Monday, January 3, 2011

The Sky is Falling- Until we do Something about it.

Here is the classic "we're all under attack" post from Anthony Cody on the Answer Sheet.   He laments the testing craze and the reformers who serve as its advocates.   He moves on to explain that teachers are too busy teaching to fight back:
 In our classrooms we depend on the authority of the school as we exert our own authority to maintain order. Accustomed to our place in the hierarchy, we serve "under" the supervision of our principals, as our students work under our supervision.  This deference to authority is perhaps one reason teachers have been so slow to understand the systematic attacks we face as a profession. But make no mistake, our profession, our retirement funds, our schools, even the classrooms in which we teach -- all are under a systemic and coordinated attack.

This is the wrong fight.   The fight should be a parallel one putting forth alternative evaluation systems that answer the oh so very valid criticisms on the state of our education system.   Yes there are other issues, as Valerie Strauss eloquently argues, that impact what goes on in schools.   Not the least of which is poverty.   However, until we tackle the fact we spend too much time removing extremely ineffective teachers, and not enough time removing mostly ineffective teachers, we will be forced to swallow the reforms of outsiders willing to address the failures we are not.  

I do agree on one thing- most teachers are not politically motivated enough "to get involved."   But I'm not sure they'd all line up behind Cody and company if forced to choose- if only those teachers weren't so busy!!!!

Here is a partial vision, however incomplete, as I see it.   I left the following comment at several days ago.   No matter what however, we must move forward with our own reform rather than spend time claiming the new reforms don't do enough.

In my system in Maryland we have what I would call a "partial" peer evaluative system. Admins still complete the evaluation, but master teachers serve 3 year stints outside the classroom providing feedback to both novice (1st year teachers) and tenured teachers rated unsatisfactory. I'd say they these master teachers make it into classrooms as little as once a month and as much as once every 8 school days depending on need of the teacher. The master teacher makes a recommendation but is completely independent from the admin. They are on the development side. The ultimate decision is made by a PAR (peer assisted and review) panel of teachers and principals. Good, but part of the problem is that tenured teachers rarely if ever make it into the system. Principals find documentation needed to place in the PAR system a pain. Teachers in PAR cannot make lateral transfers to other schools. And so it is under-utlized. I'd make some changes:

One, I'd make the teachers above a kind of evaluation team to be in charge of all evaluations- including firing. I like the 3 year rule- so that they'd have to return to the classroom. Admins would no longer handle evals- they would simply be in charge of the building- handling discipline and money and scheduling decisions. If they had issues with teachers they'd report to the teacher evaluators. In large schools, this would mean less administrators.

Inside the building, I'd like there to be a career path to become a different kind of master teacher- one focused not on administrative duties, but on instruction. I'd like this master teacher to be in the classroom maybe 60% of the time, but also have observation and staff development duties. THey would observe, support, and give feedback. Developing teachers would watch this teacher teach... in large schools, there would be several master teachers in a building. Like administrators they could report ineffective teachers to the evaluation team. The goal for every teacher would be to become a master teacher.

The first part, a roaming evaluation team would be expensive. THe 2nd part, placing master teachers in school building would just require a reshuffling of duties. Fewer admins, fewer team leaders or resource teachers. I was in a middle school once that must have spent 100 teacher hours planning for a 3 day outdoor edcuation event. A great event, but at a tremendous cost. Instruction takes a back seat.

Anyway- my big picture idea- is that we need people who are focused ONLY on instruction. If you're pulled away from admin duties those admin duties tend to take priority. Admins HAVE to order supplies, or plan meetings, or make sure there is sub coverage. Instruction often takes a back seat. I'm willing to embrace any system that makes quality instruction the priority- that makes it a culture.

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