Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Interesting Column from Danny Westneat

Here's Danny Westneat's column from the Times. He puts a very human face to the discussion about teacher evaluation.

I'm not saying Seattle's grade-the-graders proposal is worthless. There have to be ways to reward the stars and shed the lemons. Seattle is right to confront these issues.

But across town, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is in the midst of a study of whether it's even possible to reliably score teacher effectiveness. And, if so, what things — experience? test scores? knowledge? teaching style? — are the best measures of a great teacher.

They don't know yet (the results aren't due for a year and half.) My hunch: Teaching — especially good teaching — is far more art than science.

And he ends with:

No matter what teacher-testing tools they come up with, they should inform, but not replace, people. In the end a principal should do what managers must do in countless other workplaces: decide who gets promoted and who gets fired. And then take the heat.

It's imperfect. It's hard. That's why there's no formula for it.

Well said.

16 comments:

Jan said...

Yeah! Leave it to Danny to acknowledge the complexity of the issue, and not just parrot the slogans.
I hope the negotiators for the teachers have picked up on the bit about the Gates teacher effectiveness studies.

You know, IF we could EVER get MGJ to stop trying to throw the baby (student learning) out with the bathwater (ineffective or burned out teachers), it would be really interesting for the District and the teachers to continue work on the teacher evaluation project and really work on that issue -- how to determine teacher effectiveness. No, I am not interested in throwing 4 or 5 million dollars of taxpayer money at it -- but if you could EVER find a grant organization that had no predetermined "agenda" -- and was willing to roll up its sleeves and work with an entire community (teachers, parents, kids, district administrators) to explore how you REALLY, honestly evaluate teacher effectiveness, how you REALLY empower teachers to identify goals for personal improvement and then give them the tools to work on it -- it could be really neat. Too bad that with this district, and the "wolf in sheeps clothing" SERVE proposal, we are in a totally different, much more malignant universe.

JB said...

"In the end a principal should do what managers must do in countless other workplaces: decide who gets promoted and who gets fired."

Melissa - do you really agree with this? Charlie?

The principals I know (and they are many) would relish greater ability to do just this. What I hear from them, however, is that it takes an enormous investment of time to make this stick (except in the extreme cases - drugs, theft, inappropriate relations with students) - the decision ultimately ends up with the district bosses, and only then after going through rounds and rounds of plans of improvement (voluntary and involuntary), mentorship, outside and impartial evaluators, meetings and hearings and mediations.

I agree with Westneat as quoted here - but honestly, I don't think the system has the stomach for it.

dan dempsey said...

"I agree with Westneat as quoted here - but honestly, I don't think the system has the stomach for it.

Amen.

Eric M said...

No, the "system" as presently constituted can push incompetent teachers out, and it doesn't take something criminal to do it.

It's happened at Ballard HS, at Ingraham HS, at Roosevelt HS.

You just need a diligent principal, and some push from parents.

Teachers don't mind this. In fact, a crap teacher makes everything harder for everyone else in the building, every day, every minute.

What we do want is for the process to be fair and nuanced, and respectful of diverse teaching methods and diverse opinions and personalities.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I agree with Eric's summary. Principals have the power to send a process in motion and they are,ultimately, the ones who have to make sure the process was followed before a teacher is exited.

But, I don't know the whole process and I don't know where the district administration's power is.

My read on Danny's statement is more broad than factual; I think he was saying that teachers are employees just as anyone is and are responsible to their boss.

Rabbit said...

Yup, I agree with Eric. The problem is not with the system it's with ineffective principals. There is a clear process for eliminating bad teachers - but it takes a principal to make it happen and unfortunately many principals just don't take action for whatever reason. Instead they turn the other cheek, and ignore the problem - especially in lower income schools where they do not get much pressure to act from the PTSA and concerned parents.

Principals are the ones who work with, and evaluate teachers on a daily basis. They know who the bad ones are. They hear the parent (and student) complaints. They sit in on the classes.

To get rid of bad teachers all that needs be done is to hold the principals accountable to act when need be.

ArchStanton said...

"My hunch: Teaching — especially good teaching — is far more art than science."

In my experience, a good fit can make a lot of difference, too. Sure, a teacher can adjust their style for their students and students can adapt to different teachers, but sometimes the student/teacher just aren't a good match.

It happens in the workplace. No one is necessarily wrong or at fault. Some employees/managers/work environments just don't go together well.

Rabbit said...

Of course the constant shuffling of principals doesn't help the situation. It probably takes a principal a couple of years to get a true sense of the workings of his/her new school and to identify a "bad" teacher. Unfortunately, by the time a principal gets his/her bearings they are likely to be moved again.

It might also help a principal "own" his/her responsibility for identifying and eliminating a bad teacher if he/she had a bigger say in the hiring process.

speducator said...

Ineffective principals are moved around this District.....not fired.
Many times they are promoted to their highest level of incompetency. There needs to be more of a focus on ineffective administrators and principals.

Anonymous said...

It can be remarkably easy to fire teachers, if the principal has it in mind. But if a principal is doing their job there should never be a bad teacher from the start--'bad' teachers should be mentored and re-directed, not given increasingly difficult assignments until they quit or fail out, as I have seen happen more than once. For as much as it looks to be a complicated and impartial process, it truly is not. Impartial observers may come in once or twice, and most likely have no idea what circumstances are in play. Many 'impartial' observers have strong district ties, and no knowledge of the curriculum in use. Not infrequently the observer will suggest changes that are contrary to curriculum or district practice, so the teacher has no option-follow the advice and be fired for straying from the curriculum, or follow the curriculum and be fired for not using best practice. It's a lovely catch-22 that has been set up.
What is most surprising to me though is the lack of tracking of movement to and from buildings, voluntarily or not. Some principals delight in firing people, others don't bother. Buildings with no movement should be investigated to see if principals are awake, and those with huge movement need to be investigated as to why--9 times of 10 it won't be because of the students.

Syd said...

Here is my question: how can one principal really interact on a meaningful level with that many direct reports? I have never had more than 6 direct reports,and that pushing it. After that it seems like you have to institute a hierarchy of some sort. Yes, you can do a 360 review (in the case of teachers that would include parents, older students, peers and outside departments plus the principal), but how can you do it for 20 to 50 people? That just seems ridiculous.

Charlie Mas said...

It is possible to have twenty or more direct reports if they are professionals and you give them the license they need to do their jobs as they see fit.

Syd said...

I don't agree. My group is made up of mature professionals with graduate degrees and years of experience in their fields. Still, genuinely reviewing more than 6 is a big job (currently I have 8). My boss has four direct reports. Her boss has 10, but she is a super hero. We are not an unusual organization. Engaging all of my direct reports in constructive and meaningful review of the work they have done, setting goals and creating development plans that align with organizational goals is a full-time job. Just because one is a professional does not mean one does not need oversight and mentoring.
It is currently possible with the existing contract to hold teachers accountable and work with them to further develop. However, their boss has to have the time to engage in the process. The entire hierarchy with one principal responsible for staff and teachers seems untenable to me.
Even writing this makes me think that this is not the structure. How is it handled? Are there other levels of leadership? I hear people talking about principals assessing teachers. is that how it is done?

Charlie Mas said...

Actually Syd, that how it is supposed to be done. In truth, it usually just goes undone.

The duties of a school principal can be overwhelming and the administrative tasks can draw a lot of time away from the work of being the instructional leader.

I think the job should be divided, with one person fully dedicated to the instructional leader role and someone else to take care of HR, the facility, administration and operations.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, what is this new photo of you?

Syd said...

Ahhhh.....well, I have to agree with you. It is a lot for one person. Is it on the table to change?