Sunday, January 4, 2015

Gates vs. Teachers in Pittsburgh

Chris Potter has a great piece of journalism in this morning's Pittsburgh Post Gazette covering the amped-up anti-teacher advocacy in the burgh. Mostly what I have to say is, "Go read it." But there are just a couple of moments in the article that I want to highlight.

Pittsburgh schools had previously won accolades and some Gates money by committing to a model for data-based teacher improvement created by the district and the teachers together. That's a story of its own for another day.

But one of the players in the Pittsburgh ed scene is A+ Schools, whose major project was an annual report laying out all the data for the city's schools. But in the last few years, they've decided "not just to report on conditions, but to reshape them." And they've retooled their strategic plan to say they will advocate for certain positions on school reform. They've pulled a couple of pages from the standard reformy handbook, with a big serving of Teacher Thunderdome (let's stack-rank teachers and when layoffs come, use stack rankings to make the call) with a side order of achievement gap rhetoric.

The article looks at the A+ "shift" toward advocacy, and it considers the possibility of a Gates factor in the shift-- about the time A+ was becoming more reformy, Gates was handing them a cool million. This may be a chicken-egg problem, but pursuing it pulls an interesting quote from a Gates spokesperson:

Mr. Brown, of the Gates Foundation, agreed that once evaluations are created, “a lot of folks will have questions” if they aren’t used in personnel decisions. “Our perspective was, ‘You said you’d use this information to [ensure kids had] access to the best educators.’"

So, the whole point of teacher evaluation is to rank teachers and the whole point of ranking teachers is to fire the ones at the bottom of the stack.

Mr. Brown added that Gates makes grants to “thought partners” like A+ Schools to ensure education remains in the public eye.

 Also, Jessie Ramey of Yinzercation makes it into the article with this on-point quote:

“When you are talking about evaluating teachers,” Ms. Ramey added, “you’re really inflicting more testing on students,” which disrupts learning, and whose results are “highly dependent on poverty.”

The one aspect of this approach that Potter misses is the Thunderdome ideal-- a system that stack ranks teachers and makes employment decisions based on those rankings pits teachers against each other in a battle to the professional death. It makes student and class assignments critical to a teacher's future, and it turns offering a helping hand to a colleague a matter of professional self-destruction. This is why Microsoft ultimately abandoned stack ranking-- it creates an ugly anti-collegial culture. It's no way to run a school.

Potter also looks at the state capital, where unions are spending big money, but where we also find A+ huddled up with StudentsFirst and PennCAN (just in case you had any doubts about A+'s "neutrality").

The article is well worth your attention. Read and share!

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