Last spring, 11 educators came together for a wide-ranging discussion of teacher evaluation and professional development in the era of high-stakes testing and data-based accountability. The participants in this conversation are alumni of the Mid-Career Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education.
The group included public school principals and private school headmasters, superintendents and other top administrators, higher education faculty and staff, and executives of educational nonprofits (see list on page 45). The conversation leader was Michael Johanek, director of the mid-career program.
The conversation revolved around four central themes: Trust, complexity, agency, and principals. What follows is an excerpt of what they said.
In the national conversation, teachers are blamed for many of the problems in our schools. As a profession, we've lost the trust of the people we serve, and this loss of trust is at the heart of the push for data-driven accountability.
TIM FISH: Outside of education, there has been an erosion of trust in the people who are teaching our kids.
JERRY JELLIG: Everyone is for accountability and testing. There is no trust.
WIL PARKER: People don't trust us, so they don't trust us to create a system [of evaluation and professional development] that is going to help. There are some models that work--for example, learning communities. But do people trust us to do that? And we don't trust ourselves.
Where does the loss of trust come from? Some participants suspect that hard times make teachers vulnerable.
DAVID JASIN: At every level, the changes are tied to the economy--when the economy is poor, teachers are vilified.
But the profession has also lost trust by protecting ineffective teachers. Sometimes, we try to shove the incompetent teacher problem under the carpet instead of dealing with it head-on. At worst, we create "rubber rooms," where ineffective teachers are paid to do nothing.
CARL ATKINSON: And it's the rubber rooms that get the play in the media. When it's so difficult to remove a bad teacher, we're not doing our job.
KAREN BECKFORD-BENNETT: We have not taken ownership. We have not been courageous enough to say, yes, there are teachers in our profession who do not have the skill set to be in front of children. We have become defensive and allowed bad practices to continue.
PARKER: We are the only profession that allows malpractice to occur without getting upset about it.
Trust is also an issue within schools, where teachers may not trust principals and other administrators to use evaluation for anything other than punishment.
ANDREA DANIAL: Some of it comes down to trust between teachers and leaders. Teachers know how to be seen looking like they're teaching effectively. You have to be able to trust that your administrator is going to help you grow.
On the macro level, lack of trust for the teaching profession has created an opening for businesses and policy makers to take control of teacher evaluation. The business model assumes that teaching and learning can be broken down into easily measurable units. But teaching and learning are incredibly complex and hard to measure.
ANNE CATENA: It's driven by entrepreneurs who come from a business background. They come from a different culture and mind-set--you either hit the mark or you don't.
DANIAL: We're looking at a factory model of education. If we just train them to be factory workers, that's what we're going to have.
MARILYN TINARI: If you're in education, you understand that achievement and learning are different things. I think some people use them interchangeably.
FISH: It begins with the belief that the teacher is an isolated variable. It assumes that learning is inherently tied to content--that you can break learning into isolated content chunks. …