By Bill Weisberger – January 3, 2017
I read this article recently from the Washington Post outlining the reasons behind the teacher shortage across the country. The author, Valerie Strauss, writes that teacher shortages are likely due to increases in unfair teacher evaluations, high stakes testing, low pay, loss of professional autonomy and lack of resources. Ms. Strauss couldn’t be more correct.
If you’re a teacher, you don’t need anybody to tell you how bad the situation has gotten with respect to teacher evaluations. Your classroom is graded using checklists, your performance is marked in matrices, numbers are entered into Excel spreadsheets and referenced as if there is scientific validity to this process or any correlation to effective instruction; and you know deep in your heart that none of this makes sense or is helping your students. Conditional formatting can never describe what happens in a classroom.
And if you’re a teacher who feels this way, you are not alone. In April 2016, the Network for Public Education (NPE) published a report on how teachers feel about teacher evaluation’s impact on education (The report can be found here). Surveys of 2,964 teachers in 48 states provided a clear picture of teachers’ opinions.
*Of the teachers surveyed:
- 67% say teacher evaluations have hurt their relationships with students
- 75% say good teachers are labeled ineffective as a result of inadequate evaluations
- 41% of black and 30% of Latino teachers say evaluations are racially biased
- 50% say evaluations are biased against veteran educators
- 85% say evaluations using rubrics and test scores don’t lead to professional growth
*Data taken from infographic detailing NPE report findings
The NPE’s report makes it clear: the vast majority of teachers agree the status quo of teacher evaluations hurts rather than helps education. And who would know better if these evaluations are effective than the thousands of teachers who are subjected to them? Yet policy makers continue pushing for further corporate reforms and pressure on teachers, as if all the problems in education stem from our classrooms. Stop trying to pin the struggles of low-income families on their teachers.
We teachers are not the problem in this country. To the contrary, we are the solution. If anybody should be asked how to fix education, it is us. We are in the trenches every day, talking with hundreds of students representing hundreds of families. And for those of us who work with poor and undocumented students, students who have special needs, and students who are English Language Learners, we may be the only voices they have. It is time for us to speak and be heard.
College is more expensive than ever and poor families are having trouble making ends meet. Undocumented students and students with undocumented families have no sense of security and no sense of a bright future in this country. For the first time in history, many of our students have lower life expectancies than their parents. The problem here is not teachers. The problem is a system that ignores the inequities in our communities in favor of blaming the victims.
And despite what most people think, the real problems do have solutions. The money that we spend on ineffectual testing and damaging evaluation practices would be better spent in programs and personnel to support our most vulnerable students. Stop spending millions in contracts with testing consortia that do not help students or teachers improve, and put that money into the communities we serve. Stop paying outside contractors hundreds of thousands of dollars to observe minority schools that you intend to close, and instead invest that money into more support for those schools and their students. And stop pressuring teachers to solve the effects of institutional poverty in fifty minute periods.
We are the academics and professionals who work long hours for low pay because we care deeply about our country and its people. Trust us. Listen to us, and we will help lead this country. Put your faith in your teachers and direct your funding to the communities we serve. Give us your faith and some real support. Yes, I mean actually put money into education.
As teachers, we serve. But we do not have to serve this broken system. You have a voice. Use it.
If you live in Colorado, here are some next steps:
For Denver Public Schools employees:
By Bill Weisberger