Charlotte’s Web: Will the Implementation of the Frameworks Improve Teacher Performance or Yet Another Mindless Compliance Tool?

The Schools Under Registration Review (SURR) team arrived at the middle school in February for the four day visit to assess the stumbling school, and perhaps, recommend closing. Usually the principal greets the team at the door – we waited for the principal, who apologized, he had five vacancies on his fifty teacher staff and had to oversee the assignment of twenty-five class coverages. Five teachers had skipped out and the principal had yet to find replacements and the current staff had to teach an additional daily class – without any preparation.

As we began the discussion I asked the principal a “soft” question, “What criteria do you use to assess teacher effectiveness?”

The principal thought a moment, then responded, “They come to school every day and blood doesn’t run out from under the door.”

Sad, and the reality in too many high poverty schools in high crime neighborhoods.

I was chatting with a principal in a school that fully screened students, he was concerned, while teachers asked thoughtful, high level questions on the Webb Depth of Knowledge scale the discussion among the students rarely went beyond one or two students.

For decades we had a school system in which the lowest achieving, most dysfunctional schools accepted the least common denominator of teacher effectiveness – the highest achieving schools had the highest levels of teacher quality and the current so-called reform initiatives allow teachers to move from school to school – frequently from lower performing schools in undesirable neighborhoods to high achieving schools, the Klein imposed Open Market transfer system.

Yes, high poverty schools have excellent teachers and many chose to remain, the challenge was finding bodies for classrooms for teachers who moved on. In the mid nineties one of five teachers was a Probationary Provisional Teacher (PPT), they were employed but couldn’t pass the low level required teacher exams and most were working in “hard to staff” schools.

Today frequently high poverty, lower achieving schools have new, inexperienced teachers.

A satisfactory teacher in one school could easily be considered unsatisfactory in another school.

The APPR (the New York State teacher evaluation plan) required school districts and teacher unions to select a standard for teacher assessment from among six choices chosen by the State Education Department. (see Kim Marshall Teacher Evaluation Rubric ).

The purpose of selecting a single teacher evaluation rubric is an attempt to standardize the quality of teacher assessment – a teacher in the lowest poverty, lowest achieving school should be assessed the same as the teacher in the highest achieving fully screened school.

New York City chose the Danielson Frameworks, a rather unwieldy much revised “evaluation instrument.”

The introductory section of the Frameworks traces the path since publication in 1996, and the many revisions and describes the current iteration,

…the complex work of teaching is divided into 4 domains [Planning and Preparation, Classroom Environment, Instruction and Professional Responsibilities] and 22 components. Furthermore, each component is comprised of several smaller elements which serve to further define components.

… in the centerpiece of the Framework is student engagement, which is defined not as “busy” or “on task,” but as “intellectually active.”

The Frameworks are a useful professional development tool, the domains and components and elements should be at the heart of teacher training, teachers should meet together and discuss how the Frameworks “translate” into lessons, and, I believe, Danielson would be in full agreement.

How a supervisor can observe a lesson and translate it into a meaningful observation report using all/some/a few of the Danielson components and elements is a conundrum.

At a small meeting a few years ago I asked Danielson, “Justice Potter Stewart in a famous Supreme Court decision wrote that pornography was difficult to define but you know it when you see it … isn’t it the same with good teaching?”

She adamantly disagreed.

I’m not so sure she’s right. These days the department trains school leaders to use the low-inference observation technique – to “scribe” the lesson – to note all the teacher and students interactions and in the post observation meeting engage the teacher in a discussion about the purpose and effectiveness of the lesson emendating from the notes of the school leader/observer. [Video, unfortunately, is still verboten]. Ironically the department in the negotiations over the APPR fought to minimize the use of post observation meetings.

Does the observer jot notes on the 4 domains, 22 components and numerous elements? or, inform the teacher before the observation of the specific components? I don’t know.

In the past school leaders observed a lesson, met with the teacher, wrote up a report that summarized the lesson, listed commendations and recommendations, and concluded with, “This is a satisfactory/unsatisfactory lesson.”

The “new” world of observation writing will make references to Danielson – probably referring to domains, components and elements, with commendations/recommendations, and, in lieu of the S/U the new acronym HEDI (highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective).

The school leaders, the rating officers, after their own training sessions will have to pass an “online” test – viewing lessons and assessing the lessons. [At 3012c dismissal appeals will teachers be able to subpoena the records of the online test – “Isn’t it true Mr. Principal that it took you seven times to pass the exam?”]

I believe the number of teachers receiving unsatisfactory ratings has been the same over the last few years – about 2.6% (around 2000 teachers) … will the number change under the new system?

More importantly will the new system improve classroom performance?

I fear not.

There is a plethora of research [see next blog] that performance improves where teachers work in collaborative settings – in settings in which teachers, and school leaders, can interact, settings which are lacking in too many schools.

With a few exceptions, schools are islands, loosely tied to networks, school leaders struggle with the scimitar hovering above – student progress as measured by state tests and in the high schools, credit accumulation and regents passing rates.

The 200 plus screened schools and programs have a luxury – the kids come to the building with high level skills and the school can offer a wide range of intellectually stimulating courses and experiences,

For the vast majority of schools the system has become a complex tangle of compliance driven requirements – how many emails does a principal receive in a day requiring this or that report or piece of information – required yesterday?

The department wrote in its Instructional Expectation document principals will conduct, “frequent brief classroom observations with meaningful feedback,” they are absolutely correct.

Viola players and basketball players and teachers only get better with coaching, the ability to practice under the guidance of a skilled coach.

Danielson’s other book, “Talk About Teaching ,” a slim 130-page volume discusses in detail the supervisor-observer interactions with teachers. The dense Frameworks describe elements of teaching that Danielson’s research claims defines effective teaching. I have some quibbles, putting them aside, the core of the process is the talking about teaching, the dialogue that both precedes and follows an observation – unfortunately the APPR seems more concerned with the number of observations and whether they are announced or unannounced than the process that allows teachers to learn from the coach.

The sports coach that spends most of his/her time yelling at players is an ineffective coach – players shut down, they don’t hear the coach, the coach as a teacher, the coach who demonstrates skills, overseas the practice of the skill and assesses the performance results in improved practice.

In the waning months of the Bloomberg-Klein-Walcott era, unfortunately, the cumbersome APPR has little chance of improving or assessing teacher performance.

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One response to “Charlotte’s Web: Will the Implementation of the Frameworks Improve Teacher Performance or Yet Another Mindless Compliance Tool?

  1. Danielson is the latest “tool” and iteration to improve teaching/learning. Like any other tool the tool is not the answer. The person who uses the tool” determines the “tools” effectiveness. Although the “tool” is new how to use the “tool” is a proven process. Fist and most important is the effectiveness of the training the D.O.E. will give all supervisors. That is not a given. Second the supervisor and the teacher must completely agree on the definitions of the terms to be used and the criteria used to evaluate. Third there should be agreement by the supervisor and the teacher on the priorities of the teaching/learning needs of the teacher. Fourth there needs to be a cooperatively developed plan to identify the resources, both human and instructional that will be utilized to address the needs. Fifth, a mutually agreed upon time line must be established to determine progress or lack of it. Then and only then if these steps are followed will the “tool” improve teaching/learning. Otherwise the “Too9l” becomes another failed, frustrating, counterintuitive, and counterproductive “tool”.

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