Teacher Evaluation at Chicago Public Schools

By Allan Fluharty

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is now into the second year of implementing a new teacher evaluation system called REACH (Reorganizing Educators Advancing Chicago) Students. This new system is comprised of several components, including a teacher observation process (based on the CPS Framework for Teaching), a ‘value added’ measurement intended to determine student growth, a self-reporting mechanism that allows teachers to provide evidence of their good teaching practice, and, potentially, a survey that lets students rate teachers. The question is whether this new program, one of several major changes CPS has rolled out in recent years, will improve student outcomes.

I think most would agree that the previous evaluation system was broke. It was based on an observation done by the principal using a complicated checklist. As the “educational leader” of the school, it is the principal who is responsible for developing teacher effectiveness and “weeding out” poor performers. However, my impression was that many principals showed up to observe without warning and filled out the form during an observation that lasted maybe 10 or 15 minutes. There may or may not have been a post-observation interview. Most teachers were rated with no real mentoring on what they did and how they could become better teachers. Many principals rated teachers proficient or superior in order to get the evaluations in on time. The effectiveness of the old system depended on whether principals took the time (or had the time) to provide mentoring to novice teachers. It was my experience and is my observation that there is little to no organized mentoring for teachers. This was unfortunate, because teaching is a highly reflective profession that is mostly learned through experience. Studies show that most teachers don’t feel competent until five or more years of teaching experience. And, most teachers agree the first couple of “sink or swim” years prior to making tenure are especially stressful.  Hopefully, the principal likes you or you are out the door.

While I was not a member of the Chicago Teachers Union negotiating team, I did participate in several discussions on a new evaluation system with a group of teachers at the union hall. I was excited that CPS was planning to assess teaching skills using the Danielson Framework of teaching. This framework is based on four domains of effective teaching, including Planning and Preparation, Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities. Each domain includes several elements, which succinctly outline what teachers need to do to improve their practice. The domains align closely with the standards of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).

The Danielson Framework and the NBPTS processes include a comprehensive process of mentoring with a master teacher who collaborates with the principal to design an evaluation “intervention” to improve the practice of the teacher. Attaining national board certification requires mentoring by master teachers and the submittal of extensive portfolios that provide evidence of superior teaching. Teachers who attain national board status are recognized as superior teachers through careful analysis of their peers. Unfortunately, CPS decided NOT to keep the mentoring part of the Danielson Framework. This was a mistake. I feel that not including mentoring makes the CPS Framework for Teaching only a half-measure.

Evaluating teachers requires extensive training and experience. I do not feel that most administrators are qualified to do evaluations. They are not receiving adequate training, and there is still potential for favoritism, particularly for teachers who are good at self-promotion. Furthermore, CPS is ignoring a crucial part of teacher improvement, which is the use of highly trained and skilled mentors who consult with principals and spend significant time with novice teachers to reflect on their practice. To its credit, CPS has created “Framework Specialists,” who could fulfill the role of mentors. But it seems doubtful that this relatively small group of teachers could support the entire district in the manner required by the Danielson method of teacher development.

The CPS evaluation system also incorporates a ‘value added’ measure of student growth. Basing teacher effectiveness on student growth seems reasonable. After all, the basic function of teaching is to teach. CPS has implemented this part of teacher evaluation by creating REACHStudents performance tasks that teachers are required to administer to their students at the beginning and end of the school year. I feel that basing teacher effectiveness on a few standardized tests to determine a ‘value added’ metric is unfair for several reasons:

  • The CPS REACHStudents performance task is based on assessments that are administered by the teacher being evaluated, which creates a potential for ‘teaching to the test’ or outright falsification.
  • CPS uses a system of ‘tracking’ to segregate low and high performing students. It seems unfair to use the same assessment to compare teachers at a magnet school—whose students tend to be better prepared to learn—to teachers at a neighborhood school.
  • In parallel, because the higher resourced magnet schools have an instructional advantage, they are superior to neighborhood schools.

A better assessment of ‘value added’ would be to include consideration of the large number teachers who work in challenging situations such as classrooms with high absenteeism and turnover, and poor facilities such as a lack of lab facilities or air conditioning.

Finally, I am extremely uncomfortable with the idea of using student survey results to rate teachers. Basing teacher performance on the opinion of children is problematic for many reasons: Children’s brains are not mature and they do not think like adults. Children will say things with no understanding of their ramifications, as portrayed by Arthur Miller in his play “The Crucible.” It seems to me that online applications that give students a venue to rate their teachers contain too many comments of disgruntled students. Maybe the idea that students should rate good teaching comes from the corporate idea that businesses serve the customer. I agree, but do not feel that children are the customer in education.  The real customer is society as a whole.

Overall, I think that the CPS Framework is far superior to what was done before, although there is significant room for improvement. In particular, CPS needs to create a more extensive program of teacher reflection and mentoring. Hopefully, in collaboration with the Chicago Teachers Union, we will see the REACHStudents program evolve to be more equitable and able to develop superior teachers who can meet the needs of all students. This effort MUST be done in partnership with teachers.

Allen FluhartyAllan Fluharty teaches high school science for the Chicago Public Schools. He was a member of the VIVA Chicago Writing Collaborative and is a National Board Certified Teacher.

 

My Journey from Teacher to Teacher Leader

By Kelly Waller

Who would have thought that one simple favor would turn into a life-changing event?  Four years ago, when my principal asked me to volunteer for the MET program in Hillsborough County, Fla., I never thought it would lead me to discussing policy at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington D.C.  My task was to record and post personal reflections on selected classroom lessons.  The experience was so easy that I immediately volunteered for the MET extension program that was offered two years later.  The difference and most beneficial part of the extension program was that I managed the cameras in my classroom, and controlled which lessons to document and how often to record and submit them for review.  Yet, my biggest take away from this experience was what I learned about myself personally and professionally.

First, not every lesson turns out the way you envision it.  Second, the more times you record, the easier it gets.  So, when the VIVA presented the opportunity to blog about our MET experience, I jumped at the chance to write about “getting over the fear of videotaping.”  My reflection turned into collaboration with nine other teachers from around the nation, a trip to Seattle to present our ideas to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and that follow up meeting at the Department of Education.  What a revelation it was to discover that even though we are all educators held to the same standards and public opinions, we are each evaluated differently depending on the district where we teach.   This realization led to a potpourri of ideas on what changes need to be made at the state level to ensure teacher accountability and improved student learning.

In Hillsborough County, we already implemented an evaluation system that incorporates scoring criteria based on a principal’s observation, peer evaluator observation, and state test scores.  After collaborating with this small group of teachers and presenting these ideas to the Gates Foundation and Department of Education, I felt empowered as the spokesperson for the teachers in my school, district, and state, who have concerns about where we are headed as a nation and how we can continue support our students with effective teaching.  Our evaluation system has gone through some growing pains, but most teachers agree that the feedback received from their principals and peer evaluators is meaningful and, when approached with an open mind, can catapult even the most seasoned educator to a whole new level of exemplary teaching.

Kelly Waller teaches middle school language arts in Hillsborough County, Florida Public Schools. She participated in the VIVA MET Idea Exchange.

Do You Complain and Suffer in Silence, Too?

By Kwesi Ndzibah

Every teacher I know has complained about the “higher ups,” and how things would be different if they “just listened to us.” Too often, feeling over matched, they acquiesce and then fall back into cynicism, certain “they” wouldn’t listen anyway.

Several years ago, while teaching 8th grade math in New York City, I had an opportunity to participate in the Measures of Effective Teaching study — MET for short — sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The first step was for all participants to film ourselves teaching lessons several times during the year. After this vast video archive was compiled, I and various other teachers were asked to give feedback on our experiences participating in the study. This next phase was sponsored by the VIVA Teachers Project. We compiled and categorized our thoughts into a document called Reflections From the Classroom: Teaches Explore the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Research Experience and its Influence on Future Education Practice. This document was presented to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Several weeks after the original presentation, our document found its way to the U.S. Dept. of Education (ED), where staff were interested in the link between the research and teacher evaluation, as well as the role of technology in the classroom. So, this past week, my fellow VIVA MET teachers and I had the opportunity to sit down with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and some of his senior staff to discuss hot button topics such as the role of student assessment in teacher evaluation, and the integration of technology in pedagogy.

At first, it is easy to dismiss this as just another inauthentic attempt by the “higher ups” to give the illusion that voices will be heard. But, as the first of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People tells us, we need to be proactive.  Being proactive means that the change we want to see starts from within. We should take the time to work on things that we have the power to influence rather than to react to things we cannot. To this end, with the help of our facilitators, the group drilled down our ideas into finely crafted talking points. What happened next was complete synergy!

Synergy is the sixth Habit of Highly Effective People. It happens through trustful communication, when all parties find a way to leverage individual differences to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Our teachers and facilitators spoke with intelligence and passion. Our partners at ED listened and challenged our assumptions as we challenged theirs. I found the conversation to be candid, truthful and refreshing. It was the first time I was able to sit down and speak to people creating and shaping policy. For the first time I felt that my voice, our voice, was being heard. That we actually mattered! As our meeting drew to a close, I felt reinvigorated, excited and slightly lost. While it was truly an honor to be included and take part in such a high level meeting, I was left contemplating why this kind of communication does not happen more often. Why this type of communication does not happen on the local or state level. And, even though, this left me with a lot more questions than answers, as a result of this visit, I want to continue to help bring both of these sides together more frequently, at all levels of government.

Kwesi Ndzibah is an elementary school dean in Staten Island.  He taught math, pre-K, 1st and 2nd grades in NYC Public School’s District 31.  He participated in the VIVA MET Idea Exchange. 

VIVA MET Teachers Meet with U.S. Dept. of Education

On May 14, 10 teachers, who participated in the VIVA Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Idea Exchange, traveled to Washington, DC, for intensive, back-to-back sessions with U.S. Dept. of Education (ED) staff. The meetings, which were requested by ED, were a follow up to the Idea Exchange recommendations, released by VIVA and the Gates Foundation in February. In particular, ED wanted to focus on teacher evaluation and technology.

Teacher Evaluation
About a dozen ED staff, including Senior Program Advisor for Teacher Quality Initiatives Brad Jupp, attended the first session on teacher evaluation. They zeroed in on the four solutions under the first recommendation: “Teacher performance should have a higher weighting than students’ standardized test scores in all evaluation circumstances. Teacher evaluations have to focus on classroom activities, and we need to build the capacity necessary to use multiple measures of teachers’ work.” The proposed solutions are:

  1. As stated in the MET report, “Nine Principles for Using Measures of Effective Teaching,” a balanced approach would be to allocate between 33 percent to 50 percent of the weight to student achievement. We see 50 percent as an extraordinarily high weight for student achievement tests and the norm for that measure should be closer to 33 percent. This is especially true in elementary school. We as a nation need to invest more in creating student standardized assessments that are reliable across a range of circumstances.
  2. Allow for the teacher’s immediate supervisor, specifically the school principal, to have a greater weight in the overall rating since they are working more consistently and in direct contact with the teachers in the classroom. As valuable as Peer Mentors are, their evaluation should have much less weight on the overall rating since they do not have direct contact with the teacher, and may not be familiar with the school or classroom dynamic. Let their evaluation be for learning and reflection only.
  3. With the ability to record and review classroom practice, teachers and school principals have more and more accurate information to know students and know the level of true engagement of students. As long as recording of actual classroom practice is available, principals and instructional leaders can reliably review teaching performance and use that information in professional evaluations.
  4. Self evaluation is another important component of any effective teacher evaluation system. In our experience in MET, the opportunity to reflect on our own practice was invaluable.

Asked which of the four proposed solutions they thought should be implemented immediately, the teachers unanimously said number 3, videotaping.

The teachers shared some of the challenges schools are facing as they adopt teacher evaluation requirements spelled out by Race to the Top. For example, they noted that a principal now has more evaluations to conduct, requiring more observation, which is good in theory. However, in reality, there is not enough time to do them thoroughly.

The teachers suggested ED could better support the process by shining a light on places where evaluation is working well. “What’s important to remember is you have a group of people across the country who agree this is an effective tool,” one of the teachers explained. “The problem is implementation. People have rushed to do this, and it’s bred a lot of mistrust and misunderstanding. People need to see this evaluation tool in action.”

Technology
After a break to meet Education Secretary Arne Duncan, the VIVA Teachers sat down with members of the department’s technology team, led by Richard Culatta, acting director of the Office of Educational Technology.

With the understanding that a lack of infrastructure is an issue, ED wanted to know what it could do to encourage teachers to use more technology. New York City teacher Kwesi Ndzibah said, “There are ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants.’ Many teachers are the latter, and we need to get more people to be the former.” There are social forces getting people to use Facebook and play Farmville. It is a very different kind of exposure to stand in front of your class and use an iPad in front of a class.”

The teachers also flagged the issue of acceptable use policies in school not keeping up with technology. The ED staff agreed this is their next frontier. The also describe the work currently underway to increase congressional funding for broadband capacity. They also introduced newfree.ed.gov, a Wikipedia-type site for teachers to search for a variety of digital learning content in one location, instead of having search multiple websites.

Education Reform: Teachers Have Always Been at the Forefront

By Mary Cathryn Ricker

I was intrigued by Jay Mathews’ Washington Post column that proclaims “Teachers leaning in favor of reforms.” I do appreciate that he points out he has never once written about unions hindering reform, even if he back-hands the compliment withthat is not the same as saying the unions have worked hard to make all teachers more successful in the classroom.”

That is where I part very good company with him.

I appreciate the parsing of teacher’s feelings toward current education hot topics in the research he sites by Teach Plus and Education Sector. As the current president of my teacher’s union in St. Paul, Minnesota it is helpful to learn what teachers are saying and thinking both, individually and locally, and in the aggregate.

However, I have a fairly unique view, as a teacher serving as a local union president and a third generation teacher in my family, which leads me to a couple questions and a couple points I would like to make about teachers “leaning in favor of reforms.”

Supporting Education Reform

Because this research is a snapshot in time, it is impossible to say whether these attitudes captured by Teach Plus and Education Sector are new or not. In my family and in the historic local teacher’s union I have the privilege of serving, these attitudes are not new.

Someday we will have longitudinal research that either proves this group of newer teachers is somehow unique, or it will prove what I have experienced anecdotally: that teachers, and our unions, have always had a bias for improving teaching and learning conditions. Indeed, it was because I saw up close these examples of acting within a union to improve teaching and learning that I ran for president of my union, rather than get an administrative credential or take some other job, when I felt ready to lead with new ideas of mine and my colleagues’.

My Dad, Union President and Reformer

I saw my dad, and his generation, fight for adequate preparation time so I could build on that by advocating for increased professional learning time. His generation built salary schedules that honored years of expertise and graduate specialties so that we could come along and create leadership opportunities that don’t force a teacher to choose between leading or teaching.

The work done by teachers in their unions before me to recognize National Board Certification paved the way for others to design other differentiated pay structures. We can entertain a serious discussion about the AFT’s bar exam idea precisely because of the professional ideas to improve teaching and learning brought to the table year after year by many leaders who have come before us raising the bar for teacher standards over time from high school diploma to some college to a full credential. There wouldn’t be this notion of rethinking tenure, or due process, if there hadn’t been progress from capricious, political, sexist at-will status to fair due process in the first place.

Examples of Union-Supported Reforms

In the Saint Paul Federation of Teachers we have been doing things like:

  • Designing our own alternative licensure program to diversify our profession and fill hard-to-staff license areas
  • Expanding the professional development opportunities we started offering more than 25 years ago
  • Expanding our parent/teacher home visit project
  • Negotiating contract language to strengthen our peer assistance and review program and evaluation
  • Offering alternatives to seniority to protect the integrity of programs we offer our students.

We’re doing all of that with our ultimate goal of making our contract the most powerful document our district has to attract, support and retain a high-quality, diverse workforce that knows how to meet the needs of our students and families.

None of this would have been possible if it wasn’t for the teacher union leadership that came before us. None of it.

I appreciate the acknowledgement that Jay Mathews was trying to offer, but I caution him about painting the last 150+ years of St. Paul teachers (and others) as stagnant, versus a recently discovered fountain of youthful teachers suddenly leaning toward reform. The teaching profession has been evolving since it started. Each generation has added something, built on the work of the generation before.

Teachers have always leaned toward reform except, of course, for those times when we’ve been leading it.

Showing Evidence: What Makes Me Sad

By Kathleen Sullivan

As teachers, we are navigating our way through a new evaluation model meant to “prove” that we are conducting ourselves as reliable and responsible professionals and that we are using best practices to deliver content to our students.

Evaluating teachers and administrators is not a bad thing. We do need to show evidence to parents, administrators, and the general public that we are delivering the best possible education to our students.

So why does it make me sad that we are now expected to show evidence that we are doing good work? Because it means that teachers who are innately giving, kind, and compassionate people are forced to gather up evidence of each act of humanity and save them in an evaluation binder.

In one section of this binder, we are expected to gather evidence that “proves” we not only care deeply about our students and colleagues, but that they appreciate us as well. How? By keeping a record of all of our kind acts toward our students and colleagues and collecting hard copies of any appreciative comments directed towards us as teachers.

We must keep a record any time we assist a colleague who needs some help. This shows collaboration. We must save any email thanking us for coming to a school event or doing something we do every day as teachers–staying late to help students, planning a fundraiser to support our community, dropping off supplies and food for a school family living in a shelter. This will be proof that we participate beyond our regular school days.

Not the way I was raised

Why does this part of the evaluation tool bother me so much? It goes against my grain as a person. In my family, we were brought up to do things for others because it’s the right thing to do. The only real “thank you” one truly needs is the great feeling that comes from doing good for your family, your friends, your colleagues, and your community. In my stoic, blue collar family, no one boasted about their achievements or what they did for others.  If someone did, they heard: “Don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.”

My dad was a quiet guy who quietly made a difference in many lives throughout his 79 years. “Proof” came at his death when people lined up to tell us what a wonderful man he was by always doing kind acts quietly, out of the limelight.

It makes me sad to think that teachers now have to ask students to write down any compliments so they can have a record of building student-teacher relationships to “prove” they are reaching their students academically and personally.

We already have reduced students to a list of data points. Now we are doing it with teachers–data that “proves” we are good people, good teachers and good human beings.

“Proving” I am teaching our students well is one thing. Being asked to “prove” that I am a good person simply depletes me.

Kathleen Sullivan teaches 5th grade science at a public school in Malden, Massachusetts. 

VIVA Minnesota Project II – Strengthening Our Practice: A Classroom Teachers’ Approach to Evaluation

Download Full Report as a PDF

On October 26, 2012, members of VIVA Minnesota Teachers Idea Exchange II presented their report Strengthening Our Practice: A Classroom Teachers’ Approach to Evaluation to members of Governor Mark Dayton’s administration and the MDE Teacher Evaluation Work Group.

Download a copy of “Strengthening Our Practice: A Classroom Teachers’ Approach to Evaluation.”

Click here to read the recommendations from the report

What is a Good Teacher?

So much of the chatter in education policy these days is shaped by the goal of getting rid of bad teachers. While that is something we certainly should do, shouldn’t we spend a lot more time thinking about getting as many good teachers as possible into our nation’s classrooms? What about thinking about how to help good teachers become great, rather than the myopic focus on punishing lousy teachers?

The key, of course, is knowing what a good teacher is. I’ve been catching up on my reading lately and came across two recent(ish) studies that will help us make that shift to think about effective teaching.

In “Transforming Teaching: Connecting Professional Responsibility with Student Learning,” the National Education Association (click to download) published the work of its Commission on Effective Teachers and Teaching. The report lays out an exciting vision for a teacher-driven public school system. It contains a clear call to elevate teachers’ professional leadership and responsibility and lists specific characteristics of effective teachers.

There’s a lot of food for thought in this report and we ought to spend a lot of time thinking about how we tap into the professional skills and judgment of classroom teachers–not just in their classrooms but in shaping our approach to public education.

Source: National Archives and Records Administration

In The Hangover: Thinking about the unintended Consequences of the Nation’s Teacher Evaluation Binge, the American Enterprise Institute tackles the incredible pace of change in our thinking about teacher evaluation. More than 20 states have put new teacher evaluation laws on their books in the last three years. And, the rhetoric around most of these legislative changes has been pretty dismal. The authors caution that there’s a lot of connecting the dots to be done to make these laws work well and actually have an impact on teaching practices.

Engaging Teachers

At VIVA Teachers, we think the more we engage classroom teachers in these conversations about what a effective teacher looks like, and how you actually measure effective teaching, the more likely our children are to have a good (or better) teacher in front of their classroom.

VIVA Teachers in New York and Minnesota have made some of the same points as the authors of these reports: that teachers’ professional judgment needs to be part of the calculus on effective teaching. That data is indispensable to evaluating effective teaching. In two detailed reports, these teachers outline a clear action plan for professional evaluation of teachers and principals that will help all of us understand what effective teaching looks like.

Next time, listen to the teachers

Commentary by VIVA Teacher Leader Mark Anderson in the Albany Times-Union.
January 30, 2012

New York’s plans to implement its new teacher evaluation law have been met with outcries from principals, wariness from teachers and legal objections by the New York State United Teachers. All of that might have been averted if state leaders had more fully considered the perspective of educators before developing their implementation plans.

Last January, I was one of a group of teachers from across the state working with The VIVA Project to develop classroom-based solutions for effective teacher evaluation measures. We developed a set of policy recommendations and delivered them to Dr. John King Jr., New York’s senior deputy commissioner of education. Central to our proposal was the insight that the process of evaluating teachers must be tied directly and explicitly to the establishment of a professional learning community within each school and district.

A professional learning community is designed to engage teachers and administrators in continuous dialogue, feedback and support in order to improve teacher performance and, consequently, student learning. Without that, any evaluation process will inevitably devolve into checklists (no matter how advanced the instrument), ‘gotcha’ feedback, and more meaningless paperwork that has no impact on learning.

Our report also advocated for peer evaluations in addition to administrator observations. Teachers bring valuable understanding of the context of a given school, which is especially important in districts where students face daunting academic and life challenges. Working together, teachers can leverage the information from effective teacher evaluations to foster professional development, enhance instruction and nurture student growth and learning.

Without these classroom-based considerations, it is no surprise that New York is encountering this opposition. It has opted for shallow measures of teacher evaluation, such as allowing local districts to use state test scores to account for 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.

All teachers know that one summative measure of a test score cannot tell you all the information you need to know about an individual student’s personal growth in your classroom. Rather, teacher evaluations must account for student growth based upon measurements that gauge more accurately how much a student has progressed over the course of a school year.

For students who face great academic challenges, such as those with exceptional learning needs or students undergoing acute stress in their home lives, this consideration is paramount.

Policymakers are far removed from the realities and challenges of the classroom. They understandably place great emphasis on measures that are easily definable and quantifiable. But teachers know that ground-level implementation of any policy measure must take into consideration the context of a school and community in order to be implemented with fidelity.

Otherwise, this so-called evaluation is nothing more than a ruse to allow policymakers and politicians to check mandates off their list so they can garner federal money and more easily blame districts and teachers when they fail to measure up on disconnected data points.

Changing the cultures of schools requires much more than simple directives on how to evaluate teachers. It requires an understanding of evaluation measures like those we recommended in our VIVA Project report.

Only then can we build the sort of professional learning community necessary for an authentic conversation geared toward professional growth and improved student learning.

Mark Anderson is a fifth-grade teacher in an elementary school in the Bronx.