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Posted at 5:00 AM ET, 01/25/2011

Teachers and nanny cams: Compliance vs. trust

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Jon Eckert, an assistant professor of education at Wheaton College in Wheaton IL. Before joining the Wheaton faculty in 2009, he served for a year as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the Department of Education and in the Office of the Secretary. He taught and coached for 12 years in the middle grades in Illinois and Tennessee, where he completed his doctorate at Vanderbilt in 2008. In this post, which appeared on the blog of Teacher Leaders Network President Barnett Barry, he refers to an Education Next article by Mike Petrilli about the value of videotaping teachers while they are teaching.

By Jon Eckert
For some, Mike Petrilli’s recent commentary in Education Next might conjure up some fairly humorous images of a tiny “nanny cam” embedded in a stuffed bear to catch teachers behaving badly, or a principal sitting at his or her office with a bank of monitors similar to a prison cell block to ensure that all is well in the school. But is he taking a potentially valuable tool for educators over “a bridge too far” and instead, continuing to de-professionalize the teaching profession?

In this piece, he begins by advocating for the use of electronic recording of classrooms with benefits similar to those achieved by having cameras in police patrol cars. I am a teacher of nearly 15 years, including four in Tennessee where my middle school science students achieved excellent value-added ratings. As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education, I worked in both the Bush and Obama administrations on teacher quality issues and matters related to assessment and accountability. I see the tremendous benefit of digitally recording and analyzing the work of teachers and students. One of the most painful, vulnerable, and productive ways to grow as a teacher or prospective teacher is to analyze and reflect on your teaching or the teaching of others on video.

Currently, I am a professor in the oft-maligned world of teacher education, where this month I am also teaching a physics unit to 44 fifth graders and digitally recording each day’s lesson for analysis by me and my teacher education students. Later this spring, my students will be required to record one lesson a day for a week, view each lesson each night, and analyze what they have seen and how they can grow.

As Petrilli points out in his commentary, the Gates Foundation MET Project is using 360-degree cameras in the classrooms of 3,000 teachers to evaluate and provide feedback to teachers. Again, there is tremendous potential value in this type of practice.

However, midway through the commentary, Petrilli asks, “But why not go further?” This marks the point where we part ways.

He goes on to make the case that video cameras should be used for “monitoring” teachers. In his view, constant video monitoring will reduce child abuse, school violence, ineffective teaching practice both behaviorally and compositionally, and increase access for parents. There are at least three problematic assumptions that undergird Petrilli’s argument:

Assumption #1: We can define teaching effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, via constant electronic vigilance. Gross incompetence, such as teachers reading the newspaper, texting, or losing complete control of the class might be readily evident in Petrilli’s world of electronic vigilance.

However, a decent principal can already identify this with the tools at his or her disposal. Effective teaching is not always seen easily, as scholars have found, when it comes to teacher evaluation, there are “limits to looking.” Effective teaching often rests on how teachers think about their students’ academic and socioemotional progress and what they do about it before and after class.

Assumption #2: Effective teachers “have little to fear” because their effectiveness will be self-evident. There is no guarantee that those who are watching know what they are looking for and how they will determine what good teaching looks like on a video. A plethora of studies, including one by the New Teacher Project, suggests that teacher evaluation is undermined because administrators are not trained to assess teaching adequately.

While Jacob and Lefgren found that some principals are quite good at identifying the top and bottom 10-20% of teachers, giving administrators a video monitor will not make them any better at this task. Not all principals are uniformly effective at evaluating teaching. It takes time and training and principals who were effective teachers themselves.

Assumption #3: Teachers cannot be trusted. Tony Bryk eloquently argues for and illustrates the power of trust in schools and its connection to improving schools. If we do not trust teachers to have good intentions toward students, why would we believe that having a camera in a classroom would keep them from simply perpetrating the offense elsewhere out of the view of the camera? What does this say about our respect for teachers and the complicated and challenging work they have to perform?

Ultimately, if we feel we need a “nanny cam” in every classroom in America to ensure compliance and competence, then we have lost our sense of teachers as trusted molders of minds and citizens. We are reduced to thinking of them as technicians transferring information in a prescriptive manner. If this is the role we expect teachers to assume, no amount of monitoring will repair the damage such marginalization will do to our democracy.

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By Valerie Strauss  | January 25, 2011; 5:00 AM ET
Categories:  Guest Bloggers, Teacher assessment, Teachers  | Tags:  evaluating teachers, gates foundation, gates foundation and met project, met project, teacher assessment, videotaping teachers  
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Comments

I agree that videotaping and watching yourself is a "fun" and painful way of growing as a teacher, and I make an effort to videotape myself occasionally for that very reason.

However, the notion of a camera in every classroom is silly. Let's be honest here, who is going to monitor these cameras? At my school the Asst. Principals (who would be the most likely monitors, being my direct supervisors) are busy all day, many can't even find the time to do the three IMPACT evaluations they are supposed to do.

Are we going to spend more resources to hire people to monitor teachers as opposed to actually hiring teachers?

I guess this is the next step in the deprofessionalization of teaching, and is not unexpected. Quite frankly I've always told my APs that they were free to drop into my classroom anytime, and I suspect that APs dropping into a classroom 8-10 times a year would tell you the same thing without the issues that would surround putting cameras in every room.

All this would do is be used to make it easier to get rid of teachers that principals don't want around. I am sure that if I took video 5-6 hours a day of ANY professional, I could put together by the end of the year a 3-5 minute video that makes them look amazing OR makes them look like the biggest fool ever. You are kidding yourself if you think this won't happen with teachers.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | January 25, 2011 7:03 AM | Report abuse

"I am a teacher of nearly 15 years, including four in Tennessee where my middle school science students achieved excellent value-added ratings."

I find it sad that a teacher opposed to restrictive teacher monitoring mentions his students' value-added ratings as a means of indicating his worth as a teacher. Besides, what were his value-added scores the other 11 years and why didn't he mention them? Not so good? No scores for those those years, so we can't tell how good a teacher he was?

Posted by: efavorite | January 25, 2011 7:18 AM | Report abuse

Valerie, as time goes on I find myself appreciating your work more and more...please keep it up.

Great way to frame the issue. Compliance or Trust? Secretary Duncan says he is in favor of diminishing the "culture of compliance" currently in schools (in favor of innovation). Can you try to hold him accountable for that statement? Its in the right vein, but will he follow through?

From the trenches I can tell you that teachers are generally not trusted or respected. Jason Kamras and the other TFAers, being the TFA cult members they are, want everyone to think in an orthodox way reflecting their "convictions" and "beliefs." I'm perplexed at why they are allowed to continue operating in a public institution. Isn't there supposed to be a separation between church and state? lol

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | January 25, 2011 7:59 AM | Report abuse

Schools have a way of monitoring teachers: Listen to the kids.

From middle school on--definitely in high school--an anonymous survey, not announced in advance, modeled on the evaluations colleges use, would at least provide a starting point. Ask the students to provide their GPA or the grade they expect to get in the class. If, for example, many students with good grades complain that a teacher doesn't know the subject or tests unfairly, it is worth looking into. If several students, promised anonymity, complain of abuse, it is worth looking into. And if several students, with grades across the board, praise a teacher, that is a fairly reliable indicator that the teacher is reaching most of the students.

Yes, some will accuse a teacher of not liking them when the problem is with the student and some will accuse a teacher of misconduct to get even. And no action should be taken as a result of the surveys without further investigation. But the vast majority of students, no matter how much they may dislike having to take a class, dislike even more having to take a class that is wasting their time because the teacher prefers to tell jokes or doesn't know the subject, and all will speak out against abuse they witness. My parents told me I would learn my algebra if I studied harder; after I was in college she was stunned to learn I wasn't the only one having trouble with him.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | January 25, 2011 5:03 PM | Report abuse

Kids can be valuable sources of feedback for teachers!

In fact, I believe they may be the best source of feedback.

Posted by: educationlover54 | January 27, 2011 1:55 PM | Report abuse

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