May 4, 2010

A Framework for School Work

Justin Katz

Julia Steiny describes the sort of data that school teachers can use to improve instruction:

Per the data-collection protocol, [Lonsdale Elementary School Principal Jeannine] Magliocco asks the kids at one table what they are learning today. As two girls speak over one another, we learn that this is a math class. They explain that while they need to be correct about the science they're using to determine the space for each habitat, the lesson for right now, they emphasize, is about finding and plotting area and perimeter.

Magliocco scans her check list, finds "learning objectives are evident to the students," and checks "evident." The girls dive back into their work. I mention that the kids seem remarkably on task. Magliocco confirms that their teacher, Mike Maloof, is one of her most skilled.

The data collection process, though, doesn't attempt to create a rigid, objective lever for evaluation. It does what must be done in an organic profession like education (perhaps any profession, ultimately) and creates a framework for subjective analysis of performance. People with knowledge of student-specific factors have to figure out where shortcomings exist and whether they represent failures, given the context in which they appear. (A classroom with significant extra-curricular problems might be doing very well even though another class performing at the same level would be doing poorly. Likewise a teacher with inadequate resources.)

In a final analysis, success will require a level of administrative authority and employee accountability that collective action and longevity — the claim that all measures must be objective and mechanically operable — just do not allow.

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I agree. Professionals will use the data provided by the principal to improve instruction and learning in the classroom. This process puts the principal in the classrooms, observing instruction, and in touch with students as she talks with them to collect feedback.

Furthermore, the principal collects data that she can use to establish objectives for professional growth for each of the teachers in her building. It is whether teachers meet these objectives, or minimally are working towards them, that should become part of the more formal evaluation.

Currently only math is covered in this way. Data like this would be helpful in other subject areas, particularly language arts.

Posted by: mikeinri at May 5, 2010 8:49 PM

So feedback loops are good and should be encouraged, do doubt. But then you make an unsubstantiated leap to this...

"In a final analysis, success will require a level of administrative authority and employee accountability..."

Why would we expect administrative authority to yield benefits? Why would administrators do any better than those closest to the problem? Aren't you the folks that bristle at the suggestion that inside the Beltway technocrats know what's best? It's elitism pure and simple.

I've punched holes in your assumption that employee accountability magically improves results so many times that it's not worth repeating. The fact that you won't even address those comments backed by the opinions and research of CI experts tells me that you don't really care about results so much as you do the opportunity to scapegoat workers and unions or that you're so enamored with your own beliefs that you refuse to consider any contradictory evidence.

Posted by: Russ at May 28, 2010 1:20 PM