Top Teacher Beat Posts in 2010

By Stephen Sawchuk — January 03, 2011 3 min read
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Happy New Year! I’m excited to be back in town and back on the beat.

Before we return to our regularly scheduled programming, though, I shall follow in the steps of my colleagues and bring you this morning the most-read items from this blog in 2010.

1. NEA Votes ‘No Confidence’ in Race to the Top: In a highly symbolic move, the union voted at its annual Representative Assembly to take a “no confidence” position in the federal competition. Although most NEA affiliates are not big fans of the program, the vote was actually close: Some affiliate heads worried that making such a public fuss would jeopardize their relationship with the Obama administration.

2. Rhee to Dismiss Hundreds of Teachers for Poor Performance: The firing was heard round the country as then-Chancellor of the District of Columbia’s school system Michelle Rhee pared her force of 241 teachers. The district touted the move as one of the first instances of performance-based dismissals, although as it turned out later, only some of the teachers had poor evaluations under the district’s newly implemented system; the others were let go for problems with their licenses or because principals didn’t want to hire them.

3. Obama Comments on R.I. Teacher-Firing Drama: A flare-up in labor relations between an American Federation of Teachers affiliate and a district became a national issue after President Obama added his two cents. The dust-up had to do with the district’s decision to replace teachers using the “turnaround” model under the federal school improvement program. The incident highlighted the unusual dynamic between teachers’ unions and the Democratic president they helped elect.

4. Scholars Support Value-Added Uses: On the heels of a number of reports highly critical of using “value-added” student test data in teacher evaluations (see no. 7 below), a group of scholars came out in favor of judicious use of the information. They asserted that, while imperfect and fuzzy, the information provided by value-added is useful coupled with other measures, and compared it to the high-stakes use of statistics in other fields.

5. Teaching Assignment Linked to Teach For America Retention Rates: A study by Morgaen Donaldson, a University of Connecticut assistant professor, found that TFA retention rates differ based on the subject, grade, and field taught. TFA posts are always popular (frequently generating some pretty, uh, impassioned comments by vocal supporters and detractors), and this one was no exception.

6. School Factors May Influence Teacher Effectiveness: A paper by C. Kirabo Jackson, a Cornell University researcher, suggests that teacher effectiveness varies based on whether the teacher is a good “match” for a school’s culture and approach. School norms and cultures are understudied in general, and this paper suggests that diving into that question will be necessary for the teacher-effectiveness conversation.

7. Scholars Slam Value-Added for Teacher Accountability: Testing experts released a report highly critical of the use of student growth data, citing its instability over time. They argued that such data should make up no more than a minimal part of a teacher’s evaluation, if at all, one of the opening salvos in a debate that is likely to crank on for years.

8. Panel Says Teacher Prep. Needs Overhaul: We’ve heard all that before, but this time the report seems to have gained some real attention, primarily because it was released by a major player in the teacher ed. arena, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Next on the agenda: Will ed. schools carry out these far-reaching changes? Stay tuned.

9. Bill Gates Speaks to AFT Convention: The philanthropist congratulated AFT affiliates for engaging in conversations about pay, evaluation, and tenure; took a slight (but underreported) dig at the NEA; and called on teachers to continue to confront tough issues. A major speech from Gates is always news—but with her efficient handling of a group of protesters, AFT prez Randi Weingarten came close to stealing away the show.

10. More Unions Bow Out of Race to the Top: In the run up to the Race to the Top, much attention was paid to the union “buy-in” factor. The defection of three state union affiliates from their states’ respective bids made news here—coupled with a few instances of muddled messaging.

Also, don’t forget to check out our top-read full Education Week stories at this link. Two important teacher stories made the cut: A study on performance pay and a profile of a district that did away with the step-and-lane teacher salary schedule.

Now, onward with 2011 coverage!

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.