“Unintended Consequences…”

In Education, Education advocacy, School reform on Friday, 28 September 2012 at 14:28

one thing i have noticed this year, more than others, is the overwhelming feelings of tension, anxiety, fear, etc. that are pervasive and hang thick in the air every time i enter one of the schools i work at.  a feeling that you must ALWAYS watch your back because there is someone waiting around the corner to document any misstep (the idea that if they can point out how poorly one teacher, counselor, administrator, etc. is, they will curry favor with the higher ups and/or show their loyalty and possibly take the spotlight off of themselves).  the tension is thick and no doubt felt by the kids as well.  i believe much of this stems from the fact that those working in education feel threatened regarding the arbitrary nature of the “new and improved” evaluation system.  and the fact that they do not feel valued as an educator and can easily be replaced.  or the tension stemming from public perception as to what a ‘piece of cake’ this government job is.  or the fact that the students they are supposed to be teaching, disciplining, and testing are now going to have a say in whether or not they keep their jobs.  part of their evaluations include not only how the students do on those all-important standardized tests, but also on how the students themselves rate their teachers.  “give me an “f” and make my parents take away my new iphone…now you’re going to be sorry.  i’m going to give you a poor evaluation.”  we all know kids (grades 3-12, since they were ‘kind’ enough to leave out k-2) can see things from their own myopic viewpoint and, when angry, may not thoughtfully and truthfully assess a teacher.  say it isn’t so!  yes, it is. i can’t say exactly why it is but, lately, when i walk into my schools i feel such a heaviness in the air.  anxiety stemming from uncertainty?  some of us haven’t even seen or been told about the very tool we are going to be assessed with nor have any clue as to what the actual assessment measures are.  how would that go in the real world?  “i am going to be looking at a number of factors related to how well you do your job in order to better determine whether or not you will be keeping your job.  you will have to collect data and show quantitative support as to how you achieved these objectives.  oh! you want to know what data to be preparing and what you are actually being evaluated on???  we haven’t been trained on that yet.  sorry.  we’ll let you know…to be determined.”  why should that cause anxiety?  i guess it should make a professional no more anxious than a student who has been told he or she has a test on “math” and never being told anything else.  ok, you know it’s on “math” but is it geometry?  pre-calculus? algebra?  just wait until the test and you’ll find out.  you also might fail the test, but hey, that’s life and then we can replace you with a student who can pass…

i realize my example is a bit far-fetched, but not that much.  all i can say is the feelings being expressed by my colleagues are those of anxiety, stress, and tension.  NOT a fun place to be and i can’t think that it’s good for the kids.

and i am not sure we needed a paper to tell us about the rising tensions, but the latest one is below.  teacher evaluation system or not…public education is not a fun place to be right now.  to me, the “unintended consequences” be they a result of the evaluation system or the system, in general, negatively impact the kids.  is that really the desired result?


Teacher Evaluation Systems Hold Inherent Tensions, Require Refining: American Enterprise Institute Report

With No Child Left Behind waiver applications and related legislation ushering in new teacher evaluation systems in upwards of 20 states, a report out of the American Enterprise Institute highlights four key tensions policymakers and educators must consider in refining such policies.

The first section in the paper, titled “The Hangover: Thinking About The Unintended Consequences Of The Nation’s Teacher Evaluation Binge,” calls for evaluation requirements to allow for flexibility. There is a tendency to make policies overly prescriptive, which in turn could limit school autonomy and hinder innovation that could lead to the development of better evaluations.

Many of the evaluation proposals being circulated call for decreased attention on details like teachers’ training and other characteristics, and greater focus on the bigger picture — results they elicit in the classroom. On the other hand, mandates that teacher evaluations include specific design elements could be seen as overly prescriptive. According to the paper, this is already the case in several states that now require school districts to adopt teacher evaluations that employ state-defined value-added models or specific teacher evaluation rubrics. In addition, while NCLB waiver criteria require only that states design guidelines for teacher evaluation systems and ensure local districts implement systems that meet those guidelines, some states — including Delaware and South Carolina — have elected to adopt a single statewide teacher evaluation system, in which all the state’s districts must take part.

The paper’s authors point out that poorly designed evaluation requirements could also hinder other innovative models. Some schools have begun to incorporate learning-based software in their classrooms and other blended learning models; these technologies vary in design, approach, costs and teacher role. Student groups in these models are more flexible and fluid, and students receive instruction and tutoring from a variety of teachers and programs. This makes it difficult or impossible to attribute student learning gains in a particular subject to a particular teacher, and complicates teacher evaluation systems that rely on linking teachers to their students’ academic results.

The third tension the paper highlights is the purpose of evaluations; new evaluation systems have been marketed as a means of identifying and dismissing underperforming teachers, while providing all teachers with useful feedback to help improve their performance. That said, state efforts to create new evaluation systems have focused much more on what happens to teachers at the bottom of the spectrum, versus those in the middle or at the top.

Several states’ new teacher evaluation laws mandate the creation of a professional development plan only for low-performing teachers, and chiefly as a means of allowing them an opportunity to improve before dismissing them. Current design efforts have not focused on incorporating features that would ensure evaluations actually help teachers improve. According to the report’s authors, evaluation systems need to be designed with a mind to allowing for face-to-face discussion time between the teacher and his or her evaluator.

Lastly, there is a prevailing sentiment that holding teachers accountable for their performance will more closely align teaching with norms in other professions. However, most professional fields rely on a combination of data and managerial judgment when conducting evaluations and making subsequent personnel decisions. This is in stark contrast to the teaching profession, in which new evaluation systems have aimed to eliminate subjective judgments entirely, instead focusing solely on student performance.

According to the paper, the best protection against biased managerial judgment is to ensure that the managers themselves are also held accountable for performance. Furthermore, in designing value-added systems, policymakers should consider whether the elements they are adding move education away from or closer to professional norms in other fields.

The report’s authors offer several policy recommendations for designing new teacher evaluation systems moving forward:

• Be clear about the problems new evaluation systems are intended to solve. • Do not mistake processes and systems as substitutes for cultural change.

• Look at the entire education ecosystem, including broader labor-market impacts, pre- and in-service preparation, standards and assessments, charter schools, and growth of early childhood education and innovative school models.

• Focus on improvement, not just deselection.

• Encourage and respect innovation.

• Think carefully about waivers versus umbrellas.

• Do not expect legislation to do regulation’s job.

• Create innovation zones for pilots—and fund them

Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/28/american-enterprise-insti_n_1921088.html

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