Saturday, May 7, 2016

Quality Education for All (an audacious experiment)

JACKSONVILLE, FL: Quality Education for All, the privately funded program that sought to get the best teachers to transfer to our city’s worst-performing schools (according to state tests), has been in the news. In a John Kerryesque moment (‘I actually voted for [it] before I voted against it.’,) the school district told 273 teachers (out of 952 in the program) that they had earned a partial bonus ($5000) before they told them they hadn’t.
Naturally, these teachers were unhappy. They focused on a discrepancy between their contracts, in which they were led to believe that their performance would be based on calculations for QEA schools only, and the MOU, memorandum of understanding, between the teacher’s union and the district, which specified that their performance would be based upon calculations for the district as a whole.

As a math teacher, that got me thinking. What would change?

First, these performance calculations are based upon student growth, not proficiency; more specifically, upon a teacher’s Value-Added Measurement (VAM), which is suspect in itself. Setting that aside, why would the VAM average for the QEA schools be less than the VAM average for the entire district? That is what these teachers are saying: if they were only measured against other QEA schools, they would have qualified for the bonus.

I’m not sure of that. The district has lots of struggling schools (as measured by state or district tests, which is how they determine these things) beyond those in the QEA group. 103rd Street? Jefferson Davis MS, JEB Stuart MS, Ed White HS, Westside HS? All struggling. Arlington schools: struggling.
This is a growth measurement, not a proficiency measurement.

The school district could shut this down in an instant if only they would provide these teachers with calculations based upon the QEA schools only and show that they wouldn’t have qualified anyway.
But that’s not DCPS style. You don’t question God. (Actually, anyone who has read the Bible knows that God gets questioned a lot.)

What can we learn from this debacle?

1.       Teachers working in QEA schools have the growth potential to achieve results. They shouldn’t want to be measured against one another; they should demand a criterion-referenced performance standard, not a norm-referenced standard regardless of whether it is QEA only or the entire district. In the Folio Weekly story,,15231, the 3rd-grade reading teacher describes the progress she made with her children. That in itself deserves a reward, not a comparison with other teachers to determine a reward.
3.       VAM should not be used to measure the success of these teachers.
4.       DCPS demanded a 3 year commitment from these teachers; it should have made a 3 year commitment as well.
5.       Student learning, correct that--student performance on the tests, correlates to zip code; that is, to the socio-economic status of the neighborhood in which they live. The whole premise of this program, that teacher quality is the only factor that matters, is false. I anticipated that many highly-performing teachers located in neighborhoods with high levels of income would not meet the performance goals in these neighborhoods with low levels of income.
6.       Performance on state and district testing alone is a poor way of measuring student outcomes.

7.       Quality Education for All: an experiment conceived with good motives, but doomed to fail. The devil is in the details. (And if you don’t believe it has failed, why has the Superintendent recommended converting the worst of the schools (as measured by tests) for magnet conversion after only ONE year? (Northwestern MS; A. Jackson HS).