The Wrongheaded Quest for Cheap and Easy. . .

If you haven’t had the chance to check out the comment section of my recent post on Barack Obama’s thoughts regarding education and technology, then you’re missing out on a pretty interesting conversation about accountability in education between two regular radical readers—Mike and K. Borden.

K.’s pushing the idea that educators should take ownership over their profession and design alternative methods for evaluating performance that can be used to supplement standardized tests.  She (he?) wrote:

We agree that the standardized tests alone (without other measures) are inadequate to fully measure teacher or student performance.

The rub is, what other measures? This is where I as a parent look to you the teaching community to offer answers. I want to learn and hopefully be able to advocate with you for acceptable, reliable accountability. I want to know that you as a community of teachers recognize some in your profession are failing and some are blazing trails we all may be wise to follow.

I’ll jump in this conversation, K, and I’ll lay out a vision for holding teachers accountable that might blow your mind—-but before I do, I want to give you three non-negotiables that are required from the general public before holding teachers “accountable for results” is even possible:

1.  You’ve got to delineate and prioritize your expected outcomes:  This is probably the source of greatest frustration—and resistance—for teachers involved in conversations about accountability because it is impossible to deny that communities are asking schools to tackle more tasks than it is possible to achieve.

Once a community can clearly define exactly what it is that they most want their children to learn in schools, we can start to have meaningful conversations about how to measure mastery of those skills and delineate between successful and unsuccessful educators.

2.  You’ve got to make a commitment to providing necessary resources to meet expected outcomes:  One of my favorite quotes about accountability comes from Richard Elmore, who is responsible for the term reciprocal accountability.  Elmore writes:

Accountability must be a reciprocal process. For every increment of performance I demand from you, I have an equal responsibility to provide you with the capacity to meet that expectation. Likewise, for every investment you make in my skill and knowledge, I have a reciprocal responsibility to demonstrate some new increment in performance. This is the principle of “reciprocity of accountability for capacity.” It is the glue that, in the final analysis, will hold accountability systems together (Elmore, 2000).

I’m not certain that most communities can honestly say that they are providing enough capacity to meet the litany of expectations that they have set for schools.  New demands and expectations are placed on schools—and teachers, in particular—-without any additional time or training to meet those expectations.

Here’s a simple example from my classroom:  In our data driven world, I’m expected to collect and manipulate numbers about student performance in order to make informed decisions.  This is a completely reasonable expectation—and one that can help to document the “bang for the buck” that taxpayers get from my services.

But my school and system struggle to find the funds to provide me with the kinds of ongoing, job embedded professional development that it takes to develop the skills necessary to manage data effectively.  What’s more, they struggle to find the funds to provide me with the tools that data managers in other industries take for granted.

So I collect “data” on post-it notes, move those results to my paper and pencil grade book and then try to identify trends in my 85-student class load with a yellow highlighter.  The entire process is frustratingly inefficient—taking away time that I should be spending on planning and providing students with meaningful feedback—-and would simply not be tolerated in the business world.

“For every increment of performance I demand from you, I have an equal responsibility to provide you with the capacity to meet that expectation,” is a powerful idea that communities need to embrace before most teachers will embrace accountability.

3.  You’ve got to differentiate compensation for teachers in high needs schools no matter what:  The biggest failure that our society currently makes is rewarding teachers equally regardless of the kinds of schools they choose to work in.  As a result, students in high needs communities are consistently exposed to higher numbers of inexperienced or ineffective teachers—-and we do nothing to make work in high needs buildings more attractive.

That should be a source of great shame for everyone—from policy makers to taxpayers.  We’re knowingly putting students who need the most help in buildings where that help is unlikely to ever arrive.

Crazy.

Once communities narrow and prioritize their expectations for schools and commit themselves to providing the capacity to meet new expectations, I’d propose that all teachers be held accountable for working through yearly cycles of action research conducted at the classroom level, documenting the impact of their instructional decisions on the learning gains of their students.

Here’s how it could look:  At the beginning of each school year, teachers—with the guidance of school leaders—should set specific areas of instructional focus for the upcoming year based on learning data available at the school level.

Over the course of the school year, teachers should be expected to research instructional practices that have been effective at addressing identified weaknesses, implement those strategies in their classrooms, and document the results of their instruction.  Next, they should be expected to revise their instructional practices and work through a second cycle of implementation and documentation.

At the end of each year, teachers should be expected to present their findings to a school/community based committee.  While the findings may not always show that a teacher has identified instructional practices that are worth continued exploration—remember that failures are an accepted result of attempts at innovation in other professions—-he/she must be able to show that they’ve made responsible decisions based on an awareness of the impact that their actions were having on the students of their classrooms.

And here’s the good part, K:  After collectively reviewing the work of an individual teacher, the school/community based committee of parents, policymakers and education professionals can make recommendations about a teacher’s continued employment and compensation.

Yup—I said it:  Let’s get rid of tenure and put teachers on terminating contracts that are open to review by members of the communities that they serve every few years.

That’s gotta make teachers cringe, huh?!

But when I think about my own efforts at reflection, I’m pretty confident that I could convince a review committee that I was worth keeping on board.  While my instructional practices don’t always hit pay dirt, I’m at least constantly looking for ways to improve—-and I think that kind of persistence is valued and respected by most families in the neighborhood that I serve.

I’m also certain that tenure is a permanent scar on our profession.  No one takes us seriously because EVERYONE has a story about some miserable old bat that had been teaching for too long yet was making serious cabbage.  Worse yet, the kind of job security teachers have is non-existent in other professions.

Mike’s going to hate this, but what makes us any different from any other “profession” where people have to prove their worth to keep their gig?

For you, K., this system gives community members control over teacher quality—and an inside look into the kind of work that the teachers in your schools are doing.  Transparency would be absolute—and the standards of judgment would be completely in the hands of the people footing the bill.

Here’s why my ideas will never fly, though:  This whole process is going to cost a helluva lot more than running a bunch of bubble sheets through a scantron machine.  School boards and state elected officials—the folks that would be responsible for driving this kind of change—are constantly counting every nickel and dime in an effort to keep tax bills down.

It’s about re-election, right?

It’s also going to take a whole ton of time!  I seriously doubt that most schools could find enough interested community members to be involved in the evaluation and review process.  While people like to complain about not having input in public schools, who’s got the time to sit in on dozens of teacher review meetings each year?

So trying to sell a program of evaluation that carries inherent rewards for the community—-the ability to have direct input in the kind of teachers who remain employed in their schools—and for teachers—the ability to be evaluated based on their own professional actions and decisions—will probably never happen because it ain’t cheap and easy!

Does anyone see anything in my pipe-dreams that is worth embracing, though?

Are there starting points that we might be able to agree on?

15 thoughts on “The Wrongheaded Quest for Cheap and Easy. . .

  1. Mike

    Dear Bill:
    Indeed, we do not see our principals nearly enough, though judging from the comments of many of my colleagues, they’re happy with that state of affairs. In Texas, state law mandates a specific number of shorter and longer evaluations sessions per school year, with more for probationary (those who haven’t accepted a 4th contract) teacher. Even so, I’d like to see my principals in my classroom more often so we can talk about things that matter, instead of the idiotic trivia that is, more and more, imposed on them. Interestingly, I do nothing at all differently when they come, though we do touch base before they come for the more “formal” evaluation sessions so they spend an hour seeing something interesting rather than watch me watch my students as they take a test.
    Even though my principals aren’t in my room as often as I like, even though our system is imperfect (If they’d only listen to us, utopia!) I do speak with them regularly, we exchange e-mails on issues and plans and there are many ways, direct and indirect that they gain accurate knowledge about my abilities and performance, as I do about theirs. None of this would be true for citizens gathered together as some have suggested.
    I’m all for letting the public have first hand experience; they’re always welcome in my classroom, but never come–never, which I suspect reinforces my point about the public hiring professionals to do public jobs for a variety of good reasons. Once those professionals are hired, the public generally considers things handled unless something comes up to convince them otherwise.
    May I suggest a significant potential problem with your suggestion? Once upon a time in the misty past, I was the commander of the support division of a mid sized police department. I was the guy who was responsible for the jail, all vehicle equipment and maintenance, officer equipment, all evidence, all records, the dog pound(!) and a variety of other functions. It was a ridiculous job, requiring huge amounts of time, focused attention to detail, interacting with dozens of people from other agencies within and without the city, and prodigious organizational efforts.
    Once, when I was gone for a week teaching a school at the state law enforcement academy, a fellow officer ran things in my stead. After I returned, I discovered that he was telling anyone who would listen that my job was a piece of cake and I was grossly overpaid for the pittance of work I did.
    What he was too inexperienced to understand is that he had an easy time of things because of the years of work I had done organizing things, establishing procedures and systems, working with others, supervising my subordinates, and establishing many, many efficiencies where none previously existed. Not only that, I went out of my way to ensure that he probably wouldn’t have to do much of anything to avoid unnecessary problems. My efforts paid off, but he didn’t learn the lessons that were so obvious to me. Silly me, I thought he’d congratulate me on establishing such a well-oiled machine. How could he miss something so obvious?
    Might we gain an ally, as you suggest? Perhaps, but it’s equally, perhaps even more, likely they might come away with some very odd ideas–perhaps the exact opposite of what we hope they will understand–about the reality we live every day and understand so well. Anyone superficially stepping into any profession would find themselves in the boat.
    Give me a concerned citizen for a week in my classes (I wonder how we’d handle all the privacy issues and still let them see what they’d need to understand?), and I can guide them to a reasonable understanding of the subtleties that are most important to understanding teaching–or any profession. Toss someone into my room for an hour–or less–here and there, and we risk serious misunderstandings.
    Again, I’m not arguing against citizen involvement, quite the opposite. I merely want that involvement to be beneficial for us all.

  2. Bill Ferriter

    Mike wrote:
    We already have a system where highly educated, tested up one side and down the other, multiply vetted experienced professionals-principals-evaluate other highly educated, tested up one side and down the other, multiply vetted experienced professionals-teachers-on the basis of first hand knowledge, which includes (but isn’t limited to) daily contact, personal observation of performance, work habits, dedication and devotion to duty and professional demeanor.
    The problem is, Mike, that this description of the evaluation of educators is about a thousand miles away from my reality!
    I get observed MAYBE twice a year for at most 20 minutes by a rushed principal who isn’t really paying attention.
    When they come in and I realize I’m being evaluated, I turn on the show—crossing all my Ts and dotting all my Is.
    Granted, I’m not a slacker when they’re not in my room—but what they see is my absolute best. When they’re not there, I tend to cut the occasional corner.
    As far as day to day interactions go, I’ve had two or three months go by between meaningful conversations or interactions with principals during the course of my career. Heck, in one school, I didn’t even physically see my principal for 6 months because she just didn’t venture very far down our hallway.
    I struggle to hold this against principals—they’re often completely swamped my minutia that has become all consuming, so investing time into meaningful interactions and observations is difficult at best.
    But if we plan to leave evaluation in the hands of school leaders, we need to redesign school leadership positions and hire a “Chief Business Officer” for each building that handles the myriad of tasks that consume so much time: Bus scheduling, building repair, budgeting, purchasing etc.
    The other hitch in your argument lies in your assertion that lawyers are evaluated only by their professional boards.
    While professional boards may be the only group that can jerk a lawyer’s license, lawyers REAL evaluators are their customers.
    If a lawyer gets a bad reputation based on innuendo or personal whims (the fears you have about what parents might do to teachers), they lose customers and end up going out of business—-regardless of their own perceived reality.
    That’s what I’m bothered by in teaching: The current system of evaluation leaves far too many poor teachers in classrooms year after year after year—and parents and students can’t do anything to walk away.
    Now, I’m open to talk about the public’s role in creating this miserable reality—after all, the biggest reason most principals shudder to let a marginal teacher go is because they know the applicant pool isn’t all that much better.
    But let’s let the public get first hand experience with that. Let’s let them take over hiring and evaluation and be forced to make tough decisions between letting the teacher that they’re dissatisfied with go—only to muddle through a hiring process where they can’t find anyone better.
    The general perception on the part of the public seems to be that there are thousands of great teachers to be had if only we could get rid of the dead weight that schools and unions are protecting.
    You and I know that’s not true.
    Let’s let the public figure that out the hard way: By having to find good teachers for their own kids classrooms.
    When they realize how difficult that task is, we might just gain an ally in our arguments that teacher working conditions and compensation packages must improve in order to attract more accomplished educators to our schools.
    Whaddya’ think?
    Bill

  3. Mike

    Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Sorry Matt. Reinventing the wheel is never a good idea. We already have a system where highly educated, tested up one side and down the other, multiply vetted experienced professionals-principals-evaluate other highly educated, tested up one side and down the other, multiply vetted experienced professionals-teachers-on the basis of first hand knowledge, which includes (but isn’t limited to) daily contact, personal observation of performance, work habits, dedication and devotion to duty and professional demeanor. Have parents and community members hire and fire? Evaluate me?
    Very well. Where are these people going to find the time to do the kind of intensive, daily evaluations for which we hire principals? Or do we devolve “accountability” to the point that teachers present “aren’t I grand” portfolios, combined with high stakes test scores, third hand rumors and other minutia to occasionally assembled boards of laymen who have no-or very limited-actual knowledge of a given teacher’s work? Those who are best at making themselves look good on paper will do stunningly, but all too often that kind of ability says a great deal more about self promotion than teaching ability.
    And how many defacto supervisors–for if you’re evaluating me, if you have hiring and firing power, that’s what you are–are we going to place over a given teacher, each with their own expectations, quirks and desires which may or may not be communicated to the teacher, and which will surely be contradictory in many ways. Don’t we have enough unfunded, unattainable mandates as is? If you think hiring and firing issues are difficult now, imagine trying to defend a firing decision made by six people based on innuendo, rumor, half truths and a bit of data compared to the direct knowledge and experience of a single principal. The discovery for such a case could go on for years and the costs…well, you get the idea.
    I’m not denigrating the intelligence or good will of the public. I merely point out that the public hires professionals to do specific jobs for very good reasons that have to do with time, money, expertise, utility and accountability. Few of us would presume to try to supervise (including hiring and firing) firefighters, police officers, accountants, geologists, or any of the myriad professionals hired by the public for their specific expertise. We’d recognize it as redundant, wasteful, and plainly silly. Why then might anyone imagine such an idea suddenly gains utilitarian brilliance when applied to teachers?
    Of course, if we really want to argue that virtually any well intentioned person can hire, fire and supervise teachers (whether their own children are involved or not), are we really willing to pursue the logical extension of that idea to every other profession? How about it Matt? Replace all the lawyers on your state professional accountability board with average joes? No lawyers, or maybe just one who doesn’t have significant power? Didn’t think so.
    With age, I’ve come to appreciate not so much what I know, but how very much I don’t know. And while everyone is surely entitled to their opinions, and while I’m delighted to chat with anyone about education issues, why do so many with no idea about the realities of teaching presume to be experts capable of transforming a field about which they know so little?

  4. Bill Ferriter

    On to a few more ideas.
    K. (who is way too formal calling me Mr. Ferriter) wrote:
    Honestly, such a committee may only really be needed in the tougher cases/borderline decisions. Something much simplier could be made an interim step, survey all parents of students of a particular teacher. The parents who care will eagerly and enthusiastically return the surveys. Only when concerns emerge from the survey, would a review by committee be done. These should not be anonymous.
    Test scores, plus parent surveys…what else?
    I like the idea of narrowing the number of teachers who a parent committee would have to review, K. Certainly makes the process more manageable.
    But surveys seem sketchy to me! I’ve been thrashed on Rate My Teacher one too many times to be comfortable with surveys—they are too ambiguous, they lack transparency, and they rely on multiple choice indicators to define my performance.
    Besides, I think the best part of the review process is that parents and community members would be able to develop a far more sophisticated understanding of what quality instruction looks like across grade levels and content areas!
    I’m all about empowering parents and community members in this process—but I’m also looking for some kick-back my way. And the potential kick-back is knowledgeable parents.
    I worry we wouldn’t get that with surveys alone!
    Both Jacky and Mike tackled the idea of who should be evaluating teachers.
    Jacky wrote:
    But don’t you think that would be the job of the school board to review all the professional people in their district? If they divided up the job and made the cycle maybe 5 years, it wouldn’t be too onerous a job.
    And Mike wrote:
    I merely expect that in that process, they be fairly evaluated by professionals who understand that they are evaluating teachers, not assembly line workers or members of any other trade or profession.
    I’m actually with Matt on this one, guys—-only because I think parents and community members will make responsible decisions about who to hire and who to fire.
    Will there be mistakes made by committees who get wrapped up in vindictive decisions based on little actual evidence or a poor understanding of what good teaching looks like?
    Absolutely!
    But I can bet that those mistakes will become less and less common over time. After all, it’s in the best interest of parents to figure out what good teaching looks like because they’d be responsible for hiring teachers for THEIR OWN children!
    That ain’t a job they are likely to take lightly for very long.
    Any thoughts?
    Bill

  5. Bill Ferriter

    Wow…This conversation is getting better by the minute! Thanks to all for thoughtful comments.
    Let’s see if I can tackle a few.
    First, Matt wrote:
    Now, should an education “expert” or other teacher be on Bill’s hypothetical panel–absolutely, but again, they should only be one voice on the panel and should not dominate the panel.
    If we are talking about accountability, the ultimate accountability has to be in the following order:
    1. The kids/parents attending the school.
    2. The community the school serves.
    3. The political masters at the local/state/national level.
    4. Other Teachers.
    I actually have no problem with this at all, Matt—and I think I’d argue that by allowing parents and community members to be the leading voice in teacher evaluation, you’d see communities empowered to select and reward the kinds of teaching strategies, approaches and styles that THEY valued the most.
    It would be empowerment at the local level times ten—and I’m down with empowering communities.
    The lingering concern that I have is we’re going to be left with an unequal distribution of accomplished teachers again.
    Wealthy districts and communities are going to have “the pick of the litter,” and students of poverty are going to be stuck with a larger proportion of underprepared or inexperienced educators.
    If we could design an incentive plan that made work in high needs communities more desirable—thereby driving up the number of potential applicants to those buildings—I’m down with giving nearly complete control over evaluation and compensation decisions to community members.
    I actually think it would remove some of the most contentious issues that divide communities and their schools….and let us get on to the real business of education—which gets pushed aside far too easily.
    We’d also have to wrestle with Sam’s entirely accurate point:
    The pendulum has swung away from local oversight towards federal oversight of education. Given the many federal requirements for teacher quality, communities would have a hard time implementing something like this.
    I think Mike would be on your side, Sam! It’s high time that the pendulum swing back to giving local communities control over their own schools.
    Isn’t that what the Constitution says anyway?
    And communities can seize this control if they’d embrace reciprocal accountability. The only reason that federal mandates drive decisions in schools and districts is because schools and districts NEED the resources provided by the federal government for special programs students.
    If communities really want control, then pony up the cash to replace what the federal government provides and the problem is solved!
    Whaddya’ all think?
    Bill

  6. Sam Rosaldo

    I’m really enjoying this discussion.
    Bill, I think you’ve laid out something that makes sense for some communities, though perhaps not all. Two obstacles that you did not mention but I think can be overcome:
    1) The pendulum has swung away from local oversight towards federal oversight of education. Given the many federal requirements for teacher quality, communities would have a hard time implementing something like this. But if they were given more freedom to decide how they wished to evaluate their teachers, they might adopt something like this. The pendulum may need to swing back first, though.
    2) The current emphasis on using “outcomes,” i.e., student achievement, i.e., test scores, to evaluate teachers. That’s where both K’s daughter and Mike are right–it does not always make sense to evaluate a teacher like an assembly line worker. Before your plan could be approved publicly there would have to be a shift in the dialogue about what teachers ought to be responsible for.

  7. Matt Johnston

    Mike wrote: “Crazy, eh? Actually, I have no problem whatsoever with teachers–like virtually everyone else–proving their continuing worth (through their demonstrated competence) to keep their job. I merely expect that in that process, they be fairly evaluated by professionals who understand that they are evaluating teachers, not assembly line workers or members of any other trade or profession.
    No, No, No, No. Sorry Mike, but you cannot limit the evaluation panel that Bill envisions to just other teachers or people trained to evaluate teachers. It must and I mean MUST, include members of the community, i.e. the parents with kids in the school because those are the only people with a stake in the process beside the teacher themselves. Should parents dominate the process, no, but they are in the absolute key position to render judgment based upon the teachers’ ability to actually teach. Furthermore, they are also taxpayers.
    Let me give you an example from my profession of the law. I have represented corporations, well-educated college graduates and even other lawyers. I have also represented high school graduates, drop-outs and people which we would think of as having far less “knowledge” about the legal process. However, each person is in a position to evaluate the legal services I provide. I have not won every case, indeed as a litigator I have lost cases, and those clients are understandably upset. However, no matter how well educated they are, they have the ability to judge me and my firm on the quality of work we have done for them independent of the outcome. It does not require any special expertise for a person of general education “an assembly line worker” if you will, to be able to judge whether quality service is being provided. By the way, there is another mechanism by which legal quality is assured and that is through legal malpractice claims and the attorney disciplinary process.
    Now, should an education “expert” or other teacher be on Bill’s hypothetical panel–absolutely, but again, they should only be one voice on the panel and should not dominate the panel.
    If we are talking about accountability, the ultimate accountability has to be in the following order:
    1. The kids/parents attending the school.
    2. The community the school serves.
    3. The political masters at the local/state/national level.
    4. Other Teachers.
    Sorry if this offends people, but I think too often when discussing issues of accountability, we tend to focus on what accountability means and how to measure/ensure accountability, and not on the persons/party to whom the teachers and schools are ultimately accountable. If we are developing a new accountability model (and I have to admit, I really like Bill’s model) then we must consider and include all parties to whom teachers are accountable in any system of review and personnel decisions.

  8. Jacky Fields

    Let me add to all of these comments. I am an Instructional Technology Specialist: we are unionized, so are also protected and treated the same as teachers. However, we do NOT ALL do the same kind or amount of work. It is frustrating because I know I am doing above and beyond for all our teachers and students. As you, I know I would pass muster on a yearly, biyearly or whatever review.
    With crashed school budgets in NYS it is really difficult to incorporate more time=money into this process.
    But don’t you think that would be the job of the school board to review all the professional people in their district? If they divided up the job and made the cycle maybe 5 years, it wouldn’t be too onerous a job. I’ll bet they would be surprised to see all that is actually going on in a school. I would love to partake in this type of event!

  9. Claus

    As an early step towards your very ambitious agenda, Bill, districts can mount intense public engagement programs to involve communities in setting goals and setting strategies for meeting those goals. In Mobile, AL (for example), this strategy fueled public support for a tax increase to support public education–the first in 4 decades. It also led to a reform strategy that has yielded lasting district-wide improvements.
    Having helped shape a strategy for reform, the community was better prepared to support its share of the reciprocal responsibility for students’ success. The lines of accountability became much clearer.
    This sort of broad community engagement might pave the way for the accountability/performance system you envision.

  10. K. Borden

    Mr. Ferriter:
    Lets say we put together an accountability plan and process once the three non-negotiables are addressed. Your suggestion: “After collectively reviewing the work of an individual teacher, the school/community based committee of parents, policymakers and education professionals can make recommendations about a teacher’s continued employment and compensation.”
    Honestly, such a committee may only really be needed in the tougher cases/borderline decisions. Something much simplier could be made an interim step, survey all parents of students of a particular teacher. The parents who care will eagerly and enthusiastically return the surveys. Only when concerns emerge from the survey, would a review by committee be done. These should not be anonymous.
    Test scores, plus parent surveys…what else?
    But let me honestly say, a great deal of the accountability concerns are coming from a disconnect between what parents observe, students achieve and teachers claim. One easy to understand idea that I have that when I have discussed it with parents has been a hit is: pay teachers for two additional weeks of work. One the week before school starts and one the week after school ends. During that week during regular hours have half hour conferences in which parents come and teachers present their goals for that student that year (based on that data). Ten of the minutes are given to the parent to speak for their child, state their expectations and ask the questions they want answered. The second of the weeks, would be an opportuntiy to inform parents how performance on the goals set earlier went. At ten such conferences a day for five days, 50 students and their parents can be prepared for expectations and receive the benefit of that expertise. You would know your students better and you would have an opportunity to temper expectations of parents who may not understand the limits you have. Note again, I said paid for those two additional weeks.

  11. Bill Ferriter

    Bill wrote:
    Thanks for sharing this thought provoking post. I wonder if we approached our classrooms as you suggest how many teacher would not be able to cut the rigor and the professional aspects of their job.
    That’s a great side-benefit of my proposal, Bill—I suspect that dozens of teachers wouldn’t be able to rise to these standards!
    Which would leave the parent/community review committees in an interesting place: They’d be able to (finally) recognize that recruiting the best to teaching requires improved working conditions, higher salaries…or both.
    Or they’d have to settle for teachers that weren’t meeting their own expectations for quality.
    One of the biggest barriers we face in convincing the general public to support us is the lack of transparency about the challenges of our profession—very few people outside of education realize how difficult it is to recruit and retain excellent educators.
    So let’s put community committees in charge of everything related to evaluation and compensation—-the transparency will further the teaching profession because we’ll gain knowledgeable partners who can then go and advocate on our behalf.
    Does this make sense?
    Bill

  12. Bill Gaskins

    Bill,
    Thanks for sharing this thought provoking post. I wonder if we approached our classrooms as you suggest how many teacher would not be able to cut the rigor and the professional aspects of their job. I am not disagreeing with you but just making a point from my 20+ years of experience in the classroom. Teachers need to be held accountable but it must be clear and practical what is expected from the school.
    NCLB has just complicated the whole process. I think public schools are heading for a major disruptions sort of like our present economic situation. I think technology will lead the change.
    Thanks for sharing…

  13. Mike

    Dear Bill:
    Crazy, eh? Actually, I have no problem whatsoever with teachers–like virtually everyone else–proving their continuing worth (through their demonstrated competence) to keep their job. I merely expect that in that process, they be fairly evaluated by professionals who understand that they are evaluating teachers, not assembly line workers or members of any other trade or profession.
    I have, in fact, always worked in school districts where there was no such thing as tenure as it is commonly understood, and I consider the NEA to be only a half step (on a really good day) removed from communism. Even today, after three years, my only job protection is that my employer must provide actual reasons for firing me and must afford me absolutely minimal due process. Teachers who have not been given their fourth contract may be fired at will for any reason or no reason and have no recourse whatsoever. Yet, because I work in a district with rational, professional supervisor, I am comfortable with “proving,” my worth. In fact, I’m often distressed because I see so little of my principals. I want them in my classroom so that they can see what I’m doing. Doesn’t sound much like someone who shuns accountability, does it?
    That said, I agree with your three primary points. Some of our greatest problems arise because we are “held accountable” for teaching far more than it is possible to teach, and given such tasks, are not given the resources, and more importantly, the authority, to make it happen. And all too often (and amazingly enough, simultaneously) what is expected of us is so nebulous, it’s nearly impossible to know what is expected of us.
    K. Borden’s fifth grader’s insight is apt as well. Teachers can only present the best educational opportunity their training, experience and support structure allows. At some point, students become responsible for actually doing the work of learning. Far too many proponents of brilliant education cures are doomed to failure because they fail to understand, or ignore, this basic, fundamental reality. Oh yes, and if students refuse to learn, it’s the job of their parents to make them do it. Yes, make them. That’s what parents do. That’s in the parent’s standards of ethical performance manual. Page 23, I believe…

  14. K. Borden

    Mr. Ferriter:
    Now we’re talking!
    1. “You’ve got to delineate and prioritize your expected outcomes”
    Absolutely! We are asking teachers and schools to do far too much on far too many fronts with far too many students at a time.
    2. “You’ve got to make a commitment to providing necessary resources to meet expected outcomes”
    Absolutely! And I would bet I am safe saying you don’t believe that means more magic white boards. As you note, proper training and resources to peform the tasks that result from a well done effort on your first suggestion.
    3. “You’ve got to differentiate compensation for teachers in high needs schools no matter what”
    Absolutely! And even within that, math and science instructors at these schools may require higher compensation even beyond the heightened compensation of the other teachers in the school, given the shortage.
    Lets take the first of the three to chew on a bit (delineate and prioritize your expected outcomes):
    In many ways, I think this is the key to all of it and what we do on this will drive the answers to many issues.
    In layman’s terms, isn’t this really asking what we want from schools and from those who are employed by them? If so here are a few thoughts:
    1. A safe environment for all in the facility.
    2. A curriculum for each year that parents, teachers and students can track progress on and expect compliance with. If what we need to teach has grown so greatly that it can’t be done in the time allowed, we need to honestly address school calendars and hours.
    3. If you have confidence in the assessments you use now with students, share them with parents directly. And lets make these a part of the NCLB accountability mix. You can do a better job than a test telling me what my child is capable of, doing and making progress or failing to make progress on…do it and instead of assuming I wont understand, assume it is my responsibility to.
    4. I increasing believe teaching should be a job with fewer in class hours, more teachers per day for each student and more time for a child’s teachers to have to reflect and communicate with more specificity to parents and children.
    5. Smaller class sizes.
    6. More specialized teachers teaching their areas of specialty.
    7. Differentiated instuction that means something and accountability that matches the differentiated goals.
    8. Far less indoctrination, far more guiding students to be critical thinkers.
    9. PE, Art, Music, Foreign Language…do matter.
    10. The money to pay for it.
    These are some highlights I would want to see addressed.
    Which of these concern you as teachers? Where can we find common ground?

  15. K. Borden

    A Fifth Grader’s take:
    First, I must share this with you. While driving my daughter to school this morning I was sharing with her the discussion in the previous post. I explained to her that the EOG’s she takes each year not only serve to test her on whether she has acquired the information expected each year, but that they use the results to determine how teachers are doing.
    Her response, “Mom, that is not fair! Students decide if they will learn or not, teachers can try very hard and if a student decides not to do what they are suppose to do the teacher will look bad.”
    She was able to give several examples where she believed the teacher tried but students didn’t.
    So, I asked her, can you think of a way that the public could measure whether teachers are doing a good job?
    She answered without hesitation: “Put fake students in the class who know what to look for, like spies, and have them report to someone.” She went on for a while trying to sort out how you would find students to do this who would have the skills and also noting that everyone has bad/good days so it would need to happen for many days.
    I listened with a smile. It was fun to eavesdrop on her problem solving as she weighed the possibilities. Of course I smiled as well when at one point she said parents are smart and should be part of it all. I also smiled when she connected that some teachers teach things not covered on the EOG’s.
    It grew quiet for a bit. Then out of the blue, she said, “Principals need a lot of energy. They are kinda in the middle of it all.”
    Before we begin to discuss the above, I thought I would share that because the insight struck me and it is always fun to hear what I call child wisdom.

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