Collaboration and Conversation: Can the Union and the Department Use the 33 “Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools” Teacher Evaluation Plan As a Laboratory?

Charlotte Danielson (noun): the author of Enhancing
Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching
, the primary guide for evaluating teaching practice

to Danielson (verb): constant supervisor classroom intrusions
with endless prattle leading to critical file letters.
Teachers hate classroom observations.
A couple of times a year a supervisor observes your classroom, you endure a post-observation conference, a one-way conversation
followed by a one or two page observation report. You glance at the last line,  if it says, “this was a satisfactory lesson,” you breathe a sigh of relief, and, maybe, read the remainder of the letter.
The UFT has a dilemma, teachers fear peer review and dislike
supervisory observations.
The UFT Charter Schools have discouraged supervisory observations, and have mediocre state test scores.
To snarl. “I know what I’m doing,” does not mean the kids know
what you’re doing. An essential element of effective teaching is lifelong
learning. Whether in year one, or five, or ten, or twenty,  distinguished” teachers continue to explore, investigate and learn.
In May. 2010 the state teacher unions, the state education
department, the legislature and the governor agreed upon a sweeping
teacher-principal evaluation law and a year later the state education department issued highly controversial regulations.(see plan here)
For months the UFT and the City have been negotiating an
evaluation plan for the 33 “persistently lowest achieving” (PLA) schools that were in danger of closing.
If you want to bury a story you release it on a Friday.
On Friday, July 15th the UFT and the department announced,
without details, an agreement 
had been reached on a teacher evaluation plan for the 33 PLA schools.  All the schools will remain open as either Transformation or Restart Model
schools.
Strangely the stumbling block, as reported by the union, was
whether principals had to meet with teachers after lesson observations. I say strangely because the essence, the heart and core of the Charlotte Danielson Frameworks of Teaching are post observation conversations with teachers.
Danielson divides the complex activity of teaching into 22
components clustered into the following four domains of teaching
responsibility,
Domain 1: Planning and Preparation
Domain 2: The Classroom Environment
Domain 3: Instruction
Domain 4: Professional Responsibility.
A trained rater/evaluator scores the components to “levels of
performance” ranging from unsatisfactory to basic to proficient to
distinguished. Each domain level of performance and each component on each level of performance is reduced to a clear descriptor paragraph.
A 100-school pilot in Chicago  has shown an impressively high correlation between the supervisor-teacher assessment team assessments and pupil achievement.
Danielson has strong beliefs about teachers and
teaching,
* …teaching is cognitively demanding; a teacher makes
hundreds of non-trivial decisions daily …teaching is a thinking person’s job; it is not simply a matter of following a script or carrying out other people’s instructional designs. (p. 2)
* …even more demanding than it’s complexity is the level of
stress that teaching generates … Most teachers leave school exhausted at the end of the school day …. An environment of high stakes accountability only exacerbates levels of teacher stress. (p. 5)
* During conversations about practice, particularly when such
conversations are organized around a common framework, teachers are able to learn from one another and to thereby enrich their own teaching. (p. 6)
* Teaching no longer focuses on solely making presentations
(although these are still sometimes appropriate) or assigning questions or exercise. Instead teaching focuses on activities and assignments- many of them framed as problem-solving- that engage students  in constructing important knowledge.
* …selecting an instructional approach rests absolutely with
a teacher; this decision is a critical element of professionalism. Not all
choices, however, are all equally effective; not all are equally appropriate.
The 200-page Frameworks is a research-based position
paper based on a philosophy of teaching and a method of measuring to what extent the teacher is achieving a constructivist approach to teaching.
Would you rather be “measured” by the Danielson constructivist
approach or a “value-added,” outcome -based, student test-score driven assessments?
The “value-added” approach, using student test scores is attractive
to economists and politicians due it’s simplicity, however,by definition bad test scores means bad teachers. Educators, experts, including Danielson, know this is nonsense. The Danielson Frameworks require highly competent well-trained rater/evaluators, supervisors able to communicate with teachers.
The essence of the Frameworks are the facilitated conversations. The
companion book to the Frameworks is Talk About Teaching! Leading
Professional Conversation
, the 138-page guide to both teachers and
conversation facilitators.
Will the supervisors in the 33 PLA schools be able to “engage
in dialogues about instruction” and will teachers be able to change and become constructivist teachers?
The risks are substantial for the union and for the department.
Union members, teachers, in the 33 PLA schools are overjoyed
that their schools are not closing, however, are they eager to engage in
“teaching conversations”?
Will the union vigorously support changes in teaching practice
and support school dialogues around teaching and learning?
The 33 PLA schools are a laboratory, an experiment in
collaboration and conversations about teaching. How vigorously the union supports the model, whether the department decides to truly make the union a partner is to be seen.
Both the union and the department are tip-toeing down a
vitally important and very slippery path.
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6 responses to “Collaboration and Conversation: Can the Union and the Department Use the 33 “Persistently Lowest Achieving Schools” Teacher Evaluation Plan As a Laboratory?

  1. Olivia Koppell

    The choice is obvious. Any entity works best when all involved are treated as professionals, with respect, and are included in discussions about quality, and how to improve whatever one’s role in the organization is. There was a story about how a janitor’s observations helped a situation at a hospital. Teaching is a very complex activity – so many variables, not just the teacher. These tests are not the way to evaluate the teacher or the school. Most of what takes place when learning takes place is not easily quantified. And always left out in this converstion are the kids. Ask them!! They know what a good teacher looks like, sounds like, acts like, and teaches like. And they love when they have a good one. You are forgetting – children love to learn! Let them! Doctors pledge to do no harm. Teachers should pledge to not stifle that innate love of learning in each child.

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  2. Jackie Foil Retired

    How to evaluate teachers has been an issue that has been discussed for many years. I’ve been retired from teaching fro 20 years and it was an area of concern then, too. Measuring teachers by student test scores seemed inefficient and unfair
    then and still does. In those years we had a “good” (high achievers) class one year & a “difficult” (low achievers, discipline problems, ESL students) class the next. Obviously we would want to be rated and have it “count” the year we had the “good” class. Of course that would not be the way it would work. It sounds like the “Danielson method” of evaluating teachers has the best chance of being the one that would work whether teachers had a “good” or “bad” class.

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  5. No, the Danielson method is all about how “good” or “bad” the class is, except they aren’t being tested, they’re performing, acting either engaged and ready to teach each other or disengaged and confused or frustrated.

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  6. From the teacher’s side, the higher-order thinking questions and rigor that are measured by the rubric only fly with at-level students. It’s primarily about the “good” and the “bad”, and that’s ugly. It’s also the great and tragic remaining failure of the DoE.

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