Posted by David A. Lehrer
If you are interested in public higher education and live in California, Thursday night will be right up your alley.
Community Advocates, in partnership with NPR station KPCC, will present an informative programming involving the three most important figures in public higher education in California---the statewide heads of the University of California, the California State Colleges and Universities and the California Community College system.
The three leaders will be interviewed by the award winning host of KPCC’s Airtalk broadcast, Larry Mantle. This will be a live taping of the broadcast at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy at 111 North Central Avenue in Downtown. The program starts at 6:30 and will be done by 8:00. To reserve a seat please click here.
The Future of Public Higher Education in California on AirTalk
Rising tuitions, student unrest, "distanced" learning, the challenges of for-profit colleges and trimmed budgets---what is the future of higher education? Hear from a truly distinguished panel of higher educational leaders who represent the diversity of California's public higher education institutions.
President Mark G. Yudof, University of California
President Yudof has headed the University of California system since June, 2008. The UC is acknowledged to be the premier public university system in the world with ten campuses, five medical centers, three affiliated national labs, 220,000 students, and 185,000 faculty and staff. Yudof has formerly served as the president of both the Texas and Minnesota state-wide university systems.
Chancellor Timothy Peter White, California State University and Colleges
Chancellor White has just taken the reins of the California State University and College system, a network of 23 campuses, almost 427,000 students, and 44,000 faculty and staff. It is arguably the largest, the most diverse, and one of the most affordable university systems in the country. Chancellor White served as the chancellor of the University of California, Riverside from 2008 through the end of 2012.
Chancellor Brice W. Harris, California Community Colleges
Chancellor Harris was appointed head of the California Community College system in November, 2012. The system includes 112 colleges and 2.6 million students. It is the largest system of higher education in the nation. Chancellor Harris previously served as the chancellor of the Los Rios Community College District serving 85,000 students in Central California.
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January 22, 2013 | 3:37 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Last week’s blog described the challenges inherent in attempting to improve under-performing public schools. There are multiple moving parts, no simple answers and no silver bullets to answer the almost irrational burden society places on teachers to magically transform kids from educationally challenged /impoverished backgrounds into students that perform well on tests and succeed academically. A herculean task.
But recognizing the enormous challenge that many urban teachers face does not diminish the need to reform the process by which teachers are evaluated, paid, promoted and improved. A process that is, almost always, controlled by collective bargaining agreements between the teachers’ unions and school district management.
For decades, the general principle prevailed that teaching is a unique profession that isn’t amenable to evaluation like most other jobs. Teachers often toiled in isolation—confronted by thirty kids and no one to really see the daily challenges that were faced. Additionally, some teachers got better students whose potential was unlimited while others got laggards---how did each get evaluated in a fair manner? As a result of these difficulties, and a history of principals/supervisors who played favorites and rewarded buddies, many districts (at the behest of their unions) simply rewarded teachers on the basis of their longevity, their graduate courses taken and their ability to avoid trouble. Outstanding teachers were treated the same as mediocre and poor teachers.
The magic of computer technology with its capacity to track individual kids, their backgrounds and their test scores over time as well as far reaching longitudinal studies of what it takes for a teacher to succeed have led to a rethinking of how teachers can be evaluated. In fact, it is now possible to evaluate the capacity of teachers to teach comparable cohorts of students and determine which one does a better job over time.
If teacher X has students from disadvantaged backgrounds who test at a certain level and after a year have shown no appreciable improvement but teacher Y has a similar cohort but accomplishes meaningful increases in achievement and the gap between what the two teachers’ students achieve persists over time---something needs attending to.
That reality has resulted in diverse groups of political leaders demanding that the new evaluation techniques and technology now be utilized when teachers are assessed. It isn’t a vast conspiracy of “anti-union reactionaries” seeking vengeance against union rabble. It is the Race to the Top advocates in the Obama Administration, it is the Democratic Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, it is the Democratic governor of New York Andrew Cuomo who just last week observed in frustration, “it’s not about the adults; it’s about the children….Our schools are not an employment program.”
The argument that the teaching profession is unique among careers in defying our capacity to fairly and systematically evaluate its practitioners is losing its believability. We can figure out who is a good teacher and who isn’t.
Nevertheless, Friday’s New York Times offered evidence of how entrenched the leadership of teachers’ unions can be when it comes to altering old ways of doing business. Not unlike the recent conduct of United Teachers of Los Angeles in nixing a $40 million grant to the Los Angeles School District in Race to the Top funds, the New York teacher’s union has refused to allow new evaluation techniques to be used for measuring its teachers. Even though both federal and New York state rules now require that at least part of the teachers’ assessment include their students’ test scores and that the city and the school district stood to lose $250 million, the Times reported that the union remained adamant. The NY union’s willingness to reject $250 million makes United Teachers Los Angeles look like amateurs (we only lost $40 million in federal funds).
As one reads the Times’ article it becomes clear that neither Mayor Bloomberg nor the federal government was asking for anything more or less than was just recommended as the fairest and most accurate way to evaluate teachers by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in a multi-year $45 million study (published in early January reporting on over 3,000 teachers and three years of study from across the country).
The Gates Foundation study recommended that a combination of student test scores (one half to one third of the evaluation metrics), “well-crafted observations” of classroom teaching (preferably with two observers) and even student surveys of teacher quality should be combined in a teacher’s evaluation. That formula was the most predictive of teacher quality as well as offering teachers the feedback they need to improve their performance. As the leader of the project, Harvard Professor Tom Kane noted, “this is not about accountability, it’s about providing the feedback every professional needs to strive towards excellence.”
Mayor Bloomberg was asking for 20% of the evaluation process to be comprised of students’ growth on state test scores (considerably less than the Gates’ recommended 33% minimum), another 20% based on local measures that the union would negotiate, and 60% based on classroom observations---those indices were unacceptable to the union.
It is clear that a reckoning is near when the leadership of teachers’ unions will discern where the world is moving and see that standing in the way of change isn’t going to continue to work; the price they will pay will simply be too burdensome.
Hopefully, it will happen sooner rather than later and the students won’t continue to pay the price of their intransigence.
January 17, 2013 | 12:34 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
An article in yesterday’s Los Angeles Times demonstrates, once again, how nuanced and challenging the effort to improve our public schools is. There are no panaceas, no silver bullets that can magically solve the problems that plague so many of our schools--the problems seem almost intractable in their complexity.
In the instance recounted by the Times one of the hurdles that reformers must overcome was laid out in disturbing detail---recalcitrant parents.
The LA Unified School District has undertaken to remedy the deplorable situation at Crenshaw High but a large and vocal group of parents is attempting to block the reforms (transforming Crenshaw into three magnet schools while requiring that all teachers reapply for their jobs).
The Times reported that Crenshaw, one of, if not the worst performing school in the District, had parents arguing before the Board to not change the status quo. A status quo that found 17% of its students testing at grade level in English (a decline of 2% in four years) and 3% of its students testing at grade level in math (a modest rise of 1% over four years). Virtually every speaker that came before the Board, as it considered fixing the school, was a community voice arguing that situation should not be changed.
Given the role of unions and their need to represent their membership, one might understand if United Teachers Los Angeles were in opposition to the transformation of Crenshaw; that would be in keeping with the union’s mission to protect its bargaining unit and changes in their status. One could also understand administrators who might object to the change in the set up that they have grown accustomed to; they will now answer to different masters.
But it defies logicand common sense as to why parents in a manifestly dysfunctional school would argue against changes that just might have a chance of making things better. With 3% of the students at the minimal level of math competency one has to ask what is there to lose by trying something different?
Apparently, there were rumors that the school’s name might be changed, that the football program might be discarded and that other nefarious schemes might be hatched with the school’s change in status. But these rumors had no basis in fact and, even if true, ought not to stand in the way of changes that hold some promise of improving the abysmal educational program at Crenshaw.
Kudos to the Board for withstanding the dozens of speakers who opposed the move and persevering, by unanimous vote, to make Crenshaw into three magnet schools.
The lesson that should be drawn from the Crenshaw kerfuffle is that fixing a broken school is a VERY difficult task. Teachers need to be vetted and under-performing ones replaced or brought up to standard, administrators need to be monitored and evaluated, but, ultimately after all that is done if parents aren’t part of the process and supportive of a school environment that values academic success, the chances of reform are minimal; homework won’t get done, attendance will lag, behavior problems will persist and report cards will be ignored.
Sometimes, in the frenzy to reform broken and under-performing schools critics focus on those issues for which there are metrics---student test scores, teachers’ value added evaluations, administrators’ success rate---all critically important indices of how a school is performing. But it is the intangibles and the immeasurables (i.e. parent involvement and their support for change) which may trump all the other efforts and their associated numbers. Parents who are wedded to a manifestly broken system and buy into conspiracy rumors about what change will do may prevent virtually all the other efforts from making a meaningful difference.
It is parents who create the environment in which kids live for the seventeen hours/day that they aren’t in school---teachers, for all we expect of them, aren’t magicians or miracle workers. They can try and they can put their hearts into their curriculum and their interactions with students but if parents aren’t behind what is being done, it may all be fated to fail.
Let’s hope the noisy opponents of change at Crenshaw were simply a vocal minority and that “a change gonna come.”
The school board did what had to be done and now hopes for the best.