The Thomas B. Fordham Institute sponsored a recent panel discussion titled, “Traversing the Teacher-Evaluation Terrain.” Inevitably, the discussion veered from teacher-evaluation criteria at the federal and state levels to upcoming requirements of Common Core.
One of the panelists, Rob Weil, represented the American Federation of Teachers as their Deputy Director of Education Issues Department. He voiced his opposition and disapproval of the top-down, federal government approach of Common Core throughout the discussion.
Weil argued that the legislators and bureaucrats “like putting numbers down in legislation because it makes them feel good.”
He said that teachers “were hoping that the effort to improve instruction would actually work…so they can improve their practice.” He complained that teachers should have received timely feedback and relevant information. “Hundreds of millions of dollars was spent to do measurement, but it stopped” when people realized they needed to improve instruction to reach their desired outcomes, and then they had to recalibrate and revamp their Common Core rubrics, training and standards.
Weil lamented that “we have this ‘get it done’ instead of ‘get it right’ philosophy in this country” when these curriculum changes are “very hard” for teachers and educators to adjust to. Teacher evaluations have educators worried across the U.S. about their job security in a struggling American economy.
Sandi Jenkins, the National Council on Teacher Quality’s Vice President and Managing Director of State Policy, said that tenure is no longer the norm. “Tenure seemed like the most sacred of sacred cows.” She even said at one point, “It can’t be changed. It might be on our agenda but it just can’t be changed.” Now, eighteen states have changed their policy on tenure, in part due to teacher evaluation requirements from the federal government.
Alice Johnson Cain, Vice President of Policy at Teach Plus, gave several anecdotal examples of bad teachers being fired in the D.C. public school system. The environment has changed in that school system, she noted.
Common Core will only get better, said Jenkins. Although “most states are very specific about teacher observation being a part of the evaluation,” only fifteen states have unannounced observations and the majority of states no longer have one-on-one interviews that used to be the old evaluation system. Jenkins also pointed out that Delaware is the only state to link teacher evaluations to teacher licensing, but with one significant change: they allow out-of-state teachers to become licensed almost automatically when they move to Delaware. If they are effective teachers at a comparable school in another state, they are licensed in the first state. Jenkins admitted that this “seems like a great way to cut through what seems like bureaucracy.”
Common Core, in her opinion, has more pros than cons. One of the initial problems Common Core faced was its burdensome, 17-point rubrics that bureaucrats developed as the teacher evaluation rubrics. This was overly ambitious and impractical because these bureaucrats aimed to “capture everything under the sun” in their teacher evaluations. They quickly realized these rubrics were impractical and that meant the majority of states had to revamp their rubrics after several years of development. These Common Core states wasted millions in developing terrible rubrics. Jenkins said the “timing is not ideal” and that it “gets me a little frustrated” because “Common Core didn’t just start this year.”
Chet Linton, president of the School Improvement Network, in his research, found that federal education programs led to “vast differences” and “a large degree of misunderstanding” between teachers and administrators of education standards under Race to the Top and Common Core. There was too much confusion, “vague policy” and an “onerous process” to enact these standards with tight and non-negotiable deadlines. Because of the rapid timeline of Common Core, these new education standards were adopted but they did not help teachers or students. In one of the studies his organization conducted, 70% of teachers in 46 states said the evaluation process is ineffective, 67% say the evaluations do not reflect teacher’s work properly or in context and only 46% said these evaluations did not have any training or help after-the-fact. In fact, Linton said that the current system has become “their worst enemy.”
He went on to say that Common Core was a positive development, but that it has become “clouded in the cloak of misperception,” because of recent efforts of Common Core opponents. He admitted that “we don’t do simulations” of teacher evaluations and performance and that Common Core has changed the dialogue from having good or bad teachers to good or bad ratings personnel.
Spencer Irvine is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.
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