It is late July, and by all reports the DOE is currently spending a lot of money on professional development for both teachers and principals surrounding the new evaluation system. As many educated teachers, bloggers, politicians, and administrators have reported for months, this whole evaluation system is full of holes, unworkable, over reliant on standardized tests, and clearly designed to fire good teachers. I know that nothing I, or any of the other teacher/principal bloggers, write will convince the privatizers and deformers that this evaluation system is bad and our current one is good, but there are a few things that need to be considered and are often overlooked. Since a lot has already been said about the math behind the evaluation, such as 40% on test scores really equals 100%, or how effective + effective + effective can = ineffective, and the fact that test scores should not be used to evaluate teachers at all, I will focus on part of the evaluation most often praised by both The DOE and The UFT, the observation component using the Danielson Framework for Effective Teaching.
First of all, it is clear to anyone who has read the framework that the rubric is slanted towards teachers of older, general education or honors students. See for example component 3b: Using questioning/prompts and discussion. (I chose this one since it has been a focus component in schools throughout New York for several years.) According to the rubric, a highly effective classroom under this component would look like this “Teacher uses a variety or series of questions or prompts to challenge students cognitively, advance high level thinking and discourse, and promote meta-cognition. Students formulate many questions, initiate topics and make unsolicited contributions. Students themselves ensure that all voices are heard in the discussion.” Does anyone think a group of first graders have the ability to manage their own discussions effectively and ensure all voices are heard? What about self-contained special education students with oppositional defiant disorder? How about teaching a self-contained ESL class where students are new to English and some are native Spanish speakers, and others native Chinese speakers? The Danielson rubric tries to make teaching a “one size fits all” model just like our standardized tests. Unfortunately for 99% of teachers in NYC they will never hit that "Highly Effective" mark, even if they are the best teacher in the world.
Secondly, one of the worst crimes of this evaluation system is the fact that teachers and administrators alike will be spending far more time next year focusing on everything but their students. Administrators will be buried in paper work spending half the day doing observations, the other half of the day doing post observations, and spending every night at home writing up the reports. They will not be able to actually support or help the struggling teachers, because they will be too busy sitting in other teacher’s classes and filling out forms. The teachers themselves will be so busy writing lesson plans proving they know how to teach, and teaching in such a specific way, that there will be no time to meet with students and help them out as individuals. The best teachers make connections to their students, but between Danielson and The Common Core there will be no more room for that next year.
Finally, the worst myth of them all is that we had a problem with our current evaluation system in the first place. Despite what our local tabloids tell you, the fact that only 3% of teachers are fired for incompetence every year has nothing to do with the evaluation system, but everything to do with management. Under the current system any teacher receiving an “unsatisfactory” rating two years in a row can be fired. As long as a principal has actually observed the teacher and shown some effort in trying to support the teacher, a teacher will be fired. Under the current system an administrator can observe a teacher once a day, every day for the entire school year. So if teachers are not being fired, it is because they are either all good teachers, or the administrators can’t be bothered to go through the steps to terminate them. I don’t even necessary blame the school level administrators themselves. For far too long, the admins being shot out of the “leadership academy” pipelines have been brainwashed to think that they are “CEOs” and not “Instructional Leaders.” Since many have taught for only a few years, they don’t even know what great instruction looks like. Many seem to be intimidated by veteran teachers and their solution is to just not observe the teachers at all. If you ask the majority of veteran teachers in NYC how often they are observed each year, most will say once or twice. Also, under the Bloomberg hallmark “small school model” most schools have one principal and either one or two AP’s. In the small schools there are no longer departments. I often hear teachers at those schools complaining about how an AP who does not speak Spanish is observing a Spanish lesson, or a Principal who has never taught math is observing a Geometry lesson. You don’t need any content knowledge to check off a rubric, which I am sure is one of the main reasons that this observation model has been pushed by the DOE for several years. Our current evaluation system is not bad, our administrators are just often not equipped to use it correctly.
I certainly don’t want people to think I am suggesting all administrators are bad. In fact the flip side of our current evaluation system is also true, meaning a good administrator can easily use our current system to both fire incompetent teachers, and support and help teachers that need it. I will use myself as an example. As someone who has taught in two different schools, and also taught summer school for years, I have been observed by many different administrators, in fact six in total. I am very lucky in that three of the six were excellent instructional leaders. All three of them always gave excellent feedback in both my post-observations and my observation reports. Of course all of these admins were veteran teachers before moving into administration. Having a competent AP who knows instruction is invaluable to a new teacher, yet all the reformers seem to want of an AP nowadays is someone who can check off a rubric. Even worse, all those great administrators out there will no longer be able to support their teachers as they have in the past since the will be bogged down by this unworkable mess of an evaluation.
Why are we wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on a system that is only going to make everyone’s job harder? Why are we wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on a system that will only take the focus off the students? Why are we wasting hundreds of millions of dollars on a system that will fall apart in three years? Why would both The DOE and The UFT support a framework that is completely bogus? Well on the bright side, some consultants, and education non-profit organizations will make lots of money off of this before it collapses, and fake groups like E4E, StudentsFirst, and DEFER, will get to talk in the papers about how great it is every week in order to inflate their own egos.
-DOENUTS 2.0 Has taught High School English in NYC for several years. I sometimes post on other education blogs as "Former Turnaround Teacher". I took over this blog from the original DOENUTS in July and am new to Blogger so I apologize for any formatting issues.