King on the Spot: Who “Won” the Teacher Evaluation Battle? or, Is the Hubbub “Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing?”

… it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Macbeth

Understand we are all pawns on a limitless stage with the powerful vying for our adulation, and every few years, our votes.

After eight years Michael Bloomberg had fashioned a worldwide reputation – as a cynical New Yorker told me, “He turned New York into Copenhagen, whether we liked it or not,” pedestrian malls, bike lanes, new refurbished parks, low crime rates and an avalanche of tourists from around the world, the well-honed image, the diminutive, aloof manager-mayor at a press conference pointing at a reporter, “Miss, your question?” The apolitical mayor, neither democrat nor republican, running the greatest city in the world, who briefly flirted with running the nation.

Four years later he is an angry, reclusive billionaire spending his final months in a vengeful assault on teachers and their union.

In the early hours of January 17th, the final date the governor set for agreement the department and the union reached a handshake agreement. Hours later the mayor made a political judgment – he trashed the agreement and rolled out his media mavens. The mayor, editorials in the Daily News and the Post, the republican mayoral candidates and conservative pundits, all undoubtedly orchestrated by Howard Wolfson, the deputy Mayor for Political Skullduggery, all pounding away at a union who was “defending incompetent teachers.”

Anything short of building a guillotine on the steps of City Hall is unacceptable, tumbrels must be rolling from schools to the blade, and we must rid the city of the plague of bad teachers.

Sacrificing 250 million the penalty for not reaching a timely agreement, is a small price to pay to resuscitate a stumbling legacy and, John King, might be vulnerable, and might fear the slings and arrows of the Bloomberg regency.

Late Saturday afternoon Commissioner King released his decision: see State Ed summary, and the full 241-page decision.

The NY Post claims the decision is a victory for the mayor, sort of.

The department matches up city and union positions with the Commissioner’s decision and claims a win and crows that they won.

Gotham Schools cogently summarizes the plan with comments by Walcott and Mulgrew.

UFT President Mulgrew writes a letter to members explaining the positive components and worries about implementation.

Gotham Schools reminds us that the mayor had different expectations for the final plan,

In January and last year, Mayor Bloomberg rejected teacher evaluation deals because he said the systems that would go into place would not result in any teachers being fired.

King pushed back against that outlook today, in the first paragraph of his press release touting the new evaluation system.

“There are strong measures to help remove ineffective teachers and principals, but let’s be clear: New York is not going to fire its way to academic success,” King said.

One of aphorisms in the world of management is: as complexity increases the chances of achieving goals decreases – and teacher eval plan clearly is enormously complex.

Two years or so down the road, with a new, probably a democratic and teacher union friendly mayor in place, one wonders whether the “strum und drang” of the last year will have faded away, as the dismissal procedure for “double ineffective” teachers face an arbitrator for the first time.

Principals generally fall into two categories, the managers and the educators: some principals spend their time managing the school – discipline, guidance, and sorting through reams of paperwork, they can usually be found in their offices while others are constantly in and out of classrooms engaging in the teaching/learning process – a few are both.

The core of the plan, the 60%, are teacher observations,

Danielson (2013): 22 components must be observed annually via observations and teacher artifacts
Teachers will have a choice between two options and indicate which option they have chosen at their initial planning conference in the beginning of the school year:
• Option 1: (a) minimum of 1 formal; (b) minimum of 3 informal (at least 1 unannounced)
• Option 2: minimum of 6 informal (at least 1 unannounced)
Teacher may authorize observation by video

The department encourages principals to use a low inference protocol for teacher classroom observations – the observer scribes the lesson: pupil:teacher and pupil:pupil interactions and in the post observation conference discusses the lesson: How effective do you think the lesson was? How do you know? Why did you ask a particular question? Did it produce the expected answer? How could you have improved the question? How would you assess pupil engagement? etc., the post observation is a self-assessment as well as a principal assessment tool. The resultant report is a summary of the conversation – with a “grade” in the HEDI range (Highly Effective, Effective, Developing and Ineffective), no longer the S/U (Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory) assessment. The lesson is viewed through the Danielson lens. See Danielson Evaluation Instrument (2013).

A Partnership Support Organization, New Visions for Public Schools produced a detailed guide for principals on teacher observations.

The Teacher Effective Project Handbook Teacher Effectiveness Program 2012-13 Handbook, a project in coordination with the union, is a detailed guide to teacher observations.

The overall teacher evaluation law is far too complex and the entire state will stumble.

In New York City, in addition to the complexity of the plan, I have grave doubts about whether the current leadership of the department can manage the teacher evaluation plan. A new leadership team, working together with the union, might be able to craft a collaborative instructional support program, engaging peers in the observation program, using new technologies to view lessons, use common planning time as lesson studies, the potential is great, and unfulfilled.

Sadly the first act of the department/mayor after the release of the plan was to gloat – they may not be gloating after 12/31/13.

9 responses to “King on the Spot: Who “Won” the Teacher Evaluation Battle? or, Is the Hubbub “Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing?”

  1. Marc Korashan

    There is nothing inherently wrong with the teacher evaluation plan, and there is o choice but to follow the state law that requires it. King’s decision does not go far beyond the minimum requirements in the law, but ot the extent that he leaves implementation up to the current NYC DOE and its corporate leadership, the plan is in trouble.

    Danielson has other books, notably Talk About Teaching ( which make clear how you have professional conversations about improving teaching. The Danielson rubrics were originally designed to facilitate those conversation. The fear is (and early reports show it is already happening) that rather than talk about teaching, the supervisors will use the rubrics as checklists and rate teachers without any real dialogue.

    In my work with first and second year Teaching Fellows, the dialogue after the lesson (and I only observe full lessons) is more important than the notes I took. It gives me a chance to test their perceptions of their work, ask why they did things, find out what happened before the observation and what they predict will happen next as a result of the lesson. This conversation is where real understanding of the very complex act of teaching takes place for both the teacher and the observer. Without this kind of dialogue, we are not looking at teaching but at a list of skills which may or may not have been applicable in that class on that day.

    The current leadership in the DOE and in too many of the schools lacks the years of real teaching experience to successfully and meaningfully have these conversations. The fear is that they will opt for checklists, resist dialogue (as the DOE tried very hard to ensure they could) and damage the careers of dedicated teachers and prematurely end the careers of probationers who could, with proper support, have grown into excellent teachers.

    We can’t as Commissioner King said, “fire our way to better teaching,,” but in a corporate world where workers are fungible, we can driveaway the most expensive teachers and prevent others from vesting in the pension system.


    • Marc,
      “There is nothing inherently wrong with the teacher evaluation plan”
      Your first statement made me think that you lack all intelligence but one could suppose that this comes from the fact that you are an “evaluator” not the “evaluee”.

      Your last statement gave me hope: “we can driveaway the most expensive teachers and prevent others from vesting in the pension system.” This is the purpose of the “reform” evaluation process. It is also what is inherently wrong with the teacher evaluation plan!


  2. ken karcinell

    In the final analysis what King came up with in my view is a professional framework, that by his own admission may be subject to tweeking. To give students a 40% influence on the ratings is a bit over the top. A lot of “gangsta typ kids are gonna get on the honor roll because of teacher fearing retribution on their rating if they dont appease them..I think that for a profession to pivot on the whims of its students is foolhardy…Cant wait to see the teachers grievances hearings when some of these students may be called in to testify and justify their evaluations. The child advocates as we speak must be doubling their work force..


  3. YJosh Gutterman

    The loss of TENURE is extremely disheartening!


  4. Pingback: John King’s Teacher Evaluation Plan | Diane Ravitch's blog

  5. Pingback: King on the Spot: Who “Won” the Teacher Evaluation Battle? or, Is the Hubbub “Sound and Fury Signifying Nothing?” | Ed In The Apple ← NPE News Briefs

  6. It is impossible to separate the evaluation process from politics. Once our mayatollah is gone we’ll have a better opportunity to develop an experience factor to evaluate the evaluation.


  7. It’s a strange world!

    GIn the medical world, where the MD’s don’t have this type of monkey business, the layman juries have made a mess out of the practice of medicine. Now a doctor has to defend against a suit and others adjust their practice to better shield themselves. “Take two aspirin and call me in the morning” has been replaced with a multi thousand $ bill for tests and followup. Not that medical lawsuits shouldn’t happen, but a lay jury? But who pays? Insurance? Government ( which of course in both cases means you) ?

    Here we are in education where the for-profit sector, afraid to make foreign investments, has decided to invade domestic public education. They use their tremendous buying/advertising power to convince the country that all schools stink, and then eviscerate any experience requirement claiming ( and demonstrating-in a quarter baked way) that 90 HOUR wonders can do the job.

    With a layman approach, ignoring tremendous expertise, eschewing research, and with in-pocket politicians in tow, they change the entire field in ten years. Sound similar to what’s happening in medicine?

    The similarity? The layman knows best. We should train pilots that way. Likely to get someone’s attention. (OOPS-did you watch Sully Sullenberger being interviewed? He said-no more former air force pilots for airlines. Thats not who the airlines are hiring. Let’s get some trainees to fly you about)

    What will the US look like in twenty years? The common experience of public school that a large majority of kids experienced and that made ” the melting pot” will vanish. Schools will have very similar student populations within, but very dissimilar populations in comparison. Woe be the kid who is not “advantaged” by money, or educational aptitude.

    We could have terrible strife between, and among, various groups. Slice it up any way you like-racial, religious, ethnic, wealth, etc.

    All for a bit of profit, and to raise enough money to get elected.

    For shame!


  8. Reblogged this on The Public Educator and commented:
    More on this unworkable plan. . .


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s