Mid-year teacher evaluations are causing some stress among public school teachers; in this analysis three cousins from various places in the state are having a Christmas holiday meeting to discuss the ways in which the different districts they teach in are evaluating teachers. Teachers of course always try their best but more than helping students learn, teachers are basically being judged and in many cases are fearful that they will lost their jobs if their evaluations don't come out in a satisfactory way.
Clearly there are enormous differences between the three districts that the cousins teach in, but they share concerns that bias can creep into the decision-making process. And when the cousins have what one could call a "skull session" or a "brainstorming" session, a lot of issues relative to each of the three cousins are raised.
Analysis -- What, Why, and How
What is the issue in this dialogue between three cousins? Essentially the issue is how districts can hold teachers accountable for their skills (or lack of skills) in the classroom of public schools. There has been a great deal of angst among teachers subsequent to the legislation known as "No Child Left Behind," which put a lot of pressure on teachers to teach "to the test" and to worry more about students getting grades than truly helping students learn, learn how to solve problems, and to become successful dealing with critical thinking issues.
Meanwhile, while No Child Left Behind is a thing of the past for many schools, the National Council for Teacher Quality has set standards and guidelines that impact schools, administrators, and especially teachers. The "what" in this assignment is two-fold. First, the "what" it is the standards established by the National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ), 40% of a teacher's accountability score is based on what the principal comes up with as far as an evaluation of every teacher; 30% is based on a personal observation by a "master teacher from outside the district"; and the other 30% is based on the gains students make on their test scores. Moreover, in each school the principal sets a performance goal for every teacher, and the state provides "intensive training" for the principals and for the master teachers who supposedly are objective and will make four appearances in each teacher's classroom.
Why is this an issue? The teachers don't trust the formula that the NCTQ has come up with. Joey remarked that the "whole system is flawed" because he believes the principals and the master teachers that are to be assigned to visit the classrooms and evaluate the teachers will have a hard time being objective. "There are personal factors that affect a true outcome," Joey explained; he is correct in a way because not every teacher is good standing with every principal. No doubt there are principals that would like to see certain teachers gone, and while that sounds rather arbitrary and brutal, for those who have taught in the public school system it likely rings true.
In the case of Jeri Lynn, the principals were expected to visit classrooms twice in the fall and twice in the spring but Jeri only had one visitation last semester. Hence, Jeri believes that her principal "just faked the second set of numbers" because asking principals (who are always bogged down with administrative paper work, interactions with parents, the board of education and their supervisors at the district level) to make four evaluation visits is not realistic, according to Jeri.
In the case of cousin Tish, whose school is "overflowing with children from wealthy families," she doesn't believe for a minute that any principal will give anything less than a "5" (the highest ranking for a teacher) and incur the wrath of affluent parents whose children are heading for Ivy League universities. Could Joey be correct when he asserts that principals that have had a long tenure would judge a teacher based on past tensions? Would a principal who's been in charge of a school for generations stoop to say something like, "His daddy and my daddy hated each other in high school, and now I get to evaluate his daughter"? It seems hard to believe, but no doubt these kinds of things do take place.
Looking at schools in low income districts, it does not seem fair that a school that has a majority of students who are just learning English is judged the same way a school with native English speaking students from middle class and upper middle class families. Certainly it is reasonable to think that the scores of those ELL students are very likely to be below the scores of students from Tish's school, so, it is fair to ask, how is this system fair to all students and all teachers?
How are these cousins' differing public school situations related? For one thing, if a system is fair for a school that is situated in an affluent part of town but unfair for a school that is struggling in an inner city or low income neighborhood -- why can't their be adjustments made based on socioeconomic differences? Joey sees the possibility that scores for teachers will be influenced because the principals "know everyone and have longstanding relationships with everyone in the county"; and if this is true, than scores might be related to "personal history" because the town where the three cousins grew up (and where Joey teaches) is rural and small, and as pointed out, everyone knows everyone else. Is the principal in this rural town, who is also a deacon in the local church, going to give a bad grade to the wife of the pastor, who has been teaching 4th grade for 16 years? That doesn't seem very likely, and that is how factors related to the state's adherence to the National Council for Teacher Quality impact different schools at different levels.
Alternate Courses of Action
There have been suggestions that parents should have a role in the evaluation of teachers. The idea has appeal, since parents are highly important stakeholders in public education. However, an article in the peer reviewed Public Administration Review suggests that "most parentsmay lack information to accurately judge the quality of schools their children attend" (Favero, et al., 2013). On the other hand, parents' views should be taken into consideration because some school characteristics that "administrative records often ignore might include the quality of a school's counseling service" or other services, so it is the opinion of this paper that parents should have a hand in the evaluation of schools and of teachers' performance.
Another alternate course of action would be to scrap the standardized testing format and instead go back to the grades "given to students by teachers," which are determined by teachers based on "grade-point average and rank in class" (Tanner, 2013). Tanner asserts that teachers giving grades (and eschewing standardized testing) are "valid predictors" of a student's progress because teachers have first-hand, hands-on knowledge of how a student performs due to "students' projectsand questions raisedin class" (Tanner, 6).
Best Course of Action and Why
Trusting teachers to perform their work is the right way to go, and that means allowing teachers to teach so children learn to solve problems, to be critical thinkers, and to make sense of the world based on quality instruction and in-class efforts. Grades given by teachers should be trusted because as Tanner writes, "Virtually every study of teachers over many decades has reveled them to be dedicated to child welfare and advancement in services to the greater social good" (Tanner, 9). Hence, instead of the policies of the National Council for Teacher Quality, with principals and master teachers sitting in classrooms making judgments -- and standardized testing counting for 30% of a teacher's value,…