Assessing Teachers’ Performance

Here’s a fascinating insight in to how Bill and Melinda Gates believe the profession of teaching should be ‘professionalised’ in America. Whilst there are inevitably differences between countries there are also many comparisons that we can draw between their views and the current Indian scenario (at least in the ‘top end’ private schools).

Wall Street Journal Article

As I’ve previously reported here on the blog, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have been pumping millions of dollars in to research looking at methods by which teachers’ professional performance can be assessed and judged. Now, most American states have performance management/ measurement systems that link remuneration and even job security to performance. The debate has not just been about whether this is appropriate, but even assuming it makes sense then what aspects of performance should be assessed, and how? Understandably there are many doubts raised about systems that are wholly or even partially reliant upon student performance in competitive examinations (even when assessed on a ‘value-added’ basis). Firstly, there are some subjects taught in school that can’t be assessed and then there are all the issues of encouraging teachers to just teach to the tests (or even in some much publicized cases inciting them to cheat!).

One of my first thoughts reading the piece was to question whether there really has to be an ‘automated’ performance appraisal process for employees in any kind of organization to feel they are in a ‘high support/ high expectation environment? Also, does it have to be attached to money? To me, this might be raising serious issues about the quality of leadership in schools – hinted at also in the phrase “….more involvement from parents, more engagement from school leaders and higher quality materials to use in the classroom.”

I have mentioned the MET project before; teachers’ lessons are video recorded and then analyzed. Incidentally, if it’s not already in the pipeline, within a year or so I could envisage these videos being sent to India for their analysis as a form of knowledge outsourcing! My question to teachers is to wonder how Indian teachers would feel about having videos of their lessons analyzed in this way?

There actually seem, to me, to be two potentially conflicting goals here. On the one hand the WSJ article indicates that they want to use the video evidence to build a greater understanding of ‘what works’, what teacher practices lead to or can be considered as predictors for student success. However, at the same time, even before they have the first objective achieved they want to use the videos for assessment of individual teachers.

I do agree with the Gateses that paying more to teachers on the basis of length of service and qualifications doesn’t make a lot of sense and has a poor correlation with performance. I can also completely understand their positive feelings about the interaction with the teacher who was keen to study the videos of her own lessons for what she could learn from them. However, that kind of opportunity can be just as effective and just as motivating if a teacher has her lessons observed by a peer who shares feedback afterwards (perhaps even on pre-agreed specific aspects of her teaching practice on which she’s chosen to focus). If it is linked to money and/ or performance assessment, in my experience that changes the paradigm significantly regarding openness to feedback and improvement inputs.

The objectives seem confused – assess where teachers are, as a snapshot in time in order to determine remuneration etc. or a skills enhancement initiative which is ongoing and non-threatening? Are both objectives compatible within the same exercise?

The following article prepared by academics from a number of the US top universities gives quite detailed insights in to an existing evaluation system – that used in Cincinnati that relies heavily on the more traditional physical classroom observation;

Education Next Article on Evaluating Teachers’ Effectiveness

Incidentally, the Widget Effect report referred to in the first paragraph of the article is well worth tracking down online and downloading.

Amazing Technology

Mashable Article & Short Video

It’s a shame really that as a school Director I don’t think I can quite justify my need for this amazing new desk. So sad!!

The Impact of Great Parenting

Here’s a really interesting Sunday editorial piece from today’s New York Times, written by Thomas L Friedman (writer of “The World is Flat”” that shares some insights from a recently published piece of research connected to the PISA tests;

New York Times Sunday Opinion Article

Until now these tests weren’t taken in India so it was impossible to know how Indian students’ performances would stack up against their peers from other countries. However, I understand that two states are now being tentatively included, so look forward to seeing how the children’s performance works out.

The article acknowledges that good teachers, well trained and led are important for children’s performance, but also raises the question of the impact of parenting. The research looked at the parenting methods and matched the research data to the performance of children to draw conclusions about which parental activities best contribute towards children’s academic achievements. I have to confess I was pleased to see that sending children to tuitions didn’t contribute to performance (what a shame!). It was heartening to see that all the positive influences were, in some way or other, connected with engaged, meaningful communication with the children.

I hope that research like this will encourage more parents to appreciate the importance and value of uncompromised time and communication with their child.

1:1 laptop Programmes

What happens when a whole US school district introduces a 1:1 laptop programme? What are the key issues to be confronted and what tools are used to make it effective?

This article gives some interesting insights in to such a programme a year after it was implemented in North Carolina:

THE Journal Article

Why Teachers Need to Get on the Tech Bus

Here’s a well-written short piece exhorting teachers to get comfortable with technology and embrace it in education, if they are to be effective in equipping young people with the skills and competencies they require to succeed and flourish in the twenty first century:

Mashable Article on Teachers and Technology

Experiments in Sustainability

Thanks to a significant donation, some US students will get the opportunity of a lifetime to live in and be a part of a fascinating study in to sustainable living:

Fast Company Article

The students are going to compete in groups over a year to see who can live most energy efficiently, under the guidance of leading experts in the field.

The Latest From Khan Academy

Here are two articles from Mindshift that bring us all up to date on the latest work and developments from The Khan Academy:

Mindshift Report on Khan Academy 1

Mindshift Report on Khan Academy 2

The first has some interesting details about a summer school in which Khan Academy has been involved over the last two years. It also explores the possibilities of a physical Khan Academy emerging after they complete their online curriculum.

The second explores the way Khan Academy is now starting to ‘crowd source’ to expand its offering, including inviting others to submit video lessons and material, as well as expanding the curriculum outside Sal Khan’s core strength of STEM subjects.

Watch this space …………..

Slow Uptake on E-Textbooks

Mindshift Article on Slow Adoption of E-textbooks

A very interesting and thought provoking article that explores the potential reasons why there might be such slow uptake of e-textbooks, especially when in developed countries more than 50% of all books are now being sold in electronic format. Whilst I can see strength in all the arguments given in the article for the slow progress; limited ability to share, mismatch between electronic media and the way students study, limited differential in cost between paper and electronic textbooks and limited functionality for marking up and note keeping, I also see three other potential reasons that the article doesn’t touch upon;

  1. If I was heading a company that makes a major portion of its revenues from textbooks, would I want to encourage the development of e-textbooks or any other kind of media that places more material in the hands of the learner at lower cost? Right now such publishers are able to make considerable money from the issue of new editions at regular intervals. Even better if there has to be a new edition due to a change in the syllabus. However, if the textbook is electronic people will see editing as an ongoing rolling process rather like a website, for which the provider has no real justification for charging me more when the edition changes. Those who publish textbooks must really fear the ever growing volume of free material available that enables learners to take ownership of their own learning without any revenue opportunity for them. This makes them, I believe, naturally ambivalent towards the electronic media space.
  2. A textbook is traditionally a one-way medium, passive and fixed. However, people’s experiences of electronic media are far more interactive, inherently two-way. Therefore, people have come to expect that the best online content will have hyperlinks to additional material and information, interactive assessments to check for understanding etc. If the e-textbook is essentially an electronic replica of the paper textbook with none of the interactivity or ‘stickiness’, then learners are likely to feel in some way disappointed in this as an electronic experience,
  3. When it comes to matters of choice away from school students take their own routes about what is cutting edge, interesting and worthy. However, in school they have been habituated to be far more passive and have their decisions driven by their teachers. I suspect this is also playing a part as the teachers share the reluctant feelings towards e-textbooks of the publishers, for different reasons. Change in the classroom means changed ways of working and these are likely to take some time. A dynamic, ever changing., interactive, two-way electronic ‘text book’ is something destined to intimidate a proportion of teachers for some time.

Ultimately, my hope is that the potential benefits for learners, the potential enhancements to the learning process will win in the end and change will happen. When it comes it could really be quite exciting.

To see just how exciting, it’s worth checking out this link to an article from Fast Company:
Fast Company Article – Bio Book

35,000 Students – 1 Course!

The evidence of the potential for IT to change all existing paradigms when it comes to how people learn, or how learning is offered continues to be revealed:

Mindshift Article about Stanford University Online Courses

One aspect that fascinates me is how these changes happening in the tertiary education sector could impact the school education system. Until now school’s primary purpose was to ration the access to tertiary education to only the relatively small minority who can a) afford, and b) show the requisite knowledge and learning skills/ abilities. This was necessary because it was just impossible for any country to build enough colleges and universities for more than a minority of their citizens to enjoy the benefit of tertiary education.

However, if projects like the Stanford University one described in this article become more prevalent, then the criteria for access to tertiary education will be far more a matter of choice. If this lessens the degree to which school secondary and higher secondary education has to act as gate keeper, then how will that free up educators to pursue different goals and ends?

Impact Sourcing

Here’s a really interesting read about two companies that are taking business process outsourcing the ‘bottom of the pyramid’ through ‘ethical outsourcing’;

New York Times Blog Post

I was fascinated by the lateral thinking that has gone in to both business models, turning people whose educational levels have left them largely outside the benefits of globalization, in to productive contributors through the power of the internet. As the article acknowledges, most of the attention to ‘the bottom of the pyramid’ has seen the people as potential consumers. This looks at that model very differently, seeing the potential for these people to be economically productive, with the trade-off being their education, development and ability to engage permanently with the global economy.

I am sure that in developed countries this will be subjected to even more of the kinds of criticism that have been there for more standard outsourcing (in fact some of the comments posted to the New York Times website in response to the article already reflect this) about ‘exploitation’ of workers in developing countries to replace the jobs of employees in the US and other developed countries. As soon as the article refers to people within these companies earning $5.00 a day, the western reader misses the implications of what this means as upliftment from the $3.00 that person was previously existing on. How does a 66% improvement in income represent exploitation or cruelty. As for the concern about the loss of (far higher paying jobs) in developing countries, I wonder whether most of these people ever wonder where their low inflation over the last few years has come from. Cost reductions from globalization have funded innovation as well as price control which has been passed on to western consumers through low inflation.

So, such programmes will come under attack for political or misguided ideological reasons. However, from where I sit I believe they have immense potential.

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