Punishing Teachers: Denigrating Principal Judgments and Granting/Extending Probation Based on School Effectiveness Is Bad Policy

557 days and a wake up…

The mayor’s reform agenda personnel policy is to punish teachers in low achieving schools by extending their probation.

The theory: By extending probation a teacher will be encouraged to work harder next year.

The fallacy: Teachers have the ability to work harder when threatened with dismissal, or fail to work harder and “coast” when not closely supervised; “work harder” is defined as raising student test scores.

In my experience teachers do the best job they can, and get better when provided with guidance and support from their principals, colleagues or perhaps professional development.

What happens inside of a classroom between teachers and kids is a bit of a mystery – teaching, after all, is the second oldest profession.

Teaching is a “private” activity.

Do we know why some teachers are more effective than others at raising test scores? The answer is no, however; we anxiously await the results of the Gates funded Measures of Effective Teaching Study. Thousands of videos of lessons which are supposed to tell us what teacher behaviors will be most effective in raising scores.

The Charlotte Danielson Frameworks are an observational system. She divides teaching into domains, components and elements. Each element can be rated from “Distinguished” to “Underdeveloped.”

Trained observers assess lessons.

The Chicago Consortium on School Research in a two-year study found a high correlation between Danielson observations by trained observers and pupil standardized test score achievement; although, in some schools principals found the observation process onerous. An instructive read here.

In the current round of year end ratings principal judgment was subordinated to overall school achievement.

In New York City about a third of all teachers leave voluntarily within their first three years – with higher percentages in schools in high poverty neighborhoods.

Teachers in New York State earn tenure after three consecutive satisfactory ratings by their principal. In bygone days the superintendent or their deputy observed every teacher due to receive tenure. Currently principals recommend teachers for tenure and the teacher provides a portfolio which includes student work.

Beginning last year the Department decided to change the decision-making procedures.

Prior to 2011 about 3% of the teachers who stayed for three years were denied tenure, a few percent had tenure extended and the remainder achieved tenure. Last year the same 3% were denied tenure, the difference: 38% had their tenure extended. The reason: no reasons were provided but it was clear that the year two Teacher Data Report score determined tenure. If your score was in the lower half you probably had your tenure extended, regardless of the recommendation of the principal. In the high schools it was less clear- probably based on student scores on interim assessments and regents exams.

Walcott, the carrier of the message, was almost apologetic, but, he enjoys his munificent check and does what he’s told.

This year the Department appears to be extending tenure for a greater percent of teachers, many for the second year.

It appears that if you are teaching in a turnaround school or in a school with a low Progress Report grade the chances are you will be extended.

It’s not a question of the effectiveness of your teaching as determined by your principal; the decision is based on the success of your school as measured by test scores, credit accumulations and graduation rates.

The message is clear: if you’re teaching in a low achieving school, get out, apply to a higher achieving school. Under the Open Market system any teacher can move to any school, and thousands of teachers move each year.

The lowest achieving schools have the highest teacher attrition; some simply walk away from the job after a few months, others after a really hard first year, and, unfortunately the most talented move on the higher achieving schools.

Sadly it is often the lower achieving teachers who remain.

A personnel policy that guarantees that the lowest achieving schools will be staffed with the least experienced and least effective teachers and the highest achieving schools will attract the highest achieving teachers.

In New York City principals have always had wide discretion in hiring. The problem was the scarcity of candidates. In 1997 17% of all teachers were uncertified, most of whom could not pass the low level required tests. Fifteen years later sharp increases in salary, the worst economy since the Great Depression and a renewed desire to become a teacher, at least for a while, has provided an immense pool of potential teachers. Fifteen years ago in a “hard to staff” school I asked a principal to list his criteria for an effective teacher, he rolled his eyes, “He comes every day and blood doesn’t leak out from under the door.”

Those days, thankfully, are gone, for now.

This hiring season principals in high achieving schools are getting over a hundred applicants for each vacancy. “I’m looking for a superstar with a moderate salary.” Remember in this “galaxy far, far away,” the Department of Education, teachers transferring into a school are charged at their actual salary – a disincentive to hiring maximum salaried teachers.

No matter how hard you try you cannot turn a school system into Lake Woebegone, where all children (or teachers) are above average; you cannot suspend the laws of statistics – teachers measured by ability fall on that bell-shaped curve – two-thirds fall within one standard deviation of the mean.

The Chicago Consortium results: trained observers make accurate judgments about teacher quality, should, but do not, resonate.

Rather than ignoring school-based judgments and rating teachers by scores, scores that are highly unstable (read excellent explanation here) , we should be training observers, whether principals, or “inspectors,” or, yes, teachers to make recommendation to superintendents.

In a few years, the gods willing, the economy will turn around, jobs will be plentiful and the “sucking sound” you hear will be teachers fleeing to other more rewarding jobs.

Masochism is not a quality we should look for in prospective teachers.


One response to “Punishing Teachers: Denigrating Principal Judgments and Granting/Extending Probation Based on School Effectiveness Is Bad Policy

  1. Josh Gutterman

    Too many teachers are having their tenure postponed! I haven’t heard talk like this since the “layoffs”in the 70’s! I will change my field! Nothing is worse than being put down! I’d rather work for the circus .At least you know who the real clowns are! We are permanently damaging a school system that have sent fSupreme Couurt jurists to Washington! Imagine if their teachers left before they ever met then! There are many talented, intelligent instructors that we we will lose! I can’t wait for a new administration! Shame on the City Council for giving into the Mayor!


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