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November 03, 2010


Emily Geizer

Doug Lemov has done some interesting work in this area and recently published the book, Teach Like a Champion. In it he describes 49 specific techniques that excellent teachers use.

Before evaluating all teachers, it would be wonderful to see these skillful techniques taught first and then measured for implementation and efficacy.

Rodrigo "El Justiciero" Dorfman

If administrative jobs were also linked to student performances I think we would be having quite a different discussion. The teachers are in the front lines but the rug is being constantly pulled from under their feet by top down decisions from administrators who act on "models", "charts"and "statistics".

And to declare, like Brown does that the home environment of the child should not play a role in assessing his or her abilities is short sighted and ignores the 800 pound gorilla in the room: social class.

Teachers need more training, better pay across the board, different tools to assess their students and a seat at the table.

One could ask: do we have an "achievement gap"? or a "testing gap?".
Until we figure out a way to evaluate the WHOLE child, judging a teacher with narrow minded tests like EOG's is a mistake.

Elizabeth Tolman

Emily Geizer, I agree 100%! Lemov's book is amazing. I would love to see DPS invite him to Durham to lead DPS teachers in a series of workshops and book discussions. He gives pointed techniques that all teachers can implement, whether they teach art to elementary school kids, history to high school students, or Spanish to graduate students (that would be me).

Julie Maxwell

Thank you to Jacob Vidgor for so thoughtfully and thoroughly addressing this subject with the board. There seem to be many nefarious influences swarming around the issue of US education "reform."

Durham is very fortunate to have independent press coverage and knowledgable involved citizens like Jacob. Perhaps we can slow down on adopting popular but unproven edu strategies and avoid undermining our public school system attempting to conform to the corporate model favored, financed and promoted by education philanthrocapitalists like Eli Broad (KB Homes, AIG insurance), Sam Walton (Wal-Mart), and Bill Gates.


So last year the Central Administration told elementary teachers how they must teach literacy and provided teachers with very little REAL flexibility. Now the Central Administration wants to hold teachers accountable for the effectiveness of the outcome of this mandate?? Am I the only one who sees this as crazy? And know that this sort of mandate can easily trickle from Elementary to Middle to High School.

By admitting that social class and support systems effect student's learning does NOT mean teachers are giving up on students, as it seems that some board members have implied. How can we really reach the child unless we understand ALL the problems. Let's find out who needs more support at home, whose parents need some literacy training themselves, who goes to bed hungry, AND then we can find REAL solutions... finding grants, finding community organizations to work with these families IN ADDITION to telling a teacher it's your sole responsibility to save this student from failure. Teachers must believe in their students and be properly trained to meet the needs of students BUT they can't do this all on their own. IT TAKES A VILLAGE!!

And if we're not careful all the teachers are going to up and leave for a village where they feel supported and where THEIR students who they toil over and care about daily get REAL support from their communities instead of just scapegoating the teachers!


As a DPS teacher, I can say that I do not dislike the idea of accountability, but I am often concerned by how it is implemented. I think that performance-based pay can be done correctly, but there are many ways it can be done incorrectly.

Potential issues that I see:

1. The testing for this would potentially be overwhelming for students. In order to evaluate student growth, there would need to be testing for all subjects in all grades.

2. How are we going to evaluate art teachers? PE?

3. Can this be done in a non-competitive way? Will my pay be based on my students doing better than other students? If so, doesn't that discourage me from working with and helping other teachers? If my pay is not based on the success of other teachers, what happens if all teachers do really well and deserve a raise? Where does that money come from?

Between the budget cuts and layoffs of the previous years and now this discussion teacher morale is lower than I have ever seen it around here. I have been hearing more and more good, hard working teachers talking about leaving the classroom and it really does concern me. I am not going to stand on a soapbox and demand huge pay increases or anything like that, but I think that there would be a lot to be gained if the powers that be took the time to praise the successful teachers we have, rather than pass to us the blame for every problem that we fight against everyday.

Kirsten Kainz

In this response I am neither advocating for using state tests to evaluate teachers nor for incenting teachers through performance bonuses. However, I am advocating that we start this conversation and respectfully consider the pros and cons of such efforts so that we can use our deliberations to improve opportunties for all students, but especially opportunities for our economically disadvantaged students. Several commenters on this page seem to be pointing us in a useful direction.

DRR raises some exceptionally important points. Even if using state tests to evaluate teachers were a reliable practice, it would only provide feedback on a fraction of the educational program in DPS. We need more information and from more sources to ensure all children have consitently high quailty education opportunities in DPS.

Related to DRR's request for recognition for successful teachers are the comments of Ms. Geizer and Ms. Tolman who direct our attention to published accounts of quality instruction. One reason individuals and institutions can be attracted to test scores as indicators of teacher quality is that it is hard to generate consensus around what makes a good teacher. Some people are comfortable saying that they know a good teacher when they see one, but I think if our community is going to make good on its desire to improve education for all students we will have to align our definition of quality teaching with quailty learning.

This brings me to a final point. I deeply appreciate Ms. Forte-Brown's willingness to make us uncomfortable with the fact that in Durham (like the rest of the nation) our poor students, our African-Amreican students, and our Latino students do not enjoy markers of high academic achievement at the same rate as our European-American and affluent students do. These markers include test scores, grades, participation in advanced courses, participation in enrichment activities, and high school completion. So, this is not merely a testing gap that we are witnessing. It is an achievement gap. And this achievement gap is related (though perhaps not causally) to a lifestyle gap defined by disparities in income, wealth, safe neighborhoods and housing, and health. To make us uncomfortable about this fact is not the same as saying that it shouldn't be a consideration in how we educate children. That is not the proper interpretation of Ms. Forte-Brown's comments. Rather, I interpret Ms. Forte-Brown's comments as a strong invitation to acknowledge the extreme discomfort that accompanies our recognition of these achievement and lifestyle gaps. DRR's comments compliment those of Ms. Forte-Brown's in that DRR reminds us that we shouldn't rush to blame teachers when we confront this discomfort.


What's disturbing to me about this whole trend, in addition to the continual scapegoating of teachers and attempts to mess with their already inadequate pay, is that researchers have been saying for decades that standardized tests are biased against poor people, and people of color. I'm a GED teacher, and I see this first-hand every day. I've had students who've gotten "reading" questions wrong because they didn't know who Marilyn Monroe was, or they weren't sure what kind of articles "Field and Stream" usually publishes, or they've never heard the expression "a watched pot never boils." I'd say a good 25% of that test is essentially a test on middle class culture, not reading comprehension-and that's in addition to the questions that are just poorly constructed, and could trip up any kid (I've seen quite a few questions where I didn't think any of the answers were right, as well as questions where more than one could have been). How can we be using these tests to decide anyone's grade status or pay????


This is a good conversation here, and I especially appreciate Prof. Kainz's comments.

I don't believe anyone disagrees with the concept of assessing performance. We absolutely must gauge whether our schools are effectively educating our children. Surely, no one disagrees with that. And likewise, I'm sure that all would agree that excellent teaching should be rewarded, that teachers who are struggling should get help and opportunities to become more effective, and teachers who are chronically ineffective should be removed from the system. I'm pretty confident there would be little argument from from anyone on those points.

Thus, the disagreement comes with respect to the tools we are using to assess student performance and teacher performance.

My point is that, let's not argue about whether we need to ensure our schools are getting the job done. If you want to argue about the assessments, fine, I think there is a legitimate debate to be had there.

I don't think anyone involved in this conversation is trying to scapegoat teachers. Teachers are incredibly important components in the education of our children, but if there is one message that comes out of Geoffrey Canada's work, and I believe out of Waiting for Superman, it's that programs such as the Harlem Children's Zone and Kipp schools succeed because they work very hard to address those issues around disparities in income and health and lifestyle.


Before touting Waiting for Superman too much, you might read the thoughts of historian Diane Ravitch's here: . Oh wait, you might also read her blog post The Problem With Value-Added Assessment here: .

Meanwhile, I'll go back to just being a teacher who can't wait to see how he's going to be evaluated this week and who will point the finger of blame this time. Sorry JC, if you don't think teachers aren't being walloped across the nation, you need to get out more.

P.S. How the heck did all those excellent teachers from when I was in school ever manage to teach without knowing Lemov's techniques or before the creation of value-added assessment?


Steve's response to my comment is a great example of why this debate is so frustrating. Emotion and hyperbole dominate, and people fail to see that they agree on the core issues.

My whole point was that we can and should be arguing over whether the current assessments are good measures of performance, and we should be working together to identify great ways to effectively measure performance and achievement.

Are we effectively educating all populations? Are there areas where we need to improve? Are we giving teachers the support they need and not burdening them with useless bureaucracy? Those are questions we are all interested in understanding.

Or maybe not.... Perhaps we should just leave the educators and the administrators and elected officials alone and let them do their job. That's how things operated when I was a teacher, and yes, there were some terrific teachers. But there were huge populations of students not being adequately served. Expectations were low for minority and underprivileged students, the worst or newest teachers were assigned to the lowest-performing students. And in the past 20 years, I don't think things have improved -- correct me if I am wrong.

We have to figure out how to fix our broken system, and I think all engaged in the debate are engaging with the best of intentions.

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