In the early nineties I asked a principal at a euphemistically called “hard
to staff” school his definition of a satisfactory teacher.
“They come every day and blood doesn’t run out from under the door.”
For decades teachers started working in low socioeconomic status schools, schools in the poorest neighborhoods and many of the best of them, by no means all, found their way to schools in middle class districts. Bayside, Staten Island,
Canarsie, District 2 (Manhattan), etc., in spite of the seniority transfer contract rules.
In the post World War 2 years veterans, with the aid of the GI Bill, completed college and drifted into teaching; in the sixties, to avoid the draft, men flocked into Title 1 schools, some left as soon as possible, others remained.
The massive layoffs in 1975 dissuaded many from entering the ranks of teaching in New York City.
Low pay and low status meant principals struggled to find teachers to fill
vacancies. The question of teacher evaluation was totally in the hands of local
principals. Competency ranged from a discernable pulse beat to keeping parents
happy to high levels of scholarship, all dependent on neighborhood, i. e.,
Raises in salary, Teach for America, the New Teacher Project, the Teaching Fellows Program all drove larger numbers of highly motivated candidates from elite colleges and from the private sector into schools.
Coupled with the collapse of the economy and massive unemployment schools had a plethora of teaching applicants for the first time since the Great Depression.
The New Teacher Project Report, the Widget Effect pointed out that 99%
of teachers were rated satisfactory in the districts included in the report and
recommends that, “all stakeholders must come together to create more
credible and meaningful ways of differentiating teacher performance if we are
to know which teachers should be retained, developed, and dismissed?”
A summary of the Report:
All teachers are rated good or great. Less than 1 percent of
teachers receive unsatisfactory ratings, even in schools where students fail to
meet basic academic standards, year after year.
Excellence goes unrecognized. When excellent ratings are the norm, truly exceptional teachers cannot be formally identified. Nor can they be compensated, promoted or retained.
Professional development is inadequate. Almost 3 in 4 teachers did not receive any specific feedback on improving their performance in their last evaluation.
Novice teachers are neglected. Low expectations for beginning teachers
translate into benign neglect in the classroom and a toothless tenure process.
Poor performance goes unaddressed. Half of the districts studied have not dismissed a single tenured teacher for poor performance in the past five years. None dismiss more than a few each year.
The Report resulted in a sea change. From Washington to the state houses around the nations leaders began to call for revising the system of teacher (as well as principal) evaluation.
In some states the “new” system was based on raising student test scores. Algorithms were created using various iterations of regression analysis that claimed to incorporate a number of variables (Title 1, socio-economic status, English Language Learners, teacher experience, etc.) to compare teacher effectiveness and “rank” teachers.
One of the national teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), opposed the sole use of student test scores but supported the move to revise teacher evaluation systems and called for “multiple measures,” including
student test scores. (see details of the AFT position here)
The New York State governor, the commissioner and the state teacher unions agreed upon a multiple measures teacher evaluation plan in the spring, 2010. After months of work a 63 member task force issued draft implement regulations that were changed by the commissioner at the last moment. The union challenged the changes in the courts and was sustained. (The commissioner is appealing the decision)
The core of the law is the use of a mutually accepted, by the school district and the union, rubric describing teaching practice. The State Education Department lists a number of tools, including one designed by the state union. (See here)
In New York City the department and the union are “sort of” working to implement to Charlotte Danielson Frameworks: a daunting task.
The Frameworks are divided into four domains: Planning and preparation, classroom environment, instruction and professional responsibilities. The domains are divided into 22 components and the components into 76 elements.
For example in Domain 3 (Instruction), Component 3b (using questioning and discussion techniques), one of the three Elements is “quality of questions.” The
Element is divided into “levels of performance:”
Teacher’s questions are virtually all of poor quality, with low cognitive
challenge and single correct responses, and they are asked in rapid succession.
Teacher’s questions are a combination of low and high quality posed in rapid
succession. Only some invite a thoughtful response.
Most of the teacher’s questions are of high quality. Adequate time is provided
for students to respond.
Teacher’s questions are of uniformly high quality, with adequate time for
students to respond. Students formulate many questions.
Yes, there 76 sets of element descriptors in the unsatisfactory to distinguished range.
The Frameworks were published in 1996 to be used as a teacher training tool, a few schools districts and universities made use of the Frameworks.
The Second Edition, published in 2007 has flown off the shelves as it moved from a professional development tool to a widely used teacher evaluation system.
As a professional development tool asking teachers to comment on their own lesson and to engage in a discussion: what changes, additions, tweaks, do I have to make to move from basic to proficient or from proficient to distinguished?
On the other hand how can a supervisor, a lesson evaluator possibly evaluate in 76 areas (“elements”)?
This year the department has selected six components and asked supervisors to work with teachers within these specific components.
The department and the union will have to negotiate specific rules and procedures before the new teacher evaluation law goes into effect.
Will supervisors have the skills? Can they move from a couple of bland observations making a few recommendations to a detailed assessment based upon domains, components and elements?
Is it true that the Department has created an avatar of Charlotte Danielson
to provide to every principal?