Article 18D of the UFT contract requires that teachers serve on teacher selection committees at new schools. I have served on many teams through the years. I always ask candidates, “What was the best lesson you taught in the last few weeks and how do you know it?”
Candidates glow as they describe the lesson, but frequently stumble over the “how do you know it.” Teachers are writers, actors, producers, directors and hopefully, critics of a play with a run of one day.
A veteran teacher complained to me that his principal came into his classroom every every day and “bothered” him. Told him that the kids weren’t paying attention, kids came late every day, he was disengaged from the kids. The veteran told me he had superb lesson lessons and if the kids weren’t engaged it was the kids, not his lesson. I demurred. We must always be our own harshest critic.
Too many principals observe lessons, but don’t observe the impact of the lesson on the students. We cannot detach ourselves from what is now referred to as “value-added,” the impact of the teacher as measured by pupil achievement over time.
Strategies that work in one school or in one class may not work in another class. Teaching is a complex task, frustration is commonplace, it’s is all too easy to blame the kids, it is far more difficult to be a reflective practitioner.
The NYS ELA/Math tests, the tools to measure pupil achievement are deeply flawed. The scores swing wildly from year to year. A growth model, measuring achievement over time presupposes valid and reliable tests, currently absent.
Ed Commissioner David Steiner has asked highly regarded scholars, Daniel Koretz and Jennifer Jennings, to take a close look at the current New York State tests .
Flawed tests are used as core components of Progress Reports that determine the quality of schools and school closing decisions. In high schools passing courses and passing regents exams determine the school “grade,” clearly a subjective tool.
On the other hand many of the schools that have been closed were “dropout factories,” and, the replacement schools are doing better. Whether the small school/replacement school success is a Hawthorne Effect or sustainable is a key yet to be determined question. Many continue to argue that Progress Report grades are “zip-code” driven, that large percentages of kids in special education, ELLs, kids in foster care and temporary housing, kid living in projects, all mitigate against success and should be factored into any Progress Report score.
The issue de jour is whether to include pupil performance into teacher evaluation metrics. Currently teacher evaluation is highly subjective, based solely on principal judgements. Teachers are evaluated, rated, annually by the principal, ratings are either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory” an “S” or a “U,” based on a handful of classroom visits. Some principals write lengthy evaluations with commendations, criticism and recommendations, while others use a checklist, there is no standard system.
The proposed change in the law, approved by the state teacher union and the education commissioner Steiner would require that 20% of an evaluation be based on pupil performance data as measured by state tests, and an additional 20% based on to be determined local tests, the details to be negotiated locally.
A top DOE official at a public panel implied that 2/3 of teachers are less than superb and need professional development. At a lengthy post panel interview he went on to explain,
Department Official: … most of us don’t want our kids taught by mediocre teachers. I’m not suggesting a third or two thirds of the teachers ought to be dismissed or can’t get better. What I am saying is only about a third of the staff at the moment are people of such sufficiently high caliber that the folks at this conference at least indicated they would send their own children to. I would imagine the middle third are people who could easily become that with the right kinds of supports. And then we’ve got to take a really hard look at the bottom third and some of those people can make it in the profession and some of those people really ought to be doing something else ….
the entire purpose of the conference, was to suggest that teacher-to-teacher collaboration is one of the primary ways teachers can get better at their profession. We also heard things like peer review that the system needs to explore better. Most principals will tell you we’ve got to find time during the regular teacher’s schedule, the regular school day, to find time for teachers to meet, and work together collaboratively. And I, in my comments, at the very least suggested some restructuring ideas so that schools can be built around teams of teachers who are responsible and accountable for manageable numbers of kids.
The state has a long and winding path, the Koretz-Jennings study is anxiously awaited as well as the revision of state tests and the inclusion of growth, rather than a photograph in time, in the state model.
When and if, the state can produce valid and reliable tests and if the department incorporates the “suggestions” that follow the department official’s controversial exposition we may be moving toward a reflective school system.
All depends upon state and city budgets that restore funding and eliminate layoffs. Layoffs would derail the school system for years. The chancellor should call a truce and stop lobbing hand grenades, maybe a hunger strike on the steps of the State Capitol. or some other dramatic action to force the legislature to act … seppuku?