In an op-ed piece at truthout that our own Jesse Hagopian wrote, Jesse points out the flaws of D.C.’s teacher evaluation system and why a teacher is only one part of a student’s success in school . Michelle Rhee, Chancellor of DC schools, sits on the Broad Foundation’s Board of Directors, along with our own superintendent, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson.
The Broad Foundation is about charter schools which incorporates merit pay and does not hire union teachers, only inexperienced, inexpensive teachers to keep cost down and profits up.
Is this what we want in Seattle?
Below is an excerpt from the op-ed:
“We are going to impose the new evaluation tools regardless” [of the outcome of talks with the union]. “We are going to be moving people out who are not performing.”
~ District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor, Michelle Rhee, March 2, 2009
In a culmination of her three years as head of the D.C. public schools, Michelle Rhee acted on her union-busting pledge, firing 241 teachers, five percent of the district’s total. All but a few of those dismissed received the lowest rating under a new evaluation system, dubbed “IMPACT,” which ties students’ standardized test scores to teacher evaluations. An additional 737 employees were put on notice that they had been rated “minimally effective,” the second-lowest category, and would have one year to improve their performance or too be fired.
A closer look at the IMPACT evaluation method, however, reveals its ineffectiveness as tool to judge teacher performance – while simultaneously exposing its true purpose: a smoke screen to obscure the real factors necessary to provide a quality education.
Under IMPACT, all teachers are supposed to receive five 30-minute classroom observations during the school year that account for 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, three by a school administrator and two by an outside “master educator” with a background in the instructor’s subject. However, some teachers never received the full five evaluations because some of the master teachers hired to do those jobs quit. Moreover, educators have questioned the scoring criteria for the evaluations of teachers. During the 30-minute observation, usually unannounced, a teacher is supposed to demonstrate 22 different specified teaching elements. As Washington Post blogger Valerie Strauss pointed out, “What teacher demonstrates 22 teaching elements – some of which are not particularly related – in 30 minutes? Suppose a teacher takes 30 minutes to introduce new material and doesn’t have time to show…Oh well. Bad evaluation.”
Another 50 percent of the teacher’s IMPACT score is calculated – in a process designed to turn students into a commodity with a specific worth on the education market – by what they actually call “value added” improvement in scores on the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System, or DC CAS. As Strauss astutely notes, “Judging teachers on the test scores of their students is all the rage in school reform these days – thanks so much, Education Secretary Arne Duncan – but, frankly, this is unconscionable for several reasons, not the least of which is that D.C. CAS wasn’t designed to evaluate teachers. That’s a basic violation of testing law. Ask any evaluation expert.”
From 2001 through 2004 I taught in a public elementary school in South East Washington, D.C. – an area sectioned off from the city both geographically, by the Potomac River, and socially, by its dearth of everything from jobs to grocery stores. And to borrow from the great educator and author Jonathan Kozol, the schools there are savagely unequal.
The elementary school at which I taught was almost completely segregated, serving 100 percent African-American students – until my third year when one white student entered kindergarten. Directly across from the entrance of the school was a decrepit building with vegetation growing out through the windows. Around the corner lay a pile of cars that had been stripped and incinerated. Our school offered neither a grass field nor a basketball hoop for the kids to use at recess. The library’s book collection was more appropriate for an archeological study than a source for topical information. Our textbooks were woefully out of date and we seldom had enough for every student. Police roamed the halls of our elementary school looking for mouthy kids to jack up against the wall.
But to fully capture the ambience, you would want to enter my classroom. I had one hole in the middle of the chalkboard and another hole in the ceiling. The first time I noticed the opening in the ceiling was a Monday morning, when I came back to school after a rainy weekend and found standing water on the floor and all of my students’ U.S. history poster-board projects waterlogged. After the second flooding of my room, I got smart and put an industrial sized garbage can under the hole.
One lasting memory of my teaching experience in D.C. came on my third day of standing before these sixth graders. I had asked the students to bring a meaningful object from home for a show-and-tell activity. We gathered in a circle in the back of the room that Friday morning and the kids sat eagerly with paper bags on their laps that concealed their autobiographical mementos. One after another, each and every hand came out of those crumpled brown lunch sacs clutching a photo of a close family member – usually a dad or an uncle – that was either dead or in jail. By the time it got to me, all I could do was stare stupidly at the baseball I had pulled out and pick nervously at the red stitches as I mumbled something about how I had played in college.
You can read the rest at truthout.