Aspire teachers at center of fierce national debate

Dec 6, 2013 by

Jill Tucker –

When Eva Kellogg’s bosses evaluated her performance as a teacher, they observed her classes. They reviewed her lesson plans. They polled her students, their parents and other teachers. And then they took a look at her students’ standardized test scores.

When the lengthy process was over, the eighth-grade English teacher at Aspire Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy in Oakland had received the highest rank possible.

She was a master teacher.

And based on her job performance, she got a $3,000 bonus as well as a metaphorical front-row seat at one of the biggest battles in public education: how to evaluate teachers and whether to give good ones a bigger paycheck.

The Aspire teacher evaluation process and performance-based bonuses put the company of 37 charter schools, including 10 in the Bay Area, at the center of the fierce national debate.

Most traditional public schools use a low-stakes, pass/fail evaluation system for teachers that doesn’t include student test scores. And pay, as negotiated under a union contract, is based on years in the classroom rather than performance.

Starting over

A few years ago, Aspire’s administrators and teachers tossed aside the traditional system. They wanted an evaluation process that took into account the numerous and complicated skills necessary to be a good teacher and a ranking system that they said gave teachers room to grow.

As a public charter school without unionized teachers, they had the freedom to buck the system.

“The young (teachers), they want the opportunity to demonstrate their effectiveness,” said James Gallagher, Aspire’s director of instruction.

They settled on a formula based on 40 percent observation by the principal, 30 percent on their students’ standardized test scores, and the rest on student, peer and family feedback, as well as the school’s overall test scores.

The observation part includes 29 skills for the principal to grade, using specific examples to document teacher performance.

After a one-year pilot program, the Aspire schools adopted the system and used it for the 2012-13 school year. Teachers are ranked as emerging, effective, highly effective or master. Bonuses range from $500 to $3,000, and the first checks went out last month.

“It can’t be a popularity contest,” Gallagher said. “It has not proven to be one.”

Teachers and administrators at Lionel Wilson said they felt it was a fair way to identify struggling teachers, good teachers and great ones.

“I think it would be hard to play favorites with a rubric using 29 points,” said history teacher Juliet Dana, rated an “emerging” teacher during her first year at Aspire last year. “I feel a lot of optimism that I will not still be emerging next year.”

This fall, Kellogg, 29, started her fifth year as a teacher at Aspire.

In the classroom

On a sunny autumn morning, she walked her classroom’s aisles as she read aloud from a small hardback version of John Steinbeck’s “The Pearl.”

The words flowed nonstop even as she paused near one distracted student and tapped his book to refocus his attention.

How she saw the boy, with the book in front of her face, was a bit of a mystery – and perhaps an annoyance to the sleepy student. Somehow, over her time teaching, Kellogg had developed the teacher’s all-knowing eyes in the back of the head.

She stopped at the end of the chapter and asked her students about the main character’s actions.

“I want to hear a strong argument for love or greed. What’s his motivation right now?” Kellogg asked. “I see three hands. I’m waiting for two more.”

A few more hands went up and each student offered an argument for greed, love or both.

Minutes later, the students moved on to their next class.

Teaching is hard, Kellogg said; it’s impossible to be a master teacher every minute of every day. But the evaluation system offers a great guide on what it takes to be one, she said.

via Aspire teachers at center of fierce national debate – SFGate.

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1 Comment

  1. Teacher with a Brain

    We continue to oversimplify the issue. Recently I looked up data on a charter school in the Bay Area that was featured in Waiting for Superman. It has been touted as closing the achievement gap, turning things around, etc. However, to my surprise, this particular school has a much LOWER % of both low income students and English Language Learners than does my high school located in the suburbs of a major metropolitan area. WOW! To further complicate things, this particular school, with a much lower rate of needy students, reports below average SAT scores and below average (below state averages) STAR test scores. Yet, because they demand that all students complete what we call the A-G high school curriculum (the classes required for admission to the UC system), it is receives accolades. So, they boast that x% of their graduating seniors are admitted to 4 year universities. The question is whether or not these students, many of whom appear to post lower than average test scores, thrive at a university and onward. Do they actually PRODUCE quality work worthy of earning a 4 year degree? I don’t know the answer to that, however I do know you can rig any system to appear to move more students successfully through a curriculum. I also know this school admits 100 students each year and requires teachers to work well beyond the customary 40 hour work week that Americans accept in the private sector. I believe that if this kind of intensive support “works” for at risk students, American public schools could staff up, fund additional services and provide more support. Also, we could be PERMITTED to effectively discipline students who do not cooperate in their own education. At this point, we can only cajole and try to coerce. The charter schools can expel those who choose not to cooperate by getting to school and classes on time and doing their homework each night. REgular public schools legally can do nothing whatsoever to require students to serve detention, for example, to “pay back” missed instructional time due to tardies and truancies, or to receive additional support when they chronically refuse to do their assignments. In our culture, “blowing off” school is acceptable.

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