President Obama’s recent remarks about removing ineffective teachers from the classroom has triggered some furious posting in the Teacher Leaders Network daily discussion group. A teacher in Colorado worried that much of the public debate places the blame almost exclusively on teachers themselves. “I'm wondering why no one is pointing fingers at the system(s) and all the people at the district, state and federal levels, who must at least share responsibility for the situation in our schools.”
A secondary science teacher-coach from California replied:
It seems to be obligatory to attack bad teachers to show that you are not in the pockets of the big bad teacher unions. Exactly how we are supposed to rid ourselves of the horrible scourges is unclear. I worked as a peer reviewer and coach in my school district’s PAR program for two years. Our job was to observe and assist fellow teachers who were referred to the program. If they failed to improve after reasonable opportunities to do so, they would go through the dismissal process. The main reason it was hard to fire teachers was that busy principals did not have the time or energy to follow the procedures and complete an evaluation properly. Half of the teachers initially referred to PAR were not taken onboard because the evaluations were botched.
That said, we need, as a profession, to step up and help build a better functioning evaluation system. We need to at least describe what it will take to create a working system of professional accountability and offer our partnership in making it happen.
Regarding Obama's comments that “there needs to be other ways to evaluate teachers besides standardized tests,” I am only mildly reassured. Has he been listening to Arne Duncan lately? Arne told Education Week this:
What data is Arne planning to use? He talks about better assessments, but when he gets to what would make them better, he talks only about tracking students, and tying student data to teachers. This does not sound like the kind of move away from standardized tests that Obama is describing.
A high school teacher added:
Arrgh! Arne, if I have an aneurysm that bursts, it's gonna be your fault!
Please read the recent research showing that standardized test data are not good at predicting which teachers will have the best test data four years from now. Please talk to some teachers! Please, get over yourself. Loosen up. Let the money flow to schools with good plans in place, rather than send the money to dataheads and test publishers. Be an advocate for education rather than education bureaucracy.
A middle school teacher advised that teachers be totally upfront about the bad apples:
I am not anti-teacher when I say that there are bad teachers. And it is a huge problem, chronic even. It is not the only problem, but it is vast. And I believe that it is anti-teacher for those within our profession to not admit that our current system of protecting these teachers is a problem.
We as teacher leaders talk about being part of the decision-making process when it comes to issues of education. Classroom issues should not be outsourced, as it were. If so, we need to acknowledge that we have a responsibility to be at the table to fix the weaknesses in our profession. We cannot allow teachers who live the saying, "Those who can't do, Teach" to dictate our publicity anymore. Our unions should not, after proper evidence is laid, be protecting those individuals without considering that a staff and school's reputation should also be their priority to protect.
These ineffective teachers are in every school site and district. And no, a teacher's failure is not something that can be easily determined by test scores. I know very high-scoring teachers that, frankly, I wouldn't want my kids anywhere near. I also know low-testing teachers who are awe-inspiring.
So I don't know yet how teachers can best be evaluated, but that's why I am writing and talking and listening, so I can hopefully be present and involved during an era of reform based on standards created by those within our profession.
We as educators will not be treated as professionally (as we need to be) unless we admit that our profession needs a housecleaning and we move ourselves to the forefront of helping to solve the problem proactively. We want respect? We need to look at ourselves in the mirror as professionals and demand professionalism from each and every one of us.
A math-science teacher in the Midwest replied:
I couldn't agree with you more. I always feel incredibly frustrated when we talk about bad teachers because it just amounts to a bunch of finger pointing. Lots of talk...no action...no change for the kids. And those bad teachers stay where they've always been.
I don't like the idea that teachers are the sole root of our troubles, though. That's such a simplistic answer to a very complicated system with many inter-related parts. Bad teachers may be one root problem, but it's not the only one.
The middle school teacher responded back:
Yes, there are many problems in education and not one bullet to solve any one of them. But we as teachers can't do anything about parental involvement, homelessness, health care. We have very little influence on funding save for what we can do as political advocates. But bad teachers are our problem. They are the weed in our yard. They are our misbehaving cousin at the dinner table, and we can't be the family member that looks away.
There's a lot we can't do anything about, but we need to be stronger in what we can do. We can improve our practice. We can improve our content knowledge. We can improve our student assessments by having a hand in their creation. We can improve our turn-over by offering mentorship based on leadership. And we can improve the quality of our profession by making sure that we are all on the same team, that of student equity and achievement.
A K-8 teacher leader in the discussion wrote:
There’s no denying the fact that there are bad – in fact, horrible – teachers everywhere. I have known more than a couple myself. But I am incensed at (the) ongoing, low-information quest to paint teachers as dumb union rats.
Here's a data-laden response to one of the anti-teacher, all-the-union's-fault rants we’re hearing. Well worth reading and full of handy, user-friendly statistics on who's shielding bad teachers.
How would you construct a useful, cost-effective teacher evaluation system? What factors and indicators would matter in identifying exemplary practice, competent practice and non-competent practice?