July 16, 2010

Gates in Tampa ... no, my daughter's school!

Two chances in one week to provide personal perspective on Gates' philanthropy. Along with a few thousand other AFT delegates, I saw Gates's speech last Saturday. Today's comment comes via the Business Week article on the Gates Foundation's education program. The article is one of the better journalistic portraits of the foundation, including historical perspective by Maris Vinovskis and some technical perspectives from Howard Wainer and Daniel Koretz. And then in the second half, the article quotes some teachers such as JoAnn Parrino and Kathy Jones. I expected the article to quote either Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia or Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association president Jean Clements, and then suddenly the focus was on some teachers at Chamberlain High School, where my daughter graduated in the spring. Yes, she had both Parrino and Jones, as well as a few others mentioned indirectly in the article as Daniel Golden followed Hillsborough's Gates project staff into a teacher meeting at the high school.

Both teach AP social studies courses, Parrino with human geography (taken by ninth graders in Chamberlain) and economics (I forget whether it's micro or macro). Jones teachers the world and European history classes. Both have their student admirers within the school. In the article, Parrino is quoted in favor of random classroom visits, and Jones on a different topic, whether there is such a thing as a year-over-year growth measure when the class is a one-year class such as a topical social studies class. And the music teachers apparently scoffed at the notion that their competence can be measured by student performance on an end-of-semester music theory class. Most of the teachers I've met at the school are reasonably thoughtful at the least, and the article begins to touch on their perspectives and skepticism.

What is notable is that none of the discussion Golden reports is the type of "we can't be expected to do great things with poor kids" excuse that's the common straw-man argument by advocates of high stakes testing. Jones is right to be skeptical that there is any competent value-added measure for history, and the band and chorus teachers are absolutely correct that a music-theory class is an awful measure of their competence. Want to know what a Florida band or orchestra or chorus director pushes their students to perform in? Music Performance Assessments, or MPAs. These are juried festivals of school groups, and teachers in Hillsborough take them very seriously. To use music-theory paper exams instead of MPAs is a pedagogical crime. Do you think the Hillsborough High School band director should be judged by how well my son and his fellow sax players know a Napoleonic 6th, or how well they can blend in a performance of "Take the A Train"?

At some point, advocates of using student outcomes as part of teacher evaluation need to get some sense about implementation. Hillsborough is clunking along right now, and it'll need to adjust things on that part of the evaluation system. The rigid "everyone has to be evaluated in the same way even if it makes no sense" system is not viable in the long term. But it's what the mantra of "50% must be on student outcomes" will lead to unless Charlie Barone and others come out in favor of common sense in the use of student outcomes, and that includes telling their friends when they're wrong in a formulaic approach.

Listen to this article
Posted in Accountability Frankenstein on July 16, 2010 11:06 PM | Submit