Do We Know Good Teaching When We See It?
Teachers are going to continue to be under greater scrutiny, and test scores may or may not be a permanent part of the evaluation process. One thing we can count on, however, is that classroom observations are here to stay.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie unveiled yet another plan last week to reward or punish teachers. Under Christie’s plan, teachers who perform well in the classroom would be granted tenure, but it could be taken away if the teacher has two consecutive years of poor performance as judged by classroom observations. (I’m not sure the Governor understands the definition of tenure.)
Statewide protocols for teacher evaluation, according to Christie’s proposal, would be in effect by 2012-13. The timeline, of course, is ridiculous, and so is the idea that everyone will agree upon what makes a good lesson. It’s a little trickier than it looks, Gov, because in order to avoid charges of incompetence from both sides, teachers and administrators need to agree on what good teaching looks like. The good news is that when teachers and administrators work together to define the characteristics of good teaching, both sides benefit. For classroom observations to be fair and effective, both the observed and the observer need to speak the same language.
Frankly, not all administrators do a good job of evaluating teachers. Some don’t do it at all. And when a teacher’s job or rate of pay is at stake, the principal better be sure that she knows what she’s doing. Training administrators to be good classroom observers not only protects teachers, but administrators as well.
And here’s another observation, Governor: Your proposal for a statewide observation format that would be used in all schools is a recipe for mediocrity. Remember “basic competency tests”? The bar has to be low enough so that the majority can jump over it.
So look for a sudden focus on what constitutes good teaching and how to determine if it’s happening. (I’ve written about this issue several times over the past few months and even spent a couple of days in March working with Magna Publications Inside the School recording videos on evaluation and supervision.) It’s all well and good for business people and politicians to demand all kinds of changes in education and expect them to happen overnight. Implementation is another matter entirely, and (surprise!) it actually has to be accomplished by educational professionals.