser-like precision, who they needed to change their instruction. But right off the bat it became clear that data about students in your class would only arrive long after the students had departed for their next classroom. Then the security issue reared its stupid head– I can see student scores, but I am forbidden to see the test itself. (For that matter, students who are so inclined are unable to see their specific results to ask “What exactly did I get wrong here?”) This means I can tell that Pat only got an okayish score, based on some questions that might have asked about something about reading that Pat apparently answered incorrectly. How can that inform my instruction? It can’t. It doesn’t. The BS Tests “inform instruction” mostly by encouraging teachers to spend more time on test prep. That’s not a good thing.

Letting Parents Know How Their Children Are Doing

Under this theory, parents have no idea how their children are doing in school until the BS Test results appear. Assuming for the moment that the parents are that disconnected, the information provided is minimal, scoring a few categories on a 1-3 or 1-4 scale. A BS Test provides very non-granular data, less nuanced than a report card– and based on just one test. There is nothing for parents to learn here.”

 

Training to be a Professional? We don’t need no stinkin’ training!

First we had Teach for America, which sends 20-somethings with no training to speak of out to the most impoverished communities as teachers.

(Right. We all know that it’s much better that the poor and brown kids who really do need trained and experienced education professionals, are instead saddled with an ever-churning roster of completely inexperienced newbies who are blindly trying to follow a script, at least until they crash, burn, and quit.

(Look on the bright side: each TFA noobie placed in a school district earns TFA many thousands of dollars!)

If you like TFA, then you will loveProfessionals for America“, where they extend this idea to the medical profession, airline pilots, and much more!

What could possibly go wrong?

Assessment of Rhee/Henderson/Mayoral control in DC public schools

Here is a very long article on the legacy of the mayoral takeover of DC public schools back in 2007, which brought in Chancellors Rhee and Henderson, among other things. Having been a teacher, a mentor, and a volunteer in and visiting DC public schools for that period of time, I’m not particularly impressed with the changes I’ve seen. The article, which I still haven’t finished reading, has criticism of what hasn’t worked, by Mary Levy and  John Merrow, and also features a reply by Thomas Toch (who is very much a cheerleader for the “reforms”).

Here’s the link. Please read the article and comment, and take some action as well.

http://washingtonmonthly.com/people/john-merrow-and-mary-levy-with-a-reply-by-tom-toch/

What should teachers actually do?

Paul Thomas has some good suggestions for teachers, on how to do things that make a difference, without being a martyr and burning out. For example:

Take stock of how much of your professional and personal energy is being spent on being a professional and how much is drained by being a martyr—and then stop being a martyr. […]

“Every teacher must take stock of her/his professional practices, and eliminate those that are time and energy draining with little to no positive instructional outcomes. For example, marking extensively on student work, and then not requiring students to respond in some substantive way to those comments is an act of martyrdom—a waste of professional time that produces an artifact of your spending time, but doesn’t benefit either you or your students.”

I wish I had heard and heeded this advice when I was still teaching!

Read more here.

Published in: on November 4, 2016 at 8:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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“You will differentiate instruction for every student in exactly the same way, or else”

Or,

One of the many reasons I rejoice every day that I was able to retire!

 

Read what classroom observations have devolved to:

http://nyceducator.com/2016/10/you-will-differentiate-instruction-same.html

Study shows: Teachers get better with experience. Duh.

A major study looking at 30 other studies over the past 15 years shows that teachers get better with experience, especially if they are in a supportive and collaborative environment and get to teach the same subject matter or age level repeatedly.

Or, ‘duh’: 5 weeks of training isn’t enough.

A money quote from the summary:

Based on our review of 30 studies published within the last 15 years that analyze the effect of teaching experience on student outcomes in the United States and met our methodological criteria, we find that:

1. Teaching experience is positively associated with student achievement gains throughout a teacher’s career. Gains in teacher effectiveness associated with experience are most steep in teachers’ initial years, but continue to be significant as teachers reach the second, and often third, decades of their careers.

2. As teachers gain experience, their students not only learn more, as measured by standardized tests, they are also more likely to do better on other measures of success, such as school attendance.

3. Teachers’ effectiveness increases at a greater rate when they teach in a supportive and collegial working environment, and when they accumulate experience in the same grade level, subject, or district.

4. More experienced teachers support greater student learning for their colleagues and the school as a whole, as well as for their own students.

Here is the full link: https://learningpolicyinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Teaching_Experience_Report_June_2016.pdf

Mental Math, Traditional Math, and Best Methods

James Tanton is one of the most insightful teachers of teachers of math I’ve come across in a long time.

In this video and this essay, he explains how some parents feel mystified by some of the newer style of math problems that children are bringing to their parents for help. Clearly, some of the problems (like the 32-12 one which fills up an entire page in a child’s workbook) are being done in a tortured, time-wasting method. However, if you take a more difficult problem, such as 103 – 87, you can do this completely in your head by adding small increments (MENTALLY) to the 87 until you get to 103.

This is a reasonable thing to do, much like people count out (or used to count out) change into a customer’s hand.

In this case, from 87 to 90 (which is a much ‘nicer’ number than 87) we need to go up by 3.

Then from 90 to 100 (which is getting closer to our goal), we go up by 10. So we’ve gone up by 13 all together.

Then from 100 to 103 is three more, so we’ve gone up by 16, which means that 103 – 87 is 16.

I would be crazy to write all those steps out! – which is unfortunately what the poor child was asked to do.

But doing it quickly in your head makes a lot of sense.

As Tanton says, let’s get rid of laborious, tortured, time-wasting algorithms and examples, but let’s keep the thinking and understanding.

Click on the picture for a larger view; it’s a slightly-modified still from his video.

james tanton on thinking

Published in: on October 25, 2015 at 11:31 am  Comments (1)  
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Bob Shepherd on what teaching is really like

An excellent description of how insanely hard teachers have to work, and why I am so glad I was able to retire before having a nervous breakdown or dying from stress and overwork. For many, many workers, including teachers, the idea of a ‘mere’ 40-hour work week is a joke. There is no possible way to get all the required tasks done even with a 100-hour work week, which ought to be illegal.

The only remedy is much, much smaller class sizes – like what they have at the very best private schools.

(This is from Diane Ravitch’s blog, but written by Bob Shepherd)

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For many years, I held various jobs as a publishing executive (in later years at very high levels). I thought that I worked very, very hard.

Then I returned to teaching.

Everything I did before was a vacation by comparison.

Teaching is relentless in its demands on one’s time and energy. I came to school this year and found that I had 190 students, 3 minutes between classes, no prep period on half my days, car line duty in the morning, 20 minutes for lunch, two extracurricular activities to coach (including plays to produce), administrative meetings one day a week after school, 20 detailed lesson plans to prepare each week (specifying the class, period, standards covered, lesson objectives, assessments used, bellwork, vocabulary covered, and ESOL strategies and 504 and IEP accommodations employed), a requirement that I post 16 grades per quarter per student (for 190 students for 4 quarters, that’s 12,160 grades in the school year, or 67.56 grades per day), enormous amounts of paperwork (filing, photocopying, keeping a parent/teacher log, filling out reports of many kinds, preparing class handouts and tests, keeping attendance logs, posting grades), many, many special meetings (parent-teacher conferences being among the most frequent), and classes and tests to take to maintain my certification.

If I assigned a five-paragraph theme to each of my students, I would have 950 paragraphs to read–roughly the equivalent of a short novel.

Basically, there isn’t enough time for ANYONE–even the greatest of teachers–to do the job at all adequately. This is the great unspoken truth about teaching. This is the real elephant in the room. If you want to improve teaching and learning, you have to give teachers more time–MUCH, MUCH MORE TIME.

And somehow, with all those demands, you are supposed to give each student the individual attention that he or she deserves. Anything short of one-on-one tutorial is a compromise, of course. And that’s that the job boils down to. A great compromise.

And the attitude of administrators is typically, “Well, what’s the matter with you? Why don’t you just do x? Why didn’t you just do y? Any good teacher would be doing z every day.” As though teachers were people of leisure with all the time in the world. I have noticed that administrators label practically every email that they send out IMPORTANT and use exclamation marks ALL THE TIME: “Due today! Must be completed by Thursday! Mandatory attendance!” I have sometimes wondered whether they shouldn’t be issued, at the beginning of the year, a maximum number of quotation marks that they can use. Of course, they are just responding to the similar insane demands that are placed upon them by the central office and my regulatory requirements.

Published in: on July 5, 2015 at 9:13 am  Leave a Comment  
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