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Perils of rating teachers--Part one, the District

In the last half of the 19th century, many inventors pursued the dream of building an airplane. Duds and crashes were frequent and skeptics numerous. Only a decade before the Wright brothers’ 1903 flight, British physicist and engineer Lord Kelvin had declared that “heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” American educators are similarly scrambling to create a teacher evaluation system that will raise the level of instruction and student achievement in the same reliable way that modern jetliners take us home for Thanksgiving. They have not been very successful.

Many smart teachers have concluded the idea is a loser. They are artists, they say, whose work cannot be reduced to numbers for placement, pay and promotion.

Still, many people are trying to be teacher assessment’s answer to Wilbur and Orville Wright. Take, for instance, D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and a team of educators led by Jason Kamras, the 2005 national teacher of the year. You can find their IMPACT plan, the result of input from more than 500 D.C. educators, by clicking on the “Teaching and Learning” tab|

Will it crash and burn? Many think so. George Parker, president of the Washington Teachers’ Union, said “it takes the art of teaching and turns it into bean counting.”
I have been sending the plan to experts around the country, however, and they are more optimistic than I expected.

The program is already underway. Fifty percent of each teacher’s rating will be based on how much their students improve over last year on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System test when compared to the average gain of a similar mix of students district-wide. Forty percent will be based on five 30-minute classroom observations by their administrators and district evaluators selected for their teaching experience, each followed by a discussion with the teacher on what looked good and what didn’t. Assessment of a teacher’s support for colleagues and the school, and the school’s overall tests gains, round out the rating.

It is complicated as heck. At the moment, only English and math teachers in grades four through eight will have useful test results, so all other teachers will be rated more heavily on their classroom evaluations. Teachers can receive from 100 to 400 points. Those who score below 175 will be “subject to dismissal,” although Rhee and Kamras say principals have the final say and can save a teacher who just had a bad year.

Kristen Amundson, a former teacher and school board member and current state legislator in Virginia, remembers an evaluation experience that explains why so many educators shrink from the idea. Her evaluator had miraculously arrived when her English class was cooking. “You know, I’ve felt like that myself,” said one 16-year-old boy of the poem they were reading. The evaluator’s take? “You didn’t call the roll,” he said.

What saves IMPACT, Amundson said, “is that it’s clear for both teachers and evaluators. . . . There is no way a teacher can say, ‘I don’t understand how they expect me to plan lessons.’ It’s all there: setting ambitious and measurable goals, aligning each lesson with content standards, communicating goals to students.” Allan Odden, a University of Wisconsin educational leadership expert, said IMPACT was “sophisticated, well thought through and, if executed well, will represent one of the most rigorous systems in the country.”

Uh-oh. He used the E-word, “executed.” Many promising assessment plans have turned into blotches on the runway when not flown properly, often because they were too complex or too vulnerable to character flaws. I hear one D.C. principal told teachers that if they scored below 175, he couldn’t save their jobs--a cowardly statement contrary to what Rhee and Kamras are saying.

Like an unmanned mission to Mars, anything with this many numbers can crash on landing because of a little mistake, like misreading a digit.

But if it works, it could be a big deal and influence assessment even in the Washington suburbs, the subject of next week’s column. Out there, rating teachers is being done very gingerly, and often with no public reporting.

By Jay Mathews  | November 1, 2009; 10:00 PM ET
Categories:  Metro Monday  
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The DC plan has two major problems: the first really big one is assuming that tests are accurate measures of learning, that what is/can be measured is significant, and that teachers have the major effect on learning [over family and poverty.] Second, the plan seems to give very short shrift to many aspects of good teaching which take place outside the classroom: planning and working with colleagues and parents.
Of course, as stated in the article, the observations and followup must be done to be effective - we'll see!

Posted by: aspnh | November 2, 2009 7:01 AM | Report abuse

It's very interesting that you say input from more than 500 educators. When Jason Kamras spoke to a group of teachers at my school he said around 250 teachers. When we noted that some of us were there and that many teachers who were at these sessions felt that their "input" was ignored his response was to say that it is impossible to reach consensus with teachers. He went on to say that they took what ideas they liked and ignored what they didn't like.

Most teachers I know feel this document is punitive. Over 55% of a testing teachers evaluation is based on a one week test. A test that isn't always a reflection of the curriculum we are supposed to be teaching in the classroom. Oh, right, they will also use DIBELS (Dynamic Indicator of Early Literacy Skills). DIBELS is a diagnostic tool teachers use to get a sense of where their students need help. It's like grading the doctor for what the thermometer shows.

There are many other problems with IMPACT. It is ambiguous and overly subjective. It uses vague terms such as "dynamic" and "solid" but when pressed on what those terms really mean even Kamras cannot give a coherent answer. At our own school we have already seen how subjective this process can be. IMPACT gives wide latitude to principals to dismiss easily. The outside evaluators - Master Teachers (some of which, by the way, have no more than 5 years teaching experience)have made comments such as "I don't care what curriculum you use" and "the standard you used was insignificant". We are told to use the curriculum given us and teach the standards and when we do these very things are dismissed.

Really, Jay, you say you get out into the schools but do you really?

Posted by: adcteacher1 | November 2, 2009 7:37 AM | Report abuse

"American educators are...scrambling to create a teacher evaluation system that will raise the level of instruction and student achievement?"

Jay, how about creating an utilitarian model for teaching firs?

All kids are different. They all show up at the beginning of the year with different strengths and weaknesses and different levels of readiness. Teachers are more than aware of this reality yet the predominance of classroom instruction in this country is for teachers to present one lesson to the whole class. What's up with that?

Posted by: phoss1 | November 2, 2009 7:49 AM | Report abuse

The plan is overly ambiguous and not specific. Too many terms are hard to quantify or even qualify for that matter. I'd like to know how they compare skills-based classes to content-based classes. I always hear about drastic improvements in math classes but don't find too many in English literature classes.

Posted by: ericpollock | November 2, 2009 8:12 AM | Report abuse

Were parents given input? Students? Usually parents have an idea of what constitutes a "good teacher" for their children. Parents often look at the percentage of HS graduates and college ready students. In my system, the percentage of children that are college ready (whether they choose to attend or not) is a huge priority. The measures that parents use are important because they look at the school system as an investment in their child's future. If there is no agreement between what parents feel are good teachers and the system, then conflict will usually continue.

Posted by: 12345leavemealone | November 2, 2009 8:27 AM | Report abuse

If the evaluators are flawed in any way, then the evaluations will be flawed. Let's first develop reliable and valid tests to evaluate the evaluators to make certain the evaluations delivered are reliable, valid, and predictive of student achievement in and outside of school.

Posted by: bkrich | November 2, 2009 8:51 AM | Report abuse

Another view:
Michelle Rhee has worked valiantly to improve the District of Columbia’s school system, but her latest decision to drop support of the most rigorous teacher training, National Board Certification, and instead support “The Skillful Teacher” program shows that she is choosing formula over reflection.

According to a January 5 article in The Washington Post, Rhee plans to further weed out weak D.C. teachers and subject the remaining to “professional growth” based on “The Skillful Teacher” model created in 1987 by Jon Saphier and Robert Gower.

1987 was my first year of high school teaching in Fairfax County, and my school was one of the “pilots” for the merit pay program based on “The Skillful Teacher” standards. Since that time, “The Skillful Teacher” manual has gone through six editions, most recently in 2008. It’s fairly safe to assume the basic model has not changed drastically.

And that model became a joke during the several years we were all forced to learn it. “Have you dipsticked today?” was a frequent jibe in the teachers’ lounges, where we were amazed that ascertaining student comprehension had become the training term “dipstick.” Any good teacher knows that student understanding is all-important, every day of the week.

Posted by: edlharris | November 2, 2009 8:51 AM | Report abuse

What is the incentive for a new teacher to risk teaching at-risk children? Teaching upper elementary students is complicated by a whole host of problems outside a teacher's control. A few students get great parental support, but most do not. Many children of poverty have gaps in their learning and beliefs that affect their readiness to learn new material. Pacing guides don't adequately account for gaps in prior knowledge and experience. Plus, there is a steep learning curve for the new teacher, particularly if you have 4 subjects to master (Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, and Science.) Add in the pressure of reporting each exam in each subject by ethnicity, economic status, learning disability, etc., and then explaining why a student or subgroup isn't scoring 80% or above. Instead of investing time in developing classroom management structures that work (i.e., small group instruction), the primary investment has been in developing accounting models. New teachers of at-risk students end up getting thrown to the wolves. Instead of planning together and sharing great teaching strategies during meetings, in-school planning time has become reduced to test-reporting time. Does data really drive instruction? I don't think so. I think people drive instruction. Do school superintendents believe that we can produce committed, seasoned, creative teachers through intimidation?

The problem with the Standards movement is that we have too many Standards. Because of pacing requirements, we often end up teaching content in a way that is "a mile wide and an inch deep". We'd be better off if we taught fewer Standards in ways that encourage higher level thinking. Higher level thinking requires processing time, but as a nation we've become so obsessed with pumping "essential knowledge" into little heads, we don't give children adequate time to process their learning, and consequently don't allow enough time for connections to be developed in their brains. We need to decide what skills are truly root learning disciplines that enable students to become lifelong learners and focus on them. We need to apply the Pareto Principle: 80% of our results are determined by 20% of our actions. We need a 20% solution, a rearrangement of priorities to the essential few. Unfortunately, education seems to be going in the opposite direction.

Posted by: dannykurland1 | November 2, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Rhee needs to re-visit some of the literature related to the evaluation of teacher competence, such as the work by Donald Medley and Howard Metzal in the 1960s and 1970s. School classes come with their own characteristics that are part of the unique class ambience that also has impact on learning and test scores. If a teacher gets a class of trouble-makers, learning is impacted, just as learning is impacted by having a class of motivated over-achievers.

This can be resolved in one of two ways:
(1) Establish a set of teacher competencies, that is, specific teaching behaviors that have been shown, in a given context, to elicit learning and measure how well teachers use those competencies (realizing that if teachers do the "right" things that they've been taught to do in certain circumstances, then they should be rewarded for displaying those correct behaviors), or,
(2) Use some measure of "class deviance from the norm" (ideally interacting with the number of common classmates from the prior year) for each student from the prior year's class to "adjust" for the "class dynamic".

Otherwise, we're judging our teachers unfairly and they're paying for the dynamic of the students assigned to them.

Posted by: hradvocate | November 2, 2009 9:02 AM | Report abuse

If students are graded by testing then teachers should be graded at least partially by those same tests.

They are not some group of quirky "artists" turning out some dubious artsy product-they are responsible for turning out educated, productive human beings. If they fail in that primary task they should be removed.

We only have one chance to educate our children and we have the absolute right and responsibility to demand excellence.

Posted by: spamsux1 | November 2, 2009 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Similar problems will sink the "idea" of rating doctors. Students and teachers, like patients and doctors, are not laboratory rats that can have their variables controlled.

While it's time to give up on this dumb proposal of rating teachers, I know it won't be given up on because it offers the easy solution to a perceived problem. It's not the student's fault, the parent's fault, the culture's fault--no, it must be the teacher's fault.

Posted by: guitar1 | November 2, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

There is an aspect of rating teachers that never seems to get addressed;, and that is how demoralizing ratings are to everyone except those in the very top percentiles. When people are informed that their work is other than first rate, they do not look at such information as an inducement for improvement. Rather, they suspect the process and the criteria for evaluation and the motives and competence of the evaluators.

This scheme is one more devoted to the de-professionalization of teaching. Teachers who have reached a level of competent discernment and method want support in devising and delivering instructional programs that meet the diverse needs of their students. They don't want to work under the threat of dismissal or designations of inferiority as the driving force in their career efforts.

Over the years, I saw many promising students in education choose other career directions because they saw teaching being reduced to a form of intellectual stoop labor in which the measure of success is how well one conforms to someone else's stereotypes of teaching.

Posted by: dlnewquist | November 2, 2009 9:56 AM | Report abuse

Teaching is now an "art" and there is no way to evaluate whether a teacher/artist is doing well? OK, let's treat the teachers like "artists." First, get rid of the Unions - "artists" don't have unions, they fend for themselves. Second, get rid of their guaranteed salaries. "Artists" don't have any guarantees on income. They are paid on the basis of whether the public likes their work and what it is willing to pay for it. So let's start paying the teachers based on how much the parents like their work. Every month, the parents get to say what their child's teacher should get for that month's work. And, most artists are poor and don't have any fringe benefits, so the teachers need to stop whining about their pay and their benefits and start working for the love of their chosen profession -just like the artists do. Let's find out if the teachers are really "artists" or whether, as we all suspect, they are just a bunch of whining lazy incompetents who use their unions to protect the worst of them and to secure wage and benefit packages that bear no relationship to performance or the quality of their work. The education system in D.C. is a national disgrace. Every citizen should spend a day in a classroom and they will know why.

Posted by: maritxu769 | November 2, 2009 10:12 AM | Report abuse

While it is easy to find faults with the new IMPACT system, the key is that it represents an improvement over the previous system (PPEP). It focuses more on teaching and learning than on word walls, data walls, and postings of standards.

Teachers are expected to have at least one "high quality source of evidence" demonstrating that a high percentage of his/her students are on track to make at least a year's worth of learning growth over course of the year. For example, as a DCPS math teacher, I'm expected to be able to show that my students are on track to master the DCPS Algebra 1 content standards during my three conferences with my assistant principal.

Posted by: mahoneyj | November 2, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

IMPACT is a hopeless endeavor. Everyone knows that most DC students are uneducable.The most humane response to the situation is to prevent the next generation of them from being born.

Posted by: buckaroo7 | November 2, 2009 11:15 AM | Report abuse

IMPACT is a hopeless endeavor. Everyone knows that most DC students are uneducable.The most humane response to the situation is to prevent the next generation of them from being born.

Posted by: buckaroo7 | November 2, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

now retired after teaching more than 37 years in three different high schools in the boston area, my recollection of being evaluated over the years always faded into one memory--the inadequacy of the evaluator--most of them always seemed ill at ease in the classroom--and the few that did fit in created evaluative reports which left me wondering which class they were reporting on--

i am not in favor of either merit pay or pre-programmed schemes such as the one described in deecee--they collapse under their own weight--oh yes, for teachers who are forced to attend the faculty meetings that center on the evaluative plans find a comfortable chair, put it near a door and wear glasses so that when you look up into the ceiling lights the reflection will create a blind spot and you can catch up on your sleep without the speaker ever noticing--and for the teachers take courage, for we have tred this beaten path many times over the years--

Posted by: rencarl5441 | November 2, 2009 11:56 AM | Report abuse

Local tests are meaningless. The population is too small to indicate whether the test was too easy or too hard.

There is not enough of a population to measure the current results and past results.

The only valid tests in this country are the national tests given for the fourth and eighth grade.

Test only provide information about those who take the test and the school system. They can not provide information on the performance of the individual teacher.

Let us suppose you have a valid yearly national tests.

The current policy is to simply pass students on. The students who fail the forth grade test are simply passed on. On this basis you would have to take into account all of the previous tests of students. It is almost impossible to scientifically calculate the performance of a teacher unless you take into account the total prior testing record of all of the students that compose the class in a system where failing students are simply passed on.

Then there is the "classroom management" factor. It is easier to teach in a class with no disruptive students. It is harder to teach in a class with one disruptive student, etc. To evaluate performance based on tests you would have to factor in the number of disruptive students in the class and also the disruptive level of each of these students.

We are back at the beginning where national tests can only provide information on the students that pass or fail and the school districts.

The Department of Education is proposing billions of dollars on local testing and computer systems that will poorly evaluate test scores.

The problems of passing on students to the next grade no matter what, and accepting disruptive students in normal classes from the first grade on are known. These problems are more responsible for a our decline in education than the possible 5 percent of teachers that should not be teaching.

Address these problems first.

Posted by: bsallamack | November 2, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

In DC the latest 2009 national test indicates that 44 percent of students failed the fourth grade math test.

All of these students were simply passed on to the next grade. This policy fully explains the fact that 60 percent of students failed the math eight grade 2009 national test.

The federal government still has not released the test results of the 2009 reading tests.

The national test should be given every year and not every two year. Test results should be provided in one or two weeks to schools and these test results should be used to stop the practice of simply passing on every student to the next grade.

This actually is one area where the Department of Education can make a difference in education.

Posted by: bsallamack | November 2, 2009 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Good comments. I share the views of those who say this won't work unless the principals and the evaluators are first rate.
In response to dannykurland1, a whole new crowd of recent college graduates are going into teaching because they have read about, or visited, schools full of impoverished children that have been organized in ways--usually with more time for learning and teacher sharing with each other--that support teachers, particularly inexperienced one, and help them be creative and effective. That is why Teach For America is so popular with recent college grads. Many of them find that teaching is not for them, but a critical mass are seeing that they can change a lot of lives if they teach in schools set up for that. Try just googling "New Teachers" and see what you find. Or call your local school district's communication office and ask for an example of a school in the area that is doing a good job with low-income kids, then call the principal and ask to visit.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | November 2, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Use Data from Consistent Valid Standardized District Wide Instruments measuring individual student academic achievement to identify teachers whose students demonstrate more than one year of expected academic growth. This rating system avoids most if not all biases and inequities that teachers correctly point out and object to in some teacher rating systems.

Posted by: motherseton | November 2, 2009 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Standard 1: Teachers must excel in the same formative and summative unit assessments that their own students are expected to pass.
Standard 2: Teachers must score advanced on their school’s district wide standardized tests that their own students are expected to score proficient.
Prediction: 3% - 5% of all current teachers will not meet these two basic standards.
Teachers know who the 3% - 5% are, where they teach, and how they manage to go undetected year after year, or are given a pass by administrators.

Posted by: motherseton | November 2, 2009 3:14 PM | Report abuse

Hope is spelled TFA, KIPP, IB, AP. Hope is a Green Dot.

Posted by: motherseton | November 2, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

Rating teachers based on numbers makes as much sense as rating schools based on numbers, right Mr. Mathews?

Posted by: sscritic | November 2, 2009 3:50 PM | Report abuse

And of course if enough teachers fail then the principals are dismissed. And in turn, Rhee will resign if she fails to achieve a set goal each and every year. No?

Posted by: Hopeful9 | November 2, 2009 4:20 PM | Report abuse

No! Don't just "call your local school district's communication office and ask for an example of a school in the area that is doing a good job with low-income kids, then call the principal and ask to visit."

Interested observers will always deny that they dump the most troubled kids on neighborhood schools. Publicly principals will also, but take them out for a beer and you'll get a different story. In fact, many will regale you with the snow jobs they have done. If fact, I heard central office administrators at Board meetings voice outrage that their words are questioned. Friday night over cheap beer they'll do a fantastic mimc of the lies they and their buddies told. But its not considered lying. Its the way the game is played.

Jay, how many of the poorest neighborhood schools are working? Its Being Done only found two secondary schools in the nation, and they weren't very poor.

Go to schools with 90%+ poverty and who don't require applications or require policies that produce de facto creaming. You will still see plenty of good and plenty of excellence. Even if you visit the most beseiged schools, you will find plenty of inspiration. Replicate what is really working under real conditions.

And if KIPP really doesn't cream that much, give us a comparable opportunity. Give us an opportunity to refer the most troubled kids to places where they have a chance. If we only needed to refer 5 to 10% of students in the toughest schools, then count that as a blessing.

Then visit the alternative schools that have the most success, and replicate them

But never, never, never start out your journey believing a PR person, and never believe leaders of selective schools when they deny creaming unless they have hard evidence.

Posted by: johnt4853 | November 2, 2009 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Every time people talk about rating teachers they talk about improving test scores. That is an unsustainable measurement!

Students learn more every year, and the amount of knowledge they have should increase. However, teachers start over with new students every year. If you have an excellent teacher in a rough district who manages to help 65% of her students pass the required tests, it will be just as much work for her to help 65% pass the next year.

The way these programs are presented, having the same percent of students pass two years in a row sounds like a wasted year with no progress, when in fact a whole classroom of children have made significant progress and the teacher has been working hard.

(Not that I necessarily agree with testing at all, let alone as a measurement of teaching.)

Posted by: moonfire30 | November 2, 2009 6:13 PM | Report abuse

I understand the concerns about high-stakes test; however, it seems to me that if you have two fourth grade teachers in the same building, and they have the same curriculum, and the students are randomly assigned, and one teacher's students consistently outscore the other teacher's over three or four years - in that case, I'd say that one teacher is better than the other.

Posted by: trueblue4 | November 2, 2009 8:23 PM | Report abuse

Computer programming is an art. Selling cars is an art. Hitting a curve ball is an art. But programmers, salesmen, and big league batters get evaluated and let go all the time. What is so special about teachers?

Posted by: jy151310 | November 2, 2009 8:46 PM | Report abuse

Think about the example (there are many) of professional sports team coaches who lead one team to a championship, but fail miserably with another group of players. Same coach - different students. Where does the fault lie? Let me suggest that it is a lot easier to take a group of upper middle class students (both parents with advanced degrees) and make more than average progess with them, compared to a class of students with english as a decidedly second language. Immigrant perents, barely (if that) literate, in a school ridden with gangs and violence. How can you compare yearly student progress in these disparate situations? Propose some objective metrics? Enough with the complaining about teacher's unions, or defending the status quo.

Posted by: kenarmy | November 2, 2009 9:08 PM | Report abuse

IMPACT is very detailed and specific. It is riddled with examples of what evaluators will look for. After my first evaluation, I took the Master Educator's suggestions and it has helped my classroom tremendously. I know exactly what they will look for and I incorporate more of these good teaching elements into my lessons everyday now (like reminding children of what the objective of the lesson is and purposely probing for higher-level understanding). I don't just wait for an evaluation to put my best foot forward.

Posted by: dcpsinsider | November 2, 2009 10:29 PM | Report abuse

motherseton said: Hope is spelled TFA, KIPP, IB, AP. Hope is a Green Dot.

But what is your child doesn't qualify for any of these? Then what hope is there?

Posted by: resc | November 2, 2009 11:27 PM | Report abuse

Teachers should be evaluated based on outcomes, not effort. While I believe pay-for-performance is key to improving learning achievement, unfortunately policy makers (read "politicians") ignore the research that demonstrates it fails when implemented in isolation. How can teachers improve their performance once in a classroom when "professional development" in public schools is anything but? How can teachers improve their performance when most (again research shows) do not see a need to take more courses other than to meet re-certification requirements? And -- most significant -- how can principals evaluate teachers (for real) when they have never had experience evaluating anyone (for real) and work in a system which lacks a tradition and experience of performance evaluation?

Yes, merit pay plans will likely continue to fail as long as politicians and administrators continue to implement insufficient reforms, tweaking things piecemeal. For any real reform to take place, districts must begin hiring educators who agree that being a "lifelong learner" applies to them as well as their students, districts must train and reward principals based on their ability to evaluate and lead, and districts must provide coherent professional development programs focused on truly improving teacher effectiveness and student learning.

All at once.

Posted by: JDunning | November 2, 2009 11:50 PM | Report abuse

Jay you said:

""a whole new crowd of recent college graduates are going into teaching because they have read about, or visited, schools full of impoverished children that have been organized in ways--usually with more time for learning and teacher sharing with each other--that support teachers, particularly inexperienced one, and help them be creative and effective. That is why Teach For America is so popular with recent college grads. Many of them find that teaching is not for them, but a critical mass are seeing that they can change a lot of lives if they teach in schools set up for that.""

The three-year retention rates of Teach for America teachers are exceedingly low. "Many" should be changed to most. Also what is a critical mass? We're talking about a few thousand TFAers.

We know from research that teachers who remain in the profession respond that their school environments are supportive. Those who leave felt unsupported in their schools. How do you parse these findings with TFAers (who leave in droves after their commitment is up) finding supportive school environments?

Also, how do you know that young people are applying to TFA because they see the virtues in effectively organized schools? Isn't TFA about two things for young people: giving service and finding a way through their lives (transition from college to world of work)?

Posted by: umbriell | November 3, 2009 12:30 PM | Report abuse

I had a sibling that went through a similar evaluation process, she said it was incredibly hard, but as a first year teacher improved her classes tremendously. She did however decide to leave teaching. I think if there is anything that will doom this program it is veteran teachers who do not believe they should improve and maybe more importantly the fact that most District schools especially at the elementary level do not have vice-principals. These type of systems are incredibly intensive and if that is all that the principal does, it will hurt the school in very important ways such as parent outreach, disciple and just plain leadership. One of the commenter’s above said that these type of systems only made those at the top feel good. As far as I understand this system it is not a bell curve, but the goal is to have all teachers reaching a point of excellence. I honestly don't want my child being taught by someone that does not think excellence is not important.

Posted by: Brooklander | November 3, 2009 3:08 PM | Report abuse

@maritxu769, while i might not have worded it the same way, i share your sentiment.

"Many smart teachers have concluded the idea is a loser. They are artists, they say, whose work cannot be reduced to numbers for placement, pay and promotion."

well, many people work at jobs that are difficult to measure, yet do so with merit pay raises (or lack thereof). i don't know the best way to evaluate teachers, but perhaps there's a strong component of school-wide/district-wide improvement, maybe with a dose of class-wide improvement.

@jy151310, i think you're on track, but programming, car selling, and baseball hitting are all pretty measurable (software revenue to some extent, car sales, batting average). what about people in less measurable fields? general sense of the manager? room for abuse, but there's also abuse in "everyone gets the same raise."

so, what's the best way to evaluate teachers with an eye towards rewarding those who are better, setting aside the wisdom in doing so?

Posted by: TruthInEducation | November 3, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

for johnt4853--you have a point. I have been spoiled by the excellent school community relations officers in the DC area, who would have given good advice. I do recall different experiences dealing with such folks elsewhere.
for umbriell--I have talked to many recent TFA teachers and TFA candidates. They know about the many public schools run by former TFA folks that give that kind of support, and produce impressive results. TFA uses those successful TFA alums as a major recruiting device. Most of them, of course, will NOT be assigned to such schools, and most will not return after their 2 year commitment, but the ones that do go through that experience and see how much influence they can have on kids often stay, or start their own schools. This is a very powerful new generation of teachers, just a few thousand, as you say, but they are having great influence. And as johnt4853 said, you can find great teachers in nearly all schools if you look hard enough, but we need to give them more support.
Also for johnt4853, Karin Chenoweth wasn't saying those were the ONLY two secondary schools with lots of low-income schools that were working. Her book was designed to show good examples, so that the reader would know this was not impossible. You can find several high schools among the top 100 entries on the Newsweek Challenge Index list with free and reduced lunch percentages above 50 percent. They are good places to look at. I am delighted you made the point that lots of schools like that have some things worth seeing. That isn't appreciated in many circles.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | November 3, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse


Posted by: mathteachdc | November 3, 2009 8:32 PM | Report abuse

As a first year teacher in DCPS, my issue with the IMPACT system is that it's all punitive; there's no focus at all on growth throughout the year. I welcome people in my classroom- a fresh set of eyes and feedback are exactly what I need to make myself a better educator.

After my first observation and rating, I ran the numbers and I'm pretty much solidly in the top half of the "effective" range. I'd have to really drop the ball the rest of the year to be considered "less effective," or heaven forbid "ineffective." On the other hand, I also have effectively zero chance of moving into the "highly effective" range. Even if I do improve throughout the year, there is no record of that; it's in no way reflected in my final rating. DCPS should incorporate a growth aspect to the ratings. For example, calculate my score after my first two observations (one with a school administrator, and one with a master educator), and compare that to my final score. If my final score is higher than my initial score, I think there should be say 10 added points for growth. The system already incorporates the addition/subtraction of points with the Core Professionalism standard. If you don't meet the Core Professionalism standard, you get either 10 or 20 points subtracted from your final score. Demonstrated growth as discussed previously could have an added 10 points.

(Side note: I say "effectively zero chance" because the odds of receiving the highest rating on all 9 factors within a 30 minute period the observer happens to come in is low. Do I hit all 9 in top form some days? Certainly. Every day? There's no way. The evaluation system is looking for a lot of different things in a relatively short time period; some days it's appropriate to do all those things, and some days for example, the kids can't handle a frenetic cycling of learning activities just to hit at least 4 learning styles. At the end of the day, I can do right by my students and hope the observers come on a day that's favorable for me, but I'm not going to change my lesson plan for the day just because an observer walks in. That puts the focus on the IMPACT evaluation, rather than on the kids, and I refuse to put a central office checklist before the needs of my kids. Digression ended.)

Posted by: uva007 | November 3, 2009 10:21 PM | Report abuse


Karin Chenoweth DID SAY that they were the only two who she could find. In fact, she said she'd run through the Ed Trust database and commented on how excellent it was, and then she said that she was about to give up on finding a middle school. Even then she acknowledged that the middle school she found was not one of the toughest.

Again, I don't want to sound too negative. Schools and teachers and administrators aren't any different than any other aspects of the human condition, even though neighborhood middle schools may be the most dysfunctional institution in America. But take a look at todays LA Times which just reported the same thing I've been writing.

Posted by: johnt4853 | November 5, 2009 11:06 AM | Report abuse

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