Thursday, February 25, 2016

CAP: Muddled Teacher Eval Thoughts

The Center for American Progress wants to get its two cents in on the Vergara appeal, and their thoughts are... confused. Catherine Brown is CAP's vp of Education Policy after previously serving as vice president of policy at Teach for America, policy adviser to senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and senior education policy adviser for the House Committee on Education and Labor. Brown is in US News making her pitch for life over and above Vergara.

As is typical with CAP, we're a little short on actual facts or serious data, which leads Brown down the garden path and into verbal weeds like these-

Teachers largely view their performance based in part on the impact they have on student learning.

I am largely impressed in part by this sentence's attempt to assert something that is largely unsupportable while in part maintaining largely deniable language. In part. This sentence goes into my reformster gibberish hall of fame. Congratulations, Ms. Brown. Your statuette is largely in part on its way.

It's not all nonsense; Brown makes a largely unreformstery point in part with this thought:

Our collective policy goal shouldn't be to eliminate teacher protections like last-in-first-out and tenure based on seniority, but rather to render them unnecessary. We should aim to build schools with such high-performing cultures that eliminating incompetence isn't the most pressing issue, spreading excellence is.

That is not stupid (regular readers know what high praise that largely in part is). The stupid comes later, when reformsters start talking about how to build such schools and spread such excellence, but reformsters are correct (in a day late, dollar short way) to recognize that schools will not fire their way to excellence-- particularly in California where many folks are worried that the teacher supply pipeline is actually broken.

But every time Brown moves beyond the broad strokes, she largely paints herself in part into a corner. For instance:

And while states are no longer required to evaluate teachers as a matter of federal policy, there's little evidence that teachers want to go back to the old way of doing business of "close your door, and good luck to ya."

There's little evidence that teachers want that. There's little evidence they don't. I'd be more impressed if Brown just said that's what she thinks than trying to make it sound facty.

She touts a few states that she thinks have gotten things right, and then swings around to a plug for TeachStrong, a reformy program that has its own plan for making teachers largely in part more awesome. That plan, I'll note, has its own special heartfelt love for using Big Standardized Test results to measure teacher effectiveness. Look-- here's the answer key-- as long as we talk about measuring teacher effectiveness largely or in part with measures of "student achievement," we're still just talking about raising scores on BS Tests.

I am happy that CAP is leading a charge away from the old reformy idea of fixing schools by tracking down all those terrible teachers and firing them hard. I'm happy both because it's the right thing to do and because it sounds a little like CAP and others smell an upcoming reversal of the original Vergara verdict.

Brown is fundamentally correct. You don't make schools better by destroying teacher job security and firing a whole bunch of people for no good reason, just as you don't help students learn and grow by berating them and punishing them and telling them to go sit in the corner until they can get the right answer. But she is scrambling past the part where CAP and others like them have no idea how to identify teaching excellence, let along promote, foster and develop it. On that point they are still largely in part lost and confused.

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