Ed Blog pt. 24: 5 Things in 5 Days - Evaluations (Day 4)

Probably nowhere is the impartiality of a rubric quite as evident as when it comes to teacher evaluations.  Teacher evaluations are about as equitable as a Baptist Sermon - and probably just as dangerous.  A Baptist sermon promises hell, but at least provides a way to avoid it; in the teacher evaluation, it depends upon the "preacher".  

I would never have thought this to be the case - and it wasn't really until school districts went to the rubric - that two dumbasses could wreck a career.  But that's what happened to me, and it's happened to several other people as well.  Incompetent administrators come in, trained on the rubric and use it grade teachers.     

The problem is: An evaluation is only as good as the person doing the evaluation.  That is precisely why I spent so much time early in this series writing about how it starts at the top.  (If you think you live in a bad school district - you have a shitty superintendent, shitty principals, and a shitty school board.  The people who will tell you different are probably the people in those positions of power.)  

Using the same form to grade every teacher, at every level, in every subject should immediately raise red flag.  (It's actually about the same, in terms of equity, as using a questionnaire to settle a court case.)  Good teaching does not look the same every day.  It does not use the same methods every day.  And there are days it will look boring.  An in-depth, very involved deep-dive into law consists of some class periods of studying just the facts of what a law is.  You must also learn the history and practice.  After you know the fundamentals, then you can apply.  Teaching will look different every day.  That is not bad.  If everything was exactly the same, every day, that would raise a whole different set of questions.  Depending on the subject and the content, there will be lectures, note taking, reading, watching, and role play.  This is good teaching.

This is where the evaluation is itself the problem.  (Pretty ironically), with the rise of buzz words, professional development, and educational consultants tackling the problems in the school system, parts of teaching have become taboo.  Lecturing is considered the worst form of teaching.  This is in the midst of a society that puts extremely high price tags on the lecture circuit.  Meaning, something major happens or someone has knowledge or wrote a book, and they make a ton of money touring the country lecturing about it.  It also overlooks that millions of people attend weekly services for lectures.  It overlooks that many people learn a ton from audio - look at the rise of the podcast.  In the place of a direct lecture, the current thing receiving all the praise is 'collaborative learning'.  This means students 'work together' to 'discover' new information.  The same people that believe in the buzz word of the day neglect to mention that 'collaboration' is only as good as the collaborators.  So it's possible that a very collaborative class can be very, very wrong on an issue.  This is because good teaching looks different every day, which brings me back to the evaluation.  

The teacher - the same person doing all the instruction, planning, and day-to-day of the class - would be evaluated differently for each part of the teaching (of a unit, class, assignment, etc.), as based on 'the rubric'.  They'd be considered minimally effective on the note-taking day, but highly effective when students are doing the entity of the interaction.  The rubric has no room or use for actual teaching.  It simply is a list of 22-76 things that are marked graded and used to determine a teacher's effectiveness.  Three classes represent an entire school year.

Think on that.  It's fucked up.  What it means is that, depending upon the day the evaluator decides to observe a class, an evaluation - possibly a teaching career - changes*. 

The most popular evaluative tool currently in use is The Danielson Model.  (It's worth a read if you care about this sort of thing.  There's a lot more to look at with it as well.  But it highlights all the ways our system sucks.  A woman, Charlotte Danielson, thinks we need a better evaluative tool.  She puts a lot of time and energy into getting a good one.  It ends up in the hands of the same dumbasses that have been fucking up the educational system for decades, and now the thing she created is (or to be fair, can be) part of the problem: http://www.danielsongroup.org/). 

When any tool gets in the hand of the wrong person, it's dangerous.  A hammer can be used to build an orphanage or to crush a skull.  A rope can be used save a drowning person or to hang someone.  It all depends on who's using the tool.  In evaluations, a lot of administrators are using them wrong.  I had four different people evaluate me using the Danielson Rubric.  Each one of them said this line, "I just fill in this rubric."  And that's a major part of the problem.  If, as a teacher, I said that same this exact same thing to a parent, the administrator would mark me down for doing so. 

The first evaluator couldn't spell, and had terrible grammar.  I had to help him actually fill the rubric out.  I was fine with it, because he was also the only one that had a suggestion for how to 'improve'.  The second two principals - the two people that got me fired - had a cumulative total of zero advice.  I asked each of them directly how I could improve.  I asked the second evaluator this question, "You marked me down in (insert area), how do you suggest I improve?" He had nothing.  I asked the third person the same question.  She told me to talk to someone else.  

This is a major problem.  None of the four evaluators had ever taught a day of traditional high school. None were familiar with the subject I taught.  When each of them walked in, they had zero scope of the lesson, unit, or time of the school year.  This is a problem.  We're losing good teachers to incompetent administrators using a bad device to be impartial.  Charlotte Danielson realized teachers needed a better evaluative model.  The same people that were doing it badly for years now use her model badly.  Often, it's promoted through educational consultants.  

We need good teachers, maybe now more than ever.  But teachers - good, competent teachers - are leaving the profession in droves.  We have to take so much shit, that it's becoming not worth it.  Evaluations may be the starting point of this.  People that work their asses off every day, getting more and more piled on them by the administration, taking the blame when students 'perform poorly', are then used as the scapegoat for low test scores.  

It's unethical.  It's fucked up.  But it's happening everywhere.  

*Before the 'impartial evaluation', this wasn't the case.  There used to be a form, a checklist, that was a guide. It had some version of satisfactory, along with an option for - above, below, or does not apply.  This allowed an evaluator to use the snapshot they were observing to represent the whole.  What students were doing in a class on a particular day didn't matter as much as how they were doing it.  Were they respectful, listening, engaged?  When an incident arose and the teacher intervened, did the students respond with respect of defiance?  Was the teacher collected or angry?  How was the interaction between students in the class?  Between the teacher and the students in the class?  This is observable at all times.  

With the current system, it doesn't happen.  One hilarious example happened in the State of Our Schools Address given by the superintendent of the Grand Rapids Public Schools.  In her address, she used a particular teacher in a particular school to show how good the schools were doing.  She highlighted the growth from this teacher' classroom.  You'd think this would be a good thing; but, the teacher, through the 'evaluation' was considered: minimally effective.  If he didn't have tenure, he'd have been fired.