January 4, 2007

Collective bargaining database: accurate?

There's been some chatter in the edublogule about the National Council on Teacher Quality collective bargaining database, which claims to summarize key provisions of collective bargaining agreements in the largest 50 school districts. (Hat tip: Eduwonk.) But is the database accurate? I quickly found one goof with reference to the Hillsborough school district in Florida (which includes Tampa): the database claims that the contract does not refer to the frequency of lesson plans' being turned in to administrators ("How often does a teacher have to turn in lesson plans to a school administrator?").  (Update: In comments, Emily Cohen from NCTQ notes that they've fixed the error in the database, something I confirmed.) From article 3 of the contract:

3.2.1 The principal or his designee may request teachers to submit a copy of their lesson plans or outlines used for the teaching week at the end of the last day of that teaching week. The principal may request the copies at the end of a particular unit. Teachers shall use the county elementary lesson plan or secondary lesson plan outline format. The teacher's plans are to be used as a guide in order to fulfill the county's instructional objectives and to assist the teacher in conducting a planned instructional program. Current lesson plans shall be available in the classroom for inspection at all times. Teachers shall not be routinely required to submit a copy of their lesson plans or outlines to the site administrator.

Whoops. This clause contains considerable discretion for administrators, but that doesn't mean that the frequency isn't stated; it's essentially "could be weekly when the administrators want to look at them, as long as it's not a serious nuisance," and in practice (from a non-random sample of one) I think administrators are asked to look at a week's worth of lesson plans for tenured teachers a few times a year.* As Michele McLaughlin of AFT notes, a number of variables aren't yet coded, and I'd hope that the NCTQ staff takes some time and adds a verification process, because this sort of error can be embarrassing if it's frequent.

A side note on lesson plans and paperwork, since we're talking about it: This topic sprang to my attention because my spouse works with students with moderate developmental disabilities who are not in the academic graduation program. She therefore has to document that students are meeting the state's alternative-diploma requirements at the same time that she has to document student performance on their individual education plan (IEP) goals. A few years ago she went to a workshop where the developers of the state's evolving alternative-diploma framework talked about the framework and documentation. My spouse came home with a 40-pound binder.  (It wasn't that heavy, really; it only looked that bad.) The binder was full of guidelines, examples, and documentation templates.

That was just a bit overwhelming. I helped in combining the data collection with the lesson planning to create a single-page form that contained both a lesson plan, the skills that were observable in the activity, and space for taking data on all of the students for each such skill. Each activity thus has its own sheet, which may seem like a nightmare to some teachers, but it works. (She has a combination 3-ring binder/clipboard for this.) Documentation is not her problem! Of course, she spent a number of hours over winter break finishing the synthesis of data for second-quarter grades, and if you multiply 40-45 student days by 6 sheets per day and 5-6 skills per sheet (though some skills are only relevant for a few students), you can get a sense of the task. As she says, "It's a heck of a lot of data."

* Lesson plans are probably not the best way to find out what the received curriculum is, during a year. Given the difficulty of finding enough time to observe, a retired NYC principal told me her secret: She called in a collection of students to her office regularly and asked them what they were learning in class that week. That combined evidence from students with an opportunity to reach out to students. (I don't know if she had a system for inviting students to her office, let alone whether took notes or followed up in an organized fashion.)

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Posted in Education policy on January 4, 2007 7:47 PM |