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D.C. expose--one teacher's evaluation

Dan Goldfarb, a 51-year-old history teacher at the Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, says his first encounter with an evaluator under the District’s new IMPACT system for assessing teachers did not go well. Goldfarb does not claim to be an objective observer. He doesn’t like the new system. He doesn’t like how it is being implemented by D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.

But he is willing to reveal what the evaluator said to him, give me a copy of his evaluation and expose himself to what I expect will be an unhappy reaction from his principal and other D.C. school officials. So here goes. I think we learn more from small individual cases than big multi-variant studies. Goldfarb hit some bumps that deserve attention.

The assessment by his evaluator (the official title is Master Educator) occurred on Sept 25. The evaluator had never taught the subject Goldfarb was teaching, Advanced Placement U.S. History. “My ‘Master Educator’ has taught AP Government,” Goldfarb said. “Is there a difference? I would think so.”

The fact that Goldbarb has an AP class at the city’s only academic magnet school suggests that his supervisors determined long ago he was a good teacher. He is also, by his own description, not afraid to speak up. But he said he respects his principal, Anita Berger, who has had a long and successful career at the school, and will go along with the changes demanded by IMPACT because she has asked him to do so.

He was ready to be disappointed with his first 30-minute evaluation, and his expectations were quickly fulfilled. (There will be one more observation by a Master Educator, and three by an assistant principal.) Checking engagement in the lesson on the Jefferson presidency, the evaluator wrote that two students passed a note and one student was not taking any notes. “That young man doesn’t take notes in any classes,” Goldfarb said. “He is also a straight A student.”

Goldfarb said he thinks the 68-page IMPACT plan that guides teachers and evaluators is written for elementary schools. On page 33, advising teachers how to get points for investing their students in the lesson, it recommends “affirming (verbally or in writing) student effort or the connection between hard work and achievement.” On the six-page report, in the “Invest in Learning” section, the evaluator gave Goldfarb only 2 out of 4 points and said “there was little verifiable evidence apparent during the observation that Mr. Goldfarb works to instill the belief that students can succeed if they work hard.”

Goldfarb said: “Be a cheerleader and tell them that hard work is the key to success? Every five minutes or so? Are you serious? We are dealing with young adults, not small children.”

Overall, the evaluator gave the teacher only 2.3 out of a possible 4 points. Goldfarb got only 1 out of 4 points in one section for failing to post or say what the objective of the lesson was--to me unnecessary kid’s stuff for an AP class. He also got only 1 out of 4 points for not catering to multiple learning styles, even though some experts, like Willis D. Hawley of the University of Maryland, call learning style analysis “bunk.”

Jason Kamras, the former national teacher of the year who oversees the IMPACT program, sent me a detailed response to Goldfarb’s complaints. I will post it on Kamras said the evaluator had long experience with AP social studies classes in Fairfax County. He cited experts who say making lesson objectives clear is very important, as are addressing different learning styles, such as augmenting the spoken lesson with a written text, which Goldfarb did not do.

Kamras did not mention the teacher’s last complaint. Goldfarb thinks his evaluator ratted him out to his principal. He used part of his Oct. 6 post-observation conference with the evaluator to bash both IMPACT and its method of implementation by Rhee. Within an hour, he said, he was warned by Berger not to use his evaluation appointments “to discuss Ms. Rhee or the IMPACT program.” His conclusion: “I guess confidentiality is out. How can they help me if I can’t express frustration and anger?”

Good question. I await Goldfarb’s reports on this next evaluations. Kamras has given me the names of several other D.C. teachers with more positive views of the process. I will do a column about them soon. I think we can bring the most troublesome issues out in the open and see if there is a way to improve what seems to me a well-meant but perilous effort to find out how well our teachers are doing their jobs.

For more on Education, please see

By Jay Mathews  | November 22, 2009; 10:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  | Tags:  D.C. schools, Dan Goldfarb, IMPACT evaluation program, Jason Kamras, Michelle A. Rhee, multiple learning style, teacher evaluation  
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So Goldfarb is a crank who can't help but bash Rhee at even the least appropriate times- behavior that has gotten my friends out and out fired in private industry- and then complains about confidentiality? What planet is this guy from? Certainly not Earth.

I'm shrugging my shoulders at this one.

The idea that an AP teacher who was once a great and dedicated teacher but now rates a 2.3 out of 4 is no surprise to a DCPS parent. The schools are filled with teachers who neighbors lauded for work 10-15 years ago who I saw phoning it in.

It's clear that if Goldfarb can't be a professional about IMPACT then he would be much much happier in another line of work. What amazes me is how outsiders can see this quickly but inside schools the teachers keep trying to cling to a fantasy world where DCPS does not churn out a city full of child criminals. sheesh!

Posted by: bbcrock | November 22, 2009 11:10 PM | Report abuse

Welcome back , bbcrock, you've been silent these past several weeks on DCPS here in the Post.

Here's another teacher's experience with IMPACT, which shows an implementation problem:
Nothing terrible happened, but I hadn't set up structures to ensure that the groups continued working even when I walked away. All this to say that I expected my evaluation to be OK, but not stellar.

Wrong. I received a score of 3.8 (out of a perfect 4), which puts me in the "highly effective" category. Now, if I'd actually earned that score, I'd be pleased. But I didn't. My lesson showed me to be effective, but not outstanding. So why did I get the score I got? Because my principal has decided that she likes me. Of course, this isn't really a problem for me (except that I'm not really getting any feedback for improvement, I suppose). But it is a problem for the people she's decided she doesn't like. Some teachers at my school are unhappy with their scores, and for some I don't really doubt that it's because they're not based in reality.

Posted by: edlharris | November 23, 2009 12:48 AM | Report abuse

I think that the comments by bbcrock are worthy of the last five letters of his/her nom de plume. 'Nuff said about that.

Jay, I'm writing to ask if you ever followed up with Chancellor Rhee about why she abruptly and unilaterally dropped the Senior Research Paper from the School Without Walls' curriculum. As I recall, she did that fairly early in her time here.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | November 23, 2009 1:05 AM | Report abuse

I think that the comments by bbcrock are worthy of the last five letters of his/her nom de plume. 'Nuff said about that.

That's funny.
I had been reading it as
BBC Rock.

Posted by: edlharris | November 23, 2009 1:20 AM | Report abuse

Two schools of thought here: one, if he knew about it in advance, he should have done all he could to follow the guidleines as outlined in the guidebook, and two, if he didn't know about it, then it could be unfortunate timing for one poorly planned day.

In any event, it sounds like he is a salmon swimming in the wrong direction in a fierce current.

Posted by: ericpollock | November 23, 2009 2:02 AM | Report abuse

Boy, I thought the objective of an AP class was for the students to earn a 3 or better. I would hope the outcome plays some role in his evaluation. Maybe the grades could be leaked.......

Posted by: rvpregister | November 23, 2009 7:11 AM | Report abuse

Just what, exactly, makes someone a "master teacher" and worthy of evaluating other teachers? What are the criteria?

Is this someone who is really effective at reaching students? And if so, how does anyone know? Does his/her students consistently earn higher "standardized test scores"? Or is it someone who consistently writes objectives on the board? Because, after all, you can actually observe and measure if the objectives are on the board. And is there any real, empirical evidence that writing objectives on the board improves "student achievement"?

But, then again, what is "student achievement"?

And now just imagine all the $$$$$$$, $taff time, etc that this costs our school systems. Especially the $$$$$$$ going to edu-bu$inesses and thweir consultants who are really absorbing our tax dollar$.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. When will someone do a really good job of investigative reporting on this.

By the way, if this "master teacher" is so "effective", why is he or she out of the classroom???

Posted by: altaego60 | November 23, 2009 7:26 AM | Report abuse

Quote: "I think we learn more from small individual cases than big multi-variant studies"

Ahhh, I must have missed that portion of statistical analysis that teachers us that anecdotes > data.

Posted by: BenjCano | November 23, 2009 8:11 AM | Report abuse

I've said before that I think in general the IMPACT document covers things that teachers should be doing fairly well. However, there are a few big problems.

1) No teacher does all the things (all 25 or so of them) in 30 minutes. It is just not going to happen. I can do a dog-and-pony show for the master educator, or I can teach effectively and not hit all of the things that he or she wants.

2) My school submitted about 35 questions about IMPACT that were unclear from the presentation given by our administration (not our administration's fault, they had been trained 2 days earlier). We got answers to about 15 of them, and the rest were answered "We are still working on that". These included such questions as "How will co-taught classes be evaluated?", "How will special ed inclusion classes be evalauted?" etc...

3) There is a tremendous gap between the scores master educators are giving and the demand for a teacher from parents and students. One of our most sought after teachers got a 2.2, despite the fact that parents fight to get their kids into her class and her kids do EXTREMELY well on the AP exams they take. One could argue that she is not teaching well because she didn't hit all of the points, or one could acknowledge that the evaluation system has some flaws.

4) There has been no effort to standardize results. I know of 2 teachers who have a greater then 1 full point gap between their administration and master educator evaluations. Perhaps they were awful one day and great the next, but more likely the problem is that there is no agreement on what earns a 1, 2, 3, or 4 for any given subsection.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | November 23, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

<<< if he knew about it in advance, he should have done all he could to follow the guidleines as outlined in the guidebook.

This, alas, is all too common. I taught for several years in a low-perfoming school and the evaluation process was a hoop to jump through, a meaningless charade. If we're serious about improving teaching, then it has to be a process for meaningful feedback, not a dog-and-pony show, after which the administrator goes back and files a report, and the teacher goes back to business as usual.

The reality of the evaluation process (everywhere, not just in DC), as edlharris notes, is that it's used not as discovery, but to confirm pre-existing biases. If the administration likes you, you get a good review. If they don't, you don't.
Like any relationship, if you're looking for good things, you'll find them. And if you're not, you won't.

Plus ça change

Posted by: rpondiscio | November 23, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Mr. Mathews-

You say that Banneker is "the city’s only academic magnet school." Then what is School Without Walls?

Posted by: achachi | November 23, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Surely he could prepare for the next one, based on feedback from the first one. He could tell the straight A student who doesn't take notes to start taking notes the minute the evaluator walks in the door. He could ask his students to pay rapt attention for the thirty minutes the ME is there and he could warn kids in advance that he will pull out some possibly unrelated materials to demonstrate diverse learning styles the day the ME is there. If the teacher has good rapport with his students, the kids will comply. If he doesn't, he could bribe the kids in advance with higher grades, or whatever it takes to get them to go along. Thus the teacher’s ratings go up, in the absence of any improved learning. In fact a negative, but potentially useful, lesson has been taught in how to game the system.

If the kids decide that they want to sabotage this teacher, they will know to do it when the ME shows up. That’s the kind of bad lesson that comes naturally to kids.

Posted by: efavorite | November 23, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

I love how these posters continue to throw up smokescreens about how impossible it is to judge teachers. I promise you as a student that in Montgomery County we knew when the evaluators were in class, our teachers told us, we were on our best behavior and the teachers always rewarded us with an episode of Nova or some history or Shakespeare film we could watch.

Similarly I was rated this year on 5 criteria and I failed on 4 of the criteria due to circumstances outside my control, such as the stock market collapse and failure of clients to increase their budget. But you know what, I lumped it and I took personal responsibility for the parts I should have controlled better and tomorrow is another year.

Goldfarb remains a whiner. I retain my pride. Case closed.

Posted by: bbcrock | November 23, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

My point exactly:

"I promise you as a student that in Montgomery County we knew when the evaluators were in class, our teachers told us, we were on our best behavior and the teachers always rewarded us with an episode of Nova or some history or Shakespeare film we could watch."

Posted by: efavorite | November 23, 2009 12:03 PM | Report abuse

I love how these posters continue to throw up smokescreens about how impossible it is to judge teachers
I didn't see that.
Go back to the teacher in DC HS who was evaluated:
" I received a score of 3.8 (out of a perfect 4), which puts me in the "highly effective" category. Now, if I'd actually earned that score, I'd be pleased. But I didn't. My lesson showed me to be effective, but not outstanding. So why did I get the score I got? Because my principal has decided that she likes me. "

this blogger also wrote in that blog:
"(P.S. I think some will read this post and say, "That's just what we've been saying forever! Rhee is terrible! That's why the union protects us from arbitrary firings!" Well, I still disagree with those statements. There are way too many teachers in this system who are grossly incompetent, and I applaud Michelle Rhee's fervent attempts to rid our system of them. I'm just saying we won't be able to do that until administrators are on board with doing their jobs well. That is all.)"

So, that puts him in bbc rock's camp.

Posted by: edlharris | November 23, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

sorry for being slow to respond. I am 3 time zones behind DC. this is a very useful exchange

for achachi---The Walls admissions process is holistic, with admissions folk looking for students most receptive to the school's philosophy of independent learning. I can imagine a 4.0 kids who just wants to ace every test she gets getting into Banneker but not Walls.

for DCcitizen1---my apologies. that brain cell died. I will send yr inquiry to the chancellor today.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | November 23, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse

"but inside schools the teachers keep trying to cling to a fantasy world where DCPS does not churn out a city full of child criminals. sheesh!"
Shame on you for saying something so horrible and hurtful to the thousands of wonderful, hard working, decent children in DCPS. Before you disparage all the children, I think you should visit the schools and see for yourself what DCPS is really like. It is far from perfect, but if you met some actual DCPS kids you would definitely change your mind about all of them being "child criminals".

Posted by: bambidu | November 23, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Jay.

Sounds like you're on the west coast. (anywhere near Sacramento? heh heh) I hope your travels are enjoyable and safe.

On the topic of evaluations, it's good to have a process and protocol to follow, but it sounds like this process is off point or not applied in a way that makes sense. Where is common sense? Why would an evaluator insist that ALL aspects be present in EVERY lesson? Why would a teacher be dinged for a straight A student who doesn't take notes?

One year my assistant principal (not in DCPS) came to observe and evaluate me while I was teaching a class in another language. The evaluator didn't know the language, but was allowed to evaluate me and had criticisms based on his misperceptions of what was happening in the class. This reminds me somewhat of what happened to the teacher who wrote the letter in this article.

I do applaud the attempt to evaluate for effectiveness and for guidance to teachers on how to improve and/or continue to do well, but it appears that this new system was rushed into place without being fully developed and defined. And if "bad" teachers were not properly evaluated and weren't put on 90 days plans in DCPS before now, I wonder if that will fairly happen now. New vehicle, same poor drivers?

Posted by: dccitizen1 | November 23, 2009 2:13 PM | Report abuse

I read the column this morning shaking my head. Not because the evaluation system was being questioned, but at the method used to do so. Using one teacher's experience to illustrate your dissatisfaction with IMPACT is irresponsible and inflammatory, knowing that it would be unethical for the evaluator or school system to respond to an individual case. I used to look to your column for healthy, balanced discussion of education issues, but today's column was an opportunity for an admittedly disenfranchised teacher to gripe and vent.

That aside, several of the points raised by the the observer, and dismissed by Goldfarb, are valid. Student engagement is key to learning and should be expected. All learning styles should indeed be addressed. While this is not feasible every day and every lesson, it is something that should always be in a teacher's mind while planning. This is not catering to children, but meeting their needs. As for the notion that high school students shouldn't be given the message that their hard work will lead to success, that's the bunk! The alternative is that what happens is up to fate or genetics, so you might as well just coast and let things fall as they may.

While there may be flaws in the evaluation system, they don't seem to be the ones mentioned. Key to any effective evaluation system is the willingness of everyone involved to listen to feeback and grow from it. The portrayal of this teacher certainly did not seem like one willing to do so.

Posted by: captivated1 | November 23, 2009 3:03 PM | Report abuse

It sounds like the evaluation form is identical to the one used by Kaplan "Higher Education" (owned by the Washington Post). I remember it, as I taught there before I got a position teaching at a real college. While these evaluations may be appropriate for corporate training, from which they were adopted, both the form and the evaluation are garbage in a real education setting. They're based on the current education fad of student-directed learning that TFA and corporate education have embraced because it allows them to give any idiot a script and call it education, and because it allows anyone who can recite its simplistic pedagogy to become an evaluator. It does, indeed, use evaluation criteria that MIGHT be appropriate for elementary school, and it does not account for either student learning or effective teaching styles. My guess is neither the evaluator, nor anyone involved in the "creation" (by photocopy? cut and paste?) of the evaluation form could recognize an effective teacher if one hit him/her in the face. (Which may happen, if they continue with this baseless "evaluation" system.) By the way, it took Rhee and DCPS almost 3 years to “develop” an evaluation system that was plagiarized from corporate training? Haven’t we seen this sort of laziness and dishonesty from the Fenty education team before?

Posted by: mcstowy | November 23, 2009 3:47 PM | Report abuse


This is an interesting piece, to say the least. It should provoke much in the feedback department.

Taking a step back for a moment, this appears to be a bill of goods sold to Commissioner Rhee and the DC Public Schools as the gold standard for evaluating teachers. My hope is that Michelle did not have to put up a pot of gold to get it. Whether it's Jonathan Saphier's "Effective Teaching" or some other self-proclaimed expert on educational pedagogy, it is all quite meaningless unless the teachers have been first trained in the process. If DC teachers have not had the luxury of significant professional development before the evaluations started, then they're never really going to understand exactly what it is they're being evaluated on.

For my money, I'd rather be evaluated on an end of the term/semester student assessment and be judged on the quantifiable data. It beats the heck out of some "unbiased" sometimes know-nothing administrator coming into my room and subjectively running through some BS checklist which may or may not mean my kids ever learned anything from the class.

If my kids performed poorly, write me up and I'll amend my ways. If my kids did well, stay the hell out of my classroom.

Posted by: phoss1 | November 23, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

One of the problems with teacher evaluations is that the evaluator often does not understand the concepts or objectives that are being taught in the classroom. Your principal could have a background in Special Ed. and you are a teacher of Math or Science (with a degree in that topic). The special educator expects games and manipulative to be used in every lesson, while the experienced math/science teacher knows that is not always possible to reach your objective in a limited amount of time. The evaluators should have a degree in, or experience teaching, the subject that they are observing. Have you noticed that "those who can't teach are becoming administrators!"

Posted by: cktaymd | November 23, 2009 4:06 PM | Report abuse

I was just evaluated today as a matter of fact. Here are my thoughts: 1) the Master Educator had no means of understanding the context and culture of my class. To my knowledge she had no access to their test data and is not allowed to discuss any aspect of the evaluation with the principal; 2) She was there to evaluate me on 24 criteria in 30 minutes using the same form that Pre-K and high school AP history class evaluators would use; 3) the lesson stretched 1 hour and 15 minutes and the most valuable learning took place after her departure; 4) despite the numerous flaws in the evaluation system (and I feel really annoyed after going through it), it is a much better tool than the old one. Hopefully Jason and the rest of the Argonauts on the Rhee will realize there is no Golden Evaluation. Hopefully they are wise enough. despite their tender age, to be humble, listen to the criticism of their work, and make the appropriate adjustments because the overarching objectives of the new evaluation system are positive. I'd be content with three adjustments: 1) the weight is adjusted from 40% to 25% of the total score; 2) the principal is allowed to provide context to the ME; and 3) the ME is able to look at the standardized test scores for each class evaluated.

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | November 23, 2009 5:34 PM | Report abuse

For captivated1---you are hopefully going to be pleased with the balance you get on this issue, but it can't be done in one 700 word column. Check out the online comments from Kamras and Goldfarb just below this column---Kamras in particular balances out many of Goldfarb's complaints, and then note that I will be doing columns and posts on what teachers who like IMPACT say. And Happy Thanksgiving. It was nice and warm on the golf course in San Mateo today.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | November 23, 2009 8:38 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: thetensionmakesitwork | November 23, 2009 5:34 PM
"Hopefully Jason and the rest of the Argonauts on the Rhee will realize there is no Golden Evaluation."

Umm, wouldn't that be the Golden Fleece?

Posted by: edlharris | November 23, 2009 9:42 PM | Report abuse

I don't know any school system that uses the evaluation for anything other than compensation or building up ammo to decide who to keep and who to let go.

Just the complexity of the form itself is a good indication that things other than teacher improvement are why it was created.

Even at my school, if my job or compensation is at stake, and with a family to support, I make sure under no circumstances will I ever get anything less than 99-100% on our evaluation system that we use here.

Posted by: ericpollock | November 24, 2009 1:31 AM | Report abuse

Again, loving those people who throw stones...

Non-teachers cannot understand what an evaluation is like and many would fail miserably without lots of luck. Some might do okay with just hours of preparation and training and a nice evaluator!

Everyone! You should all be evaluated at your jobs constantly... and you should have surprise pop-in evaluations with 500 variables... Oh yes don't forget you've got to manage the moving target of how you interact with dozens of people who have any kind of comment imaginable crop up, while delivering a message and motivating and responding those dozens of people. Your boss can analyze your calendar too and your bulletin boards and how you respond to the general public -- which means dealing with angry people coming at you which you never know when they're going to show up.

Then later you can generalize and bash all teachers based on your judgments of 1 or 2 bad experiences.

What a help to society the stone throwers are!

Posted by: bravobravo | November 24, 2009 6:57 AM | Report abuse

Several years ago when I was teaching in California, I had the unfortunate experience of working for a principal who really disliked me from the start. When she evaluated me, she focused only on the negative things in the classroom. I remember a specific day when the principal and another observer both watched my class. You wouldn’t have known from reading their evaluations that it was the same class! For instance, if 19 of the 20 students were following directions, the other evaluator wrote “class on task and following instructions” but the principal wrote “student X by window ignoring directions.” Both observations were factually correct but they obviously convey very different impressions of teacher quality. Goes to show that “impartial evaluations” are largely a figment of the imagination.

Posted by: AttorneyDC | November 24, 2009 9:30 AM | Report abuse

What Mcstowy fails to accept is that DCPS teachers right now can and do teach classes following no rules and no script at all.

And then he suggests the teacher following a centralized script is somehow a bad thing- what some teachers confided in me was that script coming down from Rhee's office would mean, potentially, a generation of children on the borderline between becoming a street criminal and not will choose not to. What if we could eliminate 25% of juvenile delinquency in the next 10 years just by curtailing the "pass out a worksheet" teachers and forcing them to follow a script, rather than goof off? By showing them a teacher who teaches every single day instead of just some of the days- which the WTU MUST ACCEPT is the current situation in DCPS, how is that a bad thing?

The truth is that we all know how to use computers- the teachers I am most concerned about don't own computers and don't know how to use them at school. And you know what? I can start naming names here.

McStowy, explain that.

Posted by: bbcrock | November 24, 2009 2:41 PM | Report abuse

Bravobravo- what possibly makes you think that what you describe doesn't happen in the corporate world too? Why would you think that the evaluations of teachers are unique, somehow, in the world of corporate evaluations?

Posted by: bbcrock | November 24, 2009 2:43 PM | Report abuse

Bravobravo, here's a clue, we're throwing stones because managers started getting judged in situations like this 10-15 years ago. You are ignorant of the rest of corporate America and it shows in your uneducated post.

Posted by: bbcrock | November 24, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

Dear BB Crock, would you mind toning it down? Your nasty tone shows how much you dislike teachers---we get it, okay? Please try to be more civil.

Posted by: dccitizen1 | November 25, 2009 7:11 AM | Report abuse

Dear BB Crock, would you mind toning it down? Your nasty tone shows how much you dislike teachers---we get it, okay? Please try to be more civil.

Posted by: dccitizen1 |

Now that his kids are out of DCPS, it would be nice for BBC Rock to tell us what school had such losers teachers, such as the one who admitted shooting up in the 80s or the one who can't remember their college (and also tell us if they were in the RIFfed bunch).

Posted by: edlharris | November 26, 2009 8:39 AM | Report abuse

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