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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Mr. Mulgrew, Just How Effective Is Our Evaluation System?

Mr. Mulgrew, UFT president, e-mailed teachers last night.  The letter was generally complimentary and written in good spirit.  I don't mean to be contentious, but when asked if I am man or mouse, I will reply neither.  

Mulgrew said, "We now have a strong foundation for an evaluation system which--if we properly implement it and if we use the new voice we gained in our contract--can help teachers improve throughout their careers."  I'm glad Mr. Mulgrew feels this way.  I don't.  I more than suspect Mr. Mulgrew has not worked under this current system.  Perhaps he thinks by delivering the truth, as he sees it, to us in letter form, it makes it so.  It doesn't.  From my vantage point, I have seen more teachers suffer stress, take ill, quit and/or retire early.  We even saw a suicide this year, but who's to know the sum totality of reasons why an intelligent, young teacher with seemingly everything going for him would take his own life?  

Mulgrew identifies the system as "fair."  From where he stands, behind a wall of faithful, loyalty-oath swearing Unity folk, I am sure it all looks charming.  But I am insulted by the junk science implicit in the formula.  I have taken no oath and I will say so.  

Mulgrew further states that the system "gives opportunities for those who are at the top of their game to share their expertise with their colleagues."  Well, I have a word to say on that...

There was one observation method this year, Option 3, available only to teachers designated as "highly effective."  This special option allowed them to expose their less than fully enlightened colleagues to the expertise clearly visible in their classrooms.  How many "highly effective" teachers chose this option?  Pray tell.  My guess is the numbers (whether measured raw or in percents) would be negligible.  Correct me if I'm wrong.

What  makes me think so?  Well, to begin with, I have not heard of any "highly-effective" teachers opening their doors to the more stodgy mass of teachers.  To the best of my knowledge the "highly-effective" teachers keep a very low profile.  My second reason cuts to the heart of the fine line that may separate a "highly-effective" teacher from his inferior colleagues.  The distinction probably has little to do with teacher effectiveness in the classroom.  

So, why are some teachers rated more "highly effective" than their colleagues?  First, many teachers witnessed their degree of effectiveness dwindle based upon student scores on high-stakes tests.  Many teachers were "highly effective" in the classroom, but unless near perfect in Danielson's categories, they were pulled down by student test scores.  Yet, tests seem to tell us more about individual students than teachers.  

Secondly, the teachers who survived their students' test scores may have had APs with more beneficent interpretations of Danielson.  I don't care how carefully any rubric is spelled out.  It is still subjective.  And, of course, if you've got the AP from hell, you're royally screwed.  Thankfully, I have never found myself in that position.

Finally, some "highly-effective" teachers probably amassed more points last year due to unpaid labor, not because of their effectiveness in the classroom.  They fulfilled aspects of Danielson's Fourth Domain, particularly D, "contributing to school initiatives and projects."  Happily, 4d is no longer with us this year.  It tends to work against people who spend time with families as well as people who believe they should be compensated for their labors.

I believe if most "highly-effective" teachers threw open their doors on a daily basis to their colleagues, we would see they do a very good job, but it is really no better or worse than many of their "less-effective" brethren.  I believe "highly-effective" teachers are smart enough to realize this very thing.  And, thus, they choose to keep their "expertise" to themselves.  They opt out of Option 3.  They opt out of "enlightening" their colleagues.  So, goes the way of things when you worship at the shrine of Junk Science. 

All of this aside, let me return Mr. Mulgrew's greeting.  I might ask him first how he would like to be evaluated though.  And, I would remind him that when you surround yourself with "yes" men, you sometimes get the wrong answers.  If my Union was truly doing enough to win the battle, I would not have to blog.  When Unity expands retiree votes to figure more into its victory than the opinions of those on the ground, something is seriously wrong.  Notwithstanding, I love my school, my City, and, yes, my UFT.  So, Happy Holidays, Mr. Mulgrew!

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