BLAMING TEACHERS — AGAIN
Today’s news…Minneapolis has followed the lead of Los Angeles and New York, and has released the evaluation data of their public school teachers (did they release the same data for charter and private school teachers? Just asking…).
And, like LA and NY, it turns out that — surprise!! — the “worst” teachers are in the schools with the highest poverty.
New teacher evaluation data show that Minneapolis schools with the largest number of low-income students have the highest concentration of poor-performing instructors.
When New York released their data, the news media went crazy listing the “worst teachers in New York.” Guess who the students taught by the city’s “worst teachers” were? Answer: Poor children and English language learners. The “worst teacher” in the city turned out to be a teacher of English language learners whose students, once they reached a certain level, left her class.
The same was true in Los Angeles. It turns out that the “worst” teachers are in schools with high numbers of poor students and English language learners.
Black and Latino students are more likely to get ineffective teachers in Los Angeles schools than white and Asian students, according to a new study by a Harvard researcher.
We blame teachers nationally, too…
The Obama administration is ordering states to devise strategies to get better teachers into high-poverty classrooms, correcting a national imbalance in which students who need the most help are often taught by the weakest educators.
IT’S POVERTY, STUPID
So, why does this happen and is there anything we can do about it?
First, it’s important to know that poor students and English language learners (ELL) do not have the “worst” teachers. Teacher ratings in these cities, and most places these days, are based on the test scores of their students. Poor students and students learning English have lower test scores than students from higher incomes. That’s a fact based on NAEP scores, SAT scores and virtually all the state achievement test scores in the nation.
The reason poor and ELL students score lower is due to a variety of reasons, most of which are non-school related.
Researcher Stephen Krashen lists Food insecurity, lack of health care, higher exposure to environmental toxins, and lack of access to books, as reasons poor students achieve at a lower level. David C. Berliner includes those and adds, low birth weight, higher levels of drug and alcohol abuse, higher rates of family violence, lack of mental health care, poor housing conditions, mobility, and lack of affordable preschools and summer activities for students.
Students in poverty and ELL students come to school already behind their higher income peers. This makes it harder for them to catch up to their peers and achieve at the same level and harder for their teachers to receive high marks when their evaluations are based on student test scores.
Second, the federal government, states, and school systems incentivize the flight of teachers from high poverty schools as do social issues and student behavior. Federal and state methods for teacher evaluation punish teachers whose students are low performers on standardized tests. Students in poverty come to school with unmet social needs which often results in more difficult behavior issues in the classroom. High achieving and more experienced teachers are encouraged by these factors to move to schools serving students of higher income. In many cases, teachers of high poverty students are less experienced and are evaluated at lower levels. Economic and racial segregation at all levels of our society only exacerbates the differences between the schools.
…a California court struck down state teacher tenure and seniority protections as a violation of the rights of poor and minority students to an equal education. The decision, which will make it easier to fire bad teachers, who are disproportionately found in high-poverty schools, is being hailed as a great triumph for civil rights…
So why do high-poverty schools have a hard time attracting strong teachers? Because they often provide poor working conditions. When you pack poor kids into environments separate from more affluent students, the schools generally have high rates of discipline problems. Low-income students, who often don’t see much first-hand evidence of the payoff of education, act out more often on average than middle-class students. Low-income parents, who are stressed and may work several jobs, are not in a position to help teachers out by volunteering in class, as middle-class parents often do. And in high poverty schools, students often have inadequate health care and nutrition, which hinders their performance on academic tests. [emphasis added]
Finally, the federal government and the states don’t necessarily support schools with high needs students. When budgets are cut and resources are lost, higher income neighborhoods can often provide replacements from local sources. This is not so in high poverty areas. The economic structure of school funding shortchanges schools with high poverty students.
Race to the Top, unlike previous federal education programs, has not focused funding on areas of high need. Instead, money was provided to states and districts who followed certain expectations including using test scores for evaluating teachers and increasing charter school enrollments.
It’s not surprising then, that teachers of lower achieving students would be rated as lower achieving themselves. (We could also discuss why the tests used to rate students, teachers, schools and school systems are inadequate, inappropriate, invalid and/or inaccurate, but that’s been done before. See Ohanian, Kohn, Darling-Hammond and Ravitch, among others).
What is surprising is that the superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools doesn’t seem to be aware of all this. She said,
“It’s alarming that it took this to understand where teachers are,” Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson said Friday. “We probably knew that, but now have the hard evidence. It made me think about how we need to change our staffing and retention.”
The fact that the test scores identify teachers of high poverty students shouldn’t be either new information or alarming. Anyone who understands the current test and punish system our schools now function under should be aware of this.
“While [the test score calculations] claim to be able to measure the quality of teachers, regardless of the students that they have, in fact, in study after study, it’s shown that that’s not true,” he said. “When you’re teaching students that are struggling themselves, your … score is going to be lower.”
Peter Greene has an excellent post about the lack of understanding present in Minneapolis, and specifically, the Minneapolis Public Schools administration.
It is absolutely mind-boggling that a group of presumably educated allegedly intelligent adults can look at data and get the interpretation of it exactly completely backwards. Minneapolis school leaders are looking at data that tells them exactly where they need to focus resources, support, funding, and build a roof. Instead, they are going to blame the whole complex of information on teachers.
CITY, STATE, AND NATION MUST SHARE THE RESPONSIBILITY
It is mind boggling. I checked the resume of the Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent, Bernadeia H. Johnson. She has an education degree, B.S. Communication Disorders. She has a Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction, and an Ed.D. in Administration and Educational Policy. She actually taught elementary school for 8 years…and then worked her way up through the ranks of the administration to her current position.
How is it possible that someone with as much experience and education as she has could be surprised by lower test scores from schools filled with poor students?
How is it possible that she doesn’t seem to understand that evaluations based on those test scores wouldn’t yield lower levels of success? Yet she said it was “alarming” and implied that she didn’t realize this before.
Did she not know how her schools were performing before the results were published? Or is she feigning surprise in order to divert the “blame” away from her administration and on to the teachers?
I don’t know what the public school administration is like in Minneapolis. I don’t know what state laws might be interfering with public education. But I do know that a superintendent who doesn’t know that teachers in high poverty schools will have students who score lower than teachers in low poverty schools isn’t paying attention.
A superintendent shouldn’t allow her teachers to take the blame. She shouldn’t allow the implication that the teachers of students with lower test scores are somehow not as good as other teachers (based on that alone).
Instead she could have said, “Yes, we know that our teachers who spend their careers working in the schools with students who live in poverty will not bring their students’ test scores up to those of their more privileged peers. However, we understand that it is not only the responsibility of the schools to help our children learn and achieve. They need more resources, more support from their parents, the city, the state legislature and the federal government. They need wraparound services to help them overcome the effects of poverty. They need less testing and more education.”
Our students deserve smaller class sizes, a robust, well-rounded curriculum, and in-school services that address their social, emotional, intellectual and health needs. All students deserve culturally-sensitive, non-biased, and equitable education, especially students with IEPs, emergent bilingual students, and early childhood students. They deserve professional teachers who are treated as such, fully resourced school buildings, and a school system that partners with parents.
All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.