Teachers and Principals and NY’s Teacher Evaluations

An exchange between NYC principal Phil Weinberg and UFT Vice President Leo Casey raises some interesting questions about New York State’s new teacher evaluations.

Weinberg decries the fact that the rating of teachers has effectively been taken out of the principal’s hands. No longer can a principal walk into a teacher’s classroom for a few minutes, get a sense of the wind and know whether or not real learning is taking place. Instead, they must use an observation rubric like Danielson for 31% of the observation. Another 40% will be based on some sort of student assessment score. No doubt, Weinberg is correct that a great share of teacher ratings have been taken out of the principal’s hands.

On the other hand, Leo Casey is correct to draw attention to some of the more ominous parts of Weinberg’s article. Weinberg supports Bloomberg’s position that the principal’s evaluation should be final. Bloomberg made that assertion in support of nixing any idea of an appeals process for a “U” rating. As Leo Casey says, as it stands now, a principal can say “l’evaluation, c’est moi” and that is the end of that.

Weinberg states that the whole deskilling of the evaluation process speaks to a lack of public confidence for principals. I do not know how true this is. Bloomberg’s regime has notoriously put near absolute power in principals’ hands. Principals who have been found guilty of gross misconduct have been able to retain their positions. If anything, the establishment has put too much confidence in the principals’ hands.

Weinberg is onto something later when he points to how principals have contributed to their own lack of public confidence:

But we principals, too, are part of the problem. Not because we have promoted the use of bad data to rate teachers, but because we may have allowed our attention to stray from our chief job of promoting professional growth, training staff, documenting teacher performance, creating community and defining what quality teaching and learning look like in our schools. Newly necessary distractions like marketing and fund-raising and data analysis may have seemed more important than getting into classrooms and working with teachers on how to plan lessons and ask questions. But if we let our attention waiver from those things which we know should be our primary focus, if we asked “How can we help students earn more credits?” instead of “How can we help students learn more?” then some of the distrust we see driving this new agreement is our fault, even if we believe that is what the school system and the general public wanted us to do. We may have felt less incentive to concentrate on the quality of classroom instruction in our schools because we are rated on other things, but we know our jobs. If we chose to focus on tasks outside of instruction, it makes sense that the void such a choice created was filled by psychometricians.

This is certainly true. However, rather than let principals off the hook so easily, I will say that many principals in NYC have made satisfying Tweed their primary concern. They have allowed themselves to be driven by data instead of using their nearly unlimited power to buck the system and support students and teachers.

Weinberg seems like he is speaking from the position of an experienced educator. He might be one of those principals, very rare to find nowadays, who knows good teaching when they see it, observes his teachers often and supports his teachers when necessary. Sure, principals like this do not need the Danielson Framework and it is a shame that the all-important 40% of teacher evaluations have been taken out of their hands.

Unfortunately, teachers in NYC know exactly the type of person who becomes a school administrator in NYC nowadays. It is usually someone with less than 5 years in the classroom, someone who always had an eye on an administrative job and someone who strives to do nothing but satisfy Tweed. These are the types of administrators who, under the current system, have been given unlimited power to rate teachers.

If public confidence in principals is declining, it is because Bloomberg has lowered the bar for the type of person who is able to become an administrator. This is the result of shutting down big schools and opening up small schools. The pool of talent to choose from becomes shallower as the system needs more and more principals.

Before Bloomberg came to office, between 10 and 15 percent of “U” ratings by principals were overturned by appeals. This is the basis for the UFT only being able to appeal 13% of the “ineffective” ratings under the new system. Leo Casey supports this provision as fair. It is certainly fairer than the absolutist ratings principals currently enjoy. However, entitling only 13% of the membership to any sort of due process is not fair in any absolute sense.

Here is where I disagree with both Weinberg and Casey. Weinberg said that rating teachers has been taken out of principal’s hands. Sure, but the power of destroying teachers has not been taken out of their hands. In fact, it is just as easy for principals to destroy teachers under the new system as it is under the current one. Leo Casey says the “Danielson Framework represents the best professional thinking in the field of education on the essential components of teaching.” Those of us who have read Danielson’s Framework probably would not agree with this either. It might be halfway decent, and even preferable to the arbitrary measures inexperienced principals use now, but it certainly leaves much to be desired.

The fact is that principals will be able to fill in the observation rubric in any way they see fit. They can give a teacher they do not like all the tough classes and give that teacher the worst ratings all the way down the Danielson Framework. They can do this in the confidence that only 13% of all “ineffective” evaluations will be appealed. All of the “data” backing up the “ineffective” rating will give it an undeserved air of objectivity.

And after the appeals process, the independent validator and the new 3020a hearing with the burden of proof on the teacher, there is simply very little for any teacher to hang their hat on. Weinberg expresses the fact that there is little for principals to hang their hats on either.

Teachers and experienced administrators need to make common cause against these evaluations. While there might be disagreements between us, they should not blur the broader points over which there is consensus.

2 responses to “Teachers and Principals and NY’s Teacher Evaluations

  1. Unfortunately you are confusing the term “deskilling” (with regard to evaluating teachers) in its original form with a verb for which you are unable to find the correct word. Deskilling involves the taking of the authority from skilled labor and places it into the hands of “unskilled” labor. The evaluative process was never in the hands of the worker (teachers). What we are seeing today is a frustration on the part of skilled labor (teachers and their accompanying unions) due the removal of power because just as management began deskilling to find more time efficient and less costly methods of production, by not being able to raise our students’ grade above poor we are in essence giving this power, or control, over to the administration. If we find new ways to improve our students’ achievement as i believe I have using my program “Speak English with me” we will begin the process of “bullet-proofing” ourselves and essentially remove any threat of “deskilling.” We as teachers must begin to think outside the box to think of getting our students back “into” the box of success.

  2. Pingback: How the Race to the Top Evaluations Look So Far in NYC | Assailed Teacher

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