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Questions Raised About Maryland's Low Grade in Teacher Quality Report

A group that advocates reforming how teachers are evaluated gave Maryland a D+ for teacher effectiveness.

By MARY FADDOUL
Capital News Service

The National Council on Teacher Quality -- which advocates reforming how teachers are evaluated -- gave Maryland a D+ for teacher effectiveness in a recent report, a grade that stands in stark contrast to other ratings of the state’s schools.

The council’s report says Maryland’s schools have work to do in terms of enhancing teacher requirements and changing tenure and performance policies.

But Education Week and others consistently say the state has one of the best education systems in the country. And some researchers who study teacher effectiveness argue the report does not evaluate the correct criteria because it focuses on policies instead of teacher performance.

Angela Minnici, principal researcher at the American Institutes for Research, a behavioral and social science organization, found the council’s assessment of teacher effectiveness lacking in substance.

“I think it tells you something about the data used, the way in which the information was reviewed or even the kinds of questions that each organization might have been trying to answer in its review,” Minnici said. “It doesn’t really make sense.”

Minnici said the council does not support the claims in the report with evidence. Also, she does not see a relationship between such items as performance pay and having good teachers, one of the aspects the council studies in ranking a state’s teacher effectiveness.

But the council defends its report, saying its grades are based on criteria such as teacher preparation, performance pay, tenure policies and alternative routes to certification.

The Council’s Managing Director, Sandi Jacobs, explained the measures of the study.

“We’re not looking at teachers,” Jacobs said. “We’re looking at the policy framework that governs the teacher profession.”

The council’s report focuses on 31 different areas, separating them into five categories, Jacobs said.

“I think this is a very comprehensive report,” she said, explaining that the study depends on a review of each state’s policies.

The Center for Education Reform, a think-tank that supports charter schools, agrees with the council’s report.

Kara Kerwin, the center’s president, said the council’s report reflects what Maryland policymakers need to address to enhance teacher quality and is consistent with their own evaluation.

“The problem in Maryland is that there’s this sense that everything’s fine,” Kerwin said.

A union representative from the Montgomery County Education Association disagreed with the report’s findings. Executive Director Tom Israel pointed out inconsistencies between the issues the report addresses and Maryland policies.

“What strikes me is, one, at many levels what they assert is actually wrong when it comes to Montgomery County,” Israel said.

The report claims that schools in the state make tenure decisions after three years and fail to dismiss ineffective teachers. Additionally, the council suggests having secondary school teachers in Maryland pass subject tests.

Montgomery County decides on teacher tenure based on standards, not just three years of teaching, Israel said. Secondary education teachers are also required to pass the Praxis tests for their respective subjects.

Israel and Montgomery County have been dealing with questions about teacher effectiveness since early February because of widespread exam failures, which teachers in the district attributed to studying habits and the grading system.

Teachers explained exam failures in Montgomery County by arguing that students knew the exam would not affect their final grades, Israel said.

Israel said the exam failures have nothing to do with teacher effectiveness, especially because the results were systematic across the county. But education reform groups attribute the failures to teacher quality.

Although Maryland jumped from a D in 2009, there remains much improvement needed, according to the council’s report.

But Israel argues that the report is agenda driven.

“The so-called grades are in alliance to a particular agenda,” Israel said about the report. “It’s just like the NRA putting out grades on gun rights.”
Jack Galvin February 21, 2014 at 07:32 AM
The National Council of Teacher Quality ...Are the only Advocates with out UNION or Teacher influence ....The others are UNION TEACHERS GRADING themselves ...NO SUBSTANCE. !!!
Maryellen Brady February 21, 2014 at 08:13 AM
Maryland has the number one rating in education in the country. This is a group that is advocating a point of view which is not supported by fact. It is a special interest group advancing a failed idea in Charter School effectiveness. Diane Ravitch, a one time strong charter school advocate, in her book REIGN of ERRORS discredits the premise upon which CHARTERS are operated and funded. A school system which respects its teachers, gives its teachers a voice in the education of thousands of kids is a smart system. A teachers' Union is not only the advocate for teachers, it is an effective voice in fighting for a better, safer, environment for kids to learn. AA County voters had good sense to overturn a council bill that did away with binding arbitration because they recognize the value that teachers bring to the table and they respect the profession upon which so many of us depend.
CeeCee February 21, 2014 at 10:50 AM
From Diane Ravitch herself: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/ravitch-what-is-nctq-and-why-you-should-know/2012/05/23/gJQAg7CrlU_blog.html Year after year, ratings by numerous accounts have listed Maryland schools in the top. As a product of the Maryland public school system, I attribute my critical thinking skills to my teachers, some who taught my child as he went through the system and who is now a school administrator in Virginia for a highly-ranked public school. The National Council of Teacher Quality is merely an organization losing its footing and has found a corporate medium attempting to restore its validity
Chuck Burton February 21, 2014 at 11:08 AM
I'm sure there are areas where Maryland's school system might be improved - nothing is perfect - but maybe that so-called Council needs to re-evaluate its own criteria. Who are they, by the way, and what is its backing?
CrunchyMama February 21, 2014 at 12:16 PM
Not seeing my comment, so apologies if it double-posts later: ------------------------------------------------------------- @Jack Galvin: The NCTQ doesn't even judge actual teacher effectiveness - they're looking at "criteria such as teacher preparation, performance pay, tenure policies and alternative routes to certification." NONE of these actually deal directly with TEACHERS, IN classrooms, working WITH students. There is NO WAY they can look at these criteria - which are highly subjective anyway - and determine if teachers are being effective or not. Would it be fair to judge your job performance based on the overall preparation of your employer's workforce and whether or not your employer uses merit pay (which, by the way, has NOT been shown to make ANY improvements in worker quality in the long run)? Didn't think so. As for the unions, unionized states generally have HIGHER levels of academic performance. And the self-aggrandizing NCTQ has its own ties to corporate-style reform, which is having far worse effects on public schools in the US than unions.
John February 22, 2014 at 02:59 PM
Look at the stated purpose of the group at the beginning of the article... The National Council on Teacher Quality -- which ADVOCATES reforming how teachers are evaluated. They would have no purpose if they graded school systems any higher. Maryland has made changes to it's tenure requirements. However, if they are rating the current mess that USDE and MSDE are trying to force on local school systems, they are right... D+ might even be too high for that mess that no one can prove will do anything to improve the quality of student achievement.
Chuck Burton February 22, 2014 at 03:55 PM
Uh-huh, USDE tells MSDE what to do, and MSDE tells the county schools what to do. 'Reminds me of the systems they had in Nazi Germany and Communist USSR, not to mention China at present.
Bob Higginbotham February 22, 2014 at 05:24 PM
Whoever said Maryland had one of the best school systems in the country, especially the one in Rockville, was probably paid off by the democrat government. I believe not only the poor teacher rating but also the terrible methodology used which focuses on passing tests rather than educating. Maybe at least part of the problem resides with the teacher unions that retard excellence in favor of mediocrity.
David Levine February 25, 2014 at 06:15 PM
All I know is that every time I ask my children what they learned, they claim they are prepping for the testing. The schools are more worried about coaching the kids to do well on the tests than about critical thinking or giving them the tools to perform problem solving. Shut down the board of education and start over looking at Finland and Singapore as models.
Maryellen Brady February 26, 2014 at 02:35 AM
Teaching to the test is a problem in the public school system. But, it is more an attempt to evaluate teachers than to learn about the progress children are making in classrooms. There is a better way, to know how schools are performing and it is the accreditation process. Where schools are actually visited, classrooms monitored by independent observers and material reviewed.
CeeCee March 12, 2014 at 07:14 PM
Understanding the Propaganda Campaign Against Public Education http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diane-ravitch/public-education_b_4941678.htm

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