Sunday, March 24, 2013
The Teacher Tenure Reform Issue: Why Evaluation Techniques Need To Be Changed
Principals at more than one in 10 New York City public schools didn't flunk a single teacher for at least eight years, according to an analysis of city data by The Wall Street Journal.
Teachers at 142 of 1,269 schools that have been open for at least the past eight years were all marked "satisfactory" on the city's pass/fail system for reviewing job performance.
The schools are in all five boroughs. They include highly sought-after schools, such as Millennium High School in Manhattan, the High School of American Studies in the Bronx, and the Children's School in Brooklyn. They also include schools that have received low marks from the city, such as Public School 39 Francis J. Murphy Jr. in Staten Island and Intermediate School 349 Math, Science & Tech in Brooklyn.
The city data didn't include charter schools, which have their own policies on evaluating teachers. The Department of Education released the information in response to a public-records request from the Journal.
The findings give ammunition to Department of Education officials who say the teacher-rating system should be changed. New York City is one of a handful of school districts statewide that hasn't adopted a new, more nuanced system of grading teachers. The city and its teachers union haven't been able to reach an agreement. Under the current system, teachers are either rated unsatisfactory or satisfactory. Annually, less than 3% of teachers citywide are marked "unsatisfactory."
The system is subjective, and principals have wide discretion on how to rate teachers. The education department, the teachers union, some academics and some advocacy groups have said the system doesn't give teachers meaningful feedback on their performance or differentiate among bad, mediocre and great educators.
The new evaluations required under state law would have four tiers: ineffective, developing, effective and highly effective. Up to 40% of a teacher's score would be based on increases in student test scores, and the rest on principal classroom visits or other measures.
It's difficult to say why principals at the 142 schools consistently gave teachers positive ratings, and that is one reason behind the failure of the current system, said David Weiner, a deputy chancellor in charge of the teaching labor force. "Principals have basically learned over time that the u/s system is not an effective system," he said. "Our current system is broken. We can't actually help teachers improve. We can't identify the teachers that we need to move out of the system that shouldn't be teaching."
The 142 schools were more likely than the typical city school to receive good grades on this year's progress reports, which mostly measure whether students are improving on state tests or are on track to graduate high school. About 71% received an A or a B, compared with about 63% of schools across the city. But about a dozen had received poor grades in at least one of the past few years. None of the schools got an F this year.
Mr. Weiner and others said the schools' principals genuinely could have thought their teachers were all good. Or principals at schools that received good grades by the city could have decided it wasn't worth the paperwork or hassle to give a teacher an unsatisfactory rating.
Some principals and former principals said they would give bad teachers a good rating in exchange for the teacher agreeing to leave the school. A Department of Education spokeswoman said that illustrated why the system needed to be changed.
"In this all-or-nothing, pass-fail system, it is quite possible that schools don't have anybody who merits an unsatisfactory rating, but there might be quite a few teachers who are in need of real improvement," said Sandi Jacobs, a vice president with the National Council on Teacher Quality, which supports new evaluation systems.
Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said the current system doesn't have an effective way to help teachers improve throughout their careers.
"I hope that those are all great teachers," he said when asked about the schools that hadn't given unsatisfactory ratings. "But more importantly…you got to go to the school and figure out if they're actually helping the teachers get better. And if they are, I say God bless them, they're doing a great job."
Elaine Schwartz, principal of the Center School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, said she thought the current system was useless. Ms. Schwartz has run the well-regarded magnet middle school for more than 30 years. The school receives frequent As on city report cards, though Ms. Schwartz said she didn't put much stock in the grades.Her teaching staff has remained virtually unchanged for a decade. She said she couldn't recall when she last gave a teacher an unsatisfactory rating.
That doesn't mean she has a hands-off approach. The teachers meet weekly and talk often about improving. "They're confident enough to say, 'I did something wrong. I have to figure this out,'" she said. "You have to certainly be careful when you talk to people about what they're doing right or wrong, but you don't have to be neurotic about it."
New York is one of many states changing teacher evaluations. Tennessee, one of the first states to adopt a multi-tiered model similar to New York's, reported that in the system's first year, teachers often received a higher grade from principals who watched them in classrooms than on the portion determined by test scores.
Ms. Schwartz said she didn't know what to expect from the new system, which could be imposed on New York City by the State Education Department at the end of June if the city and the United Federation of Teachers can't reach an agreement. But she's not worried about her teachers. "They'll all be fine," she said.
A version of this article appeared March 19, 2013, on page A19 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: 11% of Schools Never Flunk Their Teachers.