A decade ago The New Teacher Project (TNTP) issued a report, “The Widget Effect “ that concluded,
* All teachers are rated good or great
* Professional development is inadequate
* Novice teachers are neglected, and
* Poor performance goes unaddressed
The report has had enormous, and toxic, impacts. The feds and states moved to assessments of teachers using student outcomes on standardized tests, value added measurements (VAM), a dense algorithm only understood by psychometricians.
For decades teachers were observed once or twice a year, or, not at all, a mechanical process, a compliance chore. Teachers resented, or, feared being observed, supervisors found it burdensome. If you were lucky you were in a school in which the observation process was part of a an ongoing discussion of the teaching/learning process.
New York State adopted an Annual Personnel Performance Review (APPR) scenario; each school district in the state negotiated a process within strict regulations with the union. In New York City the system was imposed by the state commissioner. The process included VAM scores and observations using a rubric (Danielson, Marshall, Marzano, etc.,). The pushback from the unions, and parents grew, teachers in high poverty schools received lower VAM scores, the critics of the VAM methodologies grew and grew; finally the Board of Regents declared a four year moratorium on the use of student test scores, and, have just announced a one year extension to create a new teacher evaluation tool.
While VAM scores are scorned teacher observations by supervisors are equally flawed. Different supervisors rate the same lesson differently, these is no consensus. The use of a single rubric, in New York City, the Danielson Frameworks, simply became another compliance task, a checklist. All observations are entered into a computerized database, ADVANCE, and principals who fall behind in their observations are dunned.
A principal related to me: all the principals in a district were divided into teams and observed classes in a school. The group facilitators asked the principals how they would rate the lesson. One principal asked: Shouldn’t we be discussing how we would handle the post observation conference? The facilitator demurred, no; we’re only here to assess the lesson according to Danielson.
Danielson is not the Holy Grail, and, following Danielson to the letter does not guarantee successful student outcomes.
Early in the Danielson era I was at her presentation, at the end I asked,
“Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote he couldn’t define pornography; however, he knew it when he saw it, isn’t it the same with effective instruction?”
She’s incorrect, after watching many hundreds of lessons you can “feel” a good lesson. Different classes of student require different instructional strategies, effective teaching is varying teaching techniques to suit the kids in front of you.
Attempting to use student test scores to assess teacher performance was disastrous, and, emphasizing the summative assessment rather than the formative assessment is racing down another wrong path; the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming locomotive.
An irony: the other Danielson book, “Talk About Teaching! Leading Professional Conversations, (2009)” should be required reading for supervisors.
An important mechanism to promote teacher learning …. is that of conversation. Through focused and occasionally structured conversations, teachers are encouraged to think deeply about their work, to reflect on their approaches and student responses. And yet conducting such conversations requires skill. Many teachers assume that if their principal or supervisor wants to discuss the events in a classroom it means there is something wrong … by neglecting to engage in professional conversations with teachers, educational leaders decline to take advantage of one of the most powerful approaches at their disposal to promote teacher learning.
Conducting a post observation conference is a skill; and should not be a burdensome, compliance chore for the observer and the observed.
Post observation conferences might be a Socratic Method, engaging the teachers in a dialogue, or, a few teachers might observe colleagues and jointly discuss the lesson among themselves with a facilitator. In my school the principal allowed us to substitute a peer observation system in lieu of traditional supervisory observations. Triads of teachers, Teacher A observed B, B observed C and C observed A, in the same week, teaching a lesson on a similar topic, the teachers met and engaged in a facilitated conversation around a template of questions; the “notes” were the observation report. The teachers who participated had never watched a colleague teach, and, reflected deeply on their own practice.
The just-approved New York City teacher contract contains two changes to the teacher evaluation section, the number of observation are reduced.
… the contract approved this week also significantly cuts back how often teachers need to be observed under the city’s evaluation system. Top-rated teachers will receive only two classroom visits — down from three or four. For new teachers or those with low marks, observations are cut from a high of six to a low of three.
And, new professional learning teams will support “school-based professional development committees to align PD to the observations conducted throughout the school year.”
Professional development on evaluation
- A professional learning team consisting of UFT and DOE representatives will plan and conduct annual training sessions on the implementation of the evaluation system by the last Friday in October.
- The professional learning team will also ensure that teacher development tools and resources will be developed and distributed, including resources regarding evaluation of specific school settings such as co-teaching, special education settings, ENL and physical education.
- The professional learning team will provide support to school-based professional development committees to align PD to the observations conducted throughout the year.
Is this meaningful change?
The union took a risk, convincing teachers that formative assessment, conversations, will make them into better teachers. Maybe they will jump on board, maybe they will continue to close their doors and do what they do. Maybe the union is alienating members or maybe changing compliance-driven cultures to collaborative school cultures.
Unions are demeaned, the “right-wing” establishment spent years to get the Janus case before the court and maneuvered the court to get the “right” justices. So far, Janus seems to have motivated unions, teacher strikes in non-collective bargaining states, the public supporting teachers, and a voucher plan in Arizona soundly defeated.
Teachers can continue to win over the public by continuing to improve, as professionals, and improve the end product, students outcomes.
A friend always reminds staffs that the solution is in the room, changing school cultures never begins with edicts from superintendents, it begins in teacher lunch rooms, in teacher rooms, it begins from the ground up, yes, superintendents must seed the fields, must change from para-military attitudes to supporting collaborative cultures.
The union president and the chancellor took a risk: risk-taking can be the path to positive embedded change