Mr. Goldfarb’s Evaluation

by Robert Pondiscio
November 23rd, 2009

Run, don’t walk, over to the Washington Post to read Jay Mathews piece on the evaluation given to an AP History teacher under Washington, DC’s new IMPACT system for assessing teacher performance.   Dan Goldfarb, a teacher at the Benjamin Banneker Academic High School has taken an extraordinary risk by giving a copy of his evaluation to Mathews, but in doing so, he has shed a lot of light on what sounds like a curious and capricious process.

Goldfarb was dinged in his evaluation for — among other things — two students passing notes in class and another (a straight-A student) who was not taking notes at all (poor student engagement).  He also earned only two out of four points  because, in the evaluator’s opinion, “there was little verifiable evidence apparent during the observation that Mr. Goldfarb works to instill the belief that students can succeed if they work hard.”  Goldfarb responds: “Be a cheerleader and tell them that hard work is the key to success? Every five minutes or so? Are you serious?  We are dealing with young adults, not small children.”  Mathews is promising to follow up with evaluations from teachers who like the new system, but he seems sympathetic to Goldfarb’s criticism:

Overall, the evaluator gave the teacher only 2.3 out of a possible 4 points. Goldfarb got only 1 out of 4 points in one section for failing to post or say what the objective of the lesson was–to me unnecessary kid’s stuff for an AP class. He also got only 1 out of 4 points for not catering to multiple learning styles, even though some experts, like Willis D. Hawley of the University of Maryland, call learning style analysis “bunk.”

This is exactly the issue Dan Willingham raised over IMPACT a few weeks ago.  It’s troubling, to put it mildly, that we’re now seeing teachers criticized for not catering to learning styles despite “utter lack of evidence to support it.” 

At Harry Potter and the Urban School Nightmare, another teacher who supports Rhee’s efforts to get rid of bad teachers (who wouldn’t?) describes getting stellar marks he didn’t deserve.

I received a score of 3.8 (out of a perfect 4), which puts me in the “highly effective” category. Now, if I’d actually earned that score, I’d be pleased. But I didn’t. My lesson showed me to be effective, but not outstanding. So why did I get the score I got? Because my principal has decided that she likes me. Of course, this isn’t really a problem for me (except that I’m not really getting any feedback for improvement, I suppose). But it is a problem for the people she’s decided she doesn’t like. Some teachers at my school are unhappy with their scores, and for some I don’t really doubt that it’s because they’re not based in reality.

A commenter on Mathews’ blog nails it, noting “No teacher does all the things (all 25 or so of them) in 30 minutes. It is just not going to happen. I can do a dog-and-pony show for the master educator, or I can teach effectively and not hit all of the things that he or she wants.”

Keep your head down, Mr. Goldfarb.

Darkness Falls

by Robert Pondiscio
November 23rd, 2009

The United States is in gradual decline, says Checker Finn matter of factly.  “Many people seem oblivious, going about their own affairs without reference to ominous but very gradual trends, rather like the frog that didn’t know it would be boiled because the water in that pot was warming so slowly,” writes the head of the Fordham Institute in his latest Education Gadfly column.

Among the “worrisome signs of national decay” Finn sees are America’s flat education results and sagging international performance:

Nearly all our major test-score trend lines have been horizontal for decades–the small upward and downward blips tend to balance out–and comparisons with other lands show us mediocre to woeful. We could once respond that the U.S. makes up in education “quantity” (e.g., graduation and matriculation rates) what we may lack in quality but that’s not true any longer. Half a dozen countries now best us on those measures, too.

In addition, there is decreasing demand for U.S. dollars overseas, a “staggering” debt burden being passed on to future generations, and a national government that can no longer make big decisions. “Whether the challenge at hand is immigration, excessive litigation, discrepant academic standards, swine flu, financial regulation, hurricane Katrina, mass transit, climate change, Afghanistan–pick your topic–Congress either avoids the problem altogether or kicks the can down the road for someone to worry about later,” writes Finn.  He also bemoans “our culture and our politics of polarization, selfishness, and bad manners.”

Finally, we’re giving up on too many of the great challenges and opportunities that we face, including realms where America was once terrific. NASA has pretty much abandoned space exploration, at least the manned kind. We don’t seem even to be trying very hard to extirpate nuclear weapons from Iran. China is turning into the next hegemon. My wife the doctor says that European and Asian countries are more adept and adventurous today in medical research than we are. Airbus is getting a lot more new planes into the air than Boeing. Our domestic auto industry is all but defunct.

Worst of all, Finn is not sure our national decline can be reversed.  “The cultural, behavioral, and attitudinal manifestations of declinism seem to me to go deeper than politics.”

Checker has been just a little ray of sunshine of late.  First there was his speech at Rice University wondering if it’s time to “throw in the towel on ed reform.”  Now this.  On the other hand, I haven’t heard anyone say he’s all wet.  Anyone?

Two Birds, One Stone

by Robert Pondiscio
November 23rd, 2009

School budget shortfall?  Student discipline problems?  Solve both by……charging for detention!  A pair of school board members in Nutley, New Jersey are proposing precisely that. Yes, they’re serious. 

The board members, Steven Rogers and Walter Sautter, say they are hoping to adopt a policy by next school year that would charge parents for detention, which they estimate costs the district $10,000 a year in overtime and maintenance fees.

“It may not seem like a lot of money, but it adds up over time,” Rogers tells the Newark Star-Ledger. “Parents need to step up to the plate and to be held responsible and accountable for their children’s habitual actions.”

Frank Bellusciop of the New Jersey School Board Association says even though schools charge for extracurricular activities and field trips, charging for detention may be in violation of the state Constitution. “Discipline is part of a public education,” he tells the paper. “Since detention would have to be used to enforce discipline, it is doubtful that you could charge for that, the same way you can’t charge for someone taking a history class or math class.”

Nutley.  You can write your own punch line.

H.S Grad Can’t Read His Diploma

by Robert Pondiscio
November 23rd, 2009

How did Wayne Knowland graduate from a Bronx high school last June, the New York Post asks, when he can’t even read his diploma?

In fact, the charismatic 18-year-old can’t read street signs, a paragraph in a newspaper or a job application — despite educators at Fannie Lou Hamer HS sending him on his way with a handshake and a sheepskin.  Wayne graduated just three weeks after the school gave him an evaluation on June 6 that determined he was reading at a second-grade level.

Knowland was required to pass three tests — called reading, writing and math RCTs — in order to graduate with a standard high-school diploma.  New York Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch is skeptical that a student reading at a second-grade level could pass the RCTs without help.  “It is not plausible to me. It doesn’t make sense,” she told The Post.

Sure doesn’t.

“Wayne says it was only because he had questions read to him on his fifth stab at the reading test — in apparent violation of testing rules — that he passed that exam,” writes the Post’s Yoav Gonen.