Sunday, December 12, 2010

A reply

My wife recently accused me of having the emotional IQ of an ant.  She is so generous.  David Cohen of InterACT, a group blog from Accomplished California Teachers, left this comment worthy of its own post.   He has more tact than my wife.   My response coming soon.

Hi Mike, On the broad strokes I agree with you. We need a change in those personnel practices in schools. However, my approach might be different. I'd suggest that the quest for a system that helps us fire bad teachers is the wrong approach. Instead, I'd ask what changes in evaluation practices will improve teaching and learning across the board. My answers are contained in the ACT report on teacher evaluation, which can be found at our website. (Not to suggest that I am the originator of those ideas, but rather that my opinions are reflected in the work that a large team of teachers put into that report). We want an evaluation system that is flexible, ongoing, and growth-oriented, one that helps each teacher identify and address aspects of their practice that need to improve. For schools currently evaluating most of their teachers on the "drive-by" model - an annual observation by an administrator who may or may not know your content area - this would represent an improvement that I submit would improve teaching and learning across the board. So you need to sell that step on its own merits. If you present the new system as the means of finding bad teachers, you inhibit the use of evaluation as an honest tool for improvement for all, because you encourage teachers to cover up or minimize any weakness. Okay - once you have a better evaluation system, then you can open negotiations on a number of matters of hiring and firing. Again, I wouldn't bill it as the new way to fire bad teachers, but rather, open up a spectrum. The teachers who excel in these evaluations and demonstrate other professional accomplishments should be in line for different types of jobs as "master teachers" (coaches, mentors, evaluators, teacher-administrator hybrid positions, curriculum development, training, etc.). Instead of "performance pay" that rests on test results, you'd have a chance to pay more for teachers who have a demonstrable ability to add more genuine educational "value" to the work of their schools or districts. Then, as a last step in the discussion, you're in a reasonable position to say that if we have a system that can do all of this, it should be fair game to negotiate the use of poor evaluation results for personnel decisions. I won't speak for John Norton individually, but as a member of Teacher Leaders Network, I feel comfortable stating as generality that many of us would agree with your long term goals, so I hope no one reads your blog as having posited us as your foils in this debate. I just don't think I'd open the conversation with "let's get rid of seniority" because a fair alternative must be in place. If the alternative is using state test scores in any way, no thank you. I welcome scrutiny of my teaching effectiveness by other means; they must address a more complete spectrum of my teaching, and do so in a way that effectively identifies my unique contributions to student learning. State tests earn an F on both of those criteria.

1 comment:

  1. Part of the issue is like many of us, I write a local blog in the context of a global discussion. Montgomery County, where I teach, has traditionally been considered a rather progressive union (whatever that means). Our professional growth system is based on the 5 National Board Standards plus a 6th (professionalism). We have a peer evaluation system in place for novice and tenured teachers who receive an unsatisfactory evaluation. However, what this means in theory and practice are two different things. I can go into my union and suggest subtkle changes to the system but unless we can come to agreement that there is a problematic culture in place we're not going to be able to attack the serious issues that are preventing us from moving forward. I've said this before to you, but when there is more incentive to coach football after school than to develop master lesson- there exists a problematic culture. That's not to say that after school activities are not an important part of being a teacher- I used to coach myself- but it does create a problem when culture is compensated more than quality teaching. How do we encourage teachers to meet regularly, to observe each other, and to think about taking their teaching to an uncomfortable place? It's funny, but the one thing that the Tennesse study on performance pay concluded- of all things- was that teachers in the study were more likely to visit each others classes. They wanted to see what was so "good" about teacher x.... even though they didn't really believe that the tests their student took accurately measured how good they were a teacher. I think that has less to do with the test- than it has to do with the label associated with high performance. If we have "master" teachers who are paid more, or who are even just recognized as a master without the extra pay- people will be more inclined to look at that teacher and figure out how to become one. You don't learn how to become a teacher when an interloper comes into your class and tells you how you could do it better. You become a better teacher when you reflect about your practice. I think there is no better way to do that than to watch high quality instruction. Unfortunately, I don't know alot of places that have their instructional leaders are in the classroom with an open door policy. Now- perhaps that doesn't excuse the way I beat the drum on issues of seniority. I've been accused of attacking older teachers... and I suppose I see how I can be interpreted as doing such. But when you go to my union meetings you best not go with a feather duster in your hand. That said- I'm often offended by the way my union defends our current professional growth system as a "model system" that would be destroyed by RTTP reforms. The implication is that there is no way to improve it- which I passionately resent. And it is perhaps why I come off the way that I do.