This old article has been reposted a few times in my circles over the
past few weeks http://educationnext.org/facadeofexcellence/. It's from
2003 and complains about the lack of flexibility schools had back then
with regard to hiring and salary. The article is old and out of date
and the seniority system no longer holds for hiring but it does for
lay offs. The salary scale from back then, though, is still in place.
My friend Alex asked my thought about how we might deal with evaluating
teacher quality. I thought I'd share them here.
Alex listed a number of commonly tried and suggested options on
teacher evaluation and why they're all flawed.
I haven't asked Alex's permission so I won't post his list and
comments here. Instead let's start with the boogeyman those that attack public
education always trot out – tenure.
Let's get a couple of things straight - tenure is not a job for
life. For K12 teachers, it's the right to due process. That means you
can't be fired without cause.
I hear the free market capitalists out there already – "in the real
world, you're an at will employee, why do teachers need this due
process?" - I'll get to that down below. For now, let's look at a few
points on tenure:
First - you can fire a tenured teacher, you just have to document your
case. This means that the supervisor has to actually do their job.
Next - people can complain about rubber rooms and the time it takes to
fire one of these tenured teachers. That's because the DOE won't hire
sufficient hearing officers. In a recently resolved case, a friend of
mine - a terrific AP was finally returned to her post after she was
railroaded on false charges. She was in the rubber room for years. The
DOE kept delaying the process – all she wanted was to go to "trial"
since everyone knew she'd be exonerated - the fact that she was up on
charges at all speaks to why teachers need tenure.
Next - teachers don't grant tenure, the administration does. Why are
all these horrible teachers being granted tenure? Stories abound of
administrators granting tenure to bad teachers so long as they
transfer to another school - who's to blame here?
Finally, the contract that establishes tenure is jointly negotiated
by the teachers union and the city - no one ever seems to complain
about the city.
Next, let's talk about bonuses and competition. People in the business
world take the false assumption that everyone thinks, acts, and feels like
they do. Here's a surprising fact – teachers aren't in it for the
money. Sure, we'd like to make a little more - perhaps enough to
actually live in a decent apartment and not need a second job to make
ends meet - but no one went into teaching to get rich. Teachers are in
it to uplift ALL their students and their school as a whole.
Now let's look at the model currently in vogue - value added
measures. Besides the fact that they're arbitrary and don't work (see
this post and this one) they're nothing like how people are evaluated
in the real world.
How are people evaluated in regular jobs? As far as I know, they're
evaluated by their managers and bosses - possibly also by their peers.
Funny thing - that's how teachers used to be evaluated before all this
nonsense brought about by the "reformers." Of course, no one will
admit to this.
Did this system work? For the most part, but not entirely. Why were
there problems? Because, unlike a business, principals are not
necessarily incentivized to have the best teachers.
Schools and principals are evaluated on ridiculous metrics - the same
standardized tests they use to evaluate teachers. To look at a small
piece – to graduate high school, kids need to pass at least one math
regents and pass three years of math classes. To be "college ready" a
student still only needs to pass one math regents and take at least
one year of geometry or trig.
This means that as far as math is concerned, a principal is
incentivized to have a math department that can get their kids through
the algebra regents. Here's how this frequently plays out. The kids
take algebra over two years and then passes the exam. The kids take
geometry as their third year. They don't have to pass the regents, but
it appears that in order to increase a student's chances of passing
that exam, classes don't teach proof - the most important and hardest
part of the class. Why not? Because it's easier to pass the exam by
learning most of the other stuff.
Here we have a school where the incentive is to hire teachers that can
teach to the algebra regents and that's about it.
That's at a school with a low performing population. In a higher
performing school, the kids will do well on the standardized tests
regardless of teacher quality so there's no incentive to hire the
best. Even if that's what they want to do, there's no way to know if
they're actually doing it.
Back to why teachers need due process. Since principals aren't held
accountable in any reasonable way, teachers can't be. The end result
is that teachers are subject to abuses by principals. I myself was
once brought up on bogus charges raised by a principal (not a Stuy
one) who wanted to make trouble. Without due process, I would be out
of a job. So would many others.
The answer? To me it's figure out how to hold principals
accountable. In Alex's Facebook post he mentions evaluation by
college and workforce success but that has a slow feedback loop. The
truth is, education does have a slow feedback loop. Schools, however,
exist for along time and principals should have tenure periods of more than
just a couple of years.
My feelings? Why not look at graduates succeeding in college or on the
tax rolls? This wouldn't be perfect but it would be a start. While NY
can't count on private universities sharing accurate information in a
timely manner there should be a way of tracking if a high school
graduate is enrolled in a SUNY or CUNY one, two, three, or four
semesters after graduation. Create a baseline for a school and start
If principals were actually accountable in a reasonable
way they'd have incentive to have the best teachers. Then we can get
back to the old system which was indeed the way the "real world"