Perhaps the most important change on the horizon for schools is the design of a new system for evaluating teachers. I hope that those who are involved will focus on how to improve teaching and learning rather than on things that are politically expedient or that play well in the newspapers.
Since it is obvious that data derived from student test scores does not accurately measure the work of our teachers, an evaluation resulting from such data will not help improve the quality of the teaching in our schools. If we — parents, teachers, school leaders, school system leaders — lack the courage to voice that simple fact, we will allow the direction that education takes in our country to be determined by test making corporations and by politicians. It is a bad idea to entrust our children’s future to those whose chief concern is profit or poll results.
A new teacher evaluation system and the next teacher contract will serve students well if each focuses more on training teachers and principals to do a better job, and less on rating the job they have done.
It is important to remember that teachers are generally good people. Most of us chose this profession because we desire to leave the world a little better off than we found it. Teaching requires a great deal of hard work. The majority of people who remain educators for any length of time understand, and do, just that. Some do not.
I worry that the impetus for an intellectually unsound data driven teacher evaluation system is rooted in a mythical belief that we can effortlessly weed out the few bad apples who populate the ranks of our profession. While we certainly need an effective way to move such people out of our schools, they are the vast minority of our teachers. It is inefficient and ultimately detrimental to our students to concentrate so much attention on them.
One of the earliest contracts that Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers negotiated included 100 minutes of teacher training each and every week. That contract should be the starting place for a new system of evaluating teachers and for a new contract.
Our chief concern should be finding the time necessary for teachers to learn to become better at their jobs. Once an effective training program has been established it will be much easier to develop a thoughtful system for evaluating teachers: teachers should be rated on the things they are trained to do, and they must be trained to do more than prepare students for tests.
Our school, the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology, has made the decision to use data to help in the service of becoming more effective teachers. We administered performance tasks, baseline exams created by our teachers, to all our students. We believe these tasks will help us chart our students’ progress toward the acquisition of skills outlined in the Common Core State Standards. The information we derive from the tasks will cause us to be more intentional as we develop plans to meet our students’ academic needs.
It is a fascinating experiment, and we believe that it will help us learn to improve our instruction while providing our students with long term benefits: we believe they will learn more. It is heartening to see our staff diving into this endeavor. I am privileged to witness their intellectual rigor and the genuine enthusiasm they have for our vocation.
Our school’s work with these performance tasks and with the CCSS (as well as the work that many schools are doing under the intelligent direction found in this year’s Citywide Instructional Expectations) requires us to examine how to teach well, and how to get our students to think for themselves.
It is forward looking and is geared toward enhancing our practice. It reminds us that we are learners as well as teachers, and that there is always room for improvement in our work. It will help make us better at our jobs. The goal of fostering reflection, learning, and professional growth should also drive our new teacher evaluation system.
The work our school has begun is a smart way to turn our national fascination with the use of data to rate teachers into something that actually benefits our students. We are engaging in a process similar to that which is being called for nationally but we are shifting the emphasis from a reductive system designed to rate teachers to a productive endeavor designed to improve the instruction we offer in our school. I think it will help us learn to be better teachers, and our students will benefit immeasurably.