Saturday, February 17, 2007

HQET is a four-letter word: Part 1

(This post is the first of several in an ongoing series where Dr. Homeslice will examine the recommendations of the Aspen Report in regards to the idea of HQET. This post discusses the first recommendation.)

I’ve finally printed out and read parts of the Aspen report. What follows is my dissection of the tome (it clocks in at over 200 pages).

Material excerpted from the report will appear in italicized print. Responses and commentary will appear in regular print.

The AR (my abbreviation henceforth for the Aspen Report) shortly before their recommendation for HQET leads with this quote:

"It’s astonishing to me to have a system that doesn’t allow us to pay more for someone with scarce abilities, that doesn’t allow us to pay more to reward strong performance. That is tantamount to saying teacher talent and performance don’t matter and that’s basically saying students don’t matter. "
—Bill Gates, Microsoft Founder, in a November 13, 2006, interview with the associated Press


The above quote makes sense, coming from an individual who is used to free markets, globalization and private industrial competition in a world largely unfettered (in Gates’ view) by the reality of collective bargaining. The reality is simply that this is not reality when it comes to public education and despite the past, present and future efforts of the legislative deregulation of education and myriad attempts of the private sector to “improve” education, teacher unions are here to stay. This is why Bill Gates has enormous success in the private sector, but his Foundation’s attempt at reforming public education is meeting with limited success despite the vast sums of money being thrown around.

What is an HQET? In short, it stands for Highly Qualified Effective Teacher.

The Recommendation

The Commission believes it is time for a sea change in how we assess the quality of our teachers by focusing on teacher effectiveness. Therefore, we recommend requiring all teachers to be Highly Qualified Effective Teachers (HQET)—teachers who demonstrate effectiveness in the classroom. Under HQET, states would be required to put in place systems for measuring the learning gains of a teacher’s students through a “value-added” methodology, using three years of student achievement data, as well as principal evaluations or teacher peer reviews. Under this system, teachers would need to produce learning gains and receive positive principal or teacher peer review evaluations. Student achievement can count for no less than 50 percent of the determination of HQET status. Teachers who fall in the top 75 percent of producing learning gains in the state and receive positive evaluations would achieve HQET status.

First to value-added methodology.

I have nothing against value-added. The system is largely proprietary and school systems must contract out with private entities to provide that service for their constituents-- further consuming the scarce resources they already have. Rather, the idea and benefit of value added is that it measures the effectiveness of a school, or a system rather than an individual teacher. Value added should not be used to measure the effectiveness of an individual teacher. It should be used to make school or system-wide decisions that increase the learning of students everywhere. Some states are already ahead of this potential federal mandate, requiring value-added to be implemented now or in the near future.

"Student achievement can count for no less than 50 percent of the determination of HQET status. "

The achievement that will be measured is performance on state achievement tests, not district created short-cycle assessment that while contentious at best, is better focused on the needs of individual school systems. Without going into a long diatribe about this (I'm sure you all know the basics of what I'm about to opine) student achievement is tied to high-stakes, one size fits all achievement testing that does not take into account student mobility, the "home life" factor, the economics or demographics of a particular district, faulty assessment or even snow days.

Furthermore, this requirement through value added is more advantageous to urban districts. I say that simply because they will be able to show through value-added that their teachers are able to start with students many of which are various ranges of deficient in academic skills and bring them (admittedly not all or enough despite the best efforts of teachers) to meet state standards and graduate. These districts will show the gains, and these gains will be phenomenal. I would suspect that the rural schools will be able to do the same as well.

This leaves the suburban districts out in the cold. This is simply because many of their students are already high-performing and academically advanced to begin with, often times passing their state achievement tests on the first attempt. With this in mind, these districts that are performing at a high level, say 95% passage of 9th grade math tests on the first try do not have much further to go to 100%. That is the glass ceiling that they will be unable to make it though; should they be able to improve over that the next year, perhaps they will hit 96% or 97.3% passage rate, but a handful of students failing, moved away or in some other negative situation will skew a teachers' pass rate, showing no gains or a negative decline. This is not their fault. They're working just as hard as urban and rural teachers.

"Teachers who fall in the top 75 percent of producing learning gains in the state and receive positive evaluations would achieve HQET status."

The teachers that will receive the HQET status will be the urban and rural teachers, not the suburban ones. I think this sentence has been misinterpreted in the blogosphere from what I've read. I say this because they take ALL the teachers that have made gains and then reward the top 75% of teachers that make these gains. This does not start out assuming that 25% of all teachers are inferior; it simply takes all teachers that have shown gains through value-added.

Overwhelmingly, this group will be the urban and rural teachers, not the suburban ones, despite their best effort. This will put a spotlight on the suburban districts as having a sub-standard teaching force compared to urban districts (imagine that) and could potentially worsen the attrition (and intensify suburban recruitment) of experienced and talented teachers from urban districts to suburban ones simply because of four letters: HQET. Once again, the urban districts could be left out in the cold.

"...and receive positive evaluations would achieve HQET status."

This is unacceptable. This means that a teacher's conflict with an administrator despite the teacher's hard work and student gains could prevent said teacher from being HQET. Those of you reading this who may not be in the classroom, or haven't been in the classroom for long may be saying "Oh no, there's not an administrator out there who would torpedo someone's evaluation when they had that much to gain from all of their hard work" are wrong. There are principals out there who would do such a thing, and who engage in such unsavory practices. Don't believe me? Just ask your friendly neighborhood union representative.

The Carrot and the Stick

The new HQET measure will, for the first time, trigger guaranteed, quality professional development for teachers who need it most. Teachers who, after two years, are at risk of not attaining HQET status will receive high-quality professional development specifically designed to address their needs for up to three years. If a teacher after three years of professional development still has not obtained HQET status, principals and school districts that choose to continue to employ such a teacher in a Title I school would be required to notify parents of students taught by these teachers of their HQET status. After this two-year period, if such a teacher has not achieved HQET status, that individual can no longer teach in a school receiving Title I funds.

"The new HQET measure will, for the first time, trigger guaranteed, quality professional development for teachers who need it most."

Quality professional development is nothing to laugh at; it's admirable that the AR mentions the importance of such a thing, something that teacher unions have been struggling to get through years of collective bargaining.

"Teachers who, after two years, are at risk of not attaining HQET status will receive high-quality professional development specifically designed to address their needs for up to three years."

You do realize that this will require more manpower from districts and more resources that will more than likely be unfunded, diverting vital dollars from the front lines of classrooms, don't you?

"If a teacher after three years of professional development still has not obtained HQET status, principals and school districts that choose to continue to employ such a teacher in a Title I school would be required to notify parents of students taught by these teachers of their HQET status."

Ugh. A teacher friend of mind recounted his experiences of teaching at a different level in his district (different from mine) and not being highly qualified at that level. Letters were sent home to the parents of his students and they began to call in, concerned that their children were being taught by a sub-standard teacher. I would never, not in a million years use the words sub-standard to describe this professional. This was several years after the fact, but he felt violated by this letter that was sent home to his students' families; he still spoke of it with venom and hurt in his voice. He moved on to a different level, partially as a result and those students lost a great teacher.

There are so many different factors that contribute to student achievement on standardized testing, I won't even try to write about them. Remember, 25% of teachers who create student achievement gains won't be HQET according to the AR. What happens if the letters go out and only a handful of suburban teachers get HQET, but the neighboring large urban district has a plethora? (Yes Jefe, a plethora.) Will you see droves of suburban parents removing their students from these districts and moving back to urban areas and placing their students in the urban schools? Probably not, but if it did happen imagine the urban revitalization that would happen as a result, not to mention the increased resources and support large urban districts would become flushed with. The the suburbs would be in decline. Heh. A dream, but a bit humorous, eh?

"After this two-year period, if such a teacher has not achieved HQET status, that individual can no longer teach in a school receiving Title I funds."

Ahh, the stick behind the dollar. No cash-strapped urban district (or any urban district for that matter) will refuse federal funds simply because of this provision. The end result is increased teacher mobility, something that the report decries earlier on. Whither will they go? Let's say District X has 10 elementary schools, all of which receive Title I. Teacher A cannot teach in any of these schools now because they are not HQET. Their certification is only at the elementary level-- um....now what?

3 comments:

Pissed Off said...

All of that business is so sad. Last year I volunteered to teach a group of seniors that had only passed one math class since 9th grade. If my performance was going to be based on their achievements, I never would have taken the class. That would have been sad for them because I did get 27 out of 28 of them through. Unfortunately, this does not happen all that often.

How would we evaluate the teacher whose class is loaded down with special education students? They are taking the same subject but their performance might well be much lower than others. I have a class now with 2 kids on meds for behavior. When they are off, they set the whole class off. Am I responsible for them?

And how will phys ed teachers be evaluated? The list of problems goes on and on.

My principal is not a big fan of mine. No matter what I do right, he will never recognize it. He would be overjoyed if I left tomorrow. He would never give me a good rating.

I look forward to reading the rest of your series and hope others outside the profession see your point of view.

Ryan said...

The NEA is all over it; Reg Weaver sent out a bulk email the other day, and it was the hot topic of discussion at my Uniserv meeting the other night. My guess would be that it'll be one of those things that are cited by politicos for a few months, then dropped.

PO'ed has it exactly right--what incentive is there to seek out the kids who need you most when they may well be the ones that get you fired? How unattractive can we possibly make teaching, what with the constant assault on the benefits and the gradual salting away of job protections?

Great job so far, Homeslice! Look forward to seeing the rest!

Lisa said...

I found your post very informative. I don't know much about the HQET recommendations so I will certainly check back to see what else you have to say. It doesn't sound like a system that will work if you ask me, not if the teacher's quality is based on state tests.

Here via the education carnival

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