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
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• 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
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• Open the dialogue. Write a letter to the editor. Circulate these thoughts. Talk to the principal and teachers at your local school.
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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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Sunday, August 22, 2010

Value-added meets Blame+Shame.

4LAKids: Sunday 22•Aug•2010
In This Issue:
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:
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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.
"No one suggests using value-added analysis as the sole measure of a teacher. Many experts recommend that it count for half or less of a teacher's overall evaluation."

– so it says in The LA Times.

Except the 'no one' who suggests it is The Times –and - 'many experts' notwithstanding - they intend to suggest it about six thousand LAUSD third, fourth and fifth grade teachers - ranking them from best-to-worst - perhaps as soon as today.

IN CASE YOU HAVE BEEN OUT THE LOOP THIS WEEK - perhaps visiting the moon to observe the total eclipse of reason on Planet Earth: The LA Times has published an investigative piece identifying and naming the names of good and bad teachers in LAUSD - based on student test scores and calculations founded upon a controversial statistical methodology called "value-added".

If value-added wasn't controversial before, it is now. And if they called in "Bat's-Wing-Added" or "Eye-of-Newt-Added" it wouldn't have gotten any respect whatsoever.

In so doing The Gray Lady of Spring Street set off a brouhaha of epic epicness - to steal some hyperbole from the marketing campaign of Scott Pilgrim v. The World.

The Times piece is described in the Newsweek 'Gaggle' Blog (Press, Politics & Absurdity) thus:

"Do parents have the right to know which of their kids' teachers are the most and least effective? That's the controversy roaring in California this week with the publication of an investigative series by the Los Angeles Times' Jason Song and Jason Felch, who used seven years of math and English test data to publicly identify the best and the worst third- to fifth-grade teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The newspaper's announcement of its plans to release data later this month on all 6,000 of the city's elementary-school teachers has prompted the local teachers' union to rally members to organize a boycott of the newspaper."

Public disclosure of information like this has no precedent. Many school districts are prohibited by law from disclosing the names of ineffective teachers. The teachers interviewed and profiled in last Sunday's expose were interviewed, they met the reporters and posed for the photographers. That can't be said for the 6000 teachers in the database.

The piece by the Two Jasons blew the City of Bell's municipal shenanigans right off the front page. The Bell stories now are a distant second place/below the fold/page 3 in the Times' "Who'll get a Pulitzer?" sweepstakes.

Diane Ravitch has said he methodology here isn’t value added, it's "Blame and Shame - blame and shame the teachers because system doesn't work. Blame and Shame is scapegoating and humiliation, a holdover from the hickory stick and the stocks and pillory. Can the ducking stool and Trial by Ordeal be far behind?

●THE BELL STORIES are real investigative journalism - with wrongdoing and digging and fact checking and muckraking and interviews and leads and reporting.
●The LAUSD STORY is a rewrite of a scholarly report by an economist - How Effective Are Los Angeles Elementary Teachers and Schools? by Richard Buddin [} - translated into the vernacular and published with 60 point finger-pointing headlines.
●THE STORY IN BELL is about bad politicians.
●THE STORY ABOUT LAUSD is more about the newspaper story and less about teachers and schools; it's bad journalism and the unintended results therefrom. (Though the 'un' in 'unintended' may be as deliberate as The Times' corporate masters and editorial board and the City Hall Power Brokers can make it.)

Historically LA has always been about City Hall power brokers. Historically the LA Times has always been on the power broker's side, And the teachers' union in LA is as much a part of the problem at LAUSD as the part-time power-broker wannabes who complain that the meetings where they give away schools take up too much of their time. And it isn't helpful that the UTLA President argues that teachers are only 10% of the educational equation …though that's about the percentage of the UTLA membership who actually voted for him

Let's face it: Good Teachers make all the difference in the lives of the fortunate students who have them. Poor, mediocre or poorly trained teachers are a problem that needs addressing and solving. The Times would have all teachers not in the top 25% wear distinctive badges, have a stamp on their identity card or a stain on their permanent record.: Bad Teacher. Never to get a job in Lake Woebegone USD - where all teachers and the children are above average!

Just maybe - when the consensus of opinion and the relevant indicators among administrators, peers, students and parents say that a teacher is excellent ....but the data crunched though value-added economic methodology says otherwise ...then maybe the methodology or the data or the theory is suspect. Maybe the value of value-added is subtractive. Maybe economists and newspaper reporters shouldn't be determining teacher performance.


In an "Informative" to the Board of Ed on Friday and an interview to feed Saturday's Times, Deputy Superintendent Deasy announced that valued-added teachers assessments were 'on-the-table' in union contract negotiations.

● The interview was with Jason Song - one of the 'Two Jason' authors of The Times value-added report - putting Song and The Times in the position of covering news of their own making.
● This perpetuates the unfortunate reality that the UTLA Contract is the overarching governing document of the District and that contract negotiations is where policy is set.
● Deasy cynically (and he's only been here 20 days!) proposed that the contract negotiations be resumed Friday and concluded immediately - before The Times publishes their j'accuse list of suspect teachers - even though UTLA leadership is having their long-scheduled annual meeting in Palm Springs this weekend (in time for the 3.8 temblor Saturday AM!). And UCLA/IDEA predicts The Times will publish their list today!
● 4LAKids' 50-plus years of LAUSD bred-cynicism is fed by the timing of these LAT stories and resultant uproar, the arrival Dr. Deasy fully-formed from the Gates Foundation, the UTLA contact negotiations, the Board of Ed's traditional August Break and - what the heck - the earthquake in PS!

Let me pose a hypothetical, gentle readers - and this will require what those in the entrainment profession call a Suspension of Disbelief I call into question Everything You've Ever Been Told. Make sure those restraints are tightly fastened and keep your hands and arms inside the vehicle at all times: MAYBE THE LA TIMES AND THE UNION AND THE SCHOOL DISTRICT ARE ALL WRONG A LOT OF THE TIME. Or - spoiler alert - had you already figured that out?

Yet the Times is somewhat right.

THERE SHOULD BE A METHODOLOGY FOR EVALUATING TEACHERS .....this just ain't it. (Ironically, Richard Buddin The Times' hired-gun Value-Added theorist/guru/consultant is working on one for his other employer: RAND - employing fixed effects and multilevel modeling approaches to evaluate teacher quality under a five-year Institute of Education Sciences study |

AND SOMEONE SHOULD BE IN CHARGE OF EVALUATING TEACHERS - someone we in the parenthood business would call "a responsible adult". The current Board of Ed don't seen up to the job. I sincerely doubt if it's the LA Times and the two Jasons and a think-tank economist. Or Mayor Tony. Or Arne Duncan. Or the Broad, Gates and Walton Family Foundations.

Remember those first three words in the US Constitution? We the People? Maybe it's us who are accountable/responsible/in charge.

¡Onward/Adelante! -smf

By UCLA/IDEA staff - Themes in the News for the week of Aug. 16-20, 2010

08-20-2010 -- The Los Angeles Times created an uproar in the education community with the publication of a story—the first in a series—that analyzed teacher effectiveness using a value-added model. This weekend, the Times plans to follow up by releasing information about 6,000 third- through fifth-grade teachers, ranking them on a scale from least to most effective.

Reactions of shock and deep concern are coming from many corners of the education community, even those rarely in agreement.

Diane Ravitch, who opposes the use of standardized tests as single tools for evaluation, called the public outing “disgraceful.” | In a blog post, Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank and a proponent of using data for teacher evaluations also said he had serious problems (Education Week |

Value-added analysis measures the movement up or down on a student’s test scores from one year to the next. According to the Times, the higher the jump, the more effective the teacher.

Most expert reports on this method, including one by the National Academy of Science |, point out that the value-added metric, alone, is insufficient in evaluating teacher effectiveness. In agreement is Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Ramon Cortines, who asked, “Would a person be diagnosed with diabetes solely on the basis of a high blood pressure reading? (Color Lines |

Barnett Berry, president of the Center for Teaching Quality, offered another medical analogy. It is “the equivalent of a newspaper indiscriminately listing the names of doctors, in rank, based on mortality rates, irrespective of the type of medicine they practice or the context in which they practice” (Christian Science Monitor |

A Sacramento high school teacher distinguished between data-driven and data-informed. “In schools that are data-informed, test results are just one more piece of information that can be helpful in determining future directions” (Washington Post |

And the data the Times intends to publish is limited in several ways. It purports to identify the value added by particular teachers, but does not take into account student mobility, absenteeism, the role of tutors or team teachers, summer school programs or after-school programs (Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post).

Parents are being invited to act on powerful conclusions they draw from the teacher data, but it is difficult to find positive steps they can take. In the short term, parents might compete among themselves to win their child a spot in the “most effective” teacher’s classroom. School morale, already low after a season of pink slips, could receive another blow. Teachers might do their best to avoid teaching grades 3, 4 and 5. Or, turn inward and narrow their curriculum to teach solely to the test.

Public disclosure and a culture of blame could create a chilling effect on teacher collaboration. It could also dry up the pool of people willing to enter the teaching profession.
People love rankings, sorting, and surveys; it’s hard to resist the appeal of the “10 Best” or “10 Worst”. But the facile display of numbers and rankings can be misleading for a public that is not well acquainted with nuanced statistical models or with critiques of how to use that data.

That is why the National Academy of Sciences worries about the “considerable limitations to the transparency” of value-added analysis.

The Times, by focusing on a narrow and underdeveloped measure of teacher effectiveness, distracts attention from the real reform need: a comprehensive teacher evaluation system that provides ample support to improve student learning.

By Stephen Sawchuk | Education Week | Vol. 30, Issue 01

August 19, 2010 -- Forced into an uneasy balancing act between their members and the president they helped elect, the national teachers’ unions are responding to the Obama administration’s teacher-effectiveness agenda in notably different ways.

Publicly at least, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel has hewed closely to the union’s internal policy statements on such matters as embedding student learning into policies on teacher evaluation and pay. But the heads of the union's state affiliates have taken sundry positions on initiatives such as the federal Race to the Top competition, with some participating in the shape of their states’ bids for the $4 billion initiative and others opposing them outright.

In contrast, the president of the 1.5 million-member American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, has laid out—and helped local affiliates adopt—an explicit agenda for her union that, for example, endorses a new approach to teacher evaluations, including the consideration of test scores alongside other factors.

Those responses, say experts on teachers’ unions, are a complex product molded significantly by the unions’ respective governance structures. Among other differences, the structures make the national bully pulpit a more powerful place at the AFT, but tilt NEA policy away from its president and toward its state affiliates.

“Philosophically, I don’t think [the unions’ leaders] are coming from different places, but there is a difference in the extent to which they’ve engaged in controversial discussions about evaluation and teacher pay,” said Mark Simon, who served as a member of the NEA’s board of directors while the president of its Montgomery County, Md., chapter. “The politics of the organizations allow Randi to be engaged right now, ... while NEA is providing support on an affiliate-by-affiliate basis, but is not able to articulate a message for every affiliate.”


After eight years of being largely shut out of policy discussions during President George W. Bush’s administration, the teachers’ unions had hoped for a president friendlier to their views on the teaching profession. And while they’ve had more access to President Barack Obama’s administration, its focus on the controversial area of teacher performance has yielded some angry rank-and-file members.

The differences in the unions’ responses were on stark display at their conventions, both held last month.

Reforming teacher evaluations is arguably the centerpiece of the administration’s teacher-effectiveness conversation. But discussion of the issue was all but absent at the NEA’s Representative Assembly in New Orleans.

Instead, delegates narrowly approved a a position of “no confidence” in the Race to the Top competition, which puts a premium on changing teacher evaluation. The vote largely broke along state-affiliation lines.

“The debate, the closeness of the vote—what you saw was a microcosm of experiences all over the map in terms of negative or positive experiences different states had with the program,” said Ken Swanson, the president of the Illinois Education Association.

The teacher-effectiveness discussion has been pursued individually by select NEA state affiliates rather than at the national level. Unions in Delaware, Illinois, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Tennessee played a major role in the crafting of their states’ applications for the Race to the Top, while other states opposed the grant program altogether.

“We are dead set against tying evaluations to teacher performance and salary,” said David Sanchez, the president of the California Teachers Association. “In my opinion, we are never going to agree to consider that your salary is based on a single evaluative assessment.”

In contrast, Illinois chose to move forward when state lawmakers intentionally included policies reflecting some of the union’s internal priorities in an education reform bill, Mr. Swanson said.

Political realities influenced the Tennessee union’s participation, said Earl Wiman, the past president of the Tennessee Education Association. “We saw the legislative call sheets, and this became a runaway freight train,” he said about a state law created to position the state to compete in the Race to the Top program, which is using economic-stimulus money to promote education improvements along the lines favored by the Obama administration.

Rather than oppose the legislation, the union worked to reduce the percentage of a teacher’s evaluation based on test-score growth and to add provisions to the state code allowing teachers to “grieve,” or formally protest, procedural aspects of their evaluations, Mr. Wiman said.

The NEA did not respond to requests for an interview with Mr. Van Roekel.


If evaluation was on the periphery of the NEA assembly, it was front and center at the AFT’S biennial convention, held in Seattle. There, AFT delegates formally endorsed a six-page, single-spaced resolution on teacher evaluation codifying the vision Ms. Weingarten had laid out in a speech six months earlier.

In that address at the National Press Club, in Washington, Ms. Weingarten said that under certain circumstances, unions could consider using student achievement in teacher evaluations and align due process procedures with such evaluations. The NEA does not endorse those policies. ("AFT Chief Promises Due-Process Reform," Jan. 20, 2010.)

Since then, Ms. Weingarten has provided crucial bargaining help to local affiliates willing to experiment with evaluation or pay, resulting in a number of high-profile contracts in such cities as New Haven, Conn.; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; and Washington.

“While the conversation about teacher evaluation may have been started by others, AFT is trying to assert our expertise and authority into that conversation,” said Mary Cathryn Ricker, the president of the union’s St. Paul, Minn., chapter and one of the local leaders Ms. Weingarten tapped to craft the teacher-evaluation framework.


The two national unions’ responses to the teacher-effectiveness issue are not recent phenomena. Rather, they reflect long-standing differences in how the unions are organized.

Under the NEA’s structure, the largest state affiliates—California, New Jersey, Michigan, and Florida, among others—have the most representatives on the union’s board of directors and its resolutions committee, which vets changes to formal NEA policy statements, as well as the most delegates to its convention.

As such, they exert a powerful influence over the national union’s policy direction. The NEA’s resolutions are binding, and the union’s president must abide by them. State affiliates, in theory, must do so to tap their share of centrally allocated NEA funding.

Before this year’s convention, the union’s resolutions committee discussed amending its formal position on teacher evaluations, but it did not advance anything to the delegates, according to the NEA’s executive director, John I. Wilson. And doing so on a controversial issue like teacher evaluations is no easy task.

“To get a resolution to the floor, you really need strong support,” said Keith B. Geiger, the union’s president from 1989 to 1996. “California, New Jersey, Florida—those are states with a lot of resolutions-committee members and ... would be more reticent to pass anything that smells of merit pay, of single tests determining something.”

A downside of the system is that it tethers the national leadership to the traditional positions held by those states, said Julia Koppich, a San Francisco-based consultant who has written extensively on teachers’ unions.

“The organization is split, and it is predictable which states favor some change and which ones don’t,” she said. “If, in fact, the national NEA is more aligned with [the Illinois] positions, it should be out there working with some state affiliates to help them see if they can move a little more toward those positions.”

That the largest 10 affiliates have significant control over policy has complicated Mr. Van Roekel’s relationship with the Obama administration, acknowledged Mr. Sanchez, the president of the California union.

“He is in a very tough situation,” Mr. Sanchez said. “But when he is directed by his board and state presidents, he’s got to go [to the administration] and tell it like it is. It’s challenging for him, just as it is for me to tell him that CTA is not on board with something.”


If the NEA structure gives state affiliates the primary role in developing and overseeing policy among local unions, an inverse situation exists within the AFT, where the central leadership actively works to persuade locals to try out new ideas.

The national AFT “treats local leaders as incubators of promising education practices, and they are constantly scanning for things locals are doing that should be scaled up,” said Ms. Ricker, who has worked within both unions’ structures because Minnesota is a merged NEA-AFT affiliate.

That ethos has given Ms. Weingarten an advantage in setting an agenda that goes against some traditionally held views, according to Ms. Koppich. “I think AFT’s philosophy is quite different from the NEA’s, that it’s the elected leadership’s job to maybe take the members to some places they didn’t know they wanted to go,” she said.

What’s more, Ms. Weingarten exerts considerable influence over the union’s policy landscape partly because many of its vice presidents and resolution-vetting committee members belong to the same internal political coalition she supports, the Progressive Caucus. The group is particularly powerful in New York City, the home of the union’s largest affiliate.

It is, in fact, so rare for the AFT’S Progressive Caucus-dominated leadership to be challenged in elections that this year’s convention marked the first time since 1974 that a full opposition slate of candidates ran for office. The slate, which called itself “By Any Means Necessary,” or BAMN, criticized current AFT leaders for considering policy developments such as the Race to the Top competition and teacher evaluations tied in part to student achievement, rather than opposing them altogether. It won about 5 percent of the votes overall.

“It was a message to Randi and a consequence of the risk she’s taken in her leadership role,” said Mr. Simon, the former NEA board member, who is now a policy analyst with the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank in Washington.

Teachers’ union watchers point to Karen Lewis, the new head of the Chicago Teachers’ Union, the AFT’s third-largest affiliate, as a wild card in future AFT policymaking. A newly elected national vice president, she now sits on the union’s executive council.

Though not affiliated with the BAMN slate, Ms. Lewis shares philosophically similar views. She has called the Race to the Top “misguided,” and she opposes many of the Obama administration’s policy prescriptions, including school closures, charter schools, and the use of standardized assessments for judging schools and teachers. Ms. Weingarten has supported such policies, albeit cautiously and only in certain contexts and situations.

Ms. Lewis emerged from a Chicago group, the Caucus Of Rank and File Educators, or CORE. Unlike the loosely affiliated BAMN group, CORE has spent much of its time organizing, and it has already demonstrated its ability to influence policy: At the AFT convention, CORE-affiliated delegates successfully added language eschewing the use of test scores for punitive purposes to a separate resolution on school closures.

The message Ms. Lewis espouses appears to have resonated with the larger AFT. In Seattle, she received the second-highest number of votes for a position on the executive council.

“You will never be heard if all you are doing is screaming and hollering,” Ms. Lewis said, when asked about her new position in the AFT governance. “This is an opportunity for Randi and other people to see how detrimental [the Obama administration’s] policies are.”

For her part, Ms. Weingarten said that she welcomes a variety of opinions on the executive council. “Our council has lots of people with different opinions,” she said. “Karen is about helping kids, and there’s a huge connection there. We have different ideas about how, but our value system is the same.”


The complicated landscape of the unions’ internal and external messaging on the teacher-effectiveness agenda will continue to play out when renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act comes to the forefront on Capitol Hill.

Most of the NEA’s recent policy shifts on teacher effectiveness have taken place quietly, apart from its slow, deliberative governance structure.
In a largely unnoticed development, Mr. Van Roekel has pledged to support affiliates that take positions outside the union’s formal policy resolutions.

The union’s $6 million Priority Schools campaign, meanwhile, will work with schools receiving grants under the federal School Improvement Grants, even those using improvement models the NEA does not favor.

But the NEA’s national position on teacher-evaluation procedures remains in flux. At the convention, Mr. Van Roekel announced the creation of a new body, the Commission on Effective Teaching, which will report back to the Representative Assembly next year on such issues as teacher evaluation, but its recommendations will not be binding unless they are incorporated into a resolution.

In the meantime, Mr. Van Roekel might try to put forward a more detailed vision for the union in the coming year, his third as NEA president, Mr. Geiger said.

“I think he’s gained a lot of respect,” the former NEA president said. “He’s highly regarded by state leaders. I think he is moving as fast as he can knowing he has both sides of the issue to deal with.”
For Ms. Weingarten of the AFT, the question is a different one: whether the uneasiness she’s faced from limited quarters in response to her push for affiliates to examine long-held ideas about the teaching profession will translate into more-organized action.

“It can grow, or it can die out,” Ms. Ricker of Minnesota said of that pushback. “We are clearly ripe for some internal conversations.”


LA Times Editorial

August 21, 2010 -- Faced with a series of administrative lapses that have contributed to the deaths of children in the care of Los Angeles County, the county Board of Supervisors has responded with stern and authoritative action — against the worker or workers who may have brought the tragedies to light.

It is depressingly unsurprising that the board would see these deaths as a publicity problem, not a failure of the county's most basic obligation. As Department of Children and Family Services Director Trish Ploehn described it to the supervisors, the leaks of information regarding child deaths have created a morale issue for her colleagues. Boohoo.

The response to a crisis in child protection might involve overhauling the county's systems for safeguarding children's welfare; it might require firing some inattentive social workers; it might suggest upgrading technology to allow records from the field to be more readily available. But the response to a PR problem suggests a different course: This week, the board authorized a leak investigation.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the lone dissenter, aptly noted that "the obsession with leaks … exceeds the obsession with child deaths." He's right, and his colleagues are wrong as they continue to frame the problems of their troubled department as bad press rather than bad management. Moreover, the county's insistence on hushing up these matters has led it to break the law: In contravention of the state law that requires board members to hold their meetings in public, the supervisors initially discussed the leak investigation in closed session. They tried to remedy that this week by at least debating in public, but secrecy is corroding this issue at every step.

On June 8, 11-year-old Jorge Tarin hung himself with a jump-rope hours after a county social worker interviewed him at home and then left him there; this, even though Jorge that same day had told a school counselor and a county worker that he was considering suicide. As the county board considers that tragedy, it should ask itself this question: Who did Jorge more harm? The worker who left him in a home where he complained of being beaten and where his stepfather was residing in defiance of a court order, or the county worker who may have brought details of Jorge's death to light?
●●smf: Supervisor Yaroslavsky and The LA Times have this right. Children are dying. This is a more important story than the malfeasance in Bell or the LAUSD teacher assessments put together.

Make a note:

● TO THE BOARD OF SUPES: Stop looking for scapegoats and whistleblowers and do something. It may very well be that the current Department of Children and Family Services is doing the best they can with their limited staff and budget. If that is true the board bears responsibility for the death of children and the bad press.
● TO THE PULITIZER COMMITTEE: This is what good investigative journalism and good editorial writing looks like.

By PAMELA PAUL | New York Times

August 20, 2010 -- AFTER all those attentive early childhood rituals — the flashcards, the Kumon, the Dora the Explorer, the mornings spent in cutting-edge playgrounds — who wouldn’t want to give their children a head start when it’s finally time to set off for school?

Suzanne Collier, for one. Rather than send her 5-year-old son, John, to kindergarten this year, the 36-year-old mother from Brea, Calif., enrolled him in a “transitional” kindergarten “without all the rigor.” He’s an active child, Ms. Collier said, “and not quite ready to focus on a full day of classroom work.” Citing a study from “The Tipping Point” about Canadian hockey players, which found that the strongest players were the oldest, she said, “If he’s older, he’ll have the strongest chance to do the best.”

Hers is a popular school of thought, and it is not new. “Redshirting” of kindergartners — the term comes from the practice of postponing the participation of college athletes in competitive games — became increasingly widespread in the 1990s, and shows no signs of waning.

In 2008, the most recent year for which census data is available, 17 percent of children were 6 or older when they entered the kindergarten classroom. Sand tables have been replaced by worksheets to a degree that’s surprising even by the standards of a decade ago. Blame it on No Child Left Behind and the race to get children test-ready by third grade: Kindergarten has steadily become, as many educators put it, “the new first grade.”

What once seemed like an aberration — something that sparked fierce dinner party debates — has come to seem like the norm. But that doesn’t make it any easier for parents.

“We agonized over it all year,” said Rachel Tayse Baillieul, a food educator in Columbus, Ohio, where the cutoff date is Oct. 1. Children whose birthdates fall later must wait until the next year to start school. But her daughter, Lillian, 4, was born five days before, on Sept. 25, which would make her one of the youngest in the class.

With the wide age spans in kindergarten classrooms, each new generation of preschool parents must grapple with where exactly to slot their children. Wiggly, easily distracted and less mature, boys are more likely to be held back than girls, but delayed enrollment is now common for both sexes.

“Technically, Lillian could go to kindergarten,” Ms. Tayse Baillieul said. Moving her up from part-time preschool would allow Ms. Tayse Baillieul to return to work and earn income. But Lillian’s preschool teachers counseled her to hold Lillian back. “They said staying in preschool a year longer will probably never hurt and will probably always help, especially with social and emotional development.”

Regardless, a classroom with an 18-month age spread will create social disparities. “Someone has to be the youngest in class,” pointed out Susan Messina, a 46-year-old mother in Washington. “No matter how you slice it.” When Clare, her daughter, who is now 9, entered kindergarten at 4, Ms. Messina was aware of widespread redshirting.

“I thought, I’m not breaking the rules, I’m not pushing her ahead, we’re doing exactly what we’re supposed to do,” she said. “Then it dawned on me that in this day and age, there’s a move to keep your brilliant angel in preschool longer so they could be smarter and taller for the basketball team. But my daughter doesn’t need a leg up. She’s fine.”

Still, it bothers her that children in the same class are as much as a year and a half older than Clare. “She has friends who are 11 who are going to get their periods this year, and she’s still playing with American Girl dolls.” Another mother complained that her 4-year-old became hooked on Hannah Montana by her aspiring-tween classmates. A 6-year-old wielding a light saber can be awfully intimidating to a boy who still sleeps with his teddy.

At the other tip of the age span, parents who promote children to kindergarten before 5 are often seen as pushy, “even ogre-ish,” Ms. Messina said. But suppose your child is already reading at 4? Do you hold her back where she may be bored to tears in preschool or send her into a classroom of hulking 6-year-old boys? In 1970, 14.4 percent of kindergartners started at age 4. That figure has dropped to less than 10 percent.

The self-esteem movement has inspired parents to care as much about emotional well-being as academic achievement, and with fragile self-images still in the making, the worst fear for parents is setting up their children for failure. One Connecticut mother in Fairfield County sent her October-born son to kindergarten at 4, despite “the informal rule of thumb that everyone holds back their September to December boys.” Kindergarten seemed to go well, but when her son entered first grade, she said, “I got hit over the head. They told me he was way behind.”

She watched in horror as her son’s self-confidence tanked. “He was spinning his wheels just to keep up,” she recalled. “He even got pulled out of class for poor handwriting.” At the end of a miserable second-grade year, she withdrew him to repeat the grade at a private school. “It’s been a long and difficult journey,” she said. “I totally regret starting him on kindergarten at 4.”

Many parents feel compelled to redshirt by what they see as unreasonable academic demands for 4- and 5-year-olds. But keeping children in preschool, according to both academic research and parental experience, doesn’t necessarily offer every advantage. Jennifer Harrison, a mother of two from Folsom, Calif., held her October-born son, Elliott, back so he “wouldn’t get labeled as out of control.” Over all, she said, it was the right decision. “But his math skills are far above those of his classmates.”

How to attend to a child’s myriad needs, and which should be the priority? “There don’t seem to be any rules,” said Rebecca Meekma, a mother of two from Laguna Beach, Calif. “People are saying, ‘I want him to be big in high school for sports!’ What is that? You can’t know who they’ll be in high school.”

And what about children who aren’t Leo the Late Bloomer? “I have met mom after mom who is intentionally holding her child back a year,” said Jennifer Finke, a mother of two in Englewood, Colo. “They say they don’t want their kids to be the youngest or shortest. Is that right? Is it fair?”

Ms. Finke’s son, Benjamin, is soon to start kindergarten at 5. “There will be boys in his class who are a year or more older than him. They’ll be bored in class and then the bar will be set higher, and the kids who are the right age will find that they can’t keep up.” What will happen in gym when the larger boys are picked first for brute force, leaving the pipsqueaks languishing? “I’m afraid my children will feel inferior.”

Not all parents can choose when their children begin kindergarten. “Though redshirting is common in the suburbs, in Manhattan, it’s the schools — not parents — who decide,” said Emily Glickman, whose company, Abacus Guide Educational Consulting, advises parents on kindergarten admissions. At New York City private schools, the cutoff date is Sept. 1; in practice, summer babies, particularly boys, generally enter kindergarten at age 6. “It’s a ramped-up world,” Ms. Glickman said. “And the easiest way for schools to assure that their kids do better is for them to be older and more mature.”

Meanwhile, New York City public schools have a firm age cutoff date of Dec. 31. Kindergarten isn’t required by the state, so parents could keep their children out, but then they would have to start the following year at first grade. And not everyone can afford two to three years of nursery school or day care.

“Among parents here, there’s a tremendous demand for kindergarten earlier,” said Eva Moskowitz, founder of the Harlem Success Academy Charter School, which pushed its cutoff back to Dec. 1. “If these parents could start their kids at 2, they would.” Not everyone, alas, defines academic privilege the same way.

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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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