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Marcus A. Winters
How’s My Teaching? « Back to Story
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Don't exert yourself unduly Rogermortimer. Montrealman's a sophist which is why his posts are empty of content and not infrequently sprinkled with crude insults.

Possibly that's the result of a "reflective theoretical intelligence", whatever that is.

In any case, teacher accountability's clearly on its way both as a distinct concept and as the result of the changing face of public education.

The former, top-down accountability measures, are most likely destined to fail. Mandates kick off the reflex to exert efforts to undermine the mandate whereas bottom-up accountability measures imply an agreement between those demanding measures of accountability and those being measured.

But bottom-up accountability schemes require a fundamental re-ordering of the public education system, a re-ordering that's currently under weigh. When the population of charter schools reaches some critical number, and competition begins in earnest, good schools will want to make explicit their quality as a competitive advantage.
Pardon me, Montrealman. It has been many years since I went to undergraduate school (on an athletic scholarship, no less, so you can be assured of my lack of intelligence, as all top level Division 1 athletes are simply boors, unless of course they become teachers and coaches at the local high school, in which case they are dedicated public servants). And that law school thing at that top school, whatever it was, surely must have not have worthy of someone with reflective theoretical intelligence. I mean, only someone with your accomplishments could be worthy of that moniker, correct? (By the way, the formal legal education establishment definitely is worthy of considerable criticism and reform, although preferably not on an individual ad hoc basis).

So here's the rub. I can't follow your points. Of course, that may be me, as I suggest above.

Let's put it this way. As in any profession, it appears reasonable to posit that there are teachers who are not effective with their charges. Let's say there are not many, but there are some. If you are believe there are not any ineffective teachers, whether based on the premise that such a term cannot be defined or otherwise, it would be helpful to simply state that, so those of us who lack your incredible reflective and theoretical intelligence can benefit. If however, you think there are a certain few ineffective teachers that you, and especially you, given your unique insight, can properly define, how would you propose to measure the capability of such teachers and what you do to improve their effectiveness? Note that it does not make sense to inveigh against tautologies because I am asking you to define the relevant terms. Again, lets proceed from the premise that you are smarter than everyone else (especially me) and that a simple and concise explanation would help us understand the nature of the issue and what, if anything, should be done.

Not sure it is a pleasure by any means responding to you, but inasmuch as my pen name is Rogermortimer, a historical figure whom I am certain you know well, you should not be surprised.


Rogermortimer (Jan. 31, 1:12PM)

Well, Roger (may I call you Roger?) I think the best approach might be to go through your post step by step.

1. Yes, I would agree that your intelligence and "life experience" may be limited as you are a "practicising technology lawyer" (whatever that might be) principally because technology does not embody what, in my view, is the paramount quality in humans and, a fortiori, in teachers - that of a reflective theoretical intelligence.

2. I don't think I am "trying to say" anything, Roger. On the contrary, I think I have said it very well, that is, spotlighting that "paramount quality" in teachers as I indicated in #1. Reasons, Roger, reasons are everything!

3. I have no idea what Mr. Winters qualifications might be, Roger, and indeed, am not interested in finding out so your view that I think he is "unqualified" misses the mark. I base my oservations on Winters on what he has written, not his qualifications.

4. Well, Roger, sad to say there are "rednecks" on this site, particularly those who have psychological problems with teacher unions. You know, Roger, the first thing Hitler and Mussolini did when they attained power was to - wait for it - abolish unions! The rednecks, being by definition anti-intellectual - want to abolish teacher unions for the same reason - to crush any independent intellectual voice in society. Like the Nazis and Italian Fascists, they brook no opposition to their lust for power.

5. You'r totally wrong about my not liking people with "differing views," Roger. On the contrary, I like them a great deal but with only one proviso - are you sitting down again, Roger? - that they have reasons in support of those views. It's called: "Having a mind," Roger.

6. In conformity with #5, Roger, my position on "truly poor teachers" rests on the reasons given to demonstrate that they are, in fact, truly poor. For example, look at your comment to the effect that there are "surely poor teachers, and there is substantial research in existence which strongly suggests that truly poor teachers cause a lot of damage..." Roger, do you know what a tautology is? Your assertion is tautologous: Yes, truly poor teachers certainly cause a lot of damage because - wait for it Roger - that is what it MEANS to be a poor teacher. That's what poor teachers do, Roger. They cause a lot of damage. After dismissing tautologies, my next question would be to deconstruct just of what that "substantial research" consists.
I bet you're thinking of student failures, aren't you Roger. But it is not simply a straight cause-effect relationship between the one and the other. Other factors - you mention "economically disadvantaged students" to which one might add "culturally disadvantaged students" - might, just might, play a role. Of course, the teacher might be "truly poor" but to claim this in the abstract is insufficient. It must be demonstrated on an individual ad hoc basis.

7. Being a lawyer, Roger, you must be familiar with the "leading question." You ask, "What do you propose the schools do to concretely tackle this problem?" The existence of "this problem" is, of course, presupposed. It is the "truly poor teachers." Blame is then to be apportioned to the teacher "tout court." That is called a "leading question" Roger, the truth of which must not be presupposed but rather be established on independent grounds. There is no such thing as a class of truly poor teachers in the same way as there is no such thing as a class of unicorns. This is a figment of the "redneck" imagination. It does not mean, however, that the status quo is acceptable. It simply means, as I mentioned above, that reasons be given to support the claim.

An interesting post, Roger, and I thank you for the opportunity to expand a bit on my thinking. A reply would be most welcome.

A pleasure as always.

Montrealman - I understand my intelligence may be limited, and my life experience similarly so (I am a practicing technology lawyer). But I cannot understand what you are trying to say in your numerous posts. Yes, it appears you think Mr. Winters is unqualified to write on this subject, and that others are "rednecks" or something of that sort so therefore their opinions should be devalued. OK - I get it - you don't like people who have differing views. But that doesn't really inform of us anything. What is your position on truly poor teachers? There may not be a lot of them, as I can understand the proposition that teachers by and large are a decent and dedicated bunch of people. But there surely are poor teachers, and there is substantial research in existence which strongly suggests that truly poor teachers cause a lot of damage, and all too often with economically disadvantaged students who have little margin for error even with competent teachers. What would do you propose the schools do to concretely tackle this problem? Or is the status quo acceptable? Fair questions, right?
: DB (Jan.29, 8:55PM)

In respect to Winter's claim that obtaining a master's degree is simply unrelated to a teacher's effectiveness, you write that, "for decades high-school teachers have been obtaining master's degrees in education instead of the subject they teach, and so for too many many such teachers the above quotation is accurate."

Really, DB, is that so? Do you have any evidence to support it beyond your simple assertion? No, I didn't think so.

Two points, DB: (1) Contrary to what you might think, master's degrees (or better) in Education - particularly in Philosophy of Education - indicate a reflective attitude toward teaching practice and not just an stamp of official certification. (2) You have confused subject content and teaching that subject content. There is no necessary connection between the two. The possession of a master's degree in say, History, and teacher effectiveness in teaching History, particularly at the high-school level, are unrelated. They are distinct concepts. Indeed, such possession might well indicate the absence of teacher effectiveness since the Master's degree is, minimally at least, a research and not a pedagogical degree (and researchers are notoriously poor teachers). A Bachelor's degree with a major or honours would be sufficient.

Strangely, I find myself in agreement with Winters but, of course, not for the reasons he would give.

: allen (10:56PM)

Now allen, none of that "sophisticated urban scamp" business, if you don't mind. (By the way, allen, your first sentence didn't scan. Maybe it was the late hour.)

But no allen, your claim about my request for teacher evaluation methodology being a "diversion" is itself a diversion, if you take my point. In other words, allen, your teacher accountability measures which are "implicitly and explicitly advancing" (wow! Is that right, allen?) are conceptually empty in the absence of such teacher evaluation methodology. You do understand that, don't you, allen? And, of course, in spite of your vacuous protests, I never said that I was against teacher accountability at all. I am only against it if it involves rednecks like you.

It is impossible to answer your question about charter schools and teacher accountability in the abstract, allen. However, if people like you were on the governing board, I think I could guess at the answer.

A pleasure as always.

The Sophisticated Urban Scamp
Your fatigue is evident in your overt descent to sniffingly elitist insults. Redneck? Sorry, you sophisticated, urbane scamp but I'm not and they're better, and generally smarter, then you although lacking in the pretentiousness that masquerades among the frustrated leadership of humankind as intellect.

Oh, and repetition of the diversionary claim that I won't provide a teacher evaluation methodology won't change the fact that teacher accountability measures are explicitly and implicitly advancing. If you had some worthwhile objection there might be something worth discussing but the claim that if someone who's doctrinairily opposed to teacher accountability isn't convinced at the value of the idea the idea must be put aside impresses few people. It might impress you but as the political success of teacher accountability measures proves, you don't matter. Sorry.

By the way, Michigan recently changed charter school law raising the cap and, by 2015, removing it entirely. I wonder, do you think charter schools, once their numbers rise sufficiently, will embrace or reject teacher accountability measures?
Mr. Winters writes:

"Obtaining a master’s degree, it turns out, is simply unrelated to a teacher’s effectiveness."

What he fails to point out, however, is that for decades high-school teachers have been obtaining master's degrees in education instead of in the subject they teach, and so for too many such teachers the above quotation is accurate.

However, what about those teachers who Did get advanced degrees in the subject they teach? Does Mr. Winters think the quotation applies to them as well, and that such explains "only about 3 percent of the variation in teacher quality"?

Well, since Mr. Winters brought up the idea of explained variation, which is an important concept in regression [statistics], let's have him do a study on those who teach a course like APStatistics and compare those who have an advanced degree in such with those who do not. (BTW, the typical APStat teacher has practically no background in the area, especially in NYC public schools.)

Does Mr. Winters really think that a teacher who volunteers to teach such a course (too many) with little background in it (other than perhaps taking a single course as an undergrad in college) could teach it sufficiently well?

In a nutshell, it boils down to integrity, which is something that has been absent from too-many public-school systems (especially that of NYC) for a long time...

: Allen (Jan.29, 12:56AM)

Oh dear, here comes Allen, singing his usual redneck song. Now it's all about my "tedious sophistry" which is just a "tacit admission" that I have no substantive defence" against allen's masterful attack. Of course, I've pleaded with allen for his theory of teacher evaluation but, in his anger and rage, he brushes my request off. allen, I'm tired of you too.

: ML. (2:45AM)

Right on as usual, ML, but don't expect any rational reply from allen. The reason, of course, is that he's not rational. It's as simply as that.

: allen (9:09AM)

ML, did you hear that? Teachers are "cheaters." Why? Because they want "to keep the gravy train running." Thus far the gospel for today. There you have it, ML.

A pleasure as always.
You're predicting the past ML.

The response at the state level to federal attempts at accountability - NCLB - was fairly widespread "gaming" of the system by deliberately reducing state-level standards NCLB used as a measure. It's hardly much of a stretch to predict that everyone down the line - districts, principals and teachers - would similarly game the system and for the same reason, to keep the gravy train running.

It's simply an aspect of human character and there's not much point arguing about it. Where there's something to be gained there are those who'll cheat to gain it.

The obvious solution is to so structure the situation that those who have the most to lose by that cheating are in a position to punish the cheaters. That would be parents and that sentiment is what's driving the reform movement that's remaking public education. Schools that cheat, and by implication do a lousy job of educating that being the only reason for cheating, will fold. As parental power becomes more common and more comfortably wielded the demand for worthwhile measures of educational efficacy will follow.

If it's any comfort, teachers are treated only somewhat better by the public education system then students. Good teachers aren't differentiated from bad which is a clear indication of how the skill is viewed by the public education system. And really, given the way in which public education's structured why should teaching skill be valued by the public education system? School board members don't, in any meaningful sense, run on the quality of the district they, ostensibly, oversee. District superintendents and principals aren't commonly fired, or hired, based on the educational efficacy of the organizations they command. Why should the skill teachers may bring to the table be treated any differently?

Oh, and you're wrong. Getting rid of lousy teachers is very important.

Damage lousy teachers inflict has to be undone by good teachers which reduces their effectiveness. Getting rid of lousy teachers would signal the intent of the organization along with improving the organization's effectiveness. It would indicate that teaching skill is more highly-valued and thus good teachers would be more influential in the organization. Edu-crap - my term for the nonsense that more or less continuously emerges from schools of education - would be widely rejected by those empowered teachers since the purpose of edu-crap isn't education but an appeal to conceit.
A couple of more thoughts:

If retention, promotion, and "merit pay" depend on student perfomance, won't many a teacher be tempted to lower expectations, dumb down tests, and inflate grades, just so as to game the system?

Aren't many of our schools already operating somewhat like Potemkin villages? Evidence: Many high school grads enter college desperately in need of remediation. Even freshmen at high-ranking universities all too often can't write grammatical sentences, let alone acceptable essays--- one reason for rampant plagiarism. I suspect many who fall into the category I'm describing received passing grades or better in high school, even though their writing was so childish that no unbiased adult would find it worthy of attention. I suspect too that their grip on such things as the U.S. Constitution, world geography, and basic concepts in the natural sciences was shaky to non-existent.

Teacher's fault? Perhaps. But weeding out a few misfits and incompetents isn't likely to to have much effect. Content-poor curricula and low behavioral standards are in my view far more pressing problems.

Nothing puzzling about any of my posts although the claim is obviously useful to you too avoid having to deal with my points honestly. But your tedious sophistry is hardly an exciting development and says more about the public education system you're so anxious to protect from the wicked of the world then you might imagine.

In fact, that sophistry is a tacit admission that you've got no substantive defense for the current system so must find refuge in argumentativeness. That's why you're incapable of making any response to the assertion that teaching is a measurable skill and try to insist that in order to enact teacher accountability policies the criteria must meet with the approval of those who are reflexively opposed to the idea. The proper response, the response that you and those who feel as you do are getting from society, is to ignore your self-serving complaints.

Carry on as much as you wish, complain bitterly if you feel the need to do so, bay at the moon if that satisfies you society is moving on indifferent to your achingly clever rhetorical gymnastics.

Parents have grown tired of waiting for a public education system to improve with memories of the ineffectuality of the public education system they attended still fresh enough in memory to discount the endless excuses for failure. Tax payers have grown tired of a public education system that demands endless increases in funding repaying the tax payer with endless excuses for failure. We're just tired of you and that's the reason you've suffered a long, yet burgeoning, streak of legislative setbacks.
: allen (Jan. 28, 2:05AM)

Well, allen, another puzzling post. First you claim, in spite of the fact that you previously led people to believe that you were in possession of the methodology for teacher evaluation, that you are now under no obligation to provide a method for, um, teacher evaluation. Hmm, allen, do you see a problem here?

But wait, you next proclaim that teaching is a skill like any other and that "it's hardly reasonable (to suppose) that if the difference is apparent the difference can't be measured." But allen, if the difference is apparent to you, then where's your methodology for evaluating teacher evaluation? And if teaching is a "skill like any other" allen, what skills did you have in mind? Making pizzas? Playing hockey? Writing poetry? Tell us about that, allen.

Predictably, once allen has finished floundering around, he proceeds to attack me personally as opposed to teachers generally as he did in his previous post. He deplores my "snideness," I view teaching as a "sinecure," and so on. Of course, allen doesn't know me at all but, as with the practice of teaching, this presents no obstacle to his severe judgement.

Finally, allen writes that, "When you can't ignore the existence of people who largely share your political perspective except in the area of public education, how do you deal with them?" A good question, allen. The fact, however, is that those differences in the pivotal "area of public education" are likely to preclude largely sharing any "political perspective" whatsoever. But nonetheless, allen, you should deal with them politely.

Now, where did I put my "Che" t-shirt?
Puzzling? Hardly. A post to which you can make no substantive reply? Obviously.

I'm under no obligation to provide a methodology for ascertaining teaching skill. As the party who's on the hook to pay teachers I insist that my money go to pay teachers who are competent. It turns out I've got quite a few supporters in that sentiment and no amount of snideness on your part is likely to effect that fact. Sorry. It does appear to be a skill you've practiced assiduously and if you've no other you have my sympathy.

Teaching's a skill like any other; some people are good at it, some people suck and it's hardly reasonable that if the difference is apparent the difference can't be measured. Of course once the difference is measured the next step is to chuck the lousiest to the curb. I know people such as yourself view teaching as a sincure and continued employment shouldn't be contingent on skill but the world is changing and teachers will have to change with it.

Out of curiosity, what's the party line on lefties such as those typified by the membership of Democrats for Education Reform?

Hardly a coterie of profit-maddened charter school operators most of them probably have "Che" t-shirts from their college days that they take out from time to time to consider with wistfulness. When you can't ignore the existence of people who largely share your political perspective except in the are of public education, how do you deal with them?
: Theresa (Jan. 27, 12:06PM)

Well, Theresa, in respect to your first paragraph, I think parental involvement depends on class affiliation. At the low end things might be as you say, but at the high end (i.e., private & charter schools) I think the opposite is true. Parents there are deeply involved in the success of their kids or they wouldn't send them there in the first place. Of course, whether private or charter schools are, in fact, superior is another question.

In respect to your second paragraph, I also have misgivings. I think you're right about getting teachers involved in the process - I would say that they should be in control of the process - but your claim that it should be up to current teachers since those people now writing the tests "have no idea what's been going on in education the past 10-15 years."

Well, Theresa, what exactly HAS been going on that makes such a difference in evaluating teacher performance? I think a good teacher can be identified by the quality of their minds - i.e., the extent to which they are "reflective practitioners" - and not by any extrinsic yardstick certrainly not by student performance as such.

Of course, to assess the quality of their minds requires that the person doing the evaluating is also possessed of a comparable quality of mind. What is the distinguishing quality of that quality of mind? Its reflective, even its philosophical character.
But that's the topic for another post.

A pleasure as always.
I have been a high school teacher in N.J. for the past thirty years and although I agree in part with your thinking; in many ways you are way off base. When I first started teaching parents were very involved in the education of their child. Today, it is quite different. Parents leave it to the schools; schools are not prepared, nor should they be, to raise children. Stating teen pregnancy correlates to having an ineffective teacher is ridiculous.

I agree the evaluation process should be revamped, however creating merit pay based on student performance on state tests is not the answer. Many students do not take the state tests seriously. Honestly, state tests are written by those who have not been in a classroom for years. They have no idea what's been going on in education the past 10-15 years. How about if we ask current teachers to write the tests. How about asking current teachers about state written curriculum standards. How about if we get teachers actually involved in the process?
: allen (Jan. 27, 1:51AM)

A puzzling post, Allen. You first claim that ML being unable come up with a method for evaluating professional competence "isn't much of a knock on the idea." The inference is that there IS such a method and, of course allen, one awaits YOUR method for judging professional competence. But things are looking bright, allen. You emphasize the point by claiming that the view that measuring such skill is just another taboo that everyone except those with an axe to grind have already dismissed. Clearly, allen, the stage is set for you to now reveal just what your method might be.

Sadly, however, our hopes are soon to be dashed. Forget the usual teacher-union bashing allen, you begin to deliver your roundhouse attack on teachers themselves. "After all," you proclaim, "what sort of person is drawn to a profession in which demonstrating professional competence is irrelevant?" Well, there you go. I think we can guess what's coming next, can't we allen, and it's not too good.

"High performers? People with much in the way of pride?" Are you kidding? No, they are people who are "driven by selfish motives," damn them. They're in it just for the paycheck, wouldn't you know it? Forget all that huffing and puffing to the contrary because allen knows best.

Two things, allen: (1) No one said that teaching competence cannot be measured so your "taboo" is simply a figment of your imagination, but (2) before you evaluate something, allen, you have to be able to define it. What is teaching, allen? Is it a homogeneous concept or is it heterogeneous, differing as to the level of school and subject taught? Have you thought about that, allen? So, before we hear your method for evaluating teacher competence (which I'm sure you have ready to hand) we want to hear your definition of teaching. That's not an unreasonable request, it is allen?

A pleasure as always.

Oh ML, the reason City Journal's been publishing quite a number of articles on education is because education is no longer the sclerotic catastrophe it's been in previous decades. Finally, at long last, there's real movement towards reform of the dreadful public education system and in this atmosphere such previously taboo topics as teaching skill are up for grabs.

The fact that you can't come up with a method for judging professional competence isn't much of a knock on the idea. What is important to consider is that, up until fairly recently, even contemplating the notion that some teachers stink and others are super-stars was anathema in public education with the periodic crowning of a teacher of the year the sole, but irrelevant, nod towards the idea that perhaps some teachers are really good, and by unhappy implication, some teachers are really bad.

Well, taboos fall and the idea that teaching skill can't be measured is, fortunately, being dismissed by most everyone without an axe to grind. So get used to it.

If the methods that are used to see which teachers measure up and which don't aren't quite perfect, it's an imperfect world and waiting for a perfect measure of teaching skill to burst on the scene means that the "good enough" method can't be used to run the bums out of the business. And there are plenty of bums as anyone with a lick of sense would understand. After all, what sort of person is drawn to a profession in which demonstrating of professional competence is irrelevant?

High performers? People with much in the way of pride? I rather doubt although you'll get some few who'll put up with the necessary injustice of an institution which takes no notice of the people who are responsible for seeing to the achievement of the institutions goals. But in the main you'll get people who are driven more by selfish motivations then by noble aspirations because there's really not all that much in it for teachers but a paycheck all the huffing and puffing to the contrary notwithstanding.
ML (Jan. 26, 2:55AM)

Right on, ML!

But the problem is that those right-wingers, including apparently the editorial board of City Journal itself (and The Manhattan Institute of which the Journal is the mouthpiece) have an agenda which is not so much educational as ideological. They want to destroy teacher unions - the source of all evil in the world of schools - and replace them with teacher- and school- evaluation based on the business model of "success," i.e., that constituted and defined by "results." It's no good pointing out the absurdity of this since, as I say, their grievance is ideological, not educational. But what is that ideological agenda of those trumpeting "school choice" and teacher-union bashing?

Education, in their view, is not aimed at the common good of all to say nothing of the cultivation of the mind. On the one hand, it is solely the vehicle by means of which their dreams of unrestrained individual acquisition will be satisfied. On the other, of course, education will be that to achieve the goal not of communal unification but of separation - the wealthy from the dispossessed, the "comfortable" or "old stock" Californians from the impoverished immigrant underclass. In a nutshell, ML, as with possessing classes generally in history, they feel "threatened."

Their lashing out at teacher unions is but the surface symptom of that fear, the fear that they might, one day, find themselves (or their children) forced to attend one of those failing public schools, those sink-holes of iniquity and despair which they so deplore. For them, there can be no worse a fate than this.
Interesting that City Journal has not one but two articles pushing teacher-evaluation based on "student performance" (the recent "40 Years of Shame" and now this one). This strikes me as very odd for a journal that normally takes a fairly hard-headed view of policy issues.

The sad state of public education in this country has deep rooted causes, among them the decline of two-parent families, and the ascendancy of utopian "progressive" "educational theory and practice.

There have always been a mix of bad, good, and mediocre teachers in most schools, whether public or private. So what's going to change if a small percentage of teachers are "weeded out" based on "student performance" or any other criteria?

A further point: I can't think of a method for judging professional competence based on "student perfromance" that would be objective in the first place. Children are not standardized "raw material." What works well in a classroom of bright Advanced Placement or Honors students isn't going to get the same results (test scores, grades, level of student involvement, parental satisfaction) in a classroom where students are not as academically prepared, not as motivated, and receive less parental support at home. Such variability is typical WITHIN many large public schools, whether by self-selection or some form of tracking.

Wouldn't more good people be attracted to the teaching profession if schools encouraged individual differences in teaching style, and enforced behavioral standards and content-rich curricula? Then maybe there would be fewer teachers in the first place who deserved "weeding out."

It's especially odd that City Journal takes the current fashion for "performance based" evaluation seriously, in light of recent CJ articles pointing out that standardized tests in New York (presumably one of the criteria that would be used for measuring "performance") have been significantly dumbed down in recent years (actually a trend that began decades ago),so as to give the illusion that the entire system "shows improvement."
Peter Dogington (Jan. 24, 3:49PM)

"In effect it (basing teachers' pay on students' scores) encourages teachers to use the children for their own gain."

Right on, Peter! Now why didn't Winters think of that? I guess he didn't realize that you can't use a business model in education but, as we all know, he's not alone.

Elizabeth Carson (6:00PM)

Well, Elizabeth, if the root cause for substandard classrom teaching is the "shockingly poor teacher training programs in out colleges and universities," would it be too much to ask just what, specifically, you would recommend to improve those programs? As I say, specifics please, no empty generalities.
What is not addressed by Mr Winters is the root cause for substandard classroom teaching: shockingly poor teacher training programs in our colleges and universities. Teacher education programs, known as "cash cow" programs for universities, typically with lower standards for entrance than other academic schools, require too few and less rigorous academic courses to degree fulfillment, along with considerable indoctrination in a narrow set of so-called progressive teaching methodologies.

Poorly trained graduates of education programs easily attain the requisite state credentials through equally non-rigorous state licensure exams.

Significantly raising the standards for the education and credentialing of our future teachers would take us furthest to systemically improving the quality of our nations' classroom teachers.
Mr. Winters,

How can you be in favor of something about which, as you admit, you know none of the details? Basing teachers' pay on students' scores simply doesn't work; it comes too close to harming the children. In effect it encourages teachers to use the children for their own gain. No private school would touch it, regardless of how it might improve "productivity." Nor do we use such a pay scheme in any other public program, like the police or firemen or public health nurses. We pay all these a flat rate, yet they seem to succeed at what they do. Perhaps, then, the problems of the schools have their origin in something other than payment methods.

Peter Dodington
Sharon (Jan. 23, 5:21PM)

"These kids were legally compelled to attend a system that was preparing them more for failure than for success."|

Well Sharon, this is not suprising coming from the redneck capital province of Canada (Canada's Texas) but, as usual it's all hot blow. As usual, no evidence. But Sharon, I do sense a teacher's vocation in your remarks but I guess you've been out there too long in Alberta.

Maybe you want to get together with Byron Smyrd.

Actually, I taught for a only year in Calgary (thank God)
Sharon Maclise, Canada January 23, 2012 at 5:21 PM
I taught high school many years ago, in the 70s, before changing careers. It was apparent to me immediately that there was a big disparity in teaching skills between the few really good teachers and the many mediocre teachers and the several downright awful teachers that I came to know. And yet I worked in a system (Alberta, Canada) that did, and still does, nothing to evaluate teacher performance, weed out the genuinely destructive teachers nor even try to insure a quality education for students. I left the system very soon after, finding it impossible to contemplate a life working in a career where the government employer valued the demands of the unionized teachers over the promises they had made to parents and kids. These kids were legally compelled to attend a system that was often preparing them more for failure than for success. Had I thought that there was one thing that I could do to change it I would have stayed and struggled but I knew that it was impossible to go up against a powerful union - one that has grown more and more powerful with each passing decade ~ to the bitter betrayal of generations of young learners.
Manual (Jan. 23, 1:01PM)

"Before a teacher gets evaluated. (sic) I feel they should be able to diagnostically test the incoming group of students to determine the skill level."

Manuel, this is incoherent. Exactly what kind of "skill level" would the incoming group of students possess before being mentored under a practicing teacher? What, excatly, is this "diagnostic test" to which you refer? Who are "they?"

By "social promotion" I take it you mean "streaming." If the new teacher is placed at the head of a low stream, then obviously s/he should not be accountable for their results, at least in terms of determinig her/his evaluation. Further, what would "results" mean in this context?

Your analogy with "nuclear physics" is also incoherent. Beyond the fact that the practice of teaching and nuclear physics are incomparable activities on any rational grounds, students are not inert atomic particles and tend not to behave as such.

Maybe you want to give it another shot.
Before a teacher gets evaluated. I feel they should be able to diagnostically test the incoming group of students to determine the skill level. Then it can be determined if the students have improved under this teacher. As long as social promotion exist, such as in the LAUSD, teachers become easy targets because social promotion puts students in classes they lack the skills for and then the teacher is blamed for the negative results. Imagine if college classes had no prerequisites and you could enroll in a nuclear physics class, for ezample, and then blame the teacher because he/she didn't bring you up to level. There is no Easter Bunny, honest.
Byron Smyrd (Jan, 22, 8:07PM)

Are you talking to me, Byron? If so, why not post "Moe's" thoughts as you understand them since, as it appears, you have none of your own.

As I recall, "Moe" was the vaudville partner of "Chubb," the darlings of the privatization movement in education. But I don't want to take the wind out of your sails, Bryon.

Take your time, collect your thoughts, and post them soon.
Read, Moe: Special Interests (Brookings, 2011) for the full story.

Way to go io: "We are paying the price of incompetence of public high-shool teachers or of their management. Either way, something has got to change."

What we need is more incisive, reflective and deeply analytical commentary like that.
(That was, um, sarcastic.)
This is really good news. I've been teaching in a college for three years now and I am shocked by the incredibly low quality of students. Most of them have no analytic skills, never read a book, are totally unfamiliar with concepts. On top of that they are lazy, always ready to negotiate their grades in spite of all evidence. I guess this is the most immoral, incompetent generation of students I've ever seen..It made me consider the possibility to find a different kind job. Across the country numerous College Professors have the same type of experience. We are paying the price of the incompetence of public high-school teachers or of their management. Either way, something has to change.
Chris (Jan. 21, 12:03PM)

(I liked your answer to Bob King, Chris. Keep punching.)

Well, Chris, it's not "rocket surgery" (science?) that I had in mind, just reflective teaching practice. A couple of comments on your three assertions:

(1) Read your original sentence over again Chris, the one including the bit about "nothing to do with actual class experience." It looked to me like you were making a radical cut between pedagogical theory and practice. I say each necessarily informs the other.

(2) The phrase "methods and delivery" may not be esoteric, Chris, but the theoretical content may well be. I didn't see reference to a reflective knowledge of one's subject, which would surely influence, if not shape, one's "methods." You're talking about superficial process, Chris. I'm talking about interpretive, substantive content.

Oh, yes, what exactly IS the difference between "methods" and delivery?" Isn't the latter simply the external manifestation of the former?

(3) I don't read novels, Chris. Anyway, whether or not every teacher knows who, among his colleagues, is performing at a high level, the question is either irrelevant or, alternatively, "Why aren't they?" Student enthusiasm may - or may not -be an indicator of such high-level performance. It seems to me that standards might have a role. In any case, it seems to me that such performance goes beyond manipulating "methods and delivery."

Nice talking, Chris.
Bob King,
Clearly you know nothing about the teaching profession.
The average teacher in america lasts 2.7 years. If what you think about unions was true then the 27 states without teacher unions would be the highest achieving in the country. In fact, the exact opposite is true.
It is not the duty of a union to police and purge its underachievers. That is the job of the administration, which typically too lazy or overworked to enforce teaching standards.
Unions protect academic freedom above all, which is the freedom to take risks in order to find new ways for learners to succeed. I have yet to meet an administrator, a school board member, or someone who is not an educator who hs offered anything of value that can be translated into a positive classroom experience. There are lots of kibbitzers on the outside eager to offer criticism, usually political in motivation, who would shit their pants if they ever had to actually stand and deliver in front of a classroom of kids. Knuckleheads like you, who come unarmed to the debate, should sit on the sidelines and watch. Maybe you'll learn something.
Very few people if any are thrown out of Teachers College. The same holds true for Medical Schools, Law Schools etc. If you are accepted into them, regardless of how terrible a student you are, you will most likely graduate unfortunately. Students in elementary and high schools pay the price for those who should not be teachers. Once hired as Teachers, the unions protect them. This has to change. Bad teachers have to be purged from the system.
Anyone who was ever a student knows this from experience. Most of my high school teachers had identical credentials. The difference between effective and excellent vs getting through it had more to do with the personality and passion of the teacher.
This ain't rocket surgery.
1. I'm hardly reducing college instruction to a mechanical trade by suggesting that professors should be able to concentrate a significant portion of their energies to actual teaching. It hardly comes as news that research universities reward exactly that: research, and often at the expense of classroom outcome for their students.

2. "Methods and delivery" is hardly an esoteric phrase. Curriculum development, syllabus writing, outcome guidelines, development of evaluation techniques, classroom organization, time management and sequencing are all teachable skills. As for delivery, systems vary. Show and tell works well, team building, lecture format, call and response, research modeling etc. all are part of classroom delivery techniques that are rarely taught to college students majoring in education.

3. Remember Tom Wolfe's "The Right Stuff'? Peers know it when they see it. Every teacher knows who, among his colleagues is performing at an unusually high level. His are the classes overflowing with enthusiasm, trying out new ideas and projects, producing kids who are eager to learn and eager to share, the class that every other kid wants to be in, the guy that other teachers come to for advice. Don't make this harder than it is.

And teaching to the test is for losers.
Robert Weissberg’s “Bad Students, Not Bad Schools,” offers a uniquely revealing examination of primary and secondary education. It could be extended to, ‘ ... Not bad teachers.’
Given a student population of boys, Asians and Jews, almost any teacher may claim credit for future achievers. If school boards expect student ‘performance’ to fit quota demands for designated minorities and girls, and the IQ impossible, ‘No child left behind,’ teaching and education will further decline and USA will fall further behind competing nations.
As for benefits, “later in life,” few adults might praise the teacher who appropriately failed them, or discouraged them from entering the professions for a lucrative trade.
Education faculties are notorious for reliance on tech-gizmos, political correctness and shallow content education.
Student satisfaction may be assured by hiring a few token men, but mostly pretty young women. Their student satisfaction rate is well established.
For later life student success, students must learn subject content. Yes, reading, writing and math, with drill, memorization and repeatedly tested skills, even if the teacher looks like a geek. The IQ bell curve shows that about two-thirds will pass, less than a third will excel.

: Rikki1 (Jan. 21, 10:13AM)

The answer to your firrst question is, "Yes!. (joke) The answer to the second is, "You are absolutely right!"

Chris (10:52)

(1) "Professors were rewarded based on publications, often for research in esoteric
areas that had nothing to do with actual class experience." Partial agreement only, Chris. Don't reduce teaching to some sort of mechanical trade.

(2) "There was no serious effort to teach methods and delivery." I'm not sure what you mean, Chris. IS there some gold standard for "methods and delivery?" And even if there were, how would one go about "teaching" it?

(3) Mentoring by teachers who "really know their stuff." What does that mean, Chris? By "stuff" do you mean something that Winters might agree with - a Gradgrind approach to content and teaching-to-the-test - or do you have something more sophisticated in mind? Perhaps teachers should be hived off from education professors entirely and in charge of their own affairs. Sounds good to me. Maybe one of these days, Chris.
Well, I've only been teaching for 34 years so I might not qualify to comment here, but I think I can point to a big part of the problem : teacher preparation. I went to the UW-Madison, one of the highest rated schools of education in the country. Professors were rewarded based on publishing, often for research in esoteric areas that had nothing to do with actual in-class experience. Few of them had ever taught below the college level. Most of them were indifferent or disengaged lecturers. Some were completely incompetent. There was no serious effort to teach methods and delivery. They generally failed to vet the host teachers for student teaching experience. Many opportunities to develop content expertise were wasted while the student took unnecessary classes in unrelated fields or pet courses in the history of things like educational psychology.
It was astonishing how unprepared we were entering the classroom our first day. A young man recruited with me to teach middle school science literally walked out of class six weeks into the semester and did not return. The average stay in teaching for my fellow grads was about three years. Between the abuse from the parents and school board it can be a very thankless task.
If you want to really develop successful teachers, pair them up with a mentor who really knows his/her stuff and have them team teach for a minimum of at least one year. Pay them 3/4 of a full salary, (in theory they won't be doing all the heavy lifting), and have them meet once a week with all new (less than 3 years experience) teachers once a week for a self directed seminar on best practices. Yes it might cost more at the beginning, but I'll bet the school district will have less turn over in the long run and better performance as well.
Question: if one is considered a Master Teacher and has put, say, 30 years in the classroom, shouldn't he/she be compensated upon retirement like a Wall Street CEO -- say $30 million?

Also, anyone who blames teachers' unions for problems in education knows nothing about unions or teaching.

: Jen (Jan. 20' 11:52PM) - Thanks for the usual "glowing" report, Jen, but it would have been nice if you'd have provided a scintilla (that means a small bit) of evidence to support your claims. "Everyone knows" assertions are themselves "dumbed down," Jen.

: Russell Buckley (Jan. 21, 12:35AM)

"I could not agree more with virtually everything Mr. Winters says."

That's nice Russell but what, exactly, DID he say? And what's with that scary "virtually," Russell. Was it that you didn't quite agree with "some things?" What would they be, Russell?

Doug (1:49AM)

Sorry Doug, but you're wrong. Good students require a more sophisticated pedagogy and often make their teachers look bad. But, of course, you're talking in Winters' sense of "good and bad," i.e., the scores on standardized tests.


Well Doug, maybe your "well-constructed standardized tests" might work in math and science where the "answers" are cut and dried, but what about the Humanities? What about Literature, Philosophy, and History? But I suppose these are just "soft" subjects in your view, right Doug?

: Robert (Jan. 21, 1:17AM)

Tell us what that "principle" is, Robert. Do it now. And will you stop throwing those bouquets? "Fear, myopia, and corruption" - and I bet those are just the good things, right Robert? By any chance you didn't happen to mean those "hordes" of mediocrities, did you Robert? If you're an "educator" as you bill yourself, Robert, don't you think it's time that you should take your place among those hordes?
Think about it, Robert.

The principle outlined in this article is
astoundingly simple ... and effective -- IF those in "charge" have the courage to simply implement it ... CONSISTENTLY, on ALL levels
of student-teacher engagement.

However, as an educator, I suspect the moment
the Union Brass get involved -- along with the
second-handers driving them -- (how in hell will they be kept from attempting to destroy all effort in this regard?), the "vision" will
be crippled with fear, myopia and corruption
(as usual), and the well will be, once again,
poisoned, and the "visionaries" will scatter,
and the children will continue as helpless victims of the hoards of mediocrities of the
"teachers" and their destructive, ruthless, and corrupt union "representatives.

The only salvation for this vision is courage
and persistence in fighting the naysayers, giving absolutely NO quarter to the enemies of
these defenseless children.
In response to Montrealman's post: a well constructed standardized test will utterly defeat any such gaming. The only way to teach to such a test is to teach the subject content, with particular emphasis on the topics that are most vital.

In a system that rewarded teachers for good student test scores, well constructed tests would be essential. But we do know how to construct such tests. The TIMSS studies are a good example. (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study)
It is important, when rating teachers, to keep in mind that good students help a teacher look good. The educational relevant facts about student ability and history of progress (or not) in the past must be factored in before rating a teacher.

Any professor knows that if he gets an honors class, his students will learn more and do better on any standardized test than the general run of students taking the same class, even if he himself is just average. He knows that to him who is given much, much should be expected. But in the K-12 world, is this as well known?
I taught in a local high school for the final 10 years of my working career. I could not agree more with virtually everything Mr. Winters says. I would let prospective teachers apprentice with a Master Teacher at the school at which they hope to work - and let the school grant the credential.
Continuing education degrees are dumbed-down, so they don't mean much, except to tell us that the teacher was willing to sit through another year of dumbed-down education classes in order to get a salary increase. There are no mental or performance challenges.
Everyone who went to college knows that the education majors were the least intelligent students in the school. It's on a par with vocational education.
"Teacher standards" are an oxymoron. The system is run by the unions and designed to protect job security.
Schools should be able to hire experts in their field who want to teach, without regard to credentials. Albert Einstein would not be allowed to teach in Santa Ana, without a stupid education credential. Principals and administrators are cowardly bureaucrats who thank God they could get out of the classroom.
Few essays on "teacher quality" are more vacuous than that of the "esteemed" Marcus A. Winters. In a word, he has no conception whatsoever of just what "teacher quality" might consist to say nothing about the nature of pedagogical knowledge. He is without understanding.

Employing the usual irrelevant empirical rhetoric, he speaks of distinguishing the best from the worst teachers based on "their actual classroom performance." But of what, exactly, does this classroom performance consist? Winters, of course, has no answer.

Does, it, do you think, consist in having the teacher's students score well on standardized tests? Winters would probably agree and so, let's teach to the test. Let's get a bunch of old tests, do a fequency analysis of the questions most commonly asked, and teach to those questions. It's a charade, of course, but under Winter's regime, those who followed it would indeed be "effective teachers."

Winters has no understanding either of the true teacher or, by extension, of the nature of true teaching. His vaunted "empirical research" is empty, little more than a phony pedagogical Potemkin Village which, one hopes, will shortly be revealed for what it is.

Why do these people continue to pontificate from their impoverished mindscapes? Why, more importantly, are they continued to be entertained?