Teacher Evaluations: Delicate Conversation? or Ironic Ignorance?

The Washington Post headline reads, “Evaluation of DC Teachers is a Delicate Conversation:”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/evaluating-teachers-is-a-delicate-conversation/2011/03/09/ABpPILn_story.html

The article is about a teacher who wanted to know why a “master educator” evaluator gave him a low grade on his math lesson:

Master Educator:  This does not measure your effort . . . But I do see your effort . . .

Math Teacher: So — what is this measuring?

Master Educator: It’s measuring the effectiveness of that effort . . .

Really?

Nine standards crap

Nowhere in the conversation were measures of effectiveness discussed, unless the nine standards “that are supposed to represent years of research on the elements of great instruction” are measures of effectiveness.

Are they?

Should teachers be evaluated according to how well they incorporate nine standards into their lessons?  Doing so tells us little about teacher effectiveness and a lot about evaluators’ inability to distinguish between describing effective lessons and defining them.

Cut the nine standards crap

“Research-based” proponents should understand the limitations of research findings, before they worship them.  This is a case in point.  The Washington, DC, public school district’s (DCPS) teacher evaluation system includes classroom observations in which “. . . master educators assess how well teachers incorporate the standards into their teaching.”

Really?

No research studies have ever found that effective lessons must incorporate these nine standards, or seven of them, or six of them, or even one of them.  Education studies produce findings that describe effective lessons.  They don’t define them.  Standards based on those findings can’t define them, either.

We can test that idea with the DCPS nine standards:

Standard 1: Lead Well-Organized, Objective-Driven Lessons
Standard 2: Explain Content Clearly
Standard 3: Engage Students at All Learning Levels in Rigorous Work
Standard 4: Provide Students Multiple Ways to Engage with Content
Standard 5: Check for Student Understanding
Standard 6: Respond to Student Misunderstandings
Standard 7: Develop Higher-Level Understanding through Effective Questioning
Standard 8: Maximize Instructional Time
Standard 9: Build a Supportive, Learning-Focused Environment

These are good ideas for lessons.  Let’s look at the first three.

1.  It is true that effective lessons can be those in which teachers “Lead a well-organized, objective-driven lesson.”  It is also true that effective lessons can be those in which teachers deviate from a well-organized, objective-driven lesson.

2. It is true that effective lessons can be those in which teachers “Explain content clearly.”  It is also true that effective lessons can be those in which teachers create confusion.

3.  It is true that effective lessons can be those in which teachers “Engage students at all learning levels in rigorous work.”  It is also true that effective lessons can be those in which teachers engage students in work that is not rigorous. Those who played high school football can remember Thursday practices that were designed to be less rigorous than Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s.

The pattern is clear.  Knowing that some effective lessons include certain elements does not mean all effective lessons include those elements.  Descriptions are one thing; definitions are another.  A “measure” of something is supposed to be based on a definition, not a description.  A ruler does not describe an inch, it defines an inch.  If it didn’t, it would be useless as a measuring device.

The same principle applies to the nine standards, or any other “research-based” descriptors.  They are useless as measuring devices because they do not define effective lessons.  That is a philosophical matter that starts with defining “effective.”  (TSVOTEP explains this.)

The best education studies describe what is beautiful and ugly in the classroom or school.  McCrummen’s Washington Post article describes this too.  She did not define the DCPS evaluation experience.  She described the ugliness of a math teacher receiving a poor evaluation because DCPS administrators and “master educators” misunderstand research findings.  The irony is stunning, but I don’t think McCrummen saw it, which is also ironic.

This blog describes, too.  It describes the ironic ignorance of a “master educator” giving a low grade because he does not know the difference between a description and a definition.

In conclusion, it should be noted that the DCPS IMPACT program (of which teacher evaluation is a part) is driven by six belief statements.  The second belief is that student achievement “is a function of effort, not innate ability.”  According to this article, DCPS administrators do not believe teacher achievement is a function of effort.  District of Columbia public schools are governed by conflicting, ignorant beliefs.  The irony is stunning.

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