Wednesday, April 20, 2016

NPE: Teacher Voices on Teacher Evaluation

The Network for Public Education was founded in 2013 by Diane Ravitch and Anthony Cody as an advocacy group for...well, public education. It has become a powerful networking connection for those of us who are public education advocates, and while it has been vocal in speaking out against education reform balderdash, NPE also has a full positive agenda of things that they support.

They have also produced some reports (including a state by state report card) and a new report released just last week. "Educators on the Impact of Teacher Evaluation is a rarity in the world of reports on the world of education in that it involves the voices of actual classroom teachers. The very first paragraph puts the whole business of teacher evaluation in context with the current state of education:

Teachers choose the teaching profession because of their love of children and their desire to help them grow and blossom as learners. Across the nation, however, far too many educators are leaving the classroom. Headlines report teacher shortages in nearly every state. One factor reported in almost every story is the discouragement teachers feel from a reform movement that is increasing pressure to raise student test scores, while reducing support. This pressure dramatically increased with the inclusion of student test scores in teacher evaluations, with some states using them to account for as much as 50% of evaluation scores. When combined with frameworks, rubrics, and high-stake consequences, the nature of teacher evaluation has dramatically changed, and narratives from educators across the United States document that it has changed for the worse.

NPE commissioned a study, and the researchers they hired eventually received responses from almost 3,000 teachers. Here are some of the findings of the research:

* Nobody much likes VAM or rubric-based data-generators like those based on the work of Danielson and Marzano.

* A whopping 84% of teacher report spending more time on evaluation, bringing teachers closer to those Dilbert-esque office workers who have to stop working on projects in order to create reports to explain why they aren't making more progress on the project.

* Being data driven translates to spending more time with spreadsheets and numbers than with colleagues and humans.

* Over half the respondents reported seeing active bias against veteran teachers. This surprised me, and I guess it shouldn't have, since it makes sense that in the current tight-budget environment, an experienced teacher is an expensive teacher. On top of that, veteran teachers are also more likely to call baloney when they see the next reformy lunch platter headed in.

* New teacher eval systems have been particularly hard on non-white teachers, which would be bad news in the best of times, but even worse news these days when the lack of teachers of color is a serious problem in the US school system.

* Professional development is making things worse. Not a surprise, particularly in states like mine where the rule is that it only counts as a required PD hour if it has something directly to do with raising test scores.

The report makes six recommendations.

1) Stop using student test scores for teacher evaluation. Absolutely.

2) Top-down collaboration is an oxymoron. Don't tie mandated and micromanaged teacher collaboration to evaluation.

3) The observation process should focus on reflection and dialogue as tools for improvement. One of my favorite lines in the report-- The result should be a narrative, not a number.

4) Less paperwork. This is not just a teacher problem. My administrators essentially have to stop doing all their other work for several weeks out of the year just to get their evaluation and observation paperwork done. Forms and forms and forms and forms for me, and ten times that many for them. Again-- do you want us to do our job, or do a bunch of paperwork about what we would be doing for our job if we weren't busy with the paperwork.

5) Take a good hard look at how evaluation systems are affecting veteran teachers and teachers of color.

6) Burn down the entire professional development system. Okay, that's my recommendation. NPE is more restrained-- decouple PD from the evaluation system and attach it to things that actually help teachers do their jobs.

That's the basic outline. There are more details and there are, most of all, actual quotes from actual teachers. I have read so many "reports" and "white papers" and "policy briefs" covering many aspects of education policy over the last few years, and the appearance of a teacher voice is rarer than Donald Trump having a good hair day and displaying humility at the same time. That alone makes this report valuable and useful. I recommend you read the whole thing.



  1. One 40 minute observation (out of a 180 day school year) is the equivalent of a movie reviewer watching a random 45 second clip of a two hour movie - and then trying to accurately judge the film.

    Imagine judging Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer by watching him run one play.

    What's missing from this discussion, and what rarely factors into teacher evaluations is the overall structure of their program. This is the structure that sets the stage for success - or disaster. Veteran teachers spend a career developing and tweaking their program and somehow this important, overarching piece seems to be given short shrift, if that.

  2. Exactly! And what perfect analogies.