January 2010

How to alienate your supporters?

Today, I got yet another notice of a “mandatory” parent meeting, a few days from now.   It’s not the first, but the first from this particular organization.  It’s not work-related, and not an organization of which I am a member… but like the others, a group of which my children are members.

Note to the folks who orchestrate these things: the likelihood of my participation drops to near zero if you call a mandatory meeting without first asking whether I’m available, and providing information about the subject matter.  Unfortunately, I’ve already been to far too many of these (all associated with my children’s activities, not my own) where, after I’ve cancelled something far more important, I learn that the subject of the mandatory parent meeting is simply to provide information that could have been sent in an e-mail.  Yes, the very same e-mail sent to demand my presence.

It’s odd, but I’ve never had a notice that a parent-teacher conference was mandatory, although I would readily consider it such.  For that matter, no teacher has ever assigned me a time to show up without first asking when I’m available.  I’ve had children in school for 17 years now, and I’ve never missed a single one.

In three out of four of the groups I’ve gotten mandatory-meeting demands from lately, the topic was the need for volunteers.  Okay, that could have been handled by e-mail, or a note sent home with my child.    Furthermore, I’m far more likely to volunteer if you don’t first waste an hour or two of my time to make me show up somewhere, just to tell me that you need someone to bring cookies to practice or write an article for the newspaper.

Grouchy?  You bet.   I know that everyone’s mother or grandmother taught them the bit about catching more with honey than vinegar (or some variation on that theme), but it seems that all the extracurricular things my kids are involved in have gotten caught up in this business of “mandatory” meetings.

I suspect that participation will further dwindle as demands escalate.   Mine does.

Race to the Top

This week, the Tennessee Legislature goes into a special session to consider education proposals that would make our state eligible for a share of approximately $4 billion in federal “Race to the Top” funding. One of the key provisions is to make student testing data a “significant” factor in tenure decisions and subsequent evaluations. The TEA is opposed to making it count for more than 35% of the weighting, while the Governor has asked for at least 50%.

Tennessee has one of the best data systems in the country, but we generally don’t make the best use of it. One of the reasons is the provisions built into law about who can access the data and for what purposes, but I’m sure that another of the reasons is that not enough people know how to access and use the data effectively.

I also have some questions about the Governor’s proposals:

  • What would happen for teachers who teach subjects (or grade levels) that aren’t part of the standardized testing?
  • Would the decision be based on raw scores, value-added, or some combination of both?
  • Might we encounter increased teacher shortage areas, as some choose to teach subjects that aren’t tested to avoid this additional scrutiny?

Those aren’t all of my questions, to be sure. Just the ones that come to mind right off the bat. Regarding the use of test data in tenure decisions, we might ought to reconsider some of our other tenure provisions. Presently, a teacher is evaluated for tenure at the end of the third year; if tenure is not awarded, then he/she cannot be offered a contract for the following year. But, what if a new teacher shows great promise, but might need another year of coaching to get his or her scores up? Could we change that part of the law, so that a teacher who doesn’t get tenure in the third year could be retained for another year or two?

It would make more sense to me to use test data in performance evaluations, except that with teacher salaries dictated solely by education and experience, what difference do the evaluations really make? Certainly, it provides teachers with a clearer picture of their strengths and weaknesses, but it doesn’t make any difference in compensation, as it would in most other professions.

My feelings on this are decidedly mixed.