Merit pay for teachers in Indiana school districts raise questions

If your child’s teacher seems a little bit on edge this year, it might not be your imagination. Education reforms now going into effect in Indiana, and similar ones sweeping the nation, are targeting something many Americans consider to be strictly off-limits: their paychecks, according to the Hechinger Report. The laws passed in 2011 and being implemented over the next two or three years were partly based on the principle of merit pay. Under Indiana’s new law, the state will ask that test performance of students be factored into pay raises for the first time. That is a major shift away from the rigid pay tables in most school districts that awarded raises primarily based on a teacher’s years of experience and the academic degrees they earned…

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Indiana school principals’ certification exam to be overhauled

Indiana is poised to dramatically overhaul the way it determines whether educators are qualified to become principals, according to the Hechinger Report. Starting in the fall of 2013, Indiana will abandon its mostly multiple-choice test for the administrator license required to become a principal or vice principal. Instead, the new test will feature “real practical, applicable scenarios—case-study kinds of things—that actually show that you know what you’re talking about,” said Marg Mast, director of educator effectiveness and leadership in Indiana’s state department of education. Several states are discussing the idea of creating a new principal certification test, but Indiana is the only one currently doing so, according to Ben Fenton, co-founder and chief strategy and knowledge officer of New Leaders, a New York City-based nonprofit group that trains principals in 12 urban areas across the country…

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Many students could skip remedial classes, studies find

Even as policymakers struggle to reform remedial-education requirements blamed for derailing the aspirations of countless community-college students, two new studies suggest that many of those students would do fine without them, says Jon Marcus from the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit based at Teachers College, Columbia University, for the Washington Post. The studies, both by the Community College Research Center at Teachers College, Columbia University, found that as many as a third of students sidetracked into remedial classes because of their scores on standardized tests would have earned a B or better if they had simply proceeded directly to college-level courses. Three out of five of all entering community-college students are required to take remedial classes in math and other subjects, spending time and tuition money reviewing material they should have learned in high school, yet earning no credit from these classes toward their degrees. More than 75 percent never graduate—in many cases, the researchers say, because they drop out from boredom and frustration. Providing remedial education also costs community colleges an estimated $2.5 billion a year…

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Tennessee teacher evaluation systems have rough road ahead

Rebecca Sellers, an eighth-grade English teacher at the Lester Pre-K-8 school in Memphis, looked wary as she walked into the teachers’ lounge on a Monday afternoon last fall, says the Hechinger Report. The previous week, the school’s assistant principal, Isaac Robinson, had dropped in, unannounced, to watch Sellers teach as part of Tennessee’s new evaluation system. Now he was about to reveal her scores. As he fiddled with a computer connected to a projector, Robinson asked Sellers how she thought she did.

“I’m not sure how I did because I had to make some adjustments,” said Sellers. Her students tend to do well on state tests, but the lesson hadn’t gone as planned. Her eighth-graders had been stumped by a quick review exercise on pronouns. Sellers had taken an extra 15 minutes to go back over the material…

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Japanese strategy for improving teachers catches on in U.S.

In the sunlit library at Jorge Prieto Elementary on Chicago’s northwest side, an experiment is under way, writes the Hechinger Report. A provisional classroom has been set up. A white board sits at the front of the room, and 20 eighth-graders are seated at library tables. Math teacher Michael Hock is giving a lesson about the distributive property. Scattered throughout the room are some 30 other teachers. They aren’t wearing lab coats—but they might as well be. They clutch clipboards and carefully monitor kids’ reactions to the teacher’s explanations, peering over students’ shoulders as they write answers.

“What is the area of the garden?” Hock asks students as he points to an illustration on the white board. “Nestor, I haven’t heard from you today.”

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Complex new Florida teacher evaluations tied to student test scores

At Coral Reef Senior High, calculus teacher Orlando Sarduy understands complicated formulas, and knows he will be graded on how his students perform on tests. But despite his advanced knowledge of math, Sarduy cannot explain the statistics-packed formula behind the grade he’ll get, says the Hechinger Report. It is so confusing that even a member of the state committee tasked with developing it abstained from a vote because she didn’t understand it. The formula—in what is called a “value-added” model—tries to determine a teacher’s effect on a student’s FCAT performance by predicting what that student should score in a given year, and then rating the teacher on whether the student hits, misses or surpasses the mark…

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English learners far behind under English-only methods

The end of the school day in Patty Sanchez’s kindergarten class at Geddes Elementary School is not so different from other kindergarten classes around the state. Children gather on a rug as Sanchez holds up a storybook about a coyote and a turtle and reads out loud, according to the Hechinger Report. What’s different is that Sanchez is reading in Spanish. Nearly all of the children in the room are Hispanic, and many are English-language learners. The few who are new to Spanish are expected to follow along with the story, too, and respond in Spanish to Sanchez’s questions…

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