Deming and Peters, and teacher evaluations

October 12, 2013

Before I was a teacher, I led a tough band of people at the Department of Education, and I plied corporate America (among other jobs).  I spent a couple of years in American Airlines‘s corporate change project, facilitating leadership courses for more than 10,000 leaders in the company, as one of a team of about 20 inside consultants.  I had a fine time in management consulting with Ernst & Young LLP (now EY).

W. Edwards Deming

W. Edwards Deming, Wikipedia image

Back then “quality” was a watchword.  Tom Peters’s and Robert H. Waterman, Jr.‘s book, In Search of Excellence, showed up in everybody’s briefcase.  If your company wasn’t working with Phillip Crosby (Quality is Free), you were working with Joseph Juran, or the master himself, W. Edwards Deming.  If your business was highly technical, you learned more mathematics and statistics  that you’d hoped never to have to use so you could understand what Six Sigma meant, and figure out how to get there.

Joseph Juran. Another exemplar of the mode of leadership that takes lawyers out of law, putting them to good work in fields not thought to be related.

Joseph Juran. Another exemplar of the mode of leadership that takes lawyers out of law, putting them to good work in fields not thought to be related.

For a few organizations, those were heady times.  Management and leadership research of the previous 50 years seemed finally to have valid applications that gave hope for a sea change in leadership in corporations and other organizations.  In graduate school I’d been fascinated and encouraged by the work of Chris Argyris and Douglas McGregor.  “Theory X and Theory Y” came alive for me (I’m much more a Theory Y person).

Deming’s 14 Points could be a harsh checklist, harsh master to march to, but with the promise of great results down the line.

A lot of the work to get high quality, high performance organizations depended on recruiting the best work from each individual.  Doing that — that is, leading people instead of bossing them around — was and is one of the toughest corners to turn.  Tough management isn’t always intuitive.

For the salient example here, Deming’s tough statistical work panics workers who think they will be held accountable for minor errors not their doing.  In a traditional organization, errors get people fired.

Deming’s frequent point was that errors are not the worker’s doing, but instead are caused by managers, or by managerial failure to support the worker in getting quality work.  In any case, Deming comes down hard against firing people to try to get quality.  One of his 14 points is, “Drive out fear.”  In his seminars and speeches, that point was explained with, among other things, a drive to do away with annual performance reviews (wow, did that cause angst and cognitive dissonance at Ernst & Young!).  Performance reviews rarely touch on what a person needs to do to create quality, and generally the review session becomes a nit-picking exercise that leaves ratees angry, and less capable and willing to do quality work.  So Deming was against them as usually practiced.

Fast forward to today.

American schools are under fire — much of that fire unjustified, but that’s just one problem to be solved.  Evaluations of teachers is a big deal because many people believe that they can fire their way to good schools.  ‘Just fire the bad teachers, and the good ones will pull things out.’

Yes, that’s muddled thinking, and contrary to the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, there is no research to support the general idea, let alone specific applications.

Education leaders are trained in pedagogy, and not in management skills, most often — especially not in people leadership skills.  Teacher evaluations?  Oh, good lord, are they terrible.

Business adviser and healer, Tom Peters (from his website, photo by Allison Shirreffs)

Business adviser and healer, Tom Peters (from his website, photo by Allison Shirreffs)

In some search or other today I skimmed over to Tom Peters’s blog — and found this short essay, below.  Every school principal in America should take the three minutes required to read it — it will be a solid investment.

dispatches from the new world of work

Deming & Me

W. Edwards Deming, the quality guru-of-gurus, called the standard evaluation process the worst of management de-motivators. I don’t disagree. For some reason or other, I launched several tweets on the subject a couple of days ago. Here are a few of them:

  • Do football coaches or theater directors use a standard evaluation form to assess their players/actors? Stupid question, eh?
  • Does the CEO use a standard evaluation form for her VPs? If not, then why use one for front line employees?
  • Evaluating someone is a conversation/several conversations/a dialogue/ongoing, not filling out a form once every 6 months or year.
  • If you (boss/leader) are not exhausted after an evaluation conversation, then it wasn’t a serious conversation.
  • I am not keen on formal high-potential employee I.D. programs. As manager, I will treat all team members as potential “high potentials.”
  • Each of my eight “direct reports” has an utterly unique professional trajectory. How could a standardized evaluation form serve any useful purpose?
  • Standardized evaluation forms are as stupid for assessing the 10 baristas at a Starbucks shop as for assessing Starbucks’ 10 senior vice presidents.
  • Evaluation: No problem with a shared checklist to guide part of the conversation. But the “off list” discussion will by far be the most important element.
  • How do you “identify” “high potentials”? You don’t! They identify themselves—that’s the whole point.
  • “High potentials” will take care of themselves. The great productivity “secret” is improving the performance of the 60% in the middle of the distribution.

Tom Peters posted this on 10/09/13.

I doubt that any teacher in a public elementary or secondary school will recognize teacher evaluations in that piece.

And that, my friends, is just the tip of the problem iceberg.

An enormous chasm separates our school managers in this nation from good management theory, training and practice.  Walk into almost any meeting of school administrators, talk about Deming, Juran, Crosby, and you’re introducing a new topic (not oddly, Stephen Covey’s book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, sits on the shelf of many principals — probably unread, but certainly unpracticed).

Texas works to make one standardized evaluation form for every teacher in every grade, in every subject, in every school.  Do you see anything in Peters’s advice to recommend that?  In many systems, teachers may choose whether evaluators will make surprise visits to the classroom, or only scheduled visits.  In either case, visits are limited, generally fewer than a dozen visits get made to a teacher’s classroom in a year.  The forms get filled out every three months, or six weeks.  Take each of Tom’s aphorisms, it will be contrary to the way teacher evaluations usually run.

Principals, superintendents, you don’t have to take this as gospel.  It’s only great advice from a guy who charges tens of thousands of dollars to the greatest corporate leaders in the world, to tell them the same thing.

It’s not like you want to create a high-performing organization in your school, is it?

More:


If class size doesn’t matter, why do the charter schools list it as a key selling point?

July 18, 2013

Classroom in Edgewood ISD, San Antonio, Texas, in 2010. Photo by Bob Daemmrich

Classroom in Edgewood ISD, San Antonio, Texas, in 2010. Republican legislators want more classrooms like this one, crowded, to save money paying teachers and heating the rooms. Or maybe they have a real reason — it can’t be a good one. What’s the ratio, three kids to one desk? Did one kid fail to shower this morning.  Texas Tribune photo, by Bob Daemmrich

Steven Zimmer, a member of the board of the under-assault Los Angeles Unified School District, lays it on the line:  Class size is important, and legislative efforts to expand class size in public schools are intended to sabotage public schooling — and that action harms students.

Description of the video at YouTube from the OTL Campaign:

Small class size isn’t about protecting teachers’ jobs or making their work easier — it’s about providing every student with quality attention in the classroom. Steve Zimmer, Board Member of the Los Angeles Unified School District and a former teacher, asks why we tolerate or dismiss crowded public school classrooms when charters and private schools use small class sizes as a selling point?

More:

 J. D. Crowe cartoon from the Mobile, Alabama, Press-Register.

“OK, Class . . . How many of you are students adn how many are teacher consultants?” J. D. Crowe cartoon from the Mobile, Alabama, Press-Register, August 18, 2009.

“It could be worse — this could be a public school classroom during budget cuts.” Cartoon by Mike Keefe, Denver Post, March 18, 2011

 


Facebook-fiends-and-Twitterists? “I’ve got them on the list.”

May 26, 2012

Believe it or not, this post is about education leadership, or its lack.

It is said that Gerald Ford once said of Richard Nixon’s “enemies list,”

“Anybody who can’t keep his enemies in his head has too many enemies.”

Richard Nixon, had he acknowledged the sentiment, probably could have devised a way to pare his list not exactly in keeping with Gerald Ford’s good-guy intentions.  More than one way to pare a list, if you know what I mean.

My mind wandered off to enemies lists when I discovered this week that one of our former administrators had actually kept lists of teachers — and probably other support people — and threatened more than one with “placement on the list.”

What school of school leadership taught that?  The Monty Python School of How KnNot to Do It?

English: 1919 D'Oyly Carte Opera Company publi...

1919 D’Oyly Carte Opera Company publicity poster for The Mikado, featuring the character of the Lord High Executioner. Illustration by J. Hassal.

The only appropriate response when learning of such a list is to ask, “Who appointed you Lord High Executioner?”

Do you disagree?  Lists of enemies do not denote the great leader.  They denote someone who either saw “The Mikado” and missed all the jokes, or didn’t bother to see the thing at all.  Who can follow someone who doesn’t know the jokes from “Mikado,” and consequently, falling victim to the trap warned of by Santayana’s Ghost, falls right into the trap?

It’s silly.  It’s lampooned well enough in Gilbert and Sullivan‘s masterpiece of bureaucracy farce that any leader, even a Modern Major General, would know better than to do it.

Notice I did NOT say, “know better than to let it be known that the list existed.”  I said “know better than to do it.

What’s that?   You are unfamiliar with the song of which I speak?  Here, watch Opera Australia show how it’s done (at least, how it’s done Down Under where there are, unbelievable as it may be, climate denialists and people who are obnoxious about Facebook and Twitter):

DVD Available Now: http://bit.ly/HCzeWc

Mitchell Butel of Avenue Q fame sings “I’ve Got a Little List” from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. This excerpt is from the cinema/DVD recording of Opera Australia’s 2011 production at the Arts Centre, Melbourne.

Lyrics:
As someday it may happen that a victim must be found,
I’ve got a little list. I’ve got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground
And who never would be missed, who never would be missed.

There’s the idiot denouncing with enthusiastic tone
All football teams but his and every suburb but his own.
The man who sits beside you on the plane and wants to talk,
Whose jabbering inspires you to jab him with your fork.
Your aunty with the moustache who insists on being kissed.
They’d none of them be missed, they’d none of them be missed.

(He’s got them on the list! He’s got them on the list!
And they’d none of them be missed! They’d none of them be missed!)

Those whinging letter writers and those pundits in the press.
That opinion columnist, that bore would not be missed.
That trendy thing in opera if the plot seems like a mess,
That nice surtitlist!
(Surtitles: ‘This song is not on my list. Normal transmission will resume shortly’)
The politician prancing round in speedos tightly packed,
He thought it cool but really it just showed us what he lacked.
And Canberra’s leading red-head who’s afraid of stickybeaks,
Who’d like to keep her fumbles and mistakes off Wikileaks.
Australian Idol singers who pathetically persiiiiiiiiiist.
They’d none of them be missed. They’d none of them be missed.

(He’s got them on the list! He’s got them on the list!
And they’d none of them be missed! They’d none of them be missed!)

And the purists who insist piano music stops at Brahms,
I’ll put them on the list, and make them sit through Liszt.
On Saturday night the mob at Flinder’s Street all singing psalms,
I wish they would desist, and their happy claps resist.
That music theatre sequel that they promised would be good,
“Love never dies” they say, but I confess I wish it would.
That Frenchman and the other one who judge My Kitchen Rules,
Who give new definition to the label ‘Kitchen Tools’.
That morning television host who’s funny as a cyst,
Gold Logies he has kissed, but it’s time to kiss my fist.

(He’s got them on the list! He’s got them on the list!
And they’d none of them be missed! They’d none of them be missed!)

Then the merchant banker wankers and the bonuses they flout,
And the subprimortgagist, I’ve got him on the list!
The governments like lapdogs rushing in to bail them out,
To their mills it’s simply grist, so I’ve got them on the list.
Retirees who migrate to the country to make wine,
And Britney Spears for accidentally showing her ‘vagine’.
Those climate change deniers who don’t like the carbon tax,
Who haven’t read the science and don’t really know the facts.
The women on the tram who at Spring Carnaval got pi– really drunk!
Narelle! Where are my shoes?!
They’d none of them be missed. They’d none of them be missed.

(You may put them on the list. You may put them on the list.
And they’d none of them be missed! They’d none of them be missed!)

There’s the ticket holder next to you who cannot work their phone,
And cannot get the gist. I’ve got her on the list!
Who leaves it on or switches to that dreadful silent drone… Vrrrrrr Vrrrrr Vrrrrr
Facebook fiends and Twitterists are also on the list.
And people who inflict on us full cycles of the Ring,
I’d rather ride a valkyrie than hear Brunhilde sing.
And all commercial managements who want to cast a star,
They couldn’t get one this time, they got me, so there you are.
Or worst of all the actor who’s an extra lyricist,
I don’t think he’d be missed, so I’ve got him on the list.

(You may put them on the list! You may put them on the list!
And they’d none of them be missed! They’d none of them be missed!)

Your shock at Gilbert and Sullivan’s sounding so astonishingly contemporary comes through even the internet.  How could they know?

I’m not sure what the original script said, having never done that particular operetta.  Somewhere, the practice  arose to have someone spice up the lyric to this tune, to the times, to the city in which the operetta is performed, and to thezeitgeist of the audience.  Fans of G&S wait to see what and whom the “supplemental lyricist,” or “extra lyricist” poked at.

Even composers of silly operetta tunes understand that what is said, and what is done, needs to be molded to the local circumstances — and that in no case should a bureaucrat keep a list of enemies.

Compare Opera Australia’s version with that of the venerable G&S troupe, D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, about 20 years earlier, 1990 or 1992, on BBC2, in London:

Of course, you may think by my lampooning of list makers that I, myself, should be on some list.  Aye, there’s the rub.

Take a look and listen to Eric Idle’s version of the song from th 1987 English National Opera production, with which Opera Australia may wish to take some exception.

In the English speaking world, wherever the works of Gilbert and Sullivan exist in book, on the stage, in oratorio, on record, tape, CD, DVD or Blu-Ray, people know leaders become comic fops instead when they make “a little list” of the names of the people they wish to be rid of.

Educated people know that.  Education people should know that, too.

More (not necessarily endorsed by Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub):

 

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New Dallas superintendent Mike Miles warns the troops

May 25, 2012

Dallas ISD superintendent-designee Mike Miles held a press conference and sat down for an interview with the in-house television production group this week.

Miles starts the job in Dallas at the first of July, but he is working at Dallas ISD headquarters under a consulting contract until then.

Should the interview, below, be regarded as anything other than a warning to Dallas teachers and administrators?

Is this any way to rally the troops one depends on?

This interview with Dallas ISD Superintendent-designate Mike Miles occurred on May 22, 2012.

More, Related, and Tangential articles:


Teacher ratings can’t tell good teachers from bad ones – back to the drawing board?

March 4, 2012

Corporate and business people who have lived through serious quality improvement programs, especially those based on hard statistical analysis of procedures and products in a manufacturing plant, know the great truths drilled by such high-quality statistical gurus as W. Edwards DemingThe fault, dear Brutus, is not in the teacher, but in the processes generally beyond the teacher’s control.

Here’s the shortest video I could find on Deming’s 14 Points for Management — see especially point #14, about eliminating annual “performance reviews,” because as Dr. Deming frequently demonstrated, the problems that prevent outstanding success are problems of the system, and are beyond the control of the frontline employees (teachers, in this case).  I offer this here only for the record, since it’s a rather dull presentation.  I find, however, especially among education administrators, that these well-established methods for creating champion performance in an organization are foreign to most Americans.  Santayana’s Ghost is constatly amazed at what we refuse to learn.

Wise words from the saviors of business did not give even a moment’s pause to those who think that we can improve education if we could only get out those conniving, bad teachers, who block our children’s learning.  Since the early Bush administration and the passage of the nefarious, so-called No Child Left Behind Act, politicians pushed for new measures to catch teachers “failing,” and so to thin the ranks of teachers.  Bill Gates, the great philanthropist, put millions of dollars in to projects in Washington, D.C., Dallas, and other districts, to come up with a way to statistically measure who are the good teachers, the ones who “add value” to a kid’s education year over year.

It was a massive experiment, running in fits and spurts for more than a decade. We have the details from two of America’s most vaunted and haunted school districts, Washington, D.C., and New York City, plus Los Angeles and other sites, in projects funded by Bill Gates and others, and we can pass judgment on the value of the idea of identifying the bad apple teachers to get rid of them to improve education.

As an experiment, It failed.  After measuring teachers eight ways from Sunday for more than a decade, W. Edwards Deming was proved correct:  Management cannot identify the bad actors from the good ones.

Most of the time the bad teachers this year were good teachers last year, and vice versa, according to the measures used.

Firing the bad ones from this years only means next year’s good teachers are gone from the scene.

Data have been published in a few places, generally over complaints of teachers who don’t want to get labeled as “failures” when they know better.  Curiously, some of the promoters of the scheme also came out against publication.

A statistician could tell why.  When graphed, the points of data do not reveal good teachers who constantly add value to their students year after year, nor do the data put the limelight on bad teachers who fail to achieve goals year after year.  Instead, they reveal that what we think is a good teacher this year on the basis of test scores, may well have been a bad teacher on the same measures last year.  Worse, many of the “bad teachers” from previous had scores that rocketed up.  But the data don’t show any great consistency beyond chance.

So the post over at the blog of G. F. Brandenburg really caught my eye.  His calculations, graphed, show that these performance evaluations systems themselves do not perform as expected:  Here it is, “Now I understand why Bill Gates didn’t want the value-added data made public“:

It all makes sense now.

At first I was a bit surprised that Bill Gates and Michelle Rhee were opposed to publicizing the value-added data from New York City, Los Angeles, and other cities.

Could they be experiencing twinges of a bad conscience?

No way.

That’s not it. Nor do these educational Deformers think that value-added mysticism is nonsense. They think it’s wonderful and that teachers’ ability to retain their jobs and earn bonuses or warnings should largely depend on it.

The problem, for them, is that they don’t want the public to see for themselves that it’s a complete and utter crock. Nor to see the little man behind the curtain.

I present evidence of the fallacy of depending on “value-added” measurements in yet another graph — this time using what NYCPS says is the actual value-added scores of all of the many thousands of elementary school teachers for whom they have such value-added scores in the school years that ended in 2006 and in 2007.

I was afraid that by using the percentile ranks as I did in my previous post, I might have exaggerated or distorted how bad “value added” really was.

No worries, mate – it’s even more embarrassing for the educational deformers this way.

In any introductory statistics course, you learn that a graph like the one below is a textbook case of “no correlation”. I had Excel draw a line of best fit anyway, and calculate an r-squared correlation coefficient. Its value? 0.057 — once again, just about as close to zero correlation as you are ever going to find in the real world.

In plain English, what that means is that there is essentially no such thing as a teacher who is consistently wonderful (or awful) on this extremely complicated measurement scheme. How teacher X does one year in “value-added” in no way allows anybody to predict how teacher X will do the next year. They could do much worse, they could do much better, they could do about the same.

Even I find this to be an amazing revelation. What about you?

And to think that I’m not making any of this up. (unlike Michelle Rhee, who loves to invent statistics and “facts”.)

You should also see his earlier posts, “Gary Rubenstein is right, no correlation on value-added scores in New York city,” and “Gary Rubenstein demonstrates that the NYC ‘value-added’ measurements are insane.”

In summary, many of our largest school systems have spent millions of dollars for a tool to help them find the “bad teachers” to fire, and the tools not only do not work, but may lead to the firing of good teachers, cutting off the legs of the campaign to get better education.

It’s a scandal, really, or an unrolling series of scandals.  Just try to find someone reporting it that way.  Is anyone?

More, Resources:


Bill Adkins: Art education boosts achievement, but needs administrator support to work

June 24, 2011

One of our very good art teachers at Moises Molina High School, William Adkins,  works with a group called Big  Thoughts.  Big Thoughts interviews teachers who work with the program about how arts education boosts student achievement in core areas, and how to leverage arts to improve the boost.  Adkins had some thoughts about how art really is a core part of education , and on the role of administrators in helping teachers:

You can view 74 videos from about 30 different people on the Big Thoughts menu at Vimeo.

Adkins’ students regularly win awards, often outperforming the many more students at our district’s arts magnets.  One of his students, Moses Ochieng, too the top prize at the state art meet this year for a brilliant sculpture he did.  Moses was my student in U.S. history, too — a great adventure, since he emigrated from Kenya just a few years ago, and he lacks the familiarity with so many American things that we, and the textbooks, and the state tests, take for granted that students know.  Ochieng’s art helped focus him on history.  It supplemented his studies so that he picked up two years of history work in just one year.

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Trouble in Texas: Big city school supers bail out

May 24, 2011

Texas schools continue to suffer under the oppression of the Republican state legislature (“the Lege”) and Gov.  Rick Perry’s assault on education funding at all levels.

Last Thursday, May 19, some of the seams that hold Texas education together unraveled enough that problems spilled out for the public to see and wonder.  In Dallas, school Superintendent Michael Hinojosa announced he plans to take the job open in the Cobb County, Georgia, school district.  Hinojosa signed a three-year, more-money contract extension with Dallas Independent School District (ISD) earlier this year when he was passed over for the top job in Las Vegas, Nevada schools.

His announcement that he was leaving caught school board members flat footed, and not necessarily happy.

Fort Worth ISD Superintendent Melody Johnson announced her resignation at about the same time.  She said she was resigning for personal reasons — her mother is ill — but it is also true that she has not had a good relationship with the board of the district, and things have been very contentious over the past several months.

Hinojosa made a statement to teachers and others working in Dallas ISD:

Two weeks ago, I was contacted by the Cobb County School District in Georgia about the position of superintendent. This past Sunday, I met with their board and tonight I was named a sole finalist for the position. This process has moved very quickly, to say the least.

It is an honor to be considered and is yet another indicator that the achievements experienced in the Dallas Independent School District are being noticed by other school districts throughout the country. I did not seek the position in Cobb County, nor have I been looking to leave Dallas.

I am enormously proud of the accomplishments that have been achieved with our Board of Trustees during the past six years. The number of Dallas students passing statewide exams at both passing and college-ready levels has increased every year. The number of students graduating from our schools has increased during the last three years. The number of students taking and passing AP exams is going up every year. The number of schools considered exemplary by the state of Texas has increased each year.

This did not happen because of any one individual. It happened because of a shared commitment from the staff of the entire Dallas Independent School District. To be part of the progress that has been made has been something very special.

I am not certain how things will play out in Georgia during the next few weeks. Please know that, regardless of what happens, your work on behalf of the students of Dallas ISD continues to be deeply appreciated.

Thank you.

One might hope he’s up to date on the creationism-evolution controversy for the sake of his new job; evolution is not controversial in Dallas ISD. It’s been a tough year for most Texas school superintendents.

When schools are supposed to be planning for fall, most districts in Texas still don’t know how deep will be the cuts in funding from the state legislature.  Consequently, schools do not know how many faculty they will have to lay off, and that makes planning for the coming year all but completely impossible.  We should expect more than a few of them to be weary of these fights, and wearing out.

Mick Jagger sang about the Texas Lege:

Raise your glass to the hard working people
Let’s drink to the uncounted heads

Let’s think of the wavering millions

Who need leaders but get gamblers instead


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