Evaluate teachers like they do in the real world

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 The article is old and out of date and the seniority system no longer holds for hiring but it does for lay offs.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 from there.

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" works.

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