Ask an educator about what it’s like teaching a room full of students, and you’ll likely hear a similar refrain: No two kids learn the same way or grasp concepts at the exact same time.As a result, educators often say they resort to “teaching to the middle.”
More schools are starting to question whether traditional age-based classrooms are the best way to go, and to change the dynamic of teaching to the middle, they’re experimenting with competency-based learning, a system that moves kids along at different paces once they’ve shown they can grasp a key concept of a unit.
Kim Carter, executive director of QED Foundation, is a big supporter of competency-based learning.
“The choice is, do we want an education system that’s obsolete or do we want a system that is valued and creates value,” Carter said. The foundation offers training, coaching and consulting that focuses on student agency, as well as communities of collaboration both inside and outside school. Eventually, she says, that pace should be negotiated, with the student gradually taking over more responsibility for her learning.
“If you are truly going to go competency based and not just have a veneer of change, it will require retooling our systems.”
Competency-based education is gaining momentum across the country. Already New Hampshire and Maine schools have transitioned to the model. Schools in Oregon, Iowa, Minnesota, and many other states are following suit. The Common Core State Standards are also pointing in the direction Continue reading
School of One
Engaging, motivated teachers are at the heart of every successful school. For schools like Rocketship, where 75% of teachers come from Teach for America, which recruits mostly recent college grads to commit to two years, finding ways to train and keep them becomes that much more of a priority.
What’s their strategy? First, they pay more than typical public schools – on average between 10 and 20 percent more, according to Judith McGarry, Rocketship’s spokesperson.
And since most of these teachers are “very young” — for many of them, it’s the first time teaching in a classroom – McGarry said teachers’ progress is tracked closely. Every eight-week assessment of students’ progress is compared to the teachers’ own eight-week assessments.
“We reward talent, provide an upwardly mobile career path, and give them a reason to believe that this could be a sustainable work-life balance.”
“We think that this constant feedback helps them ramp up really quickly,” McGarry said of new teachers. “So we do actually use student achievement and student testing as one measure of how we evaluate teachers’ effectiveness. But we don’t really have the problem that the Los Angeles School District did, because, first of all teachers walk in knowing this is how they’re going to get evaluated, and second, it’s one of multiple measures that we use for their effectiveness.”
Other measures include meeting regularly with the principal to work on their professional growth plans, collaborating closely with other teachers, and working with academic coaches. Sometimes classes are videotaped, so teachers and coaches can evaluate the way the class is run play-by-play, and sometimes educators wear microphones and earbuds to get live coaching while they teach.
Should test scores be used as a way to measure teacher performance? The question these days is not so much “should”– but “how”?
In Massachusetts, teacher unions are attempting to control their own fate by having a hand in creating the guidelines.
From The Boston Globe:
Many teachers unions around the country, including the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, have opposed efforts to include standardized tests such as the MCAS in firing decisions, arguing that such tests fail to capture the full range of learning experiences and penalize teachers charged with educating students from challenging backgrounds. But the association says that the change is inevitable and that teachers would be better off shaping it.
“We have to be the architects of reform, rather than the subject of it,’’ said Paul Toner, the union’s president. “We have always said we’re not here to protect bad teachers.’’
Massachusetts’ teacher evaluations would be different than other states’ in the way they take into account more than just student test scores.
More aggressive states have sought to make test scores the centerpiece of teacher evaluations, worth as much as 50 percent of a teacher’s grade. The association’s approach would not do that. Instead, it would rate teachers based on other factors, including classroom observation, and then use student achievement measures to validate those judgments. If test scores did not match the rest of a teacher’s evaluation, the teacher would be reassessed.
Teachers with the highest marks would have the opportunity to earn more money by mentoring and performing other special jobs. Those that do poorly would be put on a one-year improvement plan and be dismissed if they fail to improve. (Teachers with less than three years on the job could be dismissed without a one-year plan.)
At a time when the Internet is making evaluations more transparent and public, and with ever-more attention being focused on student achievement, it seems like a smart move for educators to define how they’ll be evaluated.