Sunday, September 29, 2013

Chicago Introduces New Teacher Evaluation System, Puts Pressure on Principals

Here is another education story, this one from the New York Times Sunday Review...

We've heard the stories; we know they are true: dedicated principals work endless, exhausting hours.  "Along the way, they struggle with budgets, staffing problems, disengaged parents, gang violence, holes in the roof and finding clean clothing for impoverished children who arrive disheveled and unwahsed."

Clarice Berry, president of the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, recently described the public school principal's life in her city as "near impossible."  According to Berry, "It is impossible to come to the end of the day and say you finished that day's work.  That just doesn't happen."

The principals of Chicago now have more to do since the city introduced a new teacher evaluation system that produced its first teacher ratings this month.  The evaluation system requires school principals to oversee the installation of a rigorous new Common Core standards with ambitious learning goals intended to move schools away from rote learning and memorization and toward intensive writing and high-level reasoning skills. 

Traditionally, principals reviewed teachers by making brief class visits, and then declared almost every teacher excellent or at least competent. Struggling teachers did not get the help they needed and disastrous ones stayed on the job.       

The new evaluation regimes taking hold across the country call for administrators to perform more frequent observations, during which they focus closely on things like the classroom environment, how well lessons are planned, and whether or not the teacher engages students and conveys information effectively.       

This approach — and the mentoring that is supposed to support the teachers — will require a great deal of training for principals and an enormous investment of time, something school administrators don’t have. Beyond that, for the new system to work, administrators need the trust of teachers, who often view the evaluations as part of a plan to dislodge them from their jobs.       

Yet, according to a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, teachers have responded to the new system in generally favorable terms:

Eighty-seven percent reported that the evaluator had provided fair and unbiased assessments of their work. Ninety-four percent of school administrators said the classroom observations and the conversations with teachers that followed had deepened the discussion about teaching. And principals said they had seen instructional improvements that seemed to flow from those conversations.       

Meanwhile, principals are feeling somewhat pressured:

The study also suggests that principals desperately need better training in how to help teachers improve. One administrator said of struggling teachers: “There’s 15 things they need to get better at, and so all 15 of them are important, where do I begin?” Another spoke of struggling to find the right ways to reach teachers with markedly different sensibilities. Some do well with the direct approach, he said, but the phrase “this is what you should do” turns others right off.       

Lack of time is a huge challenge. The average elementary school administrator in Chicago, for example, spent over two weeks solely on teacher observations. The workload will increase for all principals next year, when tenured as well as nontenured teachers will be evaluated. For a high school principal, the study says, that could take six and a half weeks. Principals at all levels say they are already sacrificing other important duties, like working directly with students and parents.       

The new system may or may not be a good thing.  It might succeed; it might fail.  Whatever happens, it appears that Chicago is trying to do the best for its students. 


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