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The Classic Bait and Switch: Performance and Pay for Teachers

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By Nick McDaniels – A little over a month ago, I was honored by Baltimore City Public Schools for being a finalist for the district’s teacher of the year award.

Two weeks ago, I was a told that the same performance that got me a chance to be on the field for the first pitch of a Baltimore Orioles game was not enough to earn me a highly effective rating, which in turn, denies me a pay raise.

How could this be? Simple. The teacher evaluation rating system was changed at the last minute.

Based on the evaluation system that we were operating under all year, teachers receiving an overall evaluation score of 80 or above were highly effective, teachers receiving scores between 60 and 79 were effective, teachers receiving scores between 46 and 59 were developing, and teachers receiving scores below 46 were ineffective. These scores were to be tabulated from a variety of measures, including classroom observations, student surveys, test score data, and others.

A week before evaluations had to be completed, the district made two distinct changes:

  1. Evaluations would now be made up of 85% scores from two classroom observations and 15% scores from professional expectations.
  2. The cut scores dividing the levels were shifted to 86%, 72% and 60% respectively.

So what did this mean for me, a finalist for Baltimore City’s teacher of the year? 84% Effective.

In April I would have been Highly Effective; but,  in May, I was only Effective.

But here’s the rub. A Highly Effective gets a teacher 12 Achievement Units, an Effective only gets a teacher 9 Achievement Units, while a Developing only gets a teacher 3 Achievement Units.

Guess how many it takes for a teacher to get a pay raise? 12 Achievement Units.

Out the window goes my raise.

We rallied as a union — The Baltimore Teachers Union, hundreds of us —  in front of school headquarters to let the management know that such an unnegotiated bait and switch change to the evaluation was (at best) a failure to bargain in good faith and (quite possibly) a breach of contract. In response, the Interim CEO of the District claims that changing the cut scores back to their original levels would cause 97% of the teachers in the district to be rated Highly Effective or Effective.

She claims that isn’t fair to kids.

Shouldn’t an urban superintendent want more Highly Effective and Effective teachers in front of students? I certainly would. Should urban superintendents set thresholds on how many teachers can achieve certain ratings. I don’t think so. If so, what then is the incentive for success if 100% of teachers cannot actually work to attain the highest level of proficiency. These comments tell me this effort is solely about money, saving money for the district, and the teachers, our morale, our pride are simply collateral damage.

Maybe the scores are not the right cut scores. Maybe 86% and 72% are more accurate. But a school district cannot change the scores at the end of the game. This is akin to moving the fences back in the top the ninth inning, or narrowing the visiting team’s goals posts in the fourth quarter. We wouldn’t tolerate such changes in sports, how can we tolerate such changes for american workers.

The teachers will win this fight ultimately, and in the process we will learn that pay-for-performance is a trick, a tool for the managers to manipulate the system, and a power that teachers should resist handing over at all costs.

Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes: Kids in Cape Town

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Xhosa prayer*

By Anna Concannon – I’ve been in Cape Town for about a week now.

My biological clock has finally adjusted, and so far everything is going  great.

It’s an amazing city with so many things to do, places to see, and people to talk to, all of whom are so friendly and enthusiastic about sharing their life experiences.

I had my first of six days at my service site, which is a pre-primary school located in a very poor township near Cape Town. There is little space inside, but the classroom contains posters, puzzles, toys, and letter and number flashcards for the kids to play with and practice. When children go to primary school, they learn in English, but at this age they speak Xhosa and only know numbers and a few words in English.

Outside, a once-glorious playground stands aligned with barbed wire fences, with ripped tire swings, torn climbing ropes, and loose bricks and garbage on the ground that the children play with. We played outside most of the day, and when they were bored, the teacher sometimes looked to me to teach them kids games and songs.

I felt a little overwhelmed at these moments because I had to think on my feet. I taught them the “head, shoulders, knees and toes” song and they already knew the Xhosa version of it, so that went well. They love moving around and singing.

As a future teacher, I never really considered early childhood education. There are so many children with a lot of needs to take care of and I was uncertain how I would do teaching them; however, I noticed that the children in this preschool are fairly independent for 4-6-year-olds. Being at this school is definitely a learning experience, especially because we communicate without understanding each other’s words.

Overall, my visit to the school was less hectic and more fun than I had expected. Next time I will come prepared with more songs and games to teach them. The kids are so loving and kind to each other and to their teachers. When we understand each other verbally or non-verbally and they smile at me, hug me, play with my hair, and even fight over holding my hands, I feel even more confident that working with children is my passion.

*Lord, bless Africa | May her spirit rise high up; | Hear Thou our prayers | And bless us. | Descend, 0 Spirit Descend, 0 Holy Spirit | Bless our chiefs; | N’lay they remember their Creator, | Fear Him and revere Him, | That He may bless them.

Lessons from my Metaphoric Superman Dad

By Aubrey Murtha – “He never stopped wanting to save the world,” said Ron Reagan of his father, President Ronald Reagan.

Although most of us cannot claim to have fathers of the presidential variety, I think it is safe to say that many of us look at our dads in a similar way.  If we take a second to reflect on everything our dads do for us and the invaluable lessons they impart on their children, it seems appropriate to refer to them as metaphoric Supermen.

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Okay.  Let me take a second to describe my dad to you.  He is a recently retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and former U.S. Marine (although he’d argue, “Once a Marine, always a Marine”).  The dude spent thirty years in the military, he is six foot four, and he can beat up men half his age.  Now you see why this Superman idea comes to mind.

Anyways, when you grow up under the parental guidance of a military father, your relationship with your dad may seem a little unconventional to civilian families.  For example, when I was in elementary school, my dad taught me how to read military time.  Along with that, he decoded several commonly used military acronyms for me.  This way, when he told me his ETA was 15:30, I’d know what he meant.  Along with the regular alphabet, he taught me some phonetics (A as in Alpha, B as in Bravo, C as in Charlie…).

When he quizzed me on my spelling words, he would make me stand at attention so as to ensure that I was focused.  On road trips, we pointed out Marine Corps bumper stickers or billboard advertisements to each other and shouted “OOO RAH!”  He missed lots of basketball games and dance recitals, but that did not mean much to me since the time we had together was far more important than his absences.

Along with these silly things, my dad has taught me some important lessons throughout the past nineteen years.  Here are just a few:

  1. Some things aren’t worth fighting over.  For example, although his sense of style is bordering on not-so-great, do not comment on the pea green PT gear or the camo pants.  Because, no matter what you say, he will wear them anyway…all the time…many days in a row.
  2. Temper your sass when you talk to my parents because, “The Murtha house is not a democracy, it is a dictatorship,” and Mom and Dad are the dictators.
  3. Don’t be wasteful.  Frugality and resourcefulness are highly underrated in today’s society.
  4. Never say “can’t” because “quitters are losers, and Murtha’s are not losers.”
  5. Don’t fight dirty.
  6. SA (military code for Situational Awareness) is always important, especially while operating a motor vehicle or a military aircraft.  Yep, you can imagine how fun it was to learn to drive with this guy.
  7. Always, always have a very mature respect for military servicemen and women.
  8. Treasure the quality time you get with those you love.  Don’t take your loved ones for granted.
  9. Materialism is a trap.  Don’t fall into it.
  10. Safety first.
  11. Sometimes a good story is very different from the true story.
  12. Don’t ever let any boy mistreat you.
  13. Respect your mother at all times.
  14. Be adaptable.  Embrace change.
  15. Even if you really struggle with something, you should apply yourself wholeheartedly.  You can get it done.  Sometimes, you can even get it done quite well.

If you are like me, you do not tell your dad enough how much he means to you.  You might criticize his vast array of irritating idiosyncrasies or simply roll your eyes when he does something that embarrasses you (yeah, there is a lot of eye rolling that happens in the Murtha house).

However, although it hurts to admit it, I wouldn’t be half the woman I am today without his guidance.  Maybe we kids need to take a tall shot of humility every now and then and recognize that maybe our parents really do have it all figured out.

Okay… maybe not all of it.

Semper Fi, Dad.  I love you.

Many Uses for a Blanket: AKA Applying for My Summer Job

LinusSecurityBlanketBy Lauren Carufel-Wert – Hey everyone! This is my first blog ever, so I am really excited that I get to do it for the College of Education.

This summer I will be working for Madison Public Schools recreational programs as a Program leader. Now, since my job hasn’t officially started yet, (training starts on the 16th) I can talk about the process for applying and accepting the job!

First I filled out an application with multiple short answer questions focusing on how the applicant interacts with diverse groups, leadership positions, and previous childcare or teaching experience.

Since I had just finished up my first year as an Elementary Education student I was able to use my experiences of service learning on my application. Since my first site was nearly 100% Hispanic and my second site was about 75% African American I could also show my experience working with children from diverse backgrounds. I really think that my service learning experiences helped me in standing out from other applicants.

A week later, I heard that the program wanted to do a final interview with me in person, but since I was in Milwaukee I did it over Skype. I still dressed up and sat myself behind a nice wall hanging in my dorm room kitchenette and waited for my interview to start. The interview went very smoothly, it involved a lot of “what would you do situations” like if a child was a danger to other students, was not paying attention, or needed extra help.

But the most interesting question was “name as many uses as possible for a blanket”. The goal of this question was to show how creative I was and if I could think on my feet. My answers ranged from a blanket fort to wearing it as a skirt, and afterwards the interviewer noted my variety of answers.

Three weeks later over Easter Break when I was at home, I checked my email and found a job offer awaiting me. I still remember the excitement on my boyfriend’s face when I told him and how I felt like I had truly done something for myself to help me grow as a future educator. I am eagerly waiting my first day of training and can’t wait to share all of my stories with you!

Packing, Expectations for South Africa

PackingBy Anna Concannon – “Packing is an existential process.”

These are the wise words of my dad, who is a packing expert. He’s a collector of travel sized shampoo, the master of laundry, and the wearer of two pairs of shoes.

For me, on the other hand, packing for a three-week trip is not easy. This is because I’d like to take lots of clothes, shoes, books, large bottles of body wash, and small things I probably won’t even need while I am in South Africa.

Getting ready for this trip reminds me of packing and moving into my first college dorm. In both situations, basically everything I own is piled high in my room, ready to be packed up to go. But, I can’t take everything in my suitcase. In the end, only the important items can go with me.

This “existential process” requires a lot of reflection and evaluation of the necessary things I will need while I study abroad. This is difficult because I’m not exactly sure what I’ll need yet.

As I write this, I am getting ready to go. However, by the time my readers see this post, I’ll be in Cape Town. I can’t say what I’ll be doing at that time. I don’t fully know what to expect! Of course, I know what the weather is going to be like, where I’ll be staying, what I’ll be studying, and that I’ll be doing service of some kind. However, I don’t know what living there will actually be like until I get there.

Going across the world is thrilling. At the same time, I have some fears. I cannot say whether bad things will happen or if everything will go perfectly. I can’t predict that, but I also can’t let my fears get in the way of having an amazing time. When my trip begins, I’ll be cautious while also going into everything with high expectations.

Someone gave me the advice of letting every great experience wash over me without thinking too much about how it will impact my life.  Just let it happen. While in the moment, I’ll do that; but, reflection is what this blog is for.

The Day the Technology Went Out

internet-out-of-orderSabrina Bong – My first memorable encounter with technology was when I was around four years old.

My dad, who worked third shift at the time, had to stop back at work to pick something up. As we entered his office, I remember being in awe of the fact that he had a computer. Back then, it was probably nothing more than a word processor. In fact, if you remember the show Doogie Howser, M.D., it was pretty similar to that computer: a big clunky machine with a blue screen where you could type things in white. I even remember typing my dad a letter as he gathered what he needed. To me, that computer was pure magic. I remember thinking that my dad was super cool because he had a real computer, just like the fancy people on television.

Fast forward to today. Now, almost everyone has some sort of electronic at their disposal. I have embraced this idea. I have a laptop that I use religiously. I have an iPad that I use to communicate with other staff members. I recently joined “the dark side” and got a real smartphone. It’s ironic that I tell my students to put down their electronics and then go ahead and use mine. I guess I thought I wasn’t too obsessed.

Then, all of that changed. Recently, my entire school district found themselves without the Internet, without WiFi, and without phones (we could still make calls within the school building, but no one could call in or out.) We couldn’t even get into our own documents because our “shared drive” was down. In essence, we were stuck. Students were unable to use their iPads, teachers had to struggle with using worksheets instead of different websites, and we as counselors could not look up students, type reports, or call parents.

What could we do?

Some teachers took their students outside for science class and applied what they were learning to the real world. Students went to the library to get books to read. We got out worksheets and had students doing things by hand. For some of the students, I’m sure this was torture. For me, though, it was exhilarating. So many times, I yearn for those days when you would complete all of your work by hand. I know it’s cheesy, but there’s something to be said about doing a math worksheet and getting pencil all over your hand.

But the best part was seeing all the interactions going on. Suddenly, people were not walking around with an iPad in their hands. People were not texting on their phones, since we had no service in the building. Students were spending their time talking.

Talking!

As in having full, face-to-face conversations, without the aid of an electronic. It really made me smile to hear that. In addition, so many of my students solved their own problems without me! Because they had that time to communicate with each other, they were able to be more effective problem solvers.

I learned a lot from that day, and I hope my students did too. To me, the message was simple: Life is about more than just technology.

(To further emphasize this message, feel free to watch this awesome YouTube video called “Look Up.” Just a warning: there are one or two inappropriate words.)

A Few More Days of Teaching in the Cloud

04ipad-3-popup1By Nick McDaniels – A few posts back, I blogged about teaching in the cloud, an experience I had using Google Drive products with students to write and outline papers while using one of the laptop carts our school has.

The post had an undeniable “enjoy it while it lasts” tone, and, in truth, the laptop carts were soon gone to another unsuspecting teacher who would be forced to use them to give some standardized test developed by some for-profit testing company.

But then… while talking to our school’s tech guy, I noticed a cart full of iPads, called a Race-to-the-Top cart (you may be able to guess what money was used to purchase this set up), sitting in the corner. No one had used it in months. I asked, quite simply, “can I have that?” The answer: “YES!”

So, for three weeks, I’ve been using them. Admittedly, it took the first week and a half to figure out how to get my kids access to a WebQuest I developed, and Supreme Court opinions we were reading, because Baltimore City Schools filters these when using certain browsers. I guess the system doesn’t want our kids really learning about the law from primary sources, essentially treating In re Gault like a “banned book.” I do, however, demand that my students have access. So we figured it out, got Google Chrome, a browser with less filtering restrictions, Drive, and a handful of other apps, including iCivics’s Pocket Law Firm, an addictive educational game on the Amendments (this whole process took hours of iPad by iPad downloading).

With every iPad equipped with these apps and access to the resources, my students enter class daily, grab an iPad, log into their email, get an email from me with a case attached in PDF or hyperlink form, and a link to my Case Brief, a Google Form which is teaching me how to replacing paper worksheets. The responses from these briefs populate into a Google Sheet allowing me to look at all the student responses on the same page, utilize a search function, sort by student and case, see who is simply copying and pasting, and who is putting it in their own words, and see who has completed which assignment without having to consult a gradebook.

Not only has this one-to-one access allowed me to conduct case briefing activities digitally and view student responses in a central, more organized way, but it has also allowed students unparalleled access to a number of resources to figure out complex terminology and concepts without having to ask me first. This, allowing students the freedom to search for answers, to use the skills that come so natural to them as digital natives, has been exciting. Not to mention, the amount of copies I have had to make has been cut nearly to zero.

This experience too, I know is ephemeral. Someone else may need the iPads next year, or I may have more students than iPads, which is usually the case, but my numbers are a little lower this year. While it lasts, I am thoroughly enjoying my second, and this time more sustained opportunity, to use free web-based products to teach in the Cloud. Most importantly, I think the students are enjoying it too.


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