When Newsweek Magazine wrote a couple of months ago that the trouble with our schools are all the bad teachers that are so impossible to fire, many of us reacted a bit defensively. Their article was long on hyperbole and short on constructive solutions, but the truth is, teacher evaluation systems do not work very well. In my 18 years in the classroom, I was evaluated many times, and never received any meaningful feedback on my performance.
I know from my two years as a Peer Assistance and Review coach that there are teachers who do not belong in the profession, and we need to take some responsibility for the quality of education at our schools, not simply close our eyes to incompetence. I also believe that just as timely, concrete and constructive feedback helps my students to improve their work, it can help me and my colleagues to grow as well - but this is usually lacking from our evaluation process.
About two years ago I helped pull together a team of California teachers to take on this critical issue. This was the first project of a new organization we are building, called Accomplished California Teachers (see their excellent blog, InterACT.) This group is a spinoff of the National Board Resource Center at Stanford University, which supported me and many other teachers in pursuing National Board certification. Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond helped guide our work and wrote the introduction as well.
The report we wrote has just been released, and it offers an unusual chance to see how teachers believe we should be evaluated. It is entitled A Quality Teacher in Every Classroom: Creating a Teacher Evaluation System that Works for California, and it can be downloaded here.
We spent months consulting research, sharing our own experiences, and exploring promising practices from schools around the state. We arrived at a set of seven basic recommendations:
1. Teacher evaluation should be based on professional standards.
2. Teacher evaluation should include performance assessments to guide a path of professional learning throughout a teacher's career.
3. The design of a new evaluation system should build on successful, innovative practices in current use.
4. Evaluations should consider teacher practice and performance, as well as an array of student outcomes for teams of teachers as well as individual teachers.
5. Evaluation should be frequent and conducted by expert evaluators, including teachers who have demonstrated expertise in working with their peers.
6. Evaluation leading to permanent status ("tenure") must be more intensive and must include more extensive evidence of quality teaching.
7. Evaluation should be accompanied by useful feedback, connected to professional development opportunities, and reviewed by evaluation teams or an oversight body to ensure fairness, consistency, and reliability.
One of the things California schools have going for us is a strong set of teaching standards. But like many states, evaluation practices vary greatly from one district to another. We learned of some really innovative practices that have been arrived at through collective bargaining. From the report:
Lynne Formigli, a National Board Certified Teacher in science, and a leader in her union local, describes how an innovative evaluation program in Santa Clara Unified School District improved her practices.
In my continuing struggle to improve student writing, I teamed up with a seventh and eighth grade writing teacher. Our focus was on how we teach writing at different grade levels. We each spent time observing each other teaching the writing process. Afterwards, we met and compared our observations. We came away with specific ways to improve our students' writing, as well as ideas for integrating writing throughout all grade levels and subjects.
The three of us presented a summary of what we had done and our reflections on the entire process with our principal. Afterwards, in his formal evaluation narrative he wrote:
At the middle school level, it is beneficial when students can see a common strand run through their instructional day. When something learned in science is tied to something learned in English, both make more sense. When instruction is coordinated from subject to subject and then from one grade level to the next, we not only have good education, we have magic. And that is what Lynne, Lourdes, and Sara created.... Participating in the reflective discussion related to the alternative evaluation project was an evaluation-supervision highlight for me. We spoke about the writing process, genres, cross-grade and cross-subject education, staff development opportunities, standards, the need to share learning experiences, validation, and a host of other things.
I am fortunate to work in a district where the evaluation process is more than a drive-by observation that generates a bunch of paperwork that is a burden to all involved. Instead I am given an opportunity to reflect on my practice, collaborate with my colleagues in a meaningful way, and improve the learning of my students. That's what it's all about.
So much of our school reform dialogue has been poisoned by the assumption that unions (and teachers, by extension) are implacable foes of accountability in any form. What we learned through this process is that most of us already hold ourselves to high levels of accountability, and would encourage evaluation systems that provide us with good feedback and opportunities for growth. This report gives vivid details showing how this might look.
What do you think? Should teachers step forward with ways to improve and enrich the evaluation process? What do you think of the recommendations from this report?
(image used with permission)