Sunday, August 29, 2010


4LAKids: Sunday 29•Aug•2010 5 Yrs After Katrina
In This Issue:
NO GOLD STARS FOR SUCCESSFUL L.A. TEACHERS: L.A. Unified has hundreds of excellent instructors. But no one asks them their secrets to success.
VALUE-ADDED IS NO MAGIC: Assessing Teacher Effectiveness
HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest of the Stories from Other Sources
EVENTS: Coming up next week...
What can YOU do?

Featured Links:
4 LAKids on Twitter
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: an investment we can't afford to cut! - The Education Coalition Website
4LAKids Anthology: All the Past Issues, solved, resolved and unsolved!
4LAKidsNews: a compendium of recent items of interest - news stories, scurrilous rumors, links, academic papers, rants and amusing anecdotes, etc.
The L.A. Times published their database on teacher performance this morning. As we drive our Chevvies to the levee one hopes they hold.

● "As Bad Data Pile up, Options Wane" - 8/27 headline in the LA Times about the economy.

● "We're still so bedazzled by our new gadgets, our new ways of communicating, and certainly they're powerful and very useful. But we're so bedazzled and so seduced by them that we aren't even taking a hard look at the different kinds of thinking that might be lost in this process." -Nicholas Carr on Tavis Smiley 7/6/2010 - Carr's book "Does IT Matter?" began a worldwide debate about the role of computers in business, and his new one, "The Shallows," looks at technology's effect on the mind.

● 4LAKids reminds The Times that while the coder's maxim "GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out" is Universal Truth - it is bad interpretation that makes data bad. And, echoing Carr and quoting myself: we are well on the way between being data-driven-to-distraction to being data-driven-to-destruction.. (...or abstraction, dissatisfaction, dissolution - all courtesy of my spell checker.)

As I get older I become fond of repeating myself, and when I tire of that I repeat others. "There are three kids of lies," Disraeli said. "Lies, damned lies and statistics". Another wag said that "under torture, statistics will admit to anything".

In the instance of the LA Times fired Value Added debate - a story more about The Times reporting than it is it is about teachers and education - data and statistics are synonyms - with mistruth not far removed. At best the argument is beset with hollow meaningless disconnected facts illogically proving a false premise.

THE PREMISE: Public Education is a failure,
THE HYPOTHESIS. Failure takes place in the classroom. Teachers are in charge of classroom. Therefore Teachers are to blame.
THE PROOF: 'Value Added' statistical analysis of Standardized Tests identify good and bad teachers.. If we tell parents they will select only good teachers. Let the marketplace decide: Value-Added is IS economic theory.
Case closed.

The Times series is publicly beating up 6000 individual classroom teachers in a reporting style somewhere between Fox News and McCarthy witch hunt - : beating up teachers with the very information The Times claims has been denied to teachers, administrators and parents.
"What don't you know? And when didn't you know it?"

Except, gentle reader, Public Education in middle class communities is not a failure; it really only fails in communities of poverty.

Could poverty be the cause of all this failure?
Could poverty be the reason for the achievement gap?
Do poor children do worse in standardized testing?
"Well..." as the popular vernacular of previous decades had it: "....DUH!"

Or am I a heinous status quo lover misdirecting you from the evil Bad Teacher Menace?

I hope I am not violating the confidence too egregiously, but I was given an important treatise on Value Added last week and asked not to publish it or identify its author. I cannot ion any conscience ignore the truth or the passion.

On this subject the author wrote: "Poverty is an educational issue. Poverty is an educational problem. School, community and family conditions matter. They do not ever, ever determine capacity, potential or ability. Every child can achieve and excel. And our mission towards that excellence guides our every day. But conditions are a factor that affects achievement. It is still the case that (with a few noteworthy exceptions) the map showing concentrations of poverty in Los Angeles and the map showing concentrations of low performing schools are virtually the same map. To ignore this relationship is to abdicate our collective responsibility to eradicate these conditions."

One might claim the recent incremental improvements in test scores results from charter schools or the mayor's partnership or the junk food and soda ban in our schools. Or maybe it's the mantra of "100% Graduation!"- repeated repeatedly without need for amplification that drives us forward.

Or maybe it's the universe of classroom teachers, supported by educators and parents, doing the best they can with what they have in a bad situation unsupported by political will or an adequate budget.

One thing is sure - the recent improvements did not come from investment-in and commitment-to public education by Sacramento or DC; those two are sources of the problem - not the solution, The success of bond measures for local schools proves the community/local voter commitment -- the failure to adequately (let alone equitably) fund school operations in Sacramento and the schizophrenic "Good Cop/Bad Cop" / "Carrot ('Race to the Top') and Stick ('No Child Left Behind')" approach from DC. show a lack of vision, investment and commitment. God Cop/Bad Cop foils petty criminals -- Carrot+Stock is a way to drive a pony cart ...neither are strategies for a cogent state or national education policy.
We need to ratchet up the level of discourse and dialog. We need to a unafraid of identifying and taking on wrong thinking and those who believe that competition and business models and/or privatizing the agenda of public education are magic bullets. Or those who confuse reform with progress. We must educate ourselves.

UTLA and AFT are crying that teacher's unions are being unfairly attacked - but in truth it is Teachers and Educators themselves are being attacked collectively and individually in a disingenuous ploy to "inform parents". LAUSD does not inform parents - but this is not the way to do it! We must rally around them. We must be loud and vocally use our truth

I APOLOGIZE to all six thousand teachers The Times has singled out and named, blamed and shamed today.

Those who are named as The Worst are probably undeserving; those of who get named as The Best may be deserving - but the measuring tool is so suspect they too will to be shamed. Those in the middle can take little glory in that ...and the truly good and the truly bad will skate by unidentified and unrecognized.

Who exactly put newspaper reporters and editorial boards in charge of assessing individual teacher performance anyway? Was it the advertisers or the subscribers? As the Times is bankrupt, maybe it was the creditors.

Listen to the two Jasons and Times reporter Howard Blume talk about+around the internal debate at the Times whether to publish the list here: [] They never really name anyone at The Times arguing not to publish. ...and even they seem unconvinced as to the true value of Value Added, They ascribe support to Superintendent Cortines and Arne Duncan and Randi Weingarten and (!)Michelle Rhee. Michelle Rhee has used VA to fire "bad" teachers in DC. - an outcome even the Two Jason argue against!

This debate has brought Public Education Policy front-and-center in L.A. - we are ground zero and the tipping point. in the national debate. We far past the time for summer soldiery and sunshine patriotism - the fight is on and Los Angeles is the battleground.

But if the battle is against teachers rather than poverty and ignorance - if our weapons are amateur data mining and disinvestment - it’s the wrong fight at the wrong time in the wrong venue.

¡Onward/Hasta adelante! - smf

THE DREADED DATABASE - Search by Teacher/Search by School

NO GOLD STARS FOR SUCCESSFUL L.A. TEACHERS: L.A. Unified has hundreds of excellent instructors. But no one asks them their secrets to success.

By Jason Felch, Los Angeles Times

August 28, 2010|10:26 p.m. -- It's a Wednesday morning, and Zenaida Tan is warming her students up with a little exercise in "Monster Math."

That's Tan's name for math problems with monstrously big numbers. While most third-graders are learning to multiply two digits by two digits, Tan makes her class practice with 10 digits by two — just to show them it's not so different.

On this spring day, her students pick apart the problem on the board — 7,850,437,826 x 56 — with the enthusiasm of game show contestants, shouting out answers before Tan can ask a question. When she accidentally blocks their view, several stand up with their notebooks and walk across the room to get a better look.

Introducing the LA Times Star Walk app for iPhone. Tour the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame with the Los Angeles Times archives, history and information. Available in the App Store.

The answer comes minutes later in a singsong unison: "Four hundred and thirty-nine billion, six hundred and twenty-four million...."

Congratulations, Tan tells them, for solving it con ganas. That's Spanish for "with gusto," a phrase she picked up from watching "Stand and Deliver," a favorite film of hers about the late Jaime Escalante, the remarkably successful math teacher at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has hundreds of Jaime Escalantes — teachers who preside over remarkable successes, year after year, often against incredible odds, according to a Times analysis. But nobody is making a film about them.

Most are like Zenaida Tan, working in obscurity. No one asks them their secrets. Most of the time, no one even says, "Good job."

Frequently, even their own colleagues and principals don't know who they are.

As part of an effort to shed light on the work of Los Angeles teachers, The Times on Sunday is releasing a database of roughly 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers, ranked by their effectiveness in raising students' scores on standardized tests of math and English over a seven-year period.

The findings are based on an approach called value-added analysis, which is designed to allow fair comparisons of teachers whose students have widely varying backgrounds. Although controversial, the method increasingly has been adopted across the nation to measure the progress students make under different instructors.

L.A. Unified has had the underlying data for years but has chosen not to analyze it in this way, partly in anticipation of union opposition. After The Times' initial report this month showed wide disparities among elementary school teachers, even in the same schools, the district moved to use value-added analysis to guide teacher training and began discussions with the teachers union about incorporating data on student progress into teacher evaluations.

The results of The Times' analysis are not a complete measure of a teacher by any means, but offer one way to see whether an instructor is helping — or hindering — children in grasping what the state says they should know.

The Times found that the 100 most effective teachers were scattered across the city, from Pacoima to Gardena, Woodland Hills to Bell. They varied widely in race, age, years of experience and education level. They taught students who were wealthy and poor, gifted and struggling.

In visits to several of their classrooms, reporters found their teaching styles and personalities to differ significantly. They were quiet and animated, smiling and stern. Some stuck to the basics, while others veered far from the district's often-rigid curriculum. Those interviewed said repeatedly that being effective at raising students' performance does not mean simply "teaching to the test," as critics of value-added analysis say they fear.

What's clear from the data is that these teachers have an immediate and profound effect on how much children learn. On average, their students leapt 12 percentile points on tests of English, from the 58th to the 70th. In math, the gains were more stark: a 17 percentile point jump, from 58th to 75th. All in a single year.

The idea of publicly rating teachers by name has generated enormous controversy among educators and experts across the country. The debate has focused on whether the method is sound and the publicity is fair to those with low rankings.

Often lost in that discussion are the benefits of singling out those who consistently succeed.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said as much in a speech last week, denouncing a culture in public education that has long been averse to talking about success stories.

"The fact is, rather than shining a light on effective teachers, our education system hides them," he said.

Mystery of good teaching

Experts have long known that highly effective teachers can overcome the challenges students face both inside and outside of school. But why they are so successful — and whether their skills can be passed along to others — remains largely a mystery.

Most of the things districts track about teachers — their age, years of experience, education and credentials — do not appear to matter much, at least when it comes to raising students' performance on tests.

What does matter? Is it chemistry, technique, dedication, rigor? Might it be a thousand smaller, almost invisible things, depending on the subject and type of students?

Hundreds of books purport to answer those questions, but no clear consensus has emerged. And few of the competing theories have been rigorously tested, said Thomas Kane, a leading education researcher at Harvard University.

"It's very difficult for an individual teacher to distinguish between the valuable suggestions and the snake oil," he said.

That's in large part because there is no agreement on how to identify the best teachers. It's something Kane and other education researchers have spent much of the last decade trying to sort out.

In a seminal study in 2008, Kane and a colleague set out to experimentally test the reliability of the value-added approach, which assesses a teacher's effectiveness by measuring the year-to-year gains of each student on standardized tests.

Among other things, some researchers had been concerned about the wide variation in value-added results for individual teachers from year to year, the potential for error in the findings and the possibility that the results would be skewed by how students were assigned to classrooms.

In Kane's experiment, conducted at Los Angeles Unified with administrators' permission, 156 district teachers who volunteered for the project were randomly assigned to classrooms. Kane and his colleague tried to predict, using value-added analysis, how students would do under those teachers. The projections were then compared with the students' actual results.

The conclusion: Value-added analysis was a strong predictor of how much a teacher would help students improve on standardized tests. The approach also controlled well for differences among students, the study found.

With $45 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Kane and other researchers are now following 3,000 teachers in six school districts to see if other types of evaluation — including sophisticated classroom observations, surveys of teachers and reviews of student work — are also good measures of teacher performance.

In the meantime, Kane said that, although it is not perfect, "there is currently not a better measure of teacher effectiveness than the value-added approach."

Wide-ranging advice

Identifying the most successful teachers is merely a first step. The next is to study them closely and find ways to pass their techniques on to others.

It is no simple undertaking.

Some of the top teachers in The Times' analysis said in interviews that they weren't sure exactly what made them effective, or were skeptical that whatever it was could be distilled and passed on.

Diane Hollenbach, who recently retired from Broadous Elementary School in Pacoima, was the most effective elementary school teacher of the roughly 6,000 analyzed by The Times.

"The ones that love their students and love their job do well," she said. "You can't bottle that, and you can't teach it."

Others had wide-ranging advice for their fellow teachers.

Jilla Sardashti, who taught last year at Parmelee Avenue Elementary School in the Florence-Firestone neighborhood, said she teaches critical thinking skills from the first day of school.

"These kids are as smart as any other kids in the district," said Sardashti, whose students are mostly poor and Latino and often still learning English. "I'm really good at figuring out what they need, and I provide them with experience to know about the world around them."

Hollie Bloch, who retired in July from Balboa Gifted Magnet in Northridge after teaching in the district 39 years, said that challenging students — especially high-achieving ones — was essential.

"I teach Shakespeare to children," she said. "If the teacher's expectations are high, and you have control of the classroom, those kids should do well."

Said Aldo Pinto, a 32-year-old teacher at Gridley Street Elementary School in San Fernando: "The biggest challenge is getting them to buy into the fact that school is important."

He does that by telling students his own story as the son of Mexican immigrants.

Pinto, like most other teachers interviewed, said his good results had not been recognized.

"No one is ever really singled out, neither good nor bad," said Pinto. "The culture of the union is: Everyone is the same. You can't single out anyone for doing badly. So as a result, we don't point out the good either."

"When I worked at a bank, I was employee of the month," he added. "For LAUSD, for some reason, it's not a good thing to do."

Extraordinary achievements

Morningside Elementary in San Fernando is in many ways an average school for the district.

Like students at Parmelee, its pupils are largely poor and still struggling with English. Its test scores are below the state goal but in the middle of the pack for L.A. Unified.

In this very ordinary school, year after year, Tan quietly accomplishes extraordinary things.

In the 2008-09 school year, four of Tan's students started below grade level in math. By the end, they were all advanced. In English, nine of her students started below grade level. All but two ended the year at grade level or higher.

Tan is 62 but looks to be in her 40s. An immigrant like many of her students, she understands what they face. She is still self-conscious about her strong accent from her native Philippines, which she left at 27.

When not teaching, she is a marathon runner, with the wiry frame to show for it. Last spring, she finished Boston's in 4 hours, 20 minutes.

Inside the classroom, she sets a sprinter's pace, at times zipping around her students' desks in an athletic shirt and shorts.

Tan is not reading from a district playbook or drilling her students in how to take tests. She says she has little patience for the district's rigid curriculum and at times ignores it. That gets her into trouble on occasion with district administrators, who urge teachers to stay on the same pace.

Tan brims with innovative ways to reach limited-English students, handle discipline problems and keep the kids engaged. "I do a lot of singing, games," she said. "It doesn't look like a lesson."

But no one asks for her advice. She says her fellow teachers at Morningside consider her strict, even mean. She tends to keep to herself.

"Nobody tells me that I'm a strong teacher," she says.

That's OK by her, she adds. Year after year, she watches her students make enormous progress and feels a quiet sense of satisfaction.

Second-generation success

Tan's students made strong gains in each of the seven years analyzed by The Times. Indeed, she seems to have been pulling students up for a generation.

About twenty years ago, Karina Reyna and her twin sister both had Tan as their first-grade teacher, an experience Reyna still remembers vividly.

The girls had been born in Mexico and entered the U.S. illegally with their parents, neither of whom had graduated from high school. The family lived in a working-class area in San Fernando, where Reyna's father installed carpets.

By first grade, Reyna said, she still didn't speak English. Ms. Tan was determined to change that.

"I really didn't like her," Reyna recalled. "I remember crying every day."

Tan pushed Reyna relentlessly, accepting nothing but her best work. Reyna's English improved, but when she continued to struggle in math, Tan stayed after school to help her catch up.

"Now I recognize it wasn't mean, it was strict," Reyna said. "She was pushing me to do what I was capable of. Maybe she even saw something I didn't see."

Reyna and her sister Daniella stayed in touch with Tan over the years. Tan attended their 15th birthday party and years later Daniella's 2006 graduation from Cal State Northridge, which both sisters attended after becoming U.S. citizens.

"I don't think I'll ever forget her," said Reyna, who works for an insurance company and plans to finish her college degree soon. "Without her, there wouldn't have been somebody saying, 'You have to finish school; you have to go to college.' "

When Reyna learned that her daughter, Jazmin, had been assigned to Tan, she was convinced the girl would thrive.

"I told her, 'She's really strict,' " Reyna recalled. " 'You're going to be pushed, but it's going to be good for you.' "

She was right.

Jazmin entered Tan's class in 2007 above grade level in math. By the end of the school year, she had vaulted 74 points to 600 on the state test — a perfect score.

Having just finished fifth grade, Jazmin was recently accepted into a gifted-magnet middle school. Reyna expects her to graduate from college and go into medicine. She hopes her son, a kindergartener, will also be assigned to Tan.

"She pushes kids to be their best," Reyna said.

Evaluation form limited

Tan measures her success in stories like these.

But by the LAUSD's measure, Tam simply "meets standard performance," as virtually all district teachers do — evaluators' only other option is "below standard performance." On a recent evaluation, her principal, Oliver Ramirez, checked off all the appropriate boxes, Tan said — then noted that she had been late to pick up her students from recess three times.

"I threw it away because I got upset," Tan said. "Why don't you focus on my teaching?! Why don't you focus on where my students are?"

Ramirez said he wants to give more recognition to his excellent teachers, but with no objective measure to rely on, he's concerned about ruffling feathers.

"What about the teachers who feel they should have been recognized?" he said. "There'll be a whole mess. The district knows this would open up a can of worms."

"That's why it doesn't happen."

Times staff writer Doug Smith contributed to this report.


Steve Lopez | LA Times columnist

August 29, 2010 -- Steve Franklin, a middle school teacher in L.A. Unified, had some issues with the Times series on teacher evaluations, so he fired off a letter to the editor. It read, in part:

"When somebody can prove that high test scores produce good citizens, critical thinkers and productive members of society, then and only then can we say the teachers who taught those kids were 'good.' "

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I thought. Test scores aren't always the best measure of students or teachers, but without them, how do we judge the performance of either?

Under Franklin's letter, he was identified as a teacher at Sun Valley Middle School and as an LAUSD and L.A. County teacher of the year in 2004-05. All right, so he must know a thing or two. I called to see if he'd like to talk about teaching, the Times series and the state of education, and he said sure.

Franklin is 37 and went to Chatsworth High, followed by Cal State Northridge. For graduate school, he went to USC and got a master's in public policy with an education focus, but he almost didn't get in.

Why not?

"I'm not a very good test taker," he said, and he'd scored low on the GRE exam, which was required for admission. But he did well enough on other parts of the application process to make the cut, and of course to go on and become a teacher of the year despite being mediocre at standardized tests.

I could understand: I was a lousy test taker myself.

Franklin said the Times series by Jason Song, Jason Felch and Doug Smith had teachers buzzing. At his school, he said, teachers didn't necessarily disagree with the thrust, but there were hard feelings about individual teachers being singled out by name as being more or less effective based on their students' test scores.

Understandable. But the series has forced a conversation about something I've written about often: We need better ways to evaluate teachers, so we can reward the best ones, help the less effective and dump a corrupting system in which job security and pay are based largely on time served.

The Times dug up data readily available to both the district and the teachers union but not fully analyzed by either. What's the point of paying the cost of standardized tests, and building curriculum around them, if the information isn't put to use in ways that help students learn and make teachers more aware of their own standing among peers?

I was mildly surprised when Franklin said he "absolutely" agreed. He stood by his claim that multiple variables determine how students and teachers perform, and said unmotivated students with disengaged parents bring huge challenges into classrooms. But he called the current system of teacher evaluation "a joke."

A principal or assistant principal will drop in on a classroom at an announced time and date, he said, spend as little as 10 minutes and give the teacher either a "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory."

Franklin agreed that the "value added" system the Times series focused on — judging teacher proficiency in part by whether students' test scores rise or fall — ought to be one piece of an evaluation. I reminded him that our series had made clear that value-added analysis provided only a piece of the picture. But there is a national trend toward evaluating teachers, in part, by how their students do on standardized tests, and districts that fail to do so — often because of pressure from teachers unions — risk losing federal funds.

I suggested that value-added stats should account for one-third of the evaluation, with a peer-review system counting for the rest of it. Franklin wasn't comfortable choosing percentages but said he thought a peer review team ought to be made up of union reps, fellow teachers, administrators, retired college professors, parents and former students.

"We are public servants," he said, and the task is no menial one. "I think we owe it to the children to try anything that might work. Try it and if it works, implement it. Period."

Because he is a seventh-grade social studies teacher and leadership instructor for all three middle school grades, standardized tests don't apply directly to Franklin, nor do they measure the work of, say, art or P.E. teachers. But he said teachers are aware which instructors seem to have better control of their classes and good instincts for relating to their students, yet little is done by anyone to help the struggling teachers or tap the brains of more effective ones.

And what makes him teacher-of-the-year material?

Some of it is indefinable and perhaps not teachable, said Franklin. But he starts with this principle:

The students don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Six times he has taken his leadership students to the White House. Seven times he has taken them to Philadelphia for history lessons. Next year, the plan is for his students to watch fireworks on the Mall in the nation's capital.

Last week, Franklin and most of his Sun Valley colleagues attended a voluntary professional development seminar studying, of all things, ways to put student evaluations to better use in the classroom. There is great talent, he said, among L.A.'s teachers, administrators and union leaders, but they all need to do a better job of working together for the welfare of the students.

I walked away thinking I'd be honored if, one day, my daughter were in Franklin's class.

VALUE-ADDED IS NO MAGIC: Assessing Teacher Effectiveness

by John Rogers, Director, UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access In the Huffington Post

August 24, 2010 11:05 AM

That old sorcerer has vanished
And for once has gone away!
Spirits called by him, now banished,
My commands shall soon obey.

In Goethe's classic, the apprentice uses a sorcerer's spell to ease his daily chores. Chanting the master's words, he brings a broomstick to life and tells it to fetch water to clean the workshop. The broomstick obeys, only too well. It races between the well and back until the workshop begins to flood. Although the apprentice had enough knowledge to set magic in motion, he could not think ahead to what he did not know.

I worry about a similar flood of unintended consequences if the Los Angeles Times moves forward with its plans to publish a database that places 6,000 Los Angeles third- to fifth-grade teachers on a spectrum from "least effective" to "most effective." The Times believes that the data will be a powerful tool to force better teaching, but it cannot anticipate all of the consequences. For example, consider that capable prospective teachers might avoid a profession in which they risk public embarrassment based on an undeveloped science. Consider the well-documented estimates that 25% of the value-added assessments are likely to be in error.

Publishing the database might easily undermine parent and teacher morale and make it more difficult for principals to advance school improvement. Being told that their child's teacher is "ineffective," or even marginally less effective than a teacher across the hall, may lead some parents to pressure the principal to place their child with a "high-scoring" teacher. Pitting parents against one another or against their principal is not a recipe for school improvement.

The Times' teacher effectiveness rankings are based on an elaborate statistical model created by Richard Buddin, a senior economist and education researcher at the Rand Corporation. (Significantly, Buddin did not attach teachers' names to his analysis; that was done by the Times.)

Buddin is one of many researchers across the country exploring so-called value-added approaches to assessing teacher quality. The assessments measure gains that students make on standardized tests from one year to the next. For example, researchers compare test scores of fourth graders with their scores as third graders to determine the "value added" by the fourth grade teacher. Proponents believe that the "value added" reliably distinguishes between more and less effective teachers. And they think that school officials would use such comparisons to target support to struggling teachers and motivate them to do better.

Yet value-added analyses focus narrowly on standardized tests, usually in math and English Language Arts. These tests give important information about student learning, but they ignore much learning that matters to students, parents, and teachers. That's why it can be a useful tool, but cannot possibly stand alone as a measure of "effectiveness." The National Academy of Sciences has identified several of the problems posed by value-added methods. These cautions should be taken seriously.

* First, student assignments to schools and classrooms are rarely random. As a consequence it is not possible to definitively determine whether higher or lower students test scores result from teacher effectiveness or are an artifact of how students are distributed.

* Second, it is difficult to compare growth of struggling students with the growth of high performers. In technical terms, standardized tests do not form equal interval scales. Enabling students to move from the 20th percentile to the 30th is not the same as helping students move from the 80th to the 90th percentile. These test score numbers are not like inches along a tape measure that have the same value regardless of where they occur.

* Third, estimates of teacher effectiveness can range widely from year to year. In recent studies, 10-15% of teachers in the lowest category of effectiveness one year moved to the highest category the following year while 10-15% of teachers in the highest category fell to the lowest tier.

The National Academy of Sciences concluded that value-added analysis "should not be used as the sole or primary basis for making operational decisions because the extent to which the measures reflect the contribution of teachers themselves, rather than other factors, is not understood."

And yet, the Los Angeles Times is about to publish a database with the teacher effectiveness rankings of 6,000 elementary school teachers. The Times argues that its role is to provide "parents and the public ... information that would otherwise be withheld" about the "performance of public employees." The Times should not believe in the magic of this data, and should realize that it cannot foresee or control all of the consequences.

by Howard Blume | LA Times

August 25, 2010 | 1:02 pm -- L.A. schools chief Ramon C. Cortines talked about revamping teacher evaluations as a tool for helping teachers improve as part of his final, annual address to administrators Wednesday morning at Hollywood High School.

Overall, the 30-minute speech celebrated progress at various schools, including Hollywood High, and challenged educators to do more.

During his remarks, Cortines emphasized that the nation's second-largest school district plans to develop and adopt a “value-added” measure that uses students test scores to determine individual teachers' and schools' effectiveness. This data should be part of a multifaceted evaluation for teachers, he said.

The value-added method has become a central topic in the Los Angeles Unified School District in the wake of a Times series on the subject. The Times also plans to publish a database later this month containing the value-added rating for about 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers. The newspaper found that the school district had the ability to do such an analysis but, like other school systems, never did so.
“It is critical that we look at multiple measures to support our employees,” Cortines said, and “how value added fits into our overall strategy.”

The district plans on publishing such data about schools “once this information has been validated,” he said. Moreover, such efforts should be developed in partnership with employee bargaining units. “Supporting all employees is about creating a culture of collaboration and trust.”

Cortines supported teachers by quoting a Polytechnic High school custodian who talked about how teachers were on campus when he arrived to work and still working when he left for the day.

Cortines -- who plans to retire in 2011 -- lost his composure near the end of his address as he thanked those assembled for the opportunity to work with them. A packed auditorium, that included parents, district officials and community leaders rose for a 45-second ovation as school board president Monica Garcia rushed to the microphone to proclaim Cortines the nation’s best superintendent.

The superintendent also defended the new Robert F. Kennedy complex of six schools built on the site of the Ambassador Hotel at a cost approaching $600 million. He then remarked on his age by noting that he first visited the old hotel when Adlai Stevenson was running for president. His second visit to the hotel, he said, was a youthful streaking episode with some friends. On a second such jaunt, at a different hotel, Cortines said, police collared him and called his father to collect him.

The confession drew extended, warm applause and some uncomfortable chuckles from the largely buttoned-up crowd of more than 1,000.

In a later interview, Cortines talked about California’s unsuccessful bid to win a federal Race to the Top school improvement grant. Cortines had been part of California’s five-member delegation to present the state’s bid. He noted that federal evaluators grilled him on whether his district could obtain union consent for a teacher-evaluation process that includes linking student data to individual teachers. He told federal officials he was confident that the union could be won over to such a plan. He also said the district would take advantage of rules for the next round of funding that would likely allow L.A. Unified to apply directly to the federal government rather than part of a state effort.

Just after his address, the diminutive, 78-year-old superintendent demonstrated that his impending departure is unrelated to physical fitness. He nimbly and swiftly lowered himself off the stage -- a 4 1/2-foot drop -- landing on his feet unharmed among a bank of plants, where well-wishers mobbed him for hugs and photos.

School board member Steve Zimmer called Cortines' expression of emotion “a remarkably pure moment from someone who did not have to take this job except for his lifelong passion for kids and their families. We won’t get another moment like this because there’s not another person like him.”

HIGHLIGHTS, LOWLIGHTS & THE NEWS THAT DOESN'T FIT: The Rest of the Stories from Other Sources

LA Times publishes ‘Value Added’ database - LOS ANGELES TEACHER RATINGS: MEASURING TEACHER EFFECTIVENESS: from the...


MEET THE REPORTERS WHO ANGERED THOUSANDS OF TEACHERS: The KPFK interviews of LA Times reporters Jason Felch and Ja...

NAMES AND DATA: YES OR NO?: letters to the LA Times | 27 Aug 2010 | more - from other dates - follow Re "L.A.'s ...

Headline in today’s LA Times: AS BAD DATA PILE UP, OPTIONS WANE: …unfortunately the story wasn’t about the Times’ ...

L.A. SCHOOLS CHIEF VOWS TO USE EVALUATION DATA TO HELP TEACHERS: -- Howard Blume | LA Times August 25, 2010 | 1:...

Cortines: LAUSD’s SUCCESS DEPENDS ON CONTINUED EMBRACING OF REFORMS: By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily New...





VALUE-ADDED IS NO MAGIC: Assessing Teacher Effectiveness: John Rogers, Director, UCLA's Institute for Democracy, E...

LAUSD SOPHOMORES IMPROVE ON STATE'S HIGH SCHOOL EXIT EXAM + Scores: By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | Contra Costa ...


CALIFORNIA LOSES BID FOR RACE TO THE TOP v. 2.o: Howard Blume – A Times/LA Now blog August 24, 2010 | 8:45 am --...


SHUTTING OUT THE CHARTERS – in which the charter school chief argues that that charter operators can build better ...

Test Score Bomb: DON’T NAME NAMES, FIX THE SYSTEM: The Los Angeles Times teacher rankings bomb has ignited a fires...

BACK TO SCHOOL TIME IS VACCINATION TIME: Parents should check to make sure students are up to date on required imm...

Pro/Con: SHOULD CHOCOLATE MILK BE ALLOWED IN SCHOOLS?: Without it, strategies to replace the nutrients mean more c...

LATER SCHOOL START TIMES: FROM ZZZZ’s TO A’s. A growing body of evidence demonstrates that growing bodies benefit ...



EVENTS: Coming up next week...
*Dates and times subject to change. ________________________________________
Phone: 213-241-5183
Phone: 213-241.8700


What can YOU do?
• E-mail, call or write your school board member: • 213-241-6383 • 213-241-6386 • 213-241-6180 • 213-241-6382 • 213-241-6388 • 213-241-6385 • 213-241-6387
...or your city councilperson, mayor, the governor, member of congress, senator - or the president. Tell them what you really think! • Find your state legislator based on your home address. Just go to: • There are 26 mayors and five county supervisors representing jurisdictions within LAUSD, the mayor of LA can be reached at • 213.978.0600
• Call or e-mail Governor Schwarzenegger: 213-897-0322 e-mail:
• Open the dialogue. Write a letter to the editor. Circulate these thoughts. Talk to the principal and teachers at your local school.
• Speak with your friends, neighbors and coworkers. Stay on top of education issues. Don't take my word for it!
• Get involved at your neighborhood school. Join your PTA. Serve on a School Site Council. Be there for a child.
• If you are eligible to become a citizen, BECOME ONE.
• If you a a citizen, REGISTER TO VOTE.
• If you are registered, VOTE LIKE THE FUTURE DEPENDS ON IT.

Who are your elected federal & state representatives? How do you contact them?

Scott Folsom is a parent leader in LAUSD. He is Past President of Los Angeles Tenth District PTSA and represents PTA on the LAUSD Construction Bond Citizen's Oversight Committee. He is an elected Representative on his neighborhood council. He is a Health Commissioner, Legislation Team member and a member of the Board of Managers of the California State PTA. He serves on numerous school district advisory and policy committees and has served as a PTA officer and governance council member at three LAUSD schools. He is the recipient of the UTLA/AFT 2009 "WHO" Gold Award for his support of education and public schools - an honor he hopes to someday deserve. • In this forum his opinions are his own and your opinions and feedback are invited. Quoted and/or cited content copyright © the original author and/or publisher. All other material copyright © 4LAKids.
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