Teacher Evaluation: A View from the Field

Marc Koroshan is a teacher in the college and public schools as well as a representative of teachers  through his union activities. He is a frequent commenter on this blog.

The debate that Ed in the Apple discusses in Teacher Evaluation: The Student Learning Objectives (SLO) Monstrosity Looms Over Teachers and Principals (http://mets2006.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/teacher-evaluation-the-student-learning-objectives-slo-monstrosity-looms-over-teachers-and-principals/ ) is certainly the one taking place right now, but its very complexity should alert everyone to how ridiculous it is to try to boil an activity as complex as teaching down to a simple formula for success or failure.
The problems with test scores and with student learning objectives are well defined in the post. Without an agreed upon curriculum, something the NYC Department of Education is unwilling to do and that the Common Core does not offer, it is left to individual teachers to decide on the content and SLOs they will teach. This makes comparisons from room to room meaningless in a statistical sense.
It is important to take note that the observation system is also riddled with problems that make using it for a formula also extremely problematical.
Danielson, the Santa Clara standards and other similar work makes it clear that we have a growing consensus on what good teaching should look like.However, those skills have to be applied in real life settings where the children are highly variable.
Ed’s example of a second grade class in a wealthy community versus the same grade in a poverty stricken district (or one that has just suffered a natural disaster like Sandy), is very apt.We know that standardized tests are very good at measuring what students bring to school from their first learning environment, home.This sets up an achievement gap from the very beginning of school, which is only exacerbated as those who had more to start with get to build on that stronger foundation.
What formula will account for how teachers should address these differences in classes?Will the observation system recognize that teachers have to make choices about how much direct instruction to provide or will it insist that everyone use the Workshop Model even where students need to learn the content and skill of collaborative learning before it can work effectively.
Those of us who have taught know that no lesson works, no matter how well planned, the same way in different classes.How will the observation system account for that.
What will prevent the observation system from becoming a checklist of things that principals take note of in a ten minute visit and then write about with no real discussion with the teacher of why the s/he made the choices s/he did.Ten minute observations lack context and any judgments have to await the discussion that fills in the blanks.The rubrics in Danielson have merit, but only when they are used as a vehicle for discussing what happened in the classroom.The discussion has merit, but it really works best when the observer is able and willing to offer specific suggestions for alternative choices and is prepared to model how s/he would make those choices work.
What is needed is not a formula for evaluating teachers but a clear and meaningful commitment to helping every teacher grow in the profession.
This requires that we ensure that everyone involved in schools is an educator.One who is willing to practice teaching, model good practice, and create the opportunity for real dialogue about how best to serve the students in front of us every day.
New York State United Teachers has sent out a button that describes what is happening in the debate over how to create a formula for measuring Teacher Effectiveness.It reads, “Those Who Can Teach.Those Who Cannot Pass Laws About Teaching.”In what other profession that involves complex decision making and expertise developed over time are politicians trying to determine a formula that will guide practice? Do we really believe that they are well equipped to develop that formula?
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4 responses to “Teacher Evaluation: A View from the Field

  1. Any of us dinosaurs have known to be true every aspect of your blog for decades. Today’s Principals are not oriented to what for us was the Prime Supervisory Directive, to wit :Upgrade/facilitate high levels of instructional delivery. Every Teacher in a school had to be made to feel that6 when it came to an Observation visit, that their supervisor could and would be able to talk tradecraft with them. In many schools that I visit, I find that LO’s and Aims are posted on the chalkboard. When I see that, I realize that whoever told the teacher to do that is clueless about instructional delivery strategies, and ergo many other acdemic concerns as well. One reason for this can be traced back to The Mayors own Leadership Academy which was instituted about 10 years ago and headed up by a majority of out of staters, who were clueless about the uniqueness of The NYC PUblic School System. These people focused their training on enabling potential Principals in the matter of discontinuing TEachers as oposed to finding out how to enrich and support them thru their development. For his entire tenure in office, this man has done more to denegrate the Teaching Profession then what was done to Socrates with the poison pill.Lastly, lets all remember that Danielson never rose above the rank of teacher, so what she has done essentially is to catologue what for her were exemplary teaching practises, and to be sure should be used in TEacher training models. But all that she references were imparted to us dinosaurs in year one, its been out there, and then lost sight of, primarily because this Mayor deemphasized the role of supervisors in the educational scheme. How many UFT?CSA conventions has he attended or sent representation in his time in office…………….none!

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  2. I’ve been fortunate enough to be connected to the Educational system of N. Y. C. for 55 years. During that time I’ve seen many different and well meaning “Flavors of the Month”. Thanks to the exemplary work of Danielson we may finally be able to construct a common framework and language. The error being repeated for the umpteenth time is the training. The D.O.E. is still doing top down training. Why not try the novel idea of collaborative training of all professionals at a school at the same time by trainers. If the education of our future generation of leaders so essential for a functioning democracy is so significant why isn’t the Mayor trying to provide the framework through his hand picked chancellor to create the time and resources for the training to be more uniform and effective?.

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  3. As an outsider, I still don’t understand why disharmony between principals and teachers is so common, and why principals wouldn’t know who their good and not-so-good teachers are. In other lines of work, supervisors know how well their direct reports are doing. Even as a parent, I can get a pretty good idea of who the good teachers in my kids’ school are by asking my kids and their friends. Heck, any outside consultant could do exit interviews with a sampling of kids in a school and quickly learn which teachers hold their attention and improve them. Combine that with classroom evaluations, test scores, demographic data, etc. … It’s not rocket science.

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  4. I pray Mulgrew doesn’t give in!

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