Let me see if I understand this teacher evaluation business, which has been agreed to by the governor and the main teachers’ union. True, the union was under duress, since the governor was going to withhold money from school districts that didn’t come to terms, but still, we have a deal.
As a result of annual evaluations there will now be four categories of teachers — highly effective, effective, developing, and ineffective. Those are the official terms, and they sound official, don’t they?
The third category by rights ought to be something like “mediocre,” but in official-speak that would be like calling poor countries poor. “Developing” sounds better, the idea being they’re making progress, and any minute now they’ll be rich, or effective.
The whole point of this process is to make it easier to get rid of lousy teachers, it long having been a complaint of school boards and administrators that it’s almost impossible to fire a teacher once he or she gets tenure, which normally occurs after a three-year probationary period.
My friends at the Times Union recently reviewed Education Department records for the period from 2006 to 2011 and found that disciplinary proceedings against teachers last an average of 502 days and cost an average of $216,588. And they more often ended in some kind of settlement than in firing.
So you can see why school administrators are deterred from even initiating the proceedings.
The Annual Professional Performance Review system, as these new evaluations are grandly called, is supposed to speed things up. If a teacher gets rated “ineffective” two years in a row, then he or she goes into a disciplinary hearing that is supposed to take no more than 60 days.
But let’s think about that.
First of all, 80 percent of the evaluation process has to be negotiated with the local teachers’ unions — only 20 percent will depend on standardized state tests — and you can be sure the unions are not going to be looking for standards that facilitate the firing of their own members.
Secondly, once you’ve done a year’s worth of evaluation, measuring how much progress students are able to make under a certain teacher, and you have determined that a teacher is “ineffective,” you still can’t fire him or her. Not only do you have to give him (I’ll just say “him”) another year, but you have to provide him a “teacher improvement plan,” also to be negotiated with the union. This would be something like one-on-one mentoring or coaching, at the school district’s expense, of course.
So you can see that would be an immediate disincentive to label a teacher ineffective. The school would be in for an added expense and an added bureaucratic headache, entailing more paperwork, more record-keeping.
Let’s say the school goes ahead and provides a year’s worth of coaching. What do you suppose is the likelihood that at the end of the year the school will want to say the teacher is still a loser? Wouldn’t that be an indictment of its own program? It would be like saying, we failed. After all that expensive mentoring the teacher is not even “developing.”
And even if you do make that determination, you still can’t fire the person. You still have to have a hearing, at which the union promises it will provide a lawyer to fight the school district.
So how much easier is it going to be to fire lousy teachers? We’ll wait and see, but I do not have high hopes.
But, oh, how I would like a system like that for myself. After a three-year try-out, I get a permanent gig as a columnist. Then somewhere along the line, management studies how I’m actually performing and decides I’m no good at it.
But the onus is on them. They have to train me to be better! For a year!
And if after a year of their training and coaching I’m still no good, then they have to provide me with a hearing at which I have a lawyer to represent me, and only after that hearing can they finally fire me.
I would consider myself very roundly protected in such an arrangement, and I would be happy to take out a 30-year loan.
When I think about it that way and don’t just fall for the word “evaluation,” I am not encouraged that we’re looking at any very dramatic change.