Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is DC's Teacher Support "Highly Effective?"

6% of DC Public School teachers were fired last Friday, many of them for scoring "Ineffective" on DC's new IMPACT teacher evaluations. 17% more were denied scheduled raises and placed in jeopardy of losing their jobs next year if their scores do not improve from "Minimally Effective." (See the Wall Street Journal's story here, but note that 80% of teachers' evaluations come mostly from 5 teaching observations, 3 of them unannounced, rather than student test scores.)

What I want to look at here, from a DCPS teacher perspective, is: How effective was the support provided to us teachers to help us rate as "Effective" on IMPACT? And how effective CAN it be for all of us in the future?

Michelle Rhee says the purpose of IMPACT is "to create a culture in which DCPS school-based personnel
have a clear understanding of what defines excellence in their work, are provided with constructive and data-based feedback about their performance, and receive support to increase their effectiveness." (Quoted from the IMPACT system's homepage for DCPS personnel.) It's certainly setting high standards and giving high-stakes feedback. But is it providing teachers the support we need to reach the high bar? Let's look at my experience in 2009-2010. I received support on pedagogy through 2 major streams: 1) DCPS-designed trainings, and 2) Job-embedded professional development, designed and delivered by my instructional coach and administrators. (Although I received written and verbal feedback from a visiting Master Educators 2 times during the year, this feedback changed my practice much less than either of the 2 DEVELOPMENT streams above.)

First, let's take a look at the DCPS training. For 3 consecutive days at the start of the school year, and 4 more days throughout, school coaches around the district were given a standardized training by DCPS to deliver to teachers. The first 3 days were a broad overview of the Teaching and Learning Framework, the rubric within IMPACT which rates 3 parts of educating: Plan, Teach, and Increase Effectiveness. This past year, we were only rated on the Teach section, but all 3 parts were covered on the training. To use teacher talk, I don't think the objective of this training was for us to master the teaching skills in IMPACT. Instead, it seemed to be building some background knowledge for us to do so in the future. Important, but not getting teachers into Effective territory yet. (See what you think for yourself: DCPS posted all 3 days of Powerpoint training online here.) The next training was for all school staff, from librarians to custodians, and gave an overview of the systems and processes being rolled out for IMPACT as a new accountability system. Again, important for employees to know our expectations and rights, but not helping teachers master pedagogical skills need for an Effective rating.

So that leaves us with 3 days actually geared to support teachers in specific teachings skills on the rubric. For those 3 days to qualify as Effective support, they would have to be pretty freakin' amazing. But they were just okay. Sure, the objectives were clear (one big advantage of a district-wide rubric,) and teacher investment was relatively high among my colleagues -- we were given some choice in which aspects of teaching we wanted to work on, the trainers valiantly attempted to back up the rubric with research, and, let's be honest, we didn't have much of a choice about getting better on this scale anyway. But many other elements were off. Because most classroom examples didn't fit with the age ranges and styles in our own classes, teachers' investment and engagement suffered. I'm pretty sure my kinesthetic learning style wasn't targeted ... hey, it's hard for adults to focus, too! Most importantly, the pacing of the trainings and school-based follow-ups (or lack thereof) left little time for application to our own practice -- the meat of any Highly Effective lesson teachers give students. (I wrote more about this issue here, just after our last DCPS training.) My overall rating, in IMPACT terms: Minimally Effective. And my "teacher achievement" reflected it: my practice changed little, if at all.
Fear not, there's hope! The 2nd stream of support I received, job-embedded professional development, took a different format, delivered more targeted content, and led to much better results. In fact, I wrote a post pinpointing it as one of 3 factors which led to dramatic growth in my teaching skills -- BEFORE the IMPACT firings were announced and this debate really began raging. Read the post, especially the part about "Proactive PD" to get a sense of what strong support for teachers CAN look like. Clearly defined, relevant objectives ... engaging, hands-on format ... observations to see whether we were getting it ... plenty of time for teachers to practice using new ideas ... This job-embedded PD gets a Highly Effective score from me.

The quality of this support showed in my classroom and my IMPACT scores. In my first two observations, one by an administrator and one by a Master Educator, I was rated on the low end of Minimally Effective. And rightfully so -- I'm a new teacher, and I was struggling. These ratings were given AFTER I had been given much of the DCPS-designed "support." But, after the excellent, job-embedded PD (and a lot of hard work from me and my school leaders,) I scored solidly in the Effective range ... with my last score from a Master Educator just on the cusp of Highly Effective. More importantly than all these numbers, kids in my class were learning much more and having a much better time.

Getting this kind of excellent, job-embedded PD to every DC teacher will not be easy. Not every school has a great coach, much less one ready and willing to deliver the kind of intensive, precise coaching my school-level colleagues and I received. But it's important. We must swiftly build our coaching force and systems to deliver intensive, job-embedded PD which includes multiple cycles of lesson planning, delivery, and debriefing with coach and teacher. It's fair for teachers: This summer, hundreds of teachers lost their jobs or financial security without adequate support to reach a new standard. Had I not been in a school with a great coach and administrators, I would have stayed at the Minimally Effective rung, or very possibly declined and been out of a job right now. But I was given the support to improve -- and ANY teacher whose job is on the line deserves that. But far more importantly, we need to get these systems of job-embedded PD in place because it's right for our kids. These evaluation systems are there to evaluate teachers' impact on children's learning. Every day a teacher struggles is a day her students are fulling further behind. Please, do what you can to push school leaders in DC and your own city to examine models of PD that ARE producing strong results, and bring them to scale as fast as humanly possible -- for teachers, but mostly for kids.


EFavorite said...

Hello – I notice that your previous post, "Learning to Teach Like a Champion," and the comments on it have been taken down since this afternoon.

You describe yourself as a “hyper-honest individual,” so I’m sorry that you did not at least make a reference to removing it.

I like to think of myself as honest too – not hyper – but basically. So I want you to know that I have a copy of that post, including all the comments. Also, I want to remind you that you made an extensive comment on the same subject (your experience with DCPS IMPACT evaluation system) on Alexander Russo’s blog on July 26th and of course to the Washington Post.

Frankly, there’s more than honesty involved for me; I’m curious and skeptical about your reasons for taking down your post.

Truly, I think it would have been more transparent for you to leave your original post up. It was well written, sincere and nothing to be ashamed of.

TeachingSerendipity said...

EFavorite, thanks so much for noticing my mistake in accidentally taking down my "Learning to Teach Like a Champion" post. This evening, I added some new topical tags to the blog, and went into many old posts to update the tags. (Now "math," "high-stakes tests," and several others are new, searchable topics I hope to add to soon.) When I did that for the post you mentioned, as well as the posts "Teaching Confidence," "Teach Kids As We Want to Be Treated," and "5 Lessons in Using Interim Assessments to TEACH," I must have accidentally hit the "Save as Draft" rather than "Publish" button, because all of those posts were accidenally taken off the blog.

I have fixed the mistake, and "Learning to Teach Like a Champion" as well as the other mistakenly removed posts, and all comments, are back up. Thanks again for bringing it to my attention.

Anonymous said...

First year teacher, our school had no coaches, and no mentors - is that fair? The ME was great, but I only saw her twice, basically I was on my own.

EFavorite said...

Hello, Serendipity – thanks for reposting your earlier entry about your travails with IMPACT and its similarity to TFA’s “Teaching as Leadership” along with all the comments. I don’t know much about blogging, but I have heard that strange things can happen.

I want you to know that I have conversed with Washington Post reporter, Mike Debonis via email and via the comments section of his recent article on IMPACT in which he quotes a DCPS kindergarten teacher who sounds a lot like you. He says he didn’t ask if she were also a Teach-for-America member, and I believe him on that.

I’ve encouraged additional interviews so he could get the very relevant perspective of a TFA member who acknowledges floundering as a teacher. I read an internet profile of the teacher he interviewed and was most impressed. On paper, she sounds like someone who has great potential to influence educational policy in a positive way.

EFavorite said...

Hello – I wanted to point you and your readers to this recent discussion on Valerie Strauss’ Washington Post blog about Teach For America.

It involved numerous TFA and non-TFA participants with differing points of view. It was very interesting, I thought, and the first time I’d seen TFA members participate in such an open discussion. I wish there would be more of it.

Claus said...

Thank you for a thoughtful posting on your experience with PD. I wish the media did more to cover this aspect of any evaluation system. The interest seems to run more towards throwing the bums out. If, indeed more teachers in DC (or anywhere else) can have an experience like yours, then we'd all be better off.

The National Staff Development Council has probably the best resources anywhere on effective staff development. The more teachers, pundits, and others write about EFFECTIVE staff development, the better conversation we can have about effective teach-ING (and not just effective teachers).

Anonymous said...

This is fascinating for me, a veteran teacher, to read that TFA teachers were trained to teach as IMPACT prescribes.I believe the same hold true for DCTF who are just finishing their summer institute.
No one trained me how to teach as IMPACT requires us to do. And I knew from the minute that Rhee rolled out IMPACT almost a year ago that it was as serious as a heart attack. And I vowed that IMPACT would neither roll me out of my school nor give me a heart attack. I made it my point to master IMPACT or at least be successful in it. Sure, people say that a lot of the points on IMPACT are just good teaching. But honestly, IMPACT made me have to change a lot of my practice, with little PD behind me, by just reading the manual and talking about it constantly with my equally obsessed colleagues. I also went to several IMPACT sessions that their office held throughout the schools and asked questions.
I didn't totally master IMPACT. But I got at the higher end of effective, figured out that I had to rock all 5 (or at least 4/5) of my observations, as I'm group 2 and never lose any points under CP.
I see that the Ts will be revised a bit for this coming school year, that the rubric is more streamlined. And I think I'm ready for it.

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Anonymous said...

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TeachingSerendipity said...

Thanks for your comments, all. A few responses:

Anonymous 8:12 – The inequality of coaching and PD is absolutely UNfair – for us, and for our students. The main reason I wrote these posts is to highlight that there are PD models that work, and to urge people who influence PD in DCPS to get them to ALL teachers – not just a few – as soon as humanly possible. Maybe you can use these stories to advocate for better coaching and mentoring back at your school.

EFavorite – Thank you so much for recommending Valerie Strauss’ post on TFA and the great discussion in the comments. I read it, and agree it was an unusually honest discussion between people with varying perspectives on TFA. Something I should make clear is that while I participated in TFA, I in no way unequivocally support all its policies and approaches. I have always felt strongly that I am a DCPS teacher first, before any other affiliation. In fact, I taught in another public school system before joining TFA – but found it one of the most accessible ways to get the training I lacked from not getting a degree in education. I am grateful for the training, support, and connection to a master’s of education program I received through TFA, but again, I do not support everything it does, especially not as a sustainable means of reform.

Claus – I agree, I wish there was more coverage of teacher PD in the media. It’s not as sensational as teacher firings, etc., but in the end, probably far more important. Thanks so much for the reference to the National Staff Development Council. I looked around their site and appreciated many of their resources. It helped me write the post series I’m working on this week.

Anonymous 3:27 – I really appreciate you sharing your experiences as a veteran teacher. I have noticed that much online discussion tends to be dominated by newer teachers, which is a big problem. I love that you took the evaluation system on and made it work for you – rock on! I’m curious – do you think changing your practice to better align with IMPACT made your teaching better, or just different? What effects (if any) did you notice of the changes you made?

Anonymous 5:23 – I’m not sure what you mean.

GOOD LUCK TO ALL THE DCPS EDUCATORS starting their first professional day back at schools today! I hope the PD we receive is effective for all of us.