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Posted at 9:12 PM ET, 01/29/2011

What Gray said about grading teachers

By Jay Silberman, Washington

On Jan. 18, a Post reporter missed much of a point made in an education panel about fairness in teacher evaluation.  Post bloggers and editorial staffers then twisted the missed point.

 “It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s got a long way to go to be a fair evaluation,” The Post quoted Mayor Vincent C. Gray regarding how teachers are evaluated.  

The mayor’s statement — unbeknown to Post readers — was in response to a comment and question from an attendee (me).  The thrust of the question was that, as much of an improvement as the D.C. schools’ new IMPACT evaluation process is, it is both a work in progress that needs more test-driving and but one leg of a stool that needs more legs to stand on.

 Those additional legs include self-evaluation, peer review, input from students and parents, and teacher and staff input into the evaluation of principals and administrators.

That context was not provided. Instead, readers were told that the mayor’s comment constituted a “clash with a core tenet of [former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle] Rhee and her successor, Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson: that excellent teachers can help children thrive academically, regardless of the students’ economic or social backgrounds.” But the mayor said nothing to even suggest that he did not advocate excellence in teaching, and I find it hard to comprehend how such an inference could have been drawn — unless someone wanted mainly to fan flames or provoke controversy.

Controversy did ensue — in follow-up articles, columns and an editorial headline that warned, “in being fair to educators, the District must not be unfair to students.”

Well, of course not. But the assertion is a non-sequitur, because only a fair teacher evaluation process will also be fair to students. Any teacher evaluation that is less than fair — in that it unfairly disqualifies a good teacher or that it unfairly allows a poor teacher to slip through — will not serve students well.

Which gets us back to the (unreported) points that I made at last week’s discussion. Yes, the new IMPACT teacher evaluation process is a major step forward. It seems pretty good on paper (including its attempt to account for students’ socioeconomic differences and disadvantages). But it has barely been run around the block or had its tires kicked. The mostly young cadre of clipboard-carrying evaluators are so far somewhat stiff and constrained in a marching-orders, Cultural Revolution sort of way. And no matter what, IMPACT is still just one tool for a toolbox that needs several.

Only when that toolbox also includes the aforementioned additional tools of self-evaluation, peer review, input from students and parents, and teacher/staff input into the evaluation of principals and administrators will there be sufficient tools to understand how well teachers are really doing.

The writer served on the D.C. Board of Education from 1991 to 1998.

By Jay Silberman, Washington  | January 29, 2011; 9:12 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., D.C. politics, HotTopic, Vincent Gray, education, schools  
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Comments

Well total time it took for me to find my daughter some insurance was about ten minutes or so. I ended up getting her a much better plan that saved her right around $350 a year using clearance auto insuance

Posted by: lindatineo | January 30, 2011 12:49 AM | Report abuse

Well total time it took for me to find my daughter some insurance was about ten minutes or so. I ended up getting her a much better plan that saved her right around $350 a year using clearance auto insuance

Posted by: lindatineo | January 30, 2011 12:51 AM | Report abuse

Bravo Jay Silberman, for clarifying your statement. You are right on the money.

As for the Post editorial board (specifically Joann Armao), it routinely twists anything having to do with education to suit its anti-union, pro-privatization purpose.

It's a sick joke. I used to think that when the evidence piled up against their position, they would write an apologetic editorial to set the record straight and maintain their position as a reputable news source.

At some point, I realized that would never happen, so now I read just to be aware of how they are lying about and distorting information that they present to the public.

Still, Gray got elected as Mayor despite the Post’s repeated attempts to discredit him, so its influence is obviously waning.

Regarding the follow-up article by investigative reporter, Bill Turque -- granted, it was not complete, but I think it provided the very useful and accurate information that the new mayor wasn’t buying the party (i.e., school reform) line about the wonderfulness of IMPACT.

Bravo to you as well, for providing needed context about teacher evaluation and getting it into the Post.

And here’s to the Post for publishing this. I have no hope that it’s the beginning of a trend, but do appreciate the occasional show of journalistic ethics.

Posted by: efavorite | January 30, 2011 10:05 AM | Report abuse

DCPS has always had an evaluation process. It's just that before Rhee that process led to every teacher being evaluated as excellent. So when Gray who was supported by the people who opposed Rhee says he is going to modify the evaluation system, many of us think he plans to go back to the old system where there was no accountability.

Posted by: jy151310 | January 30, 2011 10:26 AM | Report abuse

jy51310 - Some citizens also think that Gray is Marion Barry incarnate based on no evidence and zero similarities between the two men in terms of attitude or style. That perception is simply fear based.

And by the way, what you say about the earlier teacher evaluation system is incorrect, showing you are either purposely lying or are just repeating hearsay.

In the old system, most people were rated "meets expectations" or "exceeds expectations." The same can be said in the new system -- the majority of teachers are rated "effective" or "highly effective."

Posted by: efavorite | January 30, 2011 10:49 AM | Report abuse

When I suggested that teachers should be allowed to evaluate their supervisors and principals, I was labelled a "saboteur" and "disloyal." My npoint, snd presumably Washington D.C.'s point in allowing such evaluations, is that the goal of teacher evaluation should be improved teaching. As such, evaluators can be very positive influences and should be. I do not, and did not think a principal should be dismissed because of a sour grapes evaluation, but teachers deserve good evaluation and so do supervisors. Who nbetter to provide input than those adults called teachers.

Posted by: sailhardy | January 30, 2011 1:22 PM | Report abuse

sailhardy - I think you are misinformed. There is no provision in the DC evaluation system for teachers to evaluate principals.

Also, the new evaluation system for teachers is perceived to be punitive - its point is not to help teacher improve, but to identify teachers to be fired.

Posted by: efavorite | January 30, 2011 2:23 PM | Report abuse

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