Thursday, May 26, 2011

LIFO and 2 proposals to fix it

LIFO – a lot of talk about the inequality of LIFO.  Why does a “highly effective”  new teacher get canned so a lowly 25 year “stale and ineffective” teacher gets to keep their job. 

First gratitude.  The Union is one half of the parties that came up with LIFO.  The Union is the half that is fighting to keep all teachers (not laying-off anyone, including those affected by LIFO).  Its the Union that wants keep young teachers and fight for more funding for education.  It is the other half of the LIFO negotiation team that is the political side, which wants to repeal LIFO.  Its the political side that is not seeking for solutions to get education funding or respect its needs.  Its the political side that is at the whimsy of pundits and education neophytes.  If I were a new teacher, I would think I sew my alliances.

New teachers are doubly susceptible to the “highly effective” craze.  For one thing, being “highly effective” is the only way a new teacher can claim to be more deserving than a veteran.  New teachers don’t have anything but test scores to compare against veteran teachers so when a new teacher talks about highly effective, they need to emphasize test scores.

Highly effective widget A is better than ineffective widget B and therefore A is better than B.  Unless A and B are different.

New Teachers and Veterans are different.  I don’t know if this is a regression to the mean, or experience. The more I’ve taught the “less effective” I’ve become.  When I was a new teacher the only way I new if I was doing “good” was student test scores.  I watched every assessment and made all sorts of comparisons that probably weren’t valid to justify that I was highly effective.  I more than tripled student’s test scores in my first year now I make modest gains.  My teaching has gotten better, but my desire to prove my worth through test scores went away.

 After a little time of teaching you realize that other things besides test scores are important too and focusing on test scores is not the sole way to help improve outcomes for my students.  I look at the students that come back and tell me they are going to college or appreciated something I did in class as a measure of success.  I for one did not get into teaching to explicitly raise student test scores.  I think most “veterans” see test scores as useful tool, an abstract marker of success.  But any great teacher moved past test scores pretty soon into their career.

Why is LIFO getting so much noise.  The people at the volume switch tend to be people who left the teaching profession after just a few years, that early stage of teaching when test scores are your sole source of validation.  For as much good as Teach For America does, turning out alumni who advocate for education policy changes after just a couple years in the class means turning out a bunch of people with a very short sighted view of what a teacher does.  The fact that TFA places so much emphasis on data and “highly effective” blinds many TFA’ers from a lot of the other great work they are doing.  Looking at the people behind many of the “reform” groups in LA, they are usually staffed by TFA alumni and you don’t see a lot of differing perspective from Families that Can, reform LAUSD, Parent Revolution, Teacher Plus.  One other thing about TFA, they tend to be highly effective according to ThomasKane at Harvard (pdf), but just about every other new teacher performs lower than a veteran.

Two possible solutions to dealing with LIFO.

1.  TFA has a track record of producing “highly effective” teachers, give TFA kids tenure when they start teaching.

2.  The Survivor Method. One thing I can agree on is that there are some spectacularly crappy teachers who should be removed.  Most studies I peruse put the number of crappy teachers at between 5 and 10 percent.   I recommend the “Survivor” method, whereby a school can vote off the island (metaphor for school) a crappy teacher per 20 teachers at the school site.  I don’t even think you need to develop any criteria, just do the process for a few years.  If a teacher is voted off, do the lemon dance.  If a teacher cannot find a home in 3 different tries, they are out of the district.  In a budget crisis like we have now, have more votes to vote more people off the island.

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