New CTQ Report on Teacher Working Conditions

I really don’t do a very good job hiding my scorn for today’s education superheroes, do I?  Look back over my posts in the past few months and it’s obvious that I have little respect for the agendas being pushed by people like Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, and Davis Guggenheim. 

My beef with current conversations around reforming schools is really quite simple:  They’re often centered around the idea that teacher effectiveness can be judged—and schools can be saved—if we would just start holding educators accountable for producing measurable results on end of grade exams.

Not only do these kinds of carrot-and-stick approaches to saving our schools ignore what we know about motivating workers in knowledge-based professions, they overlook an unfortunate truth that Oprahgandists would rather ignore:

Successful schools depend on far more than identifying and then rewarding handfuls of whiz-bang teachers.  They also depend on communities that are willing to provide every teacher with the kinds of critical working conditions essential for being successful. 

The good news is that my colleagues at the Center for Teaching Quality have been documenting the kinds of working conditions that have a positive impact on student achievement for years now. 

In fact, their most recent report—titled Transforming School Conditions: Building Bridges to the Education System that Students and Teachers Deserve—summarizes the thoughts of 14 incredibly accomplished teachers who spent the better part of the past year studying the connections between teacher working conditions and student achievement with leading experts and educational researchers.

The team—comprised completely of full time practitioners—argues, among other things, that:

Teacher Preparation Programs Need to Change:

Ask any practicing teacher and they’ll tell you that their preservice training was basically useless.  Real learning happens only after teachers start spending time in classrooms. 

That’s why my TLN colleagues believe that teacher preparation programs should begin offering residency options where new teachers work alongside experienced veterans in much the same way that preservice physicians work in hospitals alongside practicing doctors.

Teacher Mentoring Programs Just Can’t be Cut:

Ask any district budget managers and they’ll tell you that mentoring is expensive.  Not only is it challenging to pay for release time for mentors to observe new teachers, it is challenging to find the cash to provide meaningful training to potential mentors.

That’s why mentoring programs are often cut when economic times are tough.

Those cuts, my TLN colleagues believe, are irresponsible.  Instead of cutting mentoring programs, districts that are truly committed to reforming education must continue to invest in proven programs for supporting the newest members of our profession.

Teacher Evaluation Systems Need to Change:

A cornerstone of TLN has always been our willingness to accept responsibility for student learning results and a recognition of the fact that some teachers are more effective than others at producing results.

We push back, however, against teacher evaluation systems that are simplistic. 

In Transforming School Conditions, my TLN colleagues argue that responsible evaluation systems should be built on sophisticated teacher observations conducted by principals and peers. 

What’s more, they argue that responsible teacher evaluation systems should include the analysis of student work samples on performance based assessments.

Professional Development Must Be Collaborative:

Are you ready for an admission that should anger you as a taxpayer?  I can’t remember many formal professional development opportunities during the course of my 17 year career that have changed who I am as an educator.

Talk about a colossal waste of cash, huh?

On the other hand, I’ve learned tons and tons every time that I’ve been given structured, on-the-clock opportunities to study my practice with peers. 

How does that translate into more effective reform policies?  As my TLN colleagues argue, the best professional development must be, “job-embedded, problem-based, differentiated, collaborative, onsite, compensated, ongoing and teacher-driven.”

The report goes on to study the connections between student learning conditions—assessing learning in a variety of ways, differentiating learning opportunities for every child, addressing social issues that interfere with learning—and high performing schools.  It also examines the connections between teacher leadership and student learning.

All of it is interesting, research driven, and crafted by practitioners with a real understanding of what change in schools needs to look like in order to succeed.

Here’s to hoping that policymakers and influential thinkers will actually spend a few minutes listening to those of us working in real classrooms with real kids for a change. 

It’s high time that teacher voice informed policy development in our country. 

6 comments

  1. Landon

    Mr. F
    Unfortunately, ruling the world isn’t on my agenda…I’d have too many people gunning after me. I think my 9th grade World History teacher may have had the right idea…use a puppet and stay in the shadows as the omniscient puppetmaster to work for true good (more research required).
    However, you make a good point about teachers not knowing where kids are coming from…perhaps we could remedy it by taking the first derivative of the graph of teacher’s opinions on the student vs. time with respect to time in order to find out by how much a teacher has improved the child. Unfortunately, with only 12 data points max, it isn’t likely to produce very accurate results. (Sorry for all the math terms…basically, use some math on it and you’re able to determine how much the teacher has changed the student. I know how much you hate math…99.5 rounds to 100 by the way, not 99).
    However, I think your idea of a holistic approach is the best way to make an accurate determination.
    The Great Landini

  2. Bill Ferriter

    Hey Landini,
    First, thanks for stopping by and for your kind words! I hope you know that the feelings are mutual. You are a student who I’ll never forget simply because you were driven by thoughts, and that’s cool. To know that you’re out there thoughtfully considering important issues and wrestling with the kinds of ideas that our community and country are going to have to find solutions for someday gives me a bit of hope for the future.
    Second, I love your idea of collecting information from a student’s next teacher in order to evaluate the performance of the teacher before. They’d be a potentially reliable source for determining just what kinds of skills a kid really had once he’d left an earlier grade level.
    The hitch, it seems, is that new teachers won’t always understand just where a student was before he entered my classroom. While a new teacher may see gaps in what a student knows and can do, they won’t have any real way to know how far behind—or ahead—a student was when they got to me. Think about you as an example: You were brilliant before you even had me as a teacher. While I know that I had an impact on who you are, you would have been fine without ever having met me. If your seventh grade teachers used you to judge me, I’d look darn good even if I slept for half the year!
    I think I’d be in favor a system of evaluating teachers that included as much information as we could gather about a kid. Let’s look at test scores in the subjects that have tests….but let’s also take surveys of students and parents to get their impressions on how teachers have changed their lives. Let’s get principals to add input from their observations on what a teacher can do in the classroom. Let’s take videos of what’s happening in each room and look at student work samples.
    That’s all really expensive, though—-and that’s the hitch. While our community wants to identify good teachers, identifying good teachers is expensive and no one wants to pony up the cash!
    Maybe you can fix the whole mess when you graduate and rule the world!
    Anyway…I’m proud of you!
    Mr. F

  3. Landon

    Mr. Ferriter:
    All I know is that whatever you did, it worked great. Not only are you still my favorite teacher of all time, you also managed to motivate me more than any other teacher except perhaps Ms. H, but she had an easier job of it: we had the 2008 elections that year. I definitely agree that student performance is a poor measurement of teacher success. A more accurate measurement would be a student evaluation compounded with an evaluation by the students’ future teachers on their performance, thus assessing engagement and material taught.
    Thanks for all you’ve done, I really hope you continue,
    The Great Landini

  4. Tiffany Morris

    Mr. Ferriter,
    I am a student in Dr. Strange’s EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. What stood out to me in this post was the fact that you agree that policymakers should listen to those who actually spend time in classrooms. I think this is very important. I do not think that it makes sense to make a decision on bettering schools if you do not understand the real problems. I also agree that mentoring new teachers is a must. I think mentoring is important for everyone.

  5. Elm Tree

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head when you say “A cornerstone of TLN has always been our willingness to accept responsibility for student learning results and a recognition of the fact that some teachers are more effective than others at producing results. We push back, however, against teacher evaluation systems that are simplistic.”.
    I am in a teacher certification program right now and there seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to teacher evaluation programs. This is warranted when the program rewards teachers based on student test scores and ignores everything else. But, sometimes the reaction extends to ANY evaluating of teachers performance, with thoughts such as “we can’t measure teaching, its too complex” and others of the same ilk.
    I think we can use the 360 Degree type of evaluation systems that I see with performance evaluations of IT workers. Business realized that the execs simply didn’t know what those darn programmers were doing and therefore didn’t know how to evaluate them. They didn’t revert to a seniority system and tenure, they moved to this collaborative model of evaluation.
    So, for teachers I would suggest that all these players have a hand in offering input on the teacher evaluation:
    • Principal and Staff
    • Peer Teachers
    • Students and Parents
    • Test Scores
    • Self-evaluations
    The tricky part comes in the weighting of each segment’s input and how to compute an overall “grade” for the teacher. But, the fact it’s tricky doesn’t mean we don’t try, right? If that was the case we’d never have made airplanes work.
    And, on test scores, it seems to me that teachers who make a difference help their students learn to think, and impact the students for years to come. So, shouldn’t we consider some way to use the test scores of students for the last 5 years rather than just the group of kids the teacher had last year?

  6. Shellran

    Hi Bill,
    If this were FB, I would have clicked *LIKE* by your comment that teacher preparation programs need to change. I am in a program right now (as an older student; second career) and I cannot tell you the myriad of ways in which the courses I am required to take are completely unrelated to what I actually do in my field placement. One idea I am intrigued by is that of partnering a teacher preparation program with a particular school (or district). In this way, the teachers at the school would be more involved in the college, and the professors at the college would all be more aware of actual practices within the classroom. I truly believe this would benefit all. I am interested in your thoughts.
    BTW, thanks for your comments on my blog the other day– your picture on gratitude is actually what inspired my entry! Thank you so much for inspiring me to read, reflect and be a part of a much larger teaching community!