Evaluating Teachers

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Philissa Cramer, managing editor at Gotham,  talks about disputes over teachers: principals are objecting to test scores for evaluations and Mayor Bloomberg has a modest proposal for class sizes. 


Philissa Cramer

Comments [48]

Giuseppe from Manhattan

I believe managing larger class sizes in secondary schools require a different set of skills and resources than in higher education. Maintaining discipline is likely to be main issues and it may reflect negatively on the teacher evaluation itself.

I had such problems teaching freshman Calculus at the University of Michigan to sections of 30-35 students. The atmosphere was very different from more advanced classes I had previously taught in other schools. I can only dread what high school would have been like with that class size or higher.

Dec. 06 2011 08:37 PM

A few scattered thoughts. First, it seems to me that one of the important functions of school is to watch out for kids who may need interventions -- either to spot kids who may be experiencing abuse or neglect at home, or to pick up on a learning or other disability or psychological issue. Bigger classes will reduce teachers' knowledge of and time for each kid. I wouldn't be surprised if this has other harmful effects aside from a diminished educational experience.
Second, one of the previous commenters makes a really good point -- if NYC has a problem retaining great teachers, we need to look at why they are leaving. Is it lack of room for creativity in this era where public schools are becoming little more than test preparation centers? A demoralizing excess of "accountability" based on test results? Low salaries? Lack of respect? Whatever it is, let's address it.
Finally, it seems to me that we should both start and end public education younger, when all of the research shows it can make more of an impact. Start it at 2, and end it at 16 or 17 rather than 18. Not only would this help level the playing field for kids from rich and poor backgrounds, it would also give all parents a huge help in dealing with childcare.

Dec. 06 2011 04:37 PM
Shannon from Bridgeport, CT

There is one item that I feel is really lacking from your poll, which is societal respect. About a year ago, I watched with horror as teachers were demonized as "overpaid civil servants" by Fox News and many right-leaning op-ed writers. Where's the respect? Why would I ever go teach in a public school? The work is hard, the pay is modest, especially compared to sectors like finance, and a large segment of society thinks those that teach are essentially worthless and should do so for free.

The comments of one of your callers, Peter from Overbrook, really made me angry. His experience is clearly biased for large colleges, and strongly conflicts with my experiences as a student and as a teaching assistant.

My field is physical chemistry, and my experience as both an undergrad, and in obtaining my PhD, is that all majors benefit from smaller class sizes, both in K-12 and in college. This includes both technical degrees and degrees in the humanities/social sciences.

The reason is rather simple. Most quality learning is not about facts, but about process. Good math teachers don't simply teach the fact that "1+1=2," but how to use this fact to solve other problems. Memorizing the fact that 1+1=2 won't help you solve 1001+101, but learning the process of arithmetic will. Facts, themselves, are pretty useless without the ability to reason about them.

This process of reasoning is subtle, and is best learned through individual interactions, which should be evident to anyone that's ever worked with a good teacher, manager, or even a generous and talented coworker.

Dec. 06 2011 01:05 PM
Lisa from NYC

The show -- and the plans for the Derek Walcott cheering session you keep announcing -- are missing the accurate information. Decades of research, going back at least the Coleman Report, emphasize the importance of the home and community. Study after study shows the relationship of variables like size of the parents' vocabulary, number of books in the home, income level, and other demographic data to how well kids do in school. Yes, of course teachers matter. But so do these other factors -- and they probably matter a lot more.

Where is your program segment on how much the private sector interests are making from the mess they're making of public education?

Philissa Kramer understands the issues. But the segment was far too short -- as all too many of your segments generally these days -- to really explore them. And when will you have other informed people on who understand the issues?

Have you been reading the comments to this segment? Your listeners get it. You don't.

Dec. 06 2011 12:37 PM
Art (Lerman) from Teaneck from Teaneck

Oops! Editor, below, I wrote "call" instead of "can"--in the second paragraph. Are you able to correct the typo?

Oh! The last paragraph was just for your information. It can be left out.

Thanks, Art from Teaneck


Art (Lerman) from Teaneck from Teaneck, NJ

Teachers only lay out what has to be learned. (Sure, that can be done more or less effectively.) But the real learning is done by the student him/herself, after class, sitting alone.

So a supportive home environment, study skills and motivation are crucial. Teachers can help on these, but many other factors are also important.

My experience on these matters: a student all my life, and a college teacher for over thirty-nine years.

Art (Lerman) from Teaneck
(Prof. Emeritus, Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY)

Dec. 06 2011 11:31 AM
Lectures, Q&A, and Feedback from Teaching is several separate tasks.

Teaching is actually several separate tasks. Four of the most important
ones are :

1) Lecturing
2) Q&A
3) Feedback
4) Motivation

By separating these tasks and using basic technology cleverly, the efficiency and overall quality of teaching can improve.

Lecturing could follow the Kahn Academy, Annenberg CPB &/or university video lecture format. Find excellent engaging lecturers, give them plenty of supplementary resources and editorial/research support and have them create wonderful and engaging class lectures.

Most of Q&A can be handled similarly by creating video FAQs. Questions not in the FAQs and directing questions could be handled locally.

Feedback includes grading (which can be partially offsite (and which may be fairer if it is)), and idiosyncratic grading which is done locally.

Motivation needs to flow from the student,
the family and also locally at the school.

Lectures and much of Q&A and much of
feedback can be handled offsite leveraging basic video technology to improve quality and efficiency and engagement.

This frees local teachers to have more time to give students personal attention and tutoring to help motivate them, provide idiosyncratic feedback and answer unusual and spontaneous questions.


Dec. 06 2011 11:30 AM
Art (Lerman) from Teaneck from Teaneck, NJ

Teachers only lay out what has to be learned. (Sure, that can be done more or less effectively.) But the real learning is done by the student him/herself, after class, sitting alone.

So a supportive home environment, study skills and motivation are crucial. Teachers call help on these, but many other factors are also important.

My experience on these matters: a student all my life, and a college teacher for over thirty-nine years.

Art (Lerman) from Teaneck
(Prof. Emeritus, Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY)

Dec. 06 2011 11:19 AM
John from Montclair

Speaking as a former teacher, I can say that class size is absolutely critical. With than in mind, I think the inverse of Bloomberg's "thought experiment" would bring about a better result. Double the number of teachers, cut class sizes in half (and salaries, too, if we're to stick to the terms of the experiment). I don't advocate the salary cuts -- better to increase education budgets -- but I think something like this approach would much more effectively improve both teacher quality and student performance. With a class size of less than 20, a weak teacher becomes an adequate one, an adequate one becomes a good one, and a good one becomes a brilliant one. With small classes, discipline becomes a minor problem, regardless of the backgrounds and capabilities of the students. Disruptive kids can be managed, reticent ones can't hide and all students can get individual attention. And consider the effect of class size on marking homework, particularly in humanities subjects. How much time can a teacher give to an essay or a research paper if he/she has to mark 35 or more for each of five classes? The reason for burnout and rapid turnover in the profession has more to do with the burden of large classes than anything else. As to salaries (again, I don't advocate cuts, but...), teachers don't go into the profession for the money. If the quality of the job were improved (by halving class size), the job would attract better people, even at lower pay levels, turnover would go down and quality would go up because of the caliber of the people entering the profession, the length of time they stay in it and the effect of reduced class size itself.

Dec. 06 2011 11:19 AM
Olivia Koppell from New York, NY

I sat next to two kids, just out of school, on the subway recently. They were talking about a "really great teacher." I asked them what made the teacher great and they said, "his passion!" He taught English, but it is true of any subject. That is the key that ingnites teaching and learning.

Dec. 06 2011 11:15 AM
Vera from New Jersey

So, Mayor Bloomberg thinks that people go into teaching for HIGH salaries rather than the experience of getting to know, and work closely with each student ?
How far off the mark is his thinking? I can only surmise that he has now hired Kathie Black as his speech writer on the topic of education.
As a New York city teacher, I and my colleagues know the REAL priorities.

Dec. 06 2011 11:13 AM
Edward from NJ

Yankee Stadium seats 50 thousand. Then you just need a few really good teachers, right?

Dec. 06 2011 11:10 AM
janet weinstein from new york city

class size must be limited for real learning to occur for most students. I taught for forty yesrs and am recently retired. As a formmer English teacher, i can say that over loading teachers with paperwork is useless and counterproductive. Teachers cannot teach worn out by such nonsense!!

Dec. 06 2011 11:04 AM
Paul from NYC / Northern NJ

Just what is Hizzoner thinking????? Glad it was just an "exercise" but you know.. "truth comes out" and all that.

Grade and high-school students are psychologically more immature than college students. Is this a surprise?

If you keep classes SMALL, THEN teacher performance can perhaps be more adequately measured. It only takes one unruly student to disrupt a class - disruption becomes EASIER with larger classes, not to mention disrupting more students at once - some students make a "show" of this behavior. You don't need to be an education expert to know this.

NOT TO MENTION that this theory flies in the face of the charter school "movement".

Dec. 06 2011 11:01 AM
RBC from NYC

Let me see Mayor Bloomberg attempt to teach a class with 60 kids.

Dec. 06 2011 11:01 AM
Amaury from Ithaca

If students are "lost in the system" in classes now, won't they be twice as likely to get lost in classes that are twice as large?

Dec. 06 2011 11:01 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Double teacher authority and ability to discipline disruptive students. That would have the greatest positive effect of all.

Dec. 06 2011 11:00 AM
Rosalie from astoria

Attracting qualified teachers is not the problem in nyc. It is RETAINING great teachers. I have seen so many smart, dedicated teachers leave after a few years. We need to find out why new teachers that have all the merits to be great teachers leave the public school system. I am sure large class size which influences the relationship between teachers and their students is one issue.

Dec. 06 2011 10:59 AM
mick from NYC

The problem with large classes is the large percentage of children in our schools. with problems. Mr. Bloomberg and Mr. Engineer on the telephone are ignorant of the real situation in our schools. This whole debate is absurd posturing, like arguing over whether global warming is real.

Dec. 06 2011 10:59 AM
Esther from NYC

It is important to note that there is only one study that actually looked at classroom size in a controlled experimental way -- which was done in TN years ago. Otherwise, don't really know.

Dec. 06 2011 10:59 AM
John from Inwood

Why stop at 60 kids? Why not have one class per grade regardless of enrollment? If size doesn't matter, then with the "right" teacher 25 or 60 or 180 kids in a classroom would net the same result, right?

Also, didn't Bloomberg once hang his hat on small class sizes?

Dec. 06 2011 10:58 AM
ct agostino from baldwin, ny

CLASS SIZE IS THE ONE EFFECTIVE VARIABLE THAT IS EASIEST TO CONTROL: A few years ago we researched this while lobbying for smaller classes in my son's school. From a large Rand Foundation cumulative report we found that the three eleemnts that most effect educational quality are the social conditions of the student, the quality of the teacher and the class size, and the report concluded that CLASS SIZE is the only variable there that can be directly controlled by school administration - since determining (and developing) the quality of an individual teachers is so difficult.

Dec. 06 2011 10:58 AM
veteran teacher from NYC

Teacher quality has an immeasurably positive impact on students' lives, but it is misguided to think it will improve test scores--which is all most people care about--more than incrementally.

Dec. 06 2011 10:57 AM
Tiesha from Brooklyn

I dont see a problem with having larger class sizes, perhaps with a less expensive aid or two to maintin order and give individual help. Also, I think this idea that everyone is capable and can be brilliant needs to come to an end and we need vocational training schools, If someone is not doing well, creating disturbances or has just no interest, they should be removed and placed into vocational training so at least they leave with some skill unlike now where they are just lost or drop out.

Dec. 06 2011 10:57 AM
veteran teacher from Brooklyn from brooklyn

People who think substantially higher pay will automatically equal higher quality teachers are extremely misguided about the kind of person who makes an excellent teacher.

Dec. 06 2011 10:55 AM
Nick from UWS

More yakking mumbo jumbo. Mayor Bloomberg is right but only half way there.

Class size of 35. Great teachers. Boys to wear shirts and ties, slacks and shined shoes. Girls to wear dresses shoes and hair neatly done.

No cell phones whatsoever. No computers whatsoever. No calculators whatsoever. Full supplies of paper, pencils, rulers etc.

Disruptive or violent children removed from the general student population.


Dec. 06 2011 10:54 AM
Tom Crisp from UWS

If you can also "get rid of" the bottom 50% of students, MAYBE teachers could handle a larger class size. But there are limits. In K-12 students are still learning how to learn - you can't do that in a lecture hall.

Dec. 06 2011 10:52 AM
Sheila from nyc

I think you should ask your callers' professions and whether or not they have any experience with children to assess the credibility of their ideas. The mayor is obviously a fool to say such a thing, and mirrors the opinion of many people who think what an "easy" job teachers have. They don't really understand what its all about. Teaching a class of 40-60 kids at any level in K-12 is impossible. This "model", as people are referring to it, is from the last century, and there is a reason why it was abandoned.

Dec. 06 2011 10:52 AM
connie from nj

My sister teaches 4th grade, and she is an excellent teacher. She didn't choose her career because of the money. An important criterion of how well her class goes every year is the number of students she teaches. And she wouldn't be able to teach any 'harder' if she was paid more.

Dec. 06 2011 10:51 AM
elizabeth from Brooklyn

Meanwhile, the tutoring business is exploding precisely because of 2 things:

1) You can get the best teachers if you pay them $100/hr (sometimes more)

2) one-on-one is the ultimate small class size.

I was a teacher in the schools, but after being paid $200/hr plus and treated with respect as a tutor, there's no going back.

Dec. 06 2011 10:51 AM
veteran NYC teacher from brooklyn

I am working on doctoral research with high school English teachers both in NYC and affluent suburbs, and I can tell you this: the stellar teachers work more than 60 hours a week already and can barely keep up with their workload with with 25-30 students, much less those who already have 34 per class. Double the students--or even an extra 5 students per class, which means 25 more students--means countless more hours of paper reading, responding, grading. Guaranteed, each student then receives far less attention, and that stellar teacher is no longer stellar.

Dec. 06 2011 10:51 AM
former nyc teacher from nyc

Teaching is already almost impossible with the current class size of 34 (34 kids x 5 periods = 170 students to grade, evaluate, assist) and the ever-increasing demands, pressure, and blame. Kids in NYC need personal attention and support. I taught high school students who did not know their multiplication tables but who had to take the very challenging Regents.

Only the most mature students are equipped to learn in a forum environment; it's difficult to learn that way for college freshmen. I left after 5 years, and the problem was NOT the salary. Listening to this segment is upsetting me.

Dec. 06 2011 10:51 AM
MP from Brooklyn

Lucy says, "Teachers need more autonomy in their classrooms so they can tailor the curriculum to the particular needs of their students." Talk about a fantasy! And it's one I still cling to, too.

Dec. 06 2011 10:51 AM

Put 60 fifteen year olds in a room with one teacher in most NYC schools and you'll have a riot.

The fact is that the very same 'scholars' who bleat about the irrelevance of class size work double time to make sure _their_ kids get into schools with small class sizes.

Dec. 06 2011 10:51 AM
Judy from Manhattan

60 kids in a class. There's a plan!. As soon as the elite private schools follow that model, I'll support it.

Dec. 06 2011 10:50 AM
Susan from Manhattan

Is he NUTS? My son is in the middle of applying to high school. He has gone to a private school with 15 kids in a class through middle school. As a liberal, I desperately want to send him to a public high school. But every time I visit a public high school and see 35 kids crammed into a classroom and 1 adult roaming about, I can't bring myself to send go public. And the mayor wants 70 kids in a class??????

Dec. 06 2011 10:50 AM
Dave from Washington Heights

Everyone from Bloomberg to Arne Duncan have made this claim that class size does not matter, but as Michael Wineripe (NYTimes) pointed out, most of these "education reformers" have either attended schools or have sent their own children to schools where class size was much smaller (often less than 20).

It strike me as simple hypocritical, and tragically naive for them to claim class size does not matter.

Dec. 06 2011 10:49 AM
lucy from brooklyn from Fort Greene, Brooklyn

Once again the Mayor shows how out of touch he is with students, teachers and parents especially in a large urban school system. We need small classes and decent pay. Teachers need more autonomy in their classrooms so they can tailor the curriculum to the particular needs of their students. They don't need lots of tests and tying up their teaching time to prep for tests which is what classrooms have become. Students learn through making a meaningful connection to their teacher and to their peers especially if they do not have supportive home environment. The Mayor needs to get out of the school as do the corporations and leave it to the professionals. Students are not widgets.

Dec. 06 2011 10:48 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

Of course, the mayor would have sent his daughters to an over-crowded class/school just because the teachers are good. Would he be willing to forgo parent/teacher conferences or have 2 minute conferences (among other things)? His privilege his showing again.

Dec. 06 2011 10:48 AM
Shelley from NYC

Why don't we follow the same principle Bloomberg's precious Wall Street does?

Pay teachers twice as much. (Don't increase class size, just pay people what you need to, to attract the best.)

If they produce results, give them enormous bonuses.

If they don't, give them golden parachutes.

Dec. 06 2011 10:47 AM
bernie from bklyn

the issue that's always missing in these debates is the role of the parents or lack thereof in this situation.
if a good teacher works in a school in a terrible neighborhood filled w/ irresponsible "parents", then even the best teacher wouldn't be successful.

Dec. 06 2011 10:46 AM
Edward from NJ

The real three things that matter: Quality of home life, quality of home life, quality of home life.

Dec. 06 2011 10:46 AM

Bloomberg's views on educations would be a complete joke if he didn't actually have the power to implement them. He has never grasped that educations is absolutely nothing like business - you cannot simply give the workers more to do and gain increased productivity. Anyone who has seriously studied education will tell you that class size matters. It doesn't matter how good a teacher is if they have to deal with 60-80 kids at a time. That might work for a college lecture, but it would be a disaster in high school and completely crippling below that.

Dec. 06 2011 10:45 AM
JT from LI

Would anyone really be attract anyone to teaching? I would think that double the amount of homework, classwork and tests to review everyday would be a huge turn off at any salary.

Dec. 06 2011 10:45 AM

Many academics arguing that class size doesn't matter are at places like Stanford and Harvard. Curiously, these schools tout as one of their big selling points their _small_ class size.

Dec. 06 2011 10:45 AM
Bryony Romer

As a friend wrote on Facebook, the Mayor's own daughters went to Spence, and everyone knows the great thing about private schools is the huge class size and the high student:teacher ratio.

Dec. 06 2011 10:45 AM
Morgan from Manhattan

If Newt gets his way in converting the students into janitors, we could cut the number of teachers in half. Now we're moving in the right direction.

Dec. 06 2011 10:44 AM
MP from Brooklyn

What a dimwit. Where did his kids go to school?

Dec. 06 2011 10:43 AM
Leonie Haimson from NYC

The mayor poses a false dichotomy between quality teaching and smaller classes; actually our kids deserve both. And there is evidence that class size reduction leads to lower rates of teacher attrition as well, which would mean a more experienced, effective teaching force here in NYC, where our four year attrition rates are about 50%. Moreover, when you poll teachers across the country, they say the best way to improve their effectiveness is to reduce class size. It is the top priority of NYC parents every year on the DOE's own surveys -- which is not surprising since we continue to have the highest class sizes in the state. 86% of NYC principals say they are unable to provide a quality education because of the overly large classes. Meanwhile, NYC parents also said in the recent NYT poll that the worst thing.about their schools was the class size, and the best was their teachers.

Bloomberg campaigned on reducing class size when he first ran for mayor and acknowledged the need and yet class sizes are now the largest in 11 years in the early grades. He should be held accountable for this critical failure to follow through on his promises to our kids.

Dec. 06 2011 09:31 AM

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