02/09/2011

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Teacher evaluation wars: How North Carolina gave peace a chance As a growing number of cash-strapped districts face staffing cuts, district leaders are pondering the potentially negative impact of “first in, first out” rules for layoffs. The concern, of course, as highlighted in a recent study by Dan Goldhaber at the Center for Education Data and Research is that letting teachers go based solely on seniority will likely result in some good teachers losing their jobs while less effective ones remain in the classroom. And as Marguerite Roza at the Center on Reinventing Public Education has determined, laying off teachers at the bottom of the pay scale requires larger job cuts to balance budgets. The impact on students of letting go the newest teachers instead of lowest-performing ones, according to Goldhaber, could be an estimated 2.5 to 3.5 months of learning per year. So why don’t districts take teacher performance into account when making difficult reduction-in-force decisions? One reason is collective bargaining rules—those hundred page documents that dictate all sorts of rules and procedures about hiring and firing teachers. Another is that many districts, even if they could dismiss ineffective teachers, often don’t know who they are. For starters, as The New Teacher Project has noted, many teachers are not evaluated every year. On top of that, when teachers are evaluated, a sort of “grade inflation” exists with many current teacher performance evaluations. An examination of teacher evaluations in Colorado, found for example, that nearly 100 percent of teachers receive favorable ratings on their performance reviews. To cut through the...
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Approaching learning like a video game Here are two common classroom scenarios: A student is bored while waiting for classmates to finish a test and, therefore, becomes disruptive, or a student is frustrated due to misunderstanding the material, but the class moves forward, anyway. One student wants to speed up past the group and one wants to slow down from the group. In either scenario, the student is left feeling unmotivated. But what would the scenario be if schools were not structured around groups, but rather the individual? We’re all familiar with basic video game design: A player participates individually, and when a level is complete, moves on to the next level, right? Adams 50 School District in Westminster, Colorado, has taken a similar approach in how students progress from level to level. Students are tested and placed in one of 16 performance levels. They then move through the levels at their own pace, not according to a school calendar or their peers. There are still curriculum expectations, but students decide how to learn that content; they could write an essay, prepare a presentation, or work in a group and demonstrate key knowledge and skills. Is this an approach you would like to see in more schools or in your own school? Do you think individualized curriculum is the master key to student success? Can this approach hold up against the Common Core and state standardized testing? To learn more about how Adams 50 implements this approach to learning, read our story in the current Changing...

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