Sunday, July 10, 2011

NEA shift on teacher evaluations mimics Massachusetts

The ship is slowly turning around

A new policy from the country’s largest teachers’ union affirming for the first time that student achievement must be a factor in evaluating teachers validates the controversial evaluation criteria approved in Massachusetts last week, local education officials say.

The National Education Association, with more than 3.2 million members, passed its new policy Monday at its annual representative assembly in Chicago. The union’s stance followed a 9-2 vote by the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education last week asserting that public schools in the state must incorporate student achievement as a significant element in evaluating teachers and administrators.

“What [the NEA] did at a national level is very consistent with what we did here in Massachusetts," Paul Reville, the state’s secretary of education, said yesterday. “I like to think that Massachusetts may have played a leadership role in the NEA’s policy."

Paul Toner, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union, said the NEA’s resolution demonstrates that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s decision was in line with sentiments around the country. By approving the policy, he said, the NEA gives credence to the idea that standardized tests can be one of many methods to measure teacher effectiveness.

Segun Eubanks, director of teacher quality for the NEA, said policies of Massachusetts, along with similar policies in other states, were read very carefully by members of a working group who crafted the NEA’s stance over the past six months. “The work being done in Massachusetts definitely informed the work that was done to create this policy statement," Eubanks said.

The NEA’s policy states that quality evaluations of teacher performance must take into account student growth, which “may include . . . high-quality developmentally appropriate standardized tests that provide valid, reliable, timely, and meaningful information regarding student learning and growth."

“This puts on record very clearly and forcefully that teachers’ responsibility for the growth and development of their students ought to be part of the evaluation process," Eubanks said.

Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said he believes the NEA’s new teacher-evaluation guidelines are part of a regrettable trend. Although he believes that an “amorphous tie-in" between student performance and teacher evaluation is valuable, he worries that this policy will encourage state governments to institute more standardized tests in more subject areas as an easy way of assessing student growth.

“Policies like this promote standardization that isn’t productive for teaching students how to think," Stutman said.

Rob Weil, director of field programs in the educational issues department at the American Federation of Teachers, which represents teachers in Boston, declined to comment specifically on the NEA’s new policy. Generally, he said, those participating in the education debate fail to recognize that standardized testing results cannot be applied in evaluations for the majority of teachers, either because their subject area does not have standardized tests, or because the tests are not administered yearly.

“Sometimes, people blow the value of standardized testing out of proportion," Weil said.

Massachusetts is one of more than a dozen states that have approved policies mandating the use of student achievement measurements in judging teacher quality.

Kate Walsh, the president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said she believes the NEA’s new policy was a step in the right direction but does not give enough credence to the importance of student performance measurements. That, she said, is because of the union’s long-term unwillingness to support standardized testing as a means of assessing teacher quality.

“Rhetorically, it is significant that the NEA has gone this far because it’s light-years ahead of the statement that would have been made two years ago, so this has to be seen as progress," Walsh said. “But there are still holes."

She contended that the NEA’s policy was an attempt to catch up to similar policies that have already been approved by state education commissions around the country, including the new criteria passed in Massachusetts. “To stay in the game, to stay credible, the NEA really doesn’t have much of a choice," Walsh said.

Eubanks disagreed. Though this is the first time the NEA has approved a formal statement affirming that student learning should be used in evaluating teachers, he said, the organization has been active in the discussion about the possibility for years. “We had not been inactive before we had a policy," Eubanks said. “But we felt we needed to have a clear statement."


The murder of a great comprehensive school

Michael Gove has to persuade the Churches to abandon their blind faith in secular dogma

By Damian Thompson

Four independent schools and one sixth-form college send more of their pupils to Oxford and Cambridge than 2,000 comprehensives and state-run colleges, according to a study by the Sutton Trust. This statistic is being reported by the teaching unions and their media supporters in priggish tones that imply that public schools are up to their old Oxbridge string-pulling games. Actually, the report finds nothing of the sort: although ancient colleges are willing to lower the bar slightly for bright children from deprived backgrounds, most comprehensives don’t come close to meeting the A-level requirements of Oxford and Cambridge.

But, more to the point, they don’t show much inclination to do so, such is the poverty of aspiration instilled in students by their chippy teachers and anti-elitist governing bodies.

Admittedly, a few comprehensives achieve the most rigorous standards: when I was at Oxford, I was always bumping into old boys of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in west London – clever lads with stellar A-levels and wits sharpened in the pubs of Hammersmith. But I’d be surprised if the Vaughan is still sending many pupils to Oxford in a few years’ time.

For decades, the Left-wing education department of the Catholic Diocese of Westminster, which controls the Vaughan, has been waging a campaign of intellectual vandalism against the school. In the 1980s it tried but failed to close its sixth form. Now its aim is to stop the oversubscribed all-boys school favouring the children of parents who are actively involved in their local Catholic parishes.

Giving preference to committed believers favours the middle classes, says the diocese. This is untrue – but if the Vaughan’s Catholic ethos is weakened, bang goes the discipline that propelled pupils from working-class families into Oxford and Cambridge.

In order to get its way, the diocese has employed a ham-fisted brutality almost worthy of the Spanish Inquisition. The chairman of governors who opposed the change was sacked; so was his successor. Parent governors who supported the traditional system were replaced by stooges including the diocese’s own Lefty director of education, Paul Barber.

And the new chairman of governors? One John O’Donnell, who holds the same post at a mediocre and undersubscribed Catholic girls school in the diocese. Here is a sample of Mr O’Donnell’s prose, taken from an angry letter to the Catholic Herald: “I leave your readers with the question 'am I lesser Catholic because I chose to be hairdresser than a scholar in an Oxbridge College’.”

The Most Rev Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, inherited this row. He could have defused it. Instead, he has sided with the diocesan vandals, losing the goodwill of countless Catholic parents in the process. His stance hasn’t impressed defenders of Catholic education in Rome, either: that red hat may take a little longer to arrive than he anticipated.

An intriguing aspect of this affair is the reaction of the Coalition. “I thought you Catholics were supposed to be in favour of rigorous education,” a surprised senior minister told me. So appalled is the Government by the diocese’s tactics that it plans to outlaw the politicised packing of governing bodies – though probably too late to stop the dumbing-down of the Vaughan.

This miserable business shows that Michael Gove isn’t just fighting unions and local authorities. He has to persuade the Churches to abandon their blind faith in secular dogma. We do live in strange times, don’t we?


Some Australian schools still use the cane

A WA school, which still uses the cane, has defended the practice, claiming it teaches students right from wrong.

Nollamara Christian Academy is among three independent schools that have corporal punishment, which was banned in the state's public and Catholic schools in 1986.

Mt Helena's Bible Baptist Christian Academy and Bunbury's Grace Christian School are believed to be the other schools.

Despite opposing corporal punishment, Education Minister Liz Constable said she would not stop it. It was up to parents if they wanted to send children to "the very few schools" in WA that still used the cane.

Nollamara Christian Academy Pastor Roger Monasmith said a small paddle "like a ping-pong bat" was used as part of a disciplinary approach for the school's 18 students.

Pastor Monasmith, who has run the school with his wife for almost 29 years, said the cane was never used in anger and every parent had to sign an agreement about corporal punishment before enrolling their child.

He said four or five students had been punished so far this year to ensure they understood they had not only disobeyed school rules, but also God. "We always give them a warning before we use it and we'll give them one swat (on the behind) and then the next time if they do the same thing, they get two swats," he said.

"We try to help these kids as much as we can because there are two things that are very important for kids to learn responsibility and accountability."

He said students faced being caned for fighting, swearing, being disrespectful to teachers or repeatedly failing to complete their work "four or five days in a row".

His comments came as debate about the use of the cane raged around the country. Child-welfare campaigner Alan Corbett has called for it to be banned, warning that research showed corporal punishment could cause long-term harm.

But Pastor Monasmith said people who wanted the cane to be banned had a misguided view that "if you spank their behinds you will warp their character". "It won't warp their character at all - unless you do it wrong," he said. "It can only be done with a balance.

"Like I say, if it doesn't work, we try to use a different way ... they will get either some detention or they have to stay in class and finish their work, just different things we try to help them realise that this isn't the right thing to do."

Pastor Monasmith said the school's academic results spoke for themselves. Students were regularly commended by the community for being "kind and polite".

He said every parent must sign an agreement allowing use of the cane. "This is the way we do it," he said. "It sounds like a dictatorship, but it's not. If you don't sign the agreement to give them the cane, then we cannot let them come in."

The Department of Education Services regulates the use of the cane in non-government schools in WA. Such schools must notify parents prior to enrolment and keep records of all corporal punishment administered, a spokesman said.

Opposition education spokesman Ben Wyatt said he believed the cane was "past its use-by-date", but parents should have the choice.

Mt Helena Christian Academy principal Kyran Sharrin did not want to discuss the school's disciplinary methods because "it's a bit too controversial".


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