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Noose or Sword?

September 6, 2013

My daughter in NYC sends me lots of interesting blog posts that I use as “prompts”, and this one from the “Movement of Rank and File Educators” reinforces every negative notion I have about the direction NYS is taking and every positive notion I have about the role an administrator can play in the evaluation process.

The blog post, titled “The Noose or the Sword: Choosing Your Evaluation”, is written by PS15k’s Chapter Leader Julie Cavanagh and it provides a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the alternatives teachers have in terms of the kind of evaluation they want for the coming school year and the strengths and weaknesses of each. In short, teachers can choose short frequent “drop-in” style visits or longer formal observations that have the traditional pre-conference post conference format and they can choose to be evaluated based on test scores of their own class or of their entire school. Cavanaugh assesses each of these options, but makes two cogent observations. First, she notes that she and her colleagues benefit because

… we have a principal who is not a “gotcha type” and works hard to support and protect our teachers so our students have the best educational opportunity we can provide, because, she knows supporting and retaining teachers is an in-school factor PROVEN to positively impact student achievement, along with class size.

This is in contrast to other schools:

I understand that many educators and their school communities have leaders whose interest lies in not supporting educators; in some cases harassing, forcing compliance, or demonizing them.  For these teachers and schools, this process will be particularly demoralizing and challenging and I am truly sorry.   It is my hope that the energy and anger that is born out of this process will be harnessed to fight for the changes we need so desperately in education and union policy.

Second, Cavanaugh in her section describing the various assessment tools teachers can choose from, she describes how assessments ARE used by good teachers:

Teachers assess their students all the time, that is what good teachers do.  We do not need external pressures, data collection systems, and evaluations tied to these assessments to do the good work we do.  Assessments are not designed to evaluate teachers, they are designed to inform teachers of what students know or don’t know, to highlight areas of strength and weakness, and to guide our instruction.  Data does have purpose, but that purpose is being perverted and we must be careful to avoid feeding into the narrative that distorts our profession and harms children.

Sadly, based on Cavanaugh’s post it appears that the focus on evaluation is on boosting test scores and hitting the 22 bullet-points on the Danielson evaluation rubric as opposed to connecting with students as individual learners. This is not the fault of the union: it is the fault of the testing regimen. When group proficiency is the goal, teachers will not focus on each-and-every student… they will focus on those students who are approaching proficiency and ignore the others.

In the end, Cavanaugh encourages her colleagues to do their best because she is confident that the system is so complicated and convoluted it will eventually mobilize teachers and fall like a house of cards. Here’s hoping the NYSED gets the message on this before parents begin abandoning the public schools out of frustration or despair.

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