Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hurry Up and Wait: Putting the Brakes on Teacher Evaluation

As if educators, including me, several times, haven't been clear enough that rushing into an untested teacher evaluation system is a terrible idea, along comes our esteemed Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan to finally get the message: schools need more time to implement, experiment and, yes, evaluate the new system before it becomes operative and to see if it does what it's supposed to do. It won't, because it has fatal flaws in it, but at least giving teachers, administrators and school boards another year might just uncover the folly of using prescriptive tests for evaluative ends.

In any case, Duncan is allowing states to apply for waivers to their waivers, which would require that the Christie administration to do something positive for teachers and students, so I'm not holding my breath. After all, I've sat in a room with NJ Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf and heard him, and other DOE officials, wax rhapsodic about how wonderful this new system is. Meanwhile, the data crunchers don't have all of the numbers, and the numbers they have are not representative of all types of districts.

Then there is this open letter to the New Jersey legislature from noted Millburn Superintendent James A, Crisfield, who makes a powerful case for letting the 2013-14 school year be a test case for every district in the state. That way we can observe how the system works and look to solve the obvious technical problems that the state seems to be ignoring. These include the funding restraints that will restrict districts from purchasing the computers necessary for all students to be able to take the end-of-year evaluations and the rather obtuse attitude the department has about ensuring that the youngest students have the necessary keyboarding skills to actually show what they've learned.

But just in case you think that it's only bitter teachers who are questioning the efficacy of the system, Crisfield reminds us that concerns reach across the education spectrum:
And speaking of fairness, there really needs to be another discussion about the efficacy of using student test scores to judge the effectiveness of a teacher. We’re moving so fast now that we don’t even have the opportunity to fully vet that very troubling (and in most educators’ opinion, highly flawed) aspect of the new system.

In fact, I can’t even explain to my teachers how, exactly, student test scores will affect their ratings, tenure, and pay (and I certainly don’t have the time to discuss with them the research behind, and/or the wisdom of, such ideas).
I like this guy.

This evaluation system has always been a political issue, not an education issue. If the governor was serious about true reform, he would have included far more public school teachers in the process, and he wouldn't have exempted private and charter schools. If you are in a position to do so, please contact your legislator. I can tell you from personal experience talking to them, that members of the Assembly and Senate want to know how affected constituents are thinking on the issues. The only thing we have to lose is control over our profession.


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