Sunday, June 14, 2009

Lake Woebegone

So everybody's up in arms about teacher evaluations - all above average it seems. Jonathan Alter says "we already knows what works" but he doesn't say much about how to get'r done (which I think is to spot fund the programs George Miller is championing - hard to tell from this editorial more bent on pointing fingers than solving problems) The New York Times says its time to Tell the Truth.
Now that we (The BAD Teachers of America) have your attention for the nano-second that counts for media coverage these days, LISTEN for a minute.
There are some programs that actually identify and support effective teachers. All of those programs have the same hallmarks: they put teachers at the center of the work of evaluating each other and their own practice - where the evaluations occur in a collegial climate that develops sustained growth based on reflection, continued study, and goal setting.
The gold standard of teacher evaluation is the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Its rigorous, reflective, and peer evaluated. Even veteran teachers quake at the idea of putting their practice on the line for review.  But it proves that teachers CAN and SHOULD be the ones in charge of evaluations. 
Ask any NBCT.  Its tough and it changes teachers in the process.
What happens in most districts?
An already overburdened administrator jumps into a teacher's classroom for a few moments, fills out a check sheet, may - or may not - meet with the teacher later and moves on to put out other fires. 
Administrators are the least effective evaluators for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is their own personal survival. Can't go around firing all your teachers, can't take any more time to 'teach' the teachers, can't sit down to revamp an entire school all while parents, school board members, testing schedules are pounding at the door. Administrators may be passing on teacher effectiveness because holding on to a teacher serves some other interest
So why aren't the teachers in charge?
This kind of work takes time out of the day.  (The time that no one is afforded - see administrator work load above - because time is money.)
But, though initial start up would seem costly, investing in teacher evaluation would pay dividends in the long run.  Professionals in charge of their own work tend to a) work harder and b) find more satisfaction in their work and stay for an entire career.  (Another great peer-to-peer program, the National Writing Project, has proven this in their legacy study.)
The other dirty little secret neither Alter nor the Times mention in their effort to tidy up the edges of the big education pie is that teachers are leaving in droves every year before they even begin to understand the scope of the job.  And proven, effective teachers are retiring just as fast. Evaluations won't matter at all when teaching is a revolving door profession.  (Could you even call it a profession at that point?)  
New teachers will only have to know how to get kids to turn on the computer, fill in the forms, and then lock up for the day.  
And evaluating those employees will be easy enough.  
Just check to see if they have good attendance.