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C'est la Z

Rubrics for teacher observations are garbage

There have been a lot of bad ideas foisted onto educators over the course of my career. One of the ones that always pissed me off was the use of a rubric for teacher observation. Specifically, using the Danielson Framework.

The Danielson Framework is a LONG laundry list of topics and concepts and for each a teacher could be rated ineffective, developing, effective, or highly effective.

It's garbage.

Sure, there are some good things in the framework but using a restrictive rubric to judge a teacher is just a bad idea. Even the frameworks creator, Charlotte Danielson publicly stated when this nonsense got started that the framework should not be used to evaluate teachers. Of course departments of education would give a nod nod wink wink and say "no, it's not for evaluation, it's for teacher improvement."

I remember talking to a colleague at Stuy. She hated the Danielson Framework that was being forced on teachers for observations. She was known to be a strong teacher but according to Danielson, she was off the charts good. She reason she hated it was because she recognized that her teaching style just happened to map well to the framework du jour and eventually it would be a different rubric and she would no longer be good.

I've actually seen this happen - teachers going from good to bad or the reverse based on an observation rubric. The teacher didn't change, nor the students but change the rubric and you can get the results you want. Good, or more frequently bad, I mean it was then Governor Cuomo who said that his teacher evaluation metric was clearly no good because too many teachers were scoring well.

Why am I bringing this up? Because student teachers. My CS Education Masters program is about to have it's first graduates and New York State will have it's first two newly certified CS teachers with said degrees. They're both finishing up our program with a last course (CS Topics) and student teaching. Both of our student teachers will have to be officially observed three times and ultimately I'll have to rate them and enter those ratings into Hunter's system.

I'm ranting on Danielson because Hunter uses said framework to evaluate its student teachers. Like an institution, Hunter's a complex beast and there's both good and bad but seeing what is essentially the Danielson framework being used to evaluate student teachers knocked them (us) down a peg in my book.

Now, from a top down approach, using something like Danielson makes sense. It gives a series of check boxes making things easy to measure even if they're the wrong things. It also made sense back when it came to be because of the leadership model espoused by people like Michael Bloomberg where he would take young teachers with a year or two of experience and make them principals. A horrible idea which persists to this day. Traditionally, an AP or P would have decades of teaching under their belt. They knew what a good lesson looked like. Not Bloomberg era principals. I mean, it takes a dozen years before you're really an intermediate stage teacher. A two year principal doesn't have a chance nor a clue.

The bottom line is that good (and bad) teaching is so varied and nuanced that you can't boil it down to a rubric. All you can say are things like look for questioning, engagement etc..

My approach to observations was set by my first supervisor at Seward Park High School. He was a master teacher. Just ask him. Unlike many APs who just teach honors or the top level class, he would rotate classes among his entire department. He would teach everything from calculus to remedial math. He'd say "those kids deserve me too." Yeah, he was arrogant, but he really was a master teacher. He was also great if he liked you but a horror if he didn't. Fortunately, he liked me.

He said that the one thing you have to keep asking yourself when you observe a class is "is learning happening." It's that simple. Then, it's up to you as the observer to figure out where, how and why and what you can suggest to make it better (while observing the cardinal rule of not fixing the lesson). This makes all the sense in the world to an experienced educator and it allows them to hone in on an observee's strenghts and weaknesses while also adjusting for the class and circumstances.

If you've got good observers and trust them, it works and works very well.

What don't work? Detailed rubrics by non teachers.

Unfortunately, right now, this is just another idiotic idea that teachers are forced to deal with and just another thing driving teachers away from the profession.

Will the powers that be ever learn? Probably not so for now it's up to good supervisors to shield their teachers from the nonsense and I hope, in my capacity, when I'm able I can do the same.

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