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Monday, January 16, 2012

A NYC teacher's observations on how the Danielson rubrics are being (mis)used

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A NYC teacher's observations on how the Danielson rubrics are being (mis)used

One thing that the DOE and the UFT seem to have agreed upon is that the instructional framework developed by consultant Charlotte Danielson is potentially useful and constructive, though they disagree about how these rubrics are being used to evaluate teachers currently in NYC schools. Below are the observations of one teacher about how the Danielson rubric is being applied in his school.

I'm an English teacher at a NYC high school.   There are several major problems with the way the Charlotte Danielson rubrics are being used and misused.  Here are some that I have observed at our school.

We have an AP who is unqualified to do these observations.  Hitherto, he has overseen budgeting and technology and has never been involved with instruction.  He is now being told to do observations because the principal is unable to do them all.  In his feedback to teachers, he has demonstrated a lack of understanding of basic instructional strategies and has not been able to provide suggested improvements to accompany his critiques.
Other problems we are seeing I imagine are more universal across the city.  For one, administrators are being pressured to do (and to document) far more observations this year.  Previously, informal observations weren't written up, now they are.  As a result, observations of only 5 or 10 minutes (out of an 80 minute class) are being used to characterize a teacher's ability.

Story one: We have a new teacher and three people walked into her class and observed her for five minutes (during the starter, aka "do now") and then left.  Her observation report cited her for insufficiently interacting with the students, yet made no consideration for the fact that this was a time for independent student work by design. This is a very hard-working and devoted teacher and afterwards she was visibly upset.  Again, they watched the first 5 minutes of an 80 minute lesson and made sweeping conclusions based upon that.

Story two:  An English teacher (me) was instructing students in how to write a critical lens essay.  Then students began their essay and the teacher helped them individually.  The feedback given said: "All discussion is between teacher and students; students are not encouraged to speak directly to one another."  There was no reason for students to be speaking to each other during this portion of the class, in fact that would have detracted from what they were accomplishing in that time frame.  This is how the rubrics can be misused.
Story three: An excellent tenured math teacher was given an "ineffective" for questioning because he used questions with "a single correct answer." This comment comes directly from the Danielson rubric, yet this was a math class where yes, there often is a single correct answer and students do need to get that.  You would hope that anyone would realize this was not how to use the rubric, but you'd be mistaken.
There are more stories along these lines, but when observers miss most of the lesson, teachers feel it's unfair for an all-encompassing rubric to be applied to specific instructional snippets.  They also aren't being given specific feedback.

All teachers are being told to watch ARIS Learn videos, which are overly general and most veteran teachers are already familiar with much of the material covered.  Other recommendations are very superficial or generic.  But then, how could it be otherwise, when the observer only saw 5 or 10 minutes of class?  No one is being given subject specific or lesson specific feedback, and the only real outcome of this new teacher effectiveness system has been teacher demoralization.

For the time being I would prefer to remain anonymous so please refrain from using my name or the the name of our school.  My main reason for this is that I don't want to embarrass our administrators whom we see as being unfairly caught up in the respective mess on their side of this broken system. 


Anonymous said...

It might be helpful to have a contract between the admins imposing these methodologies and standards with the teachers forced to implement them [without regard to class make-up (genetic theory still exists, kids aren't all the same) including non english language students]. In five years once thousands of teachers have been written up as "incompetent" or worse, even if they have a long prior track record of student success, and this program fails miserably (as most prior programs have, since no size fits all), remove the sponsors and administrators who bet the house on this success and lost. Let these decision makers, often with little to no actual classroom experience, who often couldn't evaluate the ability of any teacher to perform (as they have no basis to work from), risk their own careers on Charlotte Danielson. If they aren't willing to sign that contract, then they shouldn't enforce a system that has been forced upon teachers without offering sufficient practical "show me" methodologies, not theory and rhetoric. If you don't like what you see, successfully demonstrate the theory you are professing to be "Golden." I'm sure teachers would be happy to see how one can successfully implement any theory. Telling someone to do it, or even "how in theory you should implement a methodology" is perfect for textbooks. Demonstrate in the real world with real world diverse populations of children of all ages.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with the notion that the Danielson Frameworkmis being used incorrectly as a pedagogical thermometer if you will. I believe I read that any Danielson herself is pursuing a lawsuit with the NYC Dept of Education. Time will tell...

Anonymous said...

As far as the union goes it's like Sam Rothstein says to the gaming commissioner's brother-in-law in the film Casino, "Either your in on it or too studio to realize what's happening, in either case I can't have you work for me!"