A "refreshing" point-of-view
LAUSD educators gather at UCLA to discuss teacher effectiveness.
by Claudia Bustamante, UCLA IDEA
As education reform takes center stage, the topic of teacher effectiveness and how to measure it has become a hot-button issue.
It is a key element of President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, which gives competitive grants to states whose reform efforts align with the administration’s interests.
At the state level, Sacramento legislators introduced a bill in April that would replace teacher seniority rules in favor of teacher “performance” when making staffing decisions.
And, around the same time, Los Angeles Unified School District’s teacher effectiveness task force issued a series of recommendations, including changes to the tenure process and incentive pay.
“These proposals are not going to disappear. We need a counter,” said Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica, who spoke at a recent UCLA workshop dedicated to the topic.
To develop an effective counter-proposal, there needs to be information and discussion on the various methods currently used to gauge teacher effectiveness, Brownley said.
“Grounding the Debate,” a workshop organized by the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies’ Center X, brought together about 70 teachers and administrators to discuss some measures, such as the use of teacher portfolios, student classwork, class observations and increased parent participation.
“What has been glaringly absent are the voices of people who most know,” Tyrone Howard, Center X faculty director, said about the developments among legislators and policymakers. “We can’t allow folks who do not understand teachers and teaching to frame that discussion.”
Many participants enjoyed the opportunity to discuss teacher effectiveness without the conversation automatically turning to blame.
“It’s been refreshing to hear (about teacher evaluation) from a positive standpoint,” said Zoe Jefferson, principal of Arlington Heights Elementary School who planned to share the workshop information with her staff.
Mylene Keipp, an English and computer applications teacher from Woodrow Wilson High School, also had some ideas. Administrators already conduct classroom observations at Wilson, but she wanted teachers to visit each other with more frequency. Plus, she wanted to expand the role of parents, who could advocate for their children and hold teachers accountable.
“Parents shouldn’t be just hall monitors,” she said.
Karen Quartz, Center X research director, said the workshop provided a starting point for the local debate and a chance for schools to see how others have successfully implemented evaluation measures.
Manual Arts High School in South Los Angeles was highlighted during the workshop for changes made there the past year.
In the six years Antero Garcia has been teaching at Manual Arts, the 27-year-old has seen a number of principals enter the school with lofty aspirations, only to leave the campus a year or two later just as they saw it or worse.
Now on his fifth principal, the English teacher had either few encounters or contentious relationships with previous administrators who often ignored the information of experienced teachers.
“I’ve been pretty cynical about what collaboration should look like between teachers and administrators,” he said.
But Garcia’s attitude began to change with the arrival of Manual Arts’ latest principal — Todd Irving.
Last June, the Manual Arts community capped a yearlong search for a principal. In 2008, parents and teachers voted to join the MLA partnership network through Los Angeles Unified’s iDesign Schools division, which gave the school community some autonomy and allowed them to conduct a wide-reaching search for their next top administrator.
“There was so much investment from faculty,” Garcia said. “We took a long time figuring out that this was the person we wanted to meet… and to get comfortable with who’s leading (us).”
Immediately after starting, Irving proved he would be different.
Irving made sure the school was clean every morning by asking janitors to begin their workdays earlier. He enacted an open-door policy and scheduled one-on-one meetings with every person who worked at Manual Arts—from administrators to teachers, clerks to janitors. And he wanted to ensure accountability flowed in more than one direction.
“We want to make sure we’re giving (teachers) support,” he said. “Are we holding ourselves as administrators to the same standards as teachers?”
Because the disconnect grows the further removed from classrooms, Irving made his administrators visit classrooms often to observe teachers and provide feedback.
Before seeing the kind of improvements to teaching and learning that people are pushing for, collaboration must first be present between teachers, staff and administrators. Effective collaboration relies on mutual trust and open communication. The shift at Manual Arts would not have been possible without either.
“He really spent his first few months listening, trying to understand what’s happening,” Garcia said. “As a teacher now, I feel supported. I know it’s not going to be a top-down decision.”
PHOTOS: (top) Teacher writes out notes on quality teaching during Center X workshop at UCLA in May. (bottom) Small group of teachers and administrators discuss teacher effectiveness during Center X workshop.
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UC pushes for new, integrated curriculum
by Claudia Bustamante, UCLA IDEA
JUNE 7, 2010
For 20 years, Sheryl Ryder taught business economics and virtual enterprise classes to high school students in Northern California. She had never considered combining her lesson plan with one from an algebra class.
That was, until she attended the first University of California-sponsored conference on integrated curriculum. There, her small group made up of Career Technical Education (CTE) teachers and math teachers came up with lesson plans that used algebraic equations to graph a business’s break-even point and profit margin.
“Magical things happen when teachers spend time together, share ideas and resources,” said Ryder, coordinator of the CA Business Education Leadership Project, which develops standards-based curriculum and assessment tools for CTE classes.
“There’s natural collaboration in lessons and projects. I do see how they actually fit,” she said.
Ryder and about 60 other CTE and math teachers, UC staff and other educators attended the UC Curriculum Integration Institute, a conference held in Lake Arrowhead last month to develop four new college-preparatory courses that would combine business and math curriculum standards.
Working at break-neck pace, the participants had four days to push past their resistance, develop key assignments and a course outline that could be adopted by schools statewide.
“We asked them to be vulnerable to giving up their ideas,” said Don Daves-Rougeaux, UC associate director of undergraduate admissions. “The idea is to create a whole new course, not a math course with business or a business course with math.”
Students interested in attending a public university in California must take a minimum of 15 college-preparatory courses across different subject areas. These courses are known as a-g, with each letter pertaining to a subject area.
Most CTE courses statewide have not qualified as a-g and when they do, they usually receive “G” status for electives. At the same time, most academic courses do not provide students with practical and technical skills. Recently, there has been an effort to integrate these courses so students are simultaneously provided with career and technical training and prepared for college. The hope of the UC institute is for these new courses to combine with rigorous mathematics instruction to fulfill the “C” strand of a-g.
Combining both career and technical preparations with core academic instruction could open up a new level of opportunity to high school students.
Marisa Saunders, senior research associate with UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA), said that unlike other education initiatives that target specific student populations, this integrated approach could benefit all students.
“For students who might succeed in a traditional high school setting and for those who might struggle, it brings learning to life. All students learn more and better when they can apply academic knowledge and skills to real-world situations and problems,” said Saunders, who also co-edited Beyond Tracking: Multiple Pathways to College, Career and Civic Participation.
Since 2006, IDEA has been conducting research on the Linked Learning approach to high school transformation, formerly called Multiple Pathways. Presently, Saunders leads a research team conducting case studies of linked learning at 10 school sites statewide.
One of the biggest challenges faced by school and district officials has been students forced to choose between college- and career-readiness, Saunders said. For students interested in college, there is often little time in their schedules to try CTE courses, let alone a series.
“What the UC is attempting to do by creating this innovative curriculum is removing the barrier and linking possibility,” she said.
RESISTANCE AND REVOLUTION
The UC’s effort to forge collaboration between math and CTE teachers was met with some resistance.
Monrovia High math teacher Dean Schonfeld said math teachers tend to think in a linear fashion — teaching one concept before moving to the next in a sequence. He worried students might be unable to digest one concept before being introduced to a set of new ideas in an integrated curricular approach.
Schonfeld, who wants to pilot a statistical reasoning and sports course at Monrovia, said the obligations of the Academic Performance Index — a state measure of school progress from one year to the next based on the California Standards Test — weighed heavily on teachers.
“We are all under the PI gun,” said Schonfeld, who hopes UC can help push the state to relax those obligations.
Teacher credentialing poses another challenge to creating integrated courses. A math teacher may not have the necessary training or credential to teach a course that emphasizes business, and vice versa. Some schools have sidestepped that hurdle by placing pairs of teachers in an individual class, but that structure is a luxury not many districts can afford during a period of fiscal crisis.
UC’s Daves-Rougeaux challenged the attendees to look beyond these immediate obstacles.
“Someone needs to take that first step,” he said.
Another obstacle is perception, said IDEA researcher Saunders.
Sometimes counselors, who do not understand the integrated approach, steer students away from those courses. That flawed perception extends to parents and students as well, she said.
“There has been a long-standing belief that anything hands-on related or with real-world applications isn’t for college-bound students,” Saunders said. “This can work to alter that perception and it’s great the UC is leading this effort.”
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