In large part, it is a grand political battle — on the one side, there’s a powerful governor, Andrew Cuomo, who, in his almost four and a half years in the position, has capped the amount that school districts can tax, restricted state aid while wrenching the state budget into shape and won a big battle in this year’s state budget in moving teacher tenure requirements to four years from the previous three. He’s taken on a large, also powerful teachers’ union, which is determined to maintain the hard-won gains it has eked out over the years, and to not let some by-rote system dictate and destroy teacher creativity, not to mention their job security.
The students and their parents (because we’re mostly talking about young children here), the forgotten pawns in the struggle, by opting out of tests in droves have driven the process to where the whole enterprise is teetering. It will be interesting to see if the state reacts punitively or with calm and reflection in figuring out the next steps.
Certainly Onteora’s officials reacted to the idea Common Core testing with emotions ranging from hostility to ambivalence to, finally, a grudging policy that said students should take the tests because the state was making them.
So how do you evaluate teachers? The Common Core testing was designed to be 30 percent of what went into a teacher’s total report card. And for students, it was pointed out, taking the tests takes up about one percent of their school time. But what about the preparation for the tests, the disproportionate hours spent going over the numbing curriculum…and what gets ignored along the way?
Charlotte Danielson is an educational consultant in Princeton, N.J., who has worked on teacher evaluation systems for the past 10 years and has taught at all levels, from kindergarten through college. She’s worked as an administrator, a curriculum director, and a staff developer and has specialized in aspects of teacher quality and evaluation, curriculum planning, performance assessment, and professional development. On the website www.ed.gov/Teacher-Evaluation-Systems, she spoke to the U.S. Department of Education.
“First, there needs to be an intense dialogue with faculty members about what constitutes good teaching. They need to develop a shared understanding of what is good practice. They can do a book study that defines good teaching in a coherent way, what it looks like, and what counts as evidence of good teaching.
“I’ve worked on a framework for effective teaching. The big idea that underlines this framework is that students learn from high levels of student intellectual engagement. There’s a ton of research on that, but it’s hard to do because in general, students aren’t taught that way. The challenge is to get people to understand how to engage students in learning.
“Second, there needs to be an effort to create a culture in the school around continued learning and professional inquiry. You’re not done learning when you start teaching. Teaching is enormously complex work that people work to master over their entire careers….
“There’s also the school culture element. Let’s say you’re my principal and a typical observation is one where you come in, observe my lesson, write it down, and tell me what I did wrong or right. I, as a teacher, have done nothing. If the school culture is one of inspection, then all I would want to do is to ‘get through’ the evaluation. I’m not going to try anything interesting in my class while you’re there. That typical process of where my role as a teacher is passive. There’s no learning for me as a teacher.
“Creating a different type of culture is a leadership challenge…The culture should be one where professional growth and learning are understood to be part of everyone’s job forever, and learning is not a sign of deficiency.
“To have an effective teacher evaluation system, you need good, trained evaluators and more time from teachers and administrators to discuss performance and improve teaching and learning…Specifically, the procedures that you use [to evaluate teachers] must be ones that do what we know can produce teacher learning.”