Sunday, March 30, 2008

How do we identify effective teachers and encourage their continued professional growth?



Most of us use subjective criteria to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Based on our own experience, we know an effective teacher when we experience one, either in our own learning or that of our children. Effective teachers motivate their students to learn, foster students’ self-esteem and their students’ belief in their own ability to master a subject or skill. Effective teachers model their own passion for learning and curiosity about their subject matter. Effective teachers set clear expectations for their students and challenge them to achieve not just the minimum, but their best. Increasingly, teachers must model life-long learning for their students to meet the challenges of our rapidly changing world.

Most of the studies, I reviewed noted the difficulty both in identifying effective teachers using objective criteria, and the dangers in relying solely on performance data that can be easily manipulated. Moreover, teachers work in schools, and the conditions in which they work affect the quality of their teaching. As one school board director noted, “Put a good teacher in a bad system, and the system wins every time.” Our challenge is “not only to nurture good teachers but also to develop good schools in which teachers can be effective.” (Olson, Lessons from Abroad)

It is interesting to note that identifying effective teachers has become increasingly tied to efforts to quantify student achievement and provide a differentiated pay scale for teachers rather than relying on a single-salary schedule. AISD’s own strategic compensation plan is tied to TAKS improvement in reading and math and is targeted primarily to “high needs” schools. The difficulty lies in tracking performance of individual students over time and linking those students to their teachers, and accurately accounting for differences in varied student populations. Most of the studies I reviewed noted the need to “develop and implement longitudinal data systems” to provide objective information linking teacher performance to student achievement.

Some of the ill-fated efforts in places such as Florida and Houston can be attributed to narrowly focusing on short-term improvements in scores, and failing to support collaborative efforts to increase students and teachers improved performance -- instead establishing competitive measures based on rankings. Rather than encouraging the sharing of best practices among teachers and schools, this would seem to foster rivalries and manipulative practices that would in the end defeat the goal of raising the achievement of all students.

The studies I found most compelling placed a strong emphasis on teacher-developed criteria for setting performance standards and professional development goals, guided by the priorities and needs of the local districts in which they worked. We must reward experienced, effective teachers who mentor novice and developing teachers. “Performance-pay plans should encourage more teachers to document effective classroom practices and share them with their colleagues.” (Performance Pay for Teachers, p. 4)

Other ideas worth noting:

  • Establishing base pay systems with tiers of “novice, professional, and expert.”

  • Supplementing base-pay with performance-pay open to all teachers.

  • Demonstrated ability to improve student performance should be rewarded with leadership opportunities, such as mentoring novices and peers, sharing effective teaching strategies, and serving on advisory committees. Excellent teachers should not have to become administrators in order to achieve adequate compensation.

  • Offer incentives to teachers who work in high-need schools but only if they are adequately prepared to address the school’s specific learning needs.

  • Include accomplished teachers in establishing performance standards and developing compensation plans.

  • Encourage all teachers to open up their classrooms to formative evaluations by peers, expert teachers, and administrators. Teachers need feedback in order to improve their teaching skills.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Results Statements For Middle School Reform Action Team


Foster communities of life-long learning that are student-centered -- whether that student is a child or teen, parent, teacher, or administrator. This implies a need for building relationships that are multi-dimensional and on-going, including one-to-one, peer to peers, and expert to novice.

Monday, March 03, 2008

School Reform

"People who love soft methods and hate iniquity forget this, that reform consists in taking a bone from a dog. Philosophy will not do it."
- John Jay Chapman

This is so true. Change is hard. So hard that we often cling to the problems we know, rather than adopting new approaches.We are researching improving the quality of educators in our middle schools, WITHOUT increased funding. There is no doubt that budgets for AISD are already pinched.