It is not enough to change strategies, structures, and systems, unless the thinking that produced those strategies, structures, and systems also changes.
(Senge, 1999, p.15)
The system is broken because of faulty assumptions. If we could only change the assumptions that dictate the teacher evaluation narrative, we might have a glimmer of hope in creating a system that will produce the desired results of increased professional learning and increased student achievement.
Faulty Assumption #1: Education Should Mimic the Business World
The teacher evaluations in this country mirror the failed systems of small businesses and corporations alike. We assume that because another industry or sector of our economy is doing something, schools should try it as well. We see it in our top-down authority structures, data analysis, peddling students as products and the attitude whereby students are seen as a test score and not a human.
The business world has its moments, but it also has aspects that frustrate and infuriate those who deal with it—think of the cable company you mentally curse after an hour on hold trying to find out why service is down. Or that company you went through three interviews with, only to receive a form letter two months later saying you didn't get the job. A business is "efficient" if it cuts costs and saves time, even if customers and employees alike are fed up. That's not the attitude we want in schools.
One-size-fits-all HR policies and evaluation forms can be a bad fit even in a workplace where everyone is an adult and behaves relatively predictably. Our "customers" are as young as 5. Why would leaders, legislatures or educators want our systems to reflect the same failed systems used in the corporate world? I cannot think of any reason why a method or strategy used in supply chain management or advanced manufacturing, or any other industry, would translate into a fluid, nuanced, critical, unpredictable profession, such as teaching. Why would high-stakes evaluations from the business world translate successfully to education?
I recently had a conversation with a friend who is an operations manager at a family attraction. We were discussing how managing the attraction and being a school administrator can be similar. Our conversation eventually made its way to performance appraisals. His dismay with the performance appraisal process in his company is similar to that of educators. He commented that his company has 12 competencies that every employee must be evaluated on. He recently applied their system to a cashier at the on-site gift shop. As the manager of the attraction, all he needs from his gift shop cashier is to keep the cash drawer balanced and have exceptional customer service. The employee or the manager does not need a hefty list of competencies, standards or behaviors that may or may not be crucial to the success of the position. The goals are very simple: happy customers and a balanced cash drawer.
The manager and the employee would be better served focusing on those two aspects of the job. The manager would be better off communicating those two broad goals while developing systems and procedures with the employee to meet them.
If a cashier is shaky on math, puts change in the wrong place or doesn't know how to handle an angry customer, receiving a low score on an evaluation won't help.
The evaluation isn't the same thing as procedures to have a balanced drawer or good customer service techniques.
We do the same thing in education. We need teachers to collaborate and exhibit collective efficacy. Instead of evaluating them on 48
those two comprehensive goals, we try to measure a teacher's ability to implement prescribed standards and methods that have proven to meet those goals in a setting that may or may not be similar to their own.
A performance evaluation should be concerned with broad goals; the methods, programs and techniques should not be what is evaluated. There is an endless amount of ways to meet objectives— we need professional teams that can set their sights on broadly constructed goals and develop a sensible plan to meet those goals together.
Schools are not a business. They cannot and should not be run like a business, and normal business principles may or may not apply to schools. Schools are a human service industry. Schools cannot crank out numbers, charts, scores, growth points, rates, scales or any other quantification of success. The numbers will tell, at best, half of the story. We work with students, teachers, parents, the community at large, which translates into an unimaginable number of variables and variations to quantify.
Of course, we can use sound practices from other areas, such as accounting practices, facilities management, custodial engineering and more. But only as needed—not as part of a wrongheaded attempt to run a school like a business. If we are going to implement theories and practices from thinkers outside of the education field, we should borrow the concept of the learning organization as presented by many organization thinkers, such as Peter Senge. The learning organization theory started to gain momentum around the same time that schools were beginning to implement PLCs.
The idea of using methods from outside of education to solve education problems as a default strategy has proven to be dangerous, as we see with high-stakes testing and high-stakes teacher evaluations. Schools must lead the way in creating learning organizations. Then the business world can copy us.