Ball Q&A: Michigan kids ‘will lose’ with weak teacher evaluation bill

Frustrated and baffled are just two of the words Deborah Loewenberg Ball uses to describe her reaction to dramatic changes made recently to teacher evaluation reform legislation in Michigan.

Ball, dean of the University of Michigan School of Education, was chair of a blue-ribbon commission appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature in 2011. The Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness was asked to recommend ways to make teacher evaluation more meaningful in Michigan, while holding teachers more accountable for student performance.

MORE COVERAGE: How a single, powerful senator killed serious reform of teacher evaluation

In a blunt interview, Ball said Michigan should be embarrassed by the current version of teacher evaluation legislation now being debated in the Michigan Legislature. While Ball’s group recommended minimum state standards for evaluating teachers’ performance, the current bill would allow local school districts to continue to set their own standards for rating and training teachers. If enacted, she said, our children will pay the price.

Bridge: Isn’t teacher evaluation about firing bad teachers for low student test scores? Why did your report emphasize classroom observation (of teachers) and feedback?

Ball: We took a very strong stand that the key issue here was improvement in the quality of teaching. Everybody in the country knows that once you institute these practices of teacher evaluation (emphasizing student test scores), only about 5 percent of the teachers perform so badly that you can fire them. So (without meaningful classroom observation and feedback), you’re left with 95 percent of the workforce that routinely doesn’t get good feedback. The people who suffer are both those professionals, but more important, the kids. We recommended a system that put all this emphasis on how do we help teachers keep improving what they’re doing for our kids.

The report of your panel, the Michigan Council for Educator Effectiveness, recommended four teacher evaluation models that school districts could choose from. The current bill allows districts to use any model they want, and those models don’t have to meet any minimum state standard. Why is that such a big deal?

Ball: This is a very disappointing part of the bill. The kind of feedback teachers get matters a lot. The reason we need proven tools is because we believe when teachers get good feedback, it impacts student learning. If districts make up their own tools, teachers will not get that. It’s actually quite difficult to build a good observation tool.

(The evaluation tools the Council recommended) use research on the relationship between teaching and learning, and evaluate teachers based on practices that have been shown to affect student learning. So why would we not want a tool that is already proven to be related to student learning? Why would you expect people to make up some makeshift tool when such tools exist? It doesn’t make any sense at all.

Sen. Phil Pavlov, who is the sponsor of the current teacher evaluation bill, argues it’s better for local school districts to make decisions about how to evaluate their own teachers.

Ball: That doesn’t make any sense. We’re talking about a professional practice to teach children to do math and read and understand science. That has nothing to do with where you live in the state. There are practices that help children learn, and some teachers do them better than others, and you want to make sure teachers are getting feedback so when they teach science or social studies or writing they’re actually doing things that we know will help students learn. These are tools in which you actually know (the results) are related to student learning rather than someone’s opinion that it might be related to student learning and it really isn’t.

So there’s no place in a debate over teacher evaluation policy to balance ‘local control’ concerns?

Ball: Saying ‘local control’ doesn’t really make any sense. Why would it matter if you’re in Grand Blanc or Petoskey how you would lead a class discussion that gets all the kids to take a turn? Why would it matter what district you’re in when you want to assure somebody can explain how to add fractions? Those things don’t have anything to do with local districts.

Nobody would say that about any other profession. It would be a little bit like saying all the hospitals in the state should have different practices for surgery because they know best who their patients are. Do you want your pilot in Petoskey to land differently than they land in Detroit?

What is your reaction to one of the primary recommendations of your report being ignored?

Ball: I think it’s very disappointing. When we submitted our report, we had done work that no other state had done. It met a gold standard in the country. We were really hopeful because, frankly, across the aisle in the legislature we had amazing support, and we had support from the teaching community and the leadership community.

The state had a chance, and still has a chance, to implement something that would really improve the quality of education for our state’s children. And I honestly do not understand what it is that would prevent the state from making a pretty obvious decision. They could put something in place that would assure our kids get better quality education.

How does this make Michigan look in national education circles?

Ball: It’s going to make Michigan look really bad nationally. Maybe nobody cares about that, but at least they should care about the quality of the learning of our students. Other states are looking to (our report) now for (building an) improvement-oriented evaluation system. It’s embarrassing in a way to let people know we recommended this and we’re not implementing it.

Has Sen. Pavlov reached out to you to talk about his concerns?

Ball: I haven’t talked to Sen. Pavlov since 2013. When I was chairing MCEE I met with him and his staff fairly regularly. I went with him to his district once to present about this, over by Port Huron. He introduced me very amicably and I think it went extremely well.

I remember distinctly him saying that we want improvement in teaching in the state, and you are the experts. I remember feeling so respectful of that stance. I don’t know what he’s thinking now because I haven’t talked to him. But originally, he was very respectful of the expertise involved in building a system like this.

So Sen. Pavlov didn’t tell you he was concerned about local control?

Ball: The whole issue of local control was one of the things that the tenure reform act and the formation of the MCEE were frankly designed to overcome. We have a very decentralized state (public school system), and every district was doing its own thing and we were paying the price in terms of the progress of our students. The language wasn’t about how do we respect local control; the language was how do we put Michigan on the map for taking hold of this question of how do we educate our children.

That’s one of the reasons I did it (chaired the MCEE), because I was so encouraged by the bipartisan respect for the need for this. But that was two or three years ago.

This is a backward step to what things looked like before 2011. I don’t understand why the state commissioned this panel, spent money on the pilot programs, had us work for 18 months, and in the end what they’re recommending basically looks extremely close to what (was) already on the ground before the tenure reform act.

It’s baffling. It’s misguided and we will all lose as a result.

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Matt G.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 8:55am
"We have a very decentralized state (public school system), and every district was doing its own thing and we were paying the price in terms of the progress of our students. The language wasn’t about how do we respect local control; the language was how do we put Michigan on the map for taking hold of this question of how do we educate our children." Quotes like this are very disappointing. This politically-motivated talk of "language" and reframing the debate is obnoxious. "Paying the price"..."taking hold of the question"...there's nothing concrete being said here. If there's so much "proven" study behind these ideas, why is that work not being communicated? I think the analogies between professions here are misguided. Students' cultures are indeed different from place to place. A pedagogy that works in urban schools will not necessarily work in suburban schools or rural ones. Keeping teacher evaluation heterogeneous is democratic...homogenizing it is autocratic. What you are saying to districts by homogenizing it is "hey, you local guys can't handle the responsibility and we think you're doing it wrong, so we're going to take it away from you". Why is everyone so sure that's the right choice? Why so much focus on teacher evaluation and not on the poverty that often is the root cause of students' struggles? Here's the most important point, though: Basing evaluations on standardized test scores is destined for failure. I can't fathom why any teacher organization would support such a thing. What people don't understand is that the "standardized" in "standardized testing" means that the scores are put onto a bell curve. This means that the composite scores do not reflect whether or not students have mastered the material, they measure the students against each other. This in turn means that even if every student in the country mastered 75% of the material in the curriculum, there would still be a "bottom 5%" of schools to label as failures. The current system of scoring GUARANTEES there will always be losers no matter how well the students do. This is a vast misuse of the bell curve and it is an undemocratic and unfair sorting system. ....and the bell curve system of scoring tells us what we already know: that poor test scores are highly correlated with poverty. Shocking! What teacher would want to teach in a poor urban district when they KNOW their students are more likely to have low test scores and that those scores will be prominently featured in their evaluations? Test scores as a part of evaluation provide a strong disincentive for any teacher thinking about working in a district with high poverty. The other problem I have with this discussion is the emphasis of correlating "student growth" with good teaching. I've never seen/heard anyone explain how these systems of evaluation deal with teachers whose students consistently perform well but don't "grow" very much. And, as I stated earlier, "growth" in a bell curve measurement system is a zero-sum game. No matter how much the nation's teachers and students actually master of their work, under this measurement system there will always be a "bottom 5%". Instead of addressing these sorts of issues, we get vague politician-y generalities about "improving the quality of education for our state's children". It sounds like talk from someone running for office, not an expert trying to communicate the scientific and philosophical basis for their argument's premises. Maybe my rhetorical questions have good answers, but they certainly haven't been answered by anything I've read on the topic...this round of Bridge articles is no exception.
Ron French
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 11:04am
Matt I understand your frustration. But I'm wondering, since we currently have a system in which districts can create their own evaluation systems, which you describe as more democratic, if you believe that system is working well for our kids? If you believe NAEP and ACT scores offer at least some worthwhile comparisons between states, Michigan isn't doing very well. So if we're going to base our efforts on results, I'm not sure "local control" has proven to be a god-send for our children. I'm sure you know this but for readers who don't, this teacher evaluation bill being considered in the Legislature does not create the mandate that teachers be evaluated partly on student growth, as measured by tests; that was done in 2011. This bill actually would decrease the percentage of a teacher's evaluation that is based on tests. The question in the current debate is whether Michigan should mandate that districts use classroom observation models that research has shown improve student learning, or whether districts can continue to make up whatever they want. Does the Department of Education have a sterling record? Maybe not. But local districts don't either. That's why the Council recommended specific evaluation models - MDE wouldn't be picking the models. Also, I think it's important in this debate to recognize that the Council's recommendations were overwhelmingly focused on helping teachers become better teachers, not on punishment. thanks for reading,
Matt G.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 12:28pm
Ron, I appreciate the replies (all of them). I understand that the MCEE worked hard and has/had good intentions. You're right that I'm frustrated and I can't help but feel as though this is a "lipstick on a pig" scenario (referring to the mandate that some portion of evals are based on test scores). Simply playing around with percentages isn't particularly meaningful unless that percentage goes to very low amounts. I can't recall the exact numbers proposed at the moment, but I can remember thinking "these are still too high in my opinion" when I read about them at an earlier date. I don't think standardized tests themselves are a problem. On the contrary, I think they are essential sources of information about what students know and can do. It's what we do with the data that counts, and currently we slap all the data from these tests onto a national/state bell curve and declare that some schools are failing. With a bell curve that will always be the case...just like you can always say "50% of students are below average"...yes...that is true by definition. The bell curve is RELATIVE and doesn't tell us much about the level of mastery for the students at the lower tail. This is a common misconception about these tests. So, if we want to compare Michigan to other states, fine, but should we fire teachers who are on the low end of the curve? Should we assume the students on the low end of a bell curve are not learning? The answer is no, because low standardized scores can easily be false negatives (meaning they can also be false negatives for teacher evaluations). It's good that the MCEE (apparently?) recognizes this, but it is totally lost on most voters and legislators IMO. I'm sure the average voter thinks an 18 on the ACT means 18/36 as a percentage...or 50% correct, when it instead means the student is totally average. Anyway, I would love to see a Bridge article series on the math and item weighting games that get played with standardized tests and the many misconceptions people have about them. This issue is central to the discussion. I think one of my issues with the proposed legislation (as described...I haven't read it in full) is that it provides a short list of choices for evaluation systems rather than a set of requirements/guidelines for districts to follow. I understand that "local control" is often just another "states' rights" argument, and I don't favor districts "making up whatever they want", necessarily...nor do I favor Texas using biased/edited history books etc. However, I strongly feel that democracy is not just voting (despite the prevailing culture in this country). If people think their local teachers are not doing a good job they need to get involved and make changes, not lobby the state/nation to force change. There are also such things as "Democratic schools" where even the youngest students are involved and vote on everything from rules/punishments to budgeting and teacher hiring/firing. I suggest everyone research these institutions. The status quo is not the only option there is. Democratic schools are the ultimate version of local control and there are many successful examples worldwide. Here's a book on the subject if anyone is interested:
david zeman
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 1:29pm
Matt G, This is David Zeman, the editor of Bridge. To address your last question, regarding the short list of models offered to local districts, my understanding is different. My understanding is that under the more meaningful version of evaluation reform, that local school districts in Michigan were offered two options: * The first option was to select a model adopted by the state, that any local district could simply use off the shelf, so to speak. This would, presumably, be a highly regarded model recommended by folks like Ball. * The second option was to allow any local district that wanted to to either create their own evaluation system, or choose another system created by some other vendor. The only caveat to this is that, whichever system a local system created or purchased, it must meet certain, state-approved criteria for reliability and quality. The point being, local districts were not being told, "Take this statewide system or else." They were being told that if they chose to adopt their own system that was fine, so long as it met X, Y and Z state standards.
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 2:44pm
Please explain how you are comparing Michigan ACT scores with other states. Do the states that you are comparing Michigan to require all 11th graders to take the ACT? Not a good comparrison if the other states do not test all 11th graders. Michigan's score will be lower compared to the other states.
Chuck Fellows
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 9:03am
Dr. Ball and the other members of the MCEE worked very hard and gave it their best effort following best practices in their research and reaching their conclusions. They are to be commended for their sincere and meaningful efforts. The legislature should be given a time out, first for assigned a fruitless task to a large group of highly qualified individuals and then demanding an outcome that fit their worldview of what performance evaluation should be. If you hadn't noticed, none of them is qualified to define expectations for a performance review system. Not their fault, they were not elected to be experts, although many behave as if they were. Evaluating a human being's performance cannot be accomplished by following a prescribed pro forma, filling in blanks or boxes on observations sheets, interviewing and observing four times a year, and worse yet, attaching rewards and punishments, shame and embarrassment, and numerical scores to a process that cannot be assigned a clear and neat number or grade. If we've learned nothing from standardized testing we should have learned that this type of assessment criteria does not work. Chainsaw Al Dunlap used it and destroyed companies and people. Jack Welch insisted on it and when he retired proclaimed it was the worst decision he had ever made. Jacques Nasser tried it at Ford and destroyed company morale. All this effort creating a reward and punishment system of evaluation has created a culture of fear and disillusionment in the ranks of our teachers and students. If you need affirmation of that statement go to a traditional secondary school for a week or so, maybe a month, and just observe and listen. Talk to no one, just observe and listen. This is not easy, especially since it has a good chance of destroying your beliefs about education in Michigan and the profession (the art, science and practice) of teaching..
david zeman
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 1:38pm
So Chuck, understanding all the imperfections of any educator evaluation system, what would you propose that schools do to determine: 1. Which teachers are highly effective, and which teachers need help? 2. Whether students are making adequate progress in each classroom? (not only when compared with their classmates, but when compared with other students across the state or the nation) 3. In which areas a teacher may be weak, and what kind of training or support they need? No system is perfect, but how would schools (and parents, for that matter) be able to determine the quality of teaching in their classrooms without some combination of observation, testing data, etc.?
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 9:16am
Clearly there has been an underestimation of the "power" that local control of the school system has in the minds of the citizens in the state. To me it is most significant that the largest Intermediate districts in the state are supporting Sen Pavlov. Those IDs speak for the largest population of schools and students. The "fear" of Lansing and its supposed desire to "top down" manage education in the state has very deep roots. I represented the Oakland Intermediate District back in the 70's and can say with certainty that any effort by Lansing to control or otherwise impose its ideas on local districts was universally opposed by Dr Emerson and all the districts in the IDs jurisdiction. And Lansing (the Gov & Legislature) have not demonstrated any "educational" success with the various programs they have imposed with Emergency Managers or the EAA. Indeed the thought on the record there, outside of Lansing and its slappy media supporters, is dismal and is so regarded by the citizens that have observed it first hand. Until Lansing deals with that powerful idea of local control - up front - most of what it may offer or try to impose will continue to fail. No matter that it may well be a great program such as this particular one seems to be. It still smacks of "top down" and "We know better than you" paternalism. Local control is an extremely powerful notion - and probably for good reason.
Lee Katterman
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 10:54am
I've long believed that the "local control" mantra is nonsense. Schools and students vary largely because of "local control" with many districts doing a great disservice to students because they make up how to evaluate teachers and students, or don't do any meaning evaluations at all. While there is reason to fear Lansing, it's because too many legislators have drunk the "local control" kool-aid. Michigan has too many ISDs, let alone an embarrassing excess of local districts. Consolidation would do the vast majority of students much good. I strongly recommend parents leave Michigan and find someplace that actually cares about good educational practices.
Lee Katterman
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 10:55am
I meant "meaningful" in the third line.
Marc Z
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 11:10am
As a former administrator I am firmly convinced that the legislature does not want to pay what it would actually take to have an effective teacher evaluation system. Good feedback takes time and we simply do not have enough administrators with enough time to do evaluation effectively. Since school funding is often a zero-sum game in the eyes of the legislature, there is no way a school district can add administrators in order to do effective evaluation without reducing somewhere else. If we are not willing to raise class size to increase administrators (we should not be) then the only way is to add money to the system to add administrators. Money will also be needed to train administrators (giving good feedback is a skill that has to be learned). Yes, we need effective teacher evaluation. It will cost money, and the initial cost will be hefty. With the real cost being the actual issue in my opinion, I see the "local control" discussion as a non sequitar. We can have statewide minimum criteria and allow districts a large degree of freedom in implementation. To use Dr. Loewenberg's analogy, while we expect the hospital to meet minimum standards in surgery, the state doesn't demand that only a M.D. or only a D.O. perform the surgery. Likewise, an urban trauma hospital might look for different things beyond the minimum in its doctors than a rural hospital. State standards and local control are not mutually exclusive.
Charles Richards
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 6:58pm
The statement: "the current bill would allow local school districts to continue to set their own standards for rating and training teachers." raises the question of how much variation there is among school districts? Ms. Ball says, " Everybody in the country knows that once you institute these practices of teacher evaluation (emphasizing student test scores), only about 5 percent of the teachers perform so badly that you can fire them." So why not fire that five percent and go ahead and apply the teacher evaluations to the remaining 95%? Believe me, you would get the devoted attention of the rest of the teachers. Ms. Ball says that parents " should care about the quality of the learning of our students." Aren't parents aware of their districts NAEP and ACT scores? Are they content with them?
Tue, 06/09/2015 - 7:32pm
It's not that simple. Even the 5% who fail according to the test scores could be among the better educators in the state. The bottom 5% are going to be teaching in the most poverty stricken schools. Poverty is directly linked to poor test scores and is the #1 factor that correlates to test scores. Moreover, the teachers most likely to end up in the poorest situations are beginning teachers, so we'd just end up firing our newest teachers and then replacing them with other first year teachers again and again and again. Until we start addressing poverty these school reform movements are misguided. Also, until we start raising the standards of school administrators then we'll keep relying on the people who hire the worst teachers and fail to remediate them to stay employed and still unable to address any poor teaching. Shouldn't we start with ensuring that we have quality school administrators and then we'd have the people in place to work on ensuring that we are hiring and keeping the best teachers instead of a lottery for who can teach middle class and rich kids or not.
John S. Porter
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 7:41pm
Increasing observations and feedback to teachers is a good thing. Trying to impose a system of teaching on individuals and unique classrooms seems bad to me. Each class has it's own culture. Each teacher has his/her own style. A perky young lady is going to have a radically different style than a fat old fart. Both can bond with students and motivate students to like school. Test scores for students is one kind of feedback (from students). Do the experts have any ideas about getting other kinds of feedback from students? Also, is there a preferred teacher "type" envisioned? I haven't seen or heard of a system that measures the bond between teachers and students. That seems like an important item, but a terribly difficult thing to quantify or test for. Finally, all students are not equal. A teacher that is effective for one kind of student may not be effective for others. We need to pay attention to what each student needs, not just the needs of teachers, taxpayers, and administrators . . .
Mike barnes
Mon, 06/08/2015 - 10:24am
As with most things, unfortunately, it all boils down to money and power in politics and the me, me, me world that we now live. Sound simplistic? It's not.
Chuck Jordan
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 9:54pm
I wonder too what the cost would be to hire enough administrators to do in depth evaluation of teachers and how many administrators are qualified to observe teachers. Shouldn't these teacher evaluators have some experience in the classroom and expertise in teaching? Administrators often have these "educational leadership" degrees or are mainly ex-coaches. Hmm. I also don't understand the statement: Ms. Ball says, ” Everybody in the country knows that once you institute these practices of teacher evaluation (emphasizing student test scores), only about 5 percent of the teachers perform so badly that you can fire them.” Is this true? So if you tell teachers they have to raise students test scores by so much, 95% will be able to do that? So teaching to the test does work? And it will ensure higher scores and happy teachers? Or is the real goal just to fire some teachers? Rather confusing?
Mitchell Robinson
Thu, 06/04/2015 - 10:30pm
"Saying ‘local control’ doesn’t really make any sense. Why would it matter if you’re in Grand Blanc or Petoskey how you would lead a class discussion that gets all the kids to take a turn? Why would it matter what district you’re in when you want to assure somebody can explain how to add fractions? Those things don’t have anything to do with local districts... It would be a little bit like saying all the hospitals in the state should have different practices for surgery because they know best who their patients are. Do you want your pilot in Petoskey to land differently than they land in Detroit? The whole issue of local control was one of the things that the tenure reform act and the formation of the MCEE were frankly designed to overcome." Dean Deborah Ball There isn't just one "right" way to lead a class discussion, or add fractions. And sometimes children in different places respond differently to different strategies--or different kids in the same place respond differently. Teaching isn't piloting, or running a hospital. Its helping children become lifelong learners. Its about building relationships, not landing planes. I'm no fan of Phil Pavlov's, but in this case he's right--local control is not something to be "overcome". Its something that should be embraced, and cherished, and supported.
Jon Blakey
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 11:02am
I think Ms. Ball and her colleagues have done a great service for the educators of Michigan who wish to improve their schools and teaching practices. Many will take the findings of this effort and apply them to their situations, just as good educators have done for decades. What we do with the schools heavily impacted by poverty and/or not run by caring educators is and always has been, the biggest problem. Democratically run schools (I prefer collaborative) have a much better chance of improvement assuming they pay attention to valid research and the context within which it is done. Unfortunately, this does not happen in too many places due to poor leadership from boards and administrators. How do we nudge or propel these failing schools towards better practices before another generation of children is damaged? How do we refer to local control when non-rational decisions continue to interfere with the implementation of best practices (using test scores to evaluate teachers is not best practice)? I believe most politicans will always be undependaable allies in improving schools. They make to many decisions based on the direction the wind is blowing (non-rational) in an effort to get re-elected. You do not get re-elected if you upset too many constituents. Add to this the fact that we humans do not really like change inflicted on us, and you see why the senator flipped. This said, there are states that have made significant improvements in student achievement, actually surpassing Michigan. Perhaps once we are embarrassed enough, we will stop fighting with each other (circular firing squads is a good metaphor for this behavior) and start to institute the changes needed to better serve the students of Michigan. I know there are many good educators and boards out there already doing this.
Brenda Shufelt
Fri, 06/05/2015 - 1:07pm
Until we look at all the factors which affect teacher performance, using student standardized tests scores to evaluate teachers makes no sense. The more successful States have provided the money to train teachers and the necessary materials and support for their teachers. In addition it took these States eight or nine years to have the program run successfully. Our State leaves this up to the local school districts to provide the funding. This year I have observed teachers in some of the core areas, they were given the benchmarks to teach but no materials to teach them. They had to come up with their own materials to teach the students which ended up using much of their in school and out of school time hunting down and creating a curriculum. It also cost the district a lot of money in paper. I think we have put the cart before the horse. Let's give the teachers what the need to be successful with their students. Let's put the needs of the students and teachers first. They need materials, support personnel and wrap around services. Then let's talk about how to evaluate teachers when we have a fair and level playing field.
Sat, 06/06/2015 - 6:50am
The fact is, Ms. Ball, that one does get different medical treatment in different hospitals. The reason is.........wait......wait for That's right money. How much the patient has, (insurance) and how much the hospital offers for the medical staff for compensation. The more they offer the better staff they can get. As far as landing a plane.......each airport has its own character. There are many airports where a pilot must perform his or her task of landing differently in order to complete a safe landing.
Sat, 06/06/2015 - 8:58am
Here's a quote from Dr. Susan Moore Johnson, of Harvard, in Educational Researcher: "expanding the use of VAMS [value-added methods] in teacher evaluations (even if it represents no more than 30% of the teacher’s total score) might compromise the school’s potential for improvement." That's the nugget everyone--including the estimable Dr. Ball--seem to be missing in this discussion. Complex evaluation models, done poorly (read: with the intent of ranking teachers to lop off the lowest "performers") by harried, untrained administrators have the likelihood of working in precisely the opposite way Ball describes. Why would a veteran teacher share lessons fine-tuned by years of experience and classroom management tips with a promising newbie whose students' achievement data could surpass his? Who's going to end up in the mythical 5%? The person who doesn't hone in, full-bore, on prepping for standardized tests. Both the accompanying article by Ron French and this interview assume that "better" teacher evaluation will improve teacher practice (French says there's research that confirms that, but doesn't provide links). Professional learning certainly improves teacher practice--but remember Deming's core principle for improvement of practice: First, drive out all fear. Any evaluation is high-stakes, so professional learning accomplished in the process of evaluation (again, done by hugely overworked administrators, often evaluating teaching out of their disciplinary field) is done for the express purpose of keeping the job, not becoming a creative, innovative master teacher. It's NOT about the kids and their learning. Here's the link to Moore Johnson's article, countering some of the claims made by French and Ball: believe Phil Pavlov was responding to his constituents' complaints about excessive testing as well as local control. Dr. Robinson is right--there is value in local control. Some very fine, very functional school systems have been built in Michigan, with custom-tailored hiring, training, mentoring, evaluation and enrichment of teacher capacity, all using locally developed tools. Kids in Flint ARE different from kids in Engadine--and their teachers and school leaders are best positioned to determine what they need. It's only when equity is threatened--kids aren't getting their fair share of resources and qualified attention--that we should be looking at federally-determined, RTTT-driven statewide curricula, instruction and evaluation.
Wayne O'Brien
Sat, 06/06/2015 - 1:56pm
I have read Ball's et al. report, written about by French in the accompanying Bridgemi piece, as well as the Moore Johnson article that you kindly linked, Nancy. They do make for a compelling side-by-side read. Thank you for your thoughtful analysis and for pointing to important research-based information upon which more informed decisions can be made to more "validly and reliably" underpin forward thinking goals for our schools -- goals which need to be established by the concerned citizens of Michigan......possibly through our legislature? I was struck by the many parallels with Finnish educational practice disclosed in the Moore article. The Finns have made sure that much collegial sharing of pedagogical techniques by teachers during their working day is an integral aspect of their educational framework and this has been true from the outset of their education reform regime more than 30 years ago. Testing and formal evaluating are seldom part of the Finnish framework. Highly adept teaching practices apparently seem to obviate the need for these expenses. It is facinating and remarkable that new research from America, disclosed by Moore Johnson (Harvard professor), provides convincing evidence to support not only studying but also emulating what the Finns have been doing educationally, with world-wide recognition, for decades. If we keep our eyes open, we'll catch up!
Tony Duerr
Sun, 06/07/2015 - 11:58am
It's a complex issue thart requires much more time for knowlegeable comment than I have given to it. I am troubled by much emphasis on test scores to evaluate teachers when poverty and parent education levels correlate more closely with student performance than teacher excellence. Moreover I've never understood how student test performance can be used to evaluate the middle school band teacher's effectiveness. An evaluation protocal that mandates frequent observation and feedback quickly becomes unworkable given the already very thin administrator/supervisor ratios in school districts. It's already less than just about any other human services "industry" you can name. Running the hotel, dealing with student discipline, addressing parent concerns, etc. are more than full time jobs for on-site school administrators to whom the job of teacher evaluation falls. If we want more carefully observed, evaluated, and improved guidance to teachers we will have to pay for it. Unfortunately the advocates for more rigorous teacher evaluation are often not the advocates for more financial support to public education.