their-them-mine-and-us

Their, Them, Mine, and Us

Mike Lee Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy

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As part of the continuation down the accountability path, lawmakers have officially forced districts to tie teacher evaluations directly to the data of their students.  For now, that means the “teacher of record,” for a given student.  However, some interesting byproducts have surfaced due to this model.

  • What if you teach an untested subject?  Art?  Kindergarten?  Physical Education?  For now, you can have your evaluation linked to the data of the entire school.  Interesting, until…
  • The expectation is that districts use this as a bridge to a future where every subject has a test identified as a valid measure.  As an art teacher, your evaluation will be tied to an art test.  (I’ve been scouring old magazines for those “art tests” used in low-credibility art school advertisements from my childhood “Highlights” magazines.  This whole situation has me considering a career change and becoming an artist, and I always could copy that cartoon turtle with the baseball cap.  I’m pretty confident those who do well on those tests go on to be successful artists.)
  • Depending on where you are in the state, the percentage of your evaluation tied to actual quantitative data can vary dramatically.  5%? 25%?  It’s more confusing than our tax code.
  • Most critically, this policy undermines one of the most important tools a school can leverage to improve learning for all of its students: flexible grouping and differentiation.  But, we all know how much research plays into lawmaking.

As a principal, this is the most significant component of the legislation.  This mandate makes it challenging to encourage teachers to give up all of their students to a team of teachers.  After all, their evaluation is tied to their students and their data.  In essence, this pits leadership that is attempting to improve, say, reading, for all students, against a teacher who is being forced to worry only about the students in their classroom.  The best teachers are left asking the question,  “I know I can have my children attain an acceptable level of learning by keeping them in my room.  And, my evaluation is tied to just those students, so, why would I be concerned about anyone else’s performance?”  As heartless as this sounds, teachers have been backed into a corner by policies, told the spotlight is on them, and directed to prepare to defend themselves.

In the fight for “Us,” sometimes, there is nothing less useful to an organization than a protective and battered employee.

I’m fortunate enough to have a staff that would be willing to have their data tied to the peformance of the whole school and support each other in improving the learning for all through flexible grouping. They are willing to sink or swim as a team.  When I asked if such a unique declaration could be made, the answer was simple.

No.

So, my fellow educators.  Enjoy “your” children.  Enjoy “their” scores.  And, good luck with that whole “teamwork” thing.

Apparently, I’m the only one who is supposed to worry about us.

 

Mike Lee

Phoenix, Arizona

I am the Director of Outreach and Engagement for The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and certified as a Middle Childhood Generalist in 2004. In 2012, I received my doctorate in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University, however, I began my work in education serving as a para-educator in a special education program while still an undergraduate. My passions in the field include assessment and reporting strategies, the evolving role of technology, teacher leadership, and effective professional development that permanently impacts instruction. I consider myself a professional teacher first, as well as a professionally evolving lifelong learner, who is incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to impact the lives of children.

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