Teacher and Principal Responses
Principals and teachers have expressed their displeasure with the system. Teachers are not confident that this process improves their practice, and view it as a compliance issue with no value (Ford, 2018).
Teachers and principals continue to express their frustration with current evaluation rubrics and observations. In a special issue of the journal Educational Leadership ("A Frustrating Evaluation", 2012), several teachers reported their overall frustration with the new evaluation systems. The Center on Educational Policy conducted a study representing teachers from across the United States (Renter, Kober & Frizzell, 2016). They reported similar findings. Only half of teachers reported their evaluation as helpful. Derrington & Martinez (2019) noted that teachers find the evaluation systems have a negative impact on their relationship with their principal and that they do not provide enough professional learning opportunities.
Initially, the data suggested that ineffective teachers were removed from the classroom, retired or resigned. But too often, this punished teachers who taught underprivileged children who were the hardest to teach, while failing to provide help to teachers who were struggling.
Principals are just as unfulfilled by the new systems (Flores & Derrington, 2017; Goode, 201 7; Superville, 2018; Neumerski et al., 2018). Principals report that the new rubrics are too complex. They find it hard to navigate the multi-page documents and use them in a meaningful way to provide teachers with feedback. The procedures for the rubrics and systems are unclear and lack transparency. Principals consistently worry about how the evaluation systems affect school culture and relationships. Principals are also concerned about time constraints. They express the idea that the new evaluation systems take away from more important duties including community involvement and collaboration. The evidence also shows that students are not benefiting.
The book Breakthrough (Fullan et al., 2006) sounded the alarm that our systems and modes of operation area barrier to the professional momentum schools need to become true learning organizations. The authors reviewed several United States policy initiatives and reflected on their failures, noting that some reforms see success from the start only to then have it fizzle out. They labeled it "A System Stalled." The reforms stalled because the change strategies implemented did not attack the root cause of the problem: "[each] new mission will require substantial changes in daily instructional practice on the part of all teachers and parallel changes in the infrastructure to support such changes" (Fullan et al., 2006, p. 4-5). When those changes don't occur, the result is failure.
The failure of school reform to improve instructional practice is fueled by mandates from outside the school, creating a lack of shared understanding, agreement and coherence in the goals, objectives, strategies and implementation of change. External accountability will yield initial results but eventually flatline.
Case Study: The Awkward Conversation
Mrs. Pung, principal at Westside High School, sat down with one of her best teachers to discuss the annual teacher performance rubric agreed upon by the school district administration and the teachers' union. She had great respect for Mr. lott. He had been teaching industrial engineering at the high school for twenty years. Parents, students, staff—everyone loved Mr. lott because he had so much passion. Former students had gone on to some of the top engineering schools in the country and later landed top jobs or won scholastic awards. Mrs. Pung admired Mr. lott's passion and teaching ability. He was one of her best teachers. She thought this was going to be an easy conversation, given their positive relationship and his achievement as an educator. That is why she was so taken back by what was about to happen.
Mrs. Pung began going through the 15-page evaluation document, listing and pointing out her observations of his teaching. Mr. lott began to pause her in disbelief: "Why am I only a 3 in lesson objectives?" Taken aback, Mrs. Pung began to fumble over her words and attempt a reasonable explanation. She thought to herself, "Did I get this wrong? Was he a 4 in this category?" She wasn't sure. She had observed Mr. lott the required amount of times according to the collective bargaining agreement. Of course, each time she was in his room, either formally or informally, she thought nothing but the best of his teaching.
Mr. lott had heard rumors at the last union meeting about a performance pay stipend that would be coming at the end of the year through a grant. He was worried that his overall rating would be affected by the few 3s he had received on the feedback form, even though almost all of the marks he received on the 15-page document were 4s.
Mrs. Pung started to stress out. She did not want to upset perhaps her one of her greatest assets in the science department, and perhaps the entire school. Had she missed something? Was she being unfair? If she changed his score, would she have to change other teacher's scores?
Their relationship was never the same. The endless checking of boxes, the time constraints, district-level administrative pressure, the teachers' union, and the evaluation system had them both in a box. Mr. lott went on to take a position at another school and eventually moved into university teaching. But the questions always loomed in both of their heads: "Could it have been different? Was there a better way?"
This conversation happens in every school in the country every May. The overwhelming, troubling ramifications of this conversation will be all to easy for principals to recognize. It is a culture killer.
Since Mr. lott has left the school, what do Mrs. Pung's superiors think about her leadership? What do fellow staff members think about the direction of the school if one of the top teachers does not even want to be there anymore? What do the parents of Mr. lott's students think about the school and Mrs. Pung now that the man who did so much for their own kids has left?
Here we are decades removed from the Duluth administrators and teachers using checklists and ratings to evaluate teachers. Nothing has changed, and annual evaluations continue to this day in a mode of compliance with laws and policies imparted to us through the federal government, state governments and departments of education.