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Thursday, September 24, 2009

Will Rhee Have an IMPACT???

Hahaha. Sorry - corny title. (IMPACT is the name of DCPS's new assessment tool for teachers.) Anyway, Chancellor Rhee unveiled her new teacher assessment program to her teachers last Friday. This assessment tool will ultimately decide if you get larger than usual pay increase (subject to never-ending contract negotiations), advance on the pay scale in a customary fashion, be held in place on the pay scale, or lose your job outright. Of course, all of the teachers and counselors have always thought this system would turn out to be a great success and were incredibly happy to sit for hours listening to how the system would work <---not true.

I've often debated the subject of performance pay with my colleagues. Over the years I've maintained a pretty ambivalent stance toward it. I strongly agree that teachers need to be held more accountable and to higher standards in practically every school in the country. However, I'm not sure screwing with people's paychecks so quickly is the best way to do it. I'm also skeptical (as I think every DCPS teacher is) about the motives behind this assessment system.

You should see the rubrics they've devised for teachers. It's all obviously very well-researched and clearly laid out, but it also holds teachers of inner-city youth to unbelievably high standards. The rubric with many of the standards goes 1-4. To achieve a four with your master teacher (a select group of well-paid professional educators hired by the district this year for this process) or school administrator, you have to effectively engage three learning styles every thirty minutes, have zero problems handling disruptive behavior, and keep almost 100% of the students engaged at ALL times. There are a lot of other things that go into your assessment as well. For example, if you are late to school ONE time during the year, your overall year-long "professional behavior" score will be rated as "Below Standard."

You should have been there to see them show us a video of a teacher teaching percentages in an inner-city classroom. We watched fifteen minutes of her lesson, and most of us rated her as meeting or exceeding standards with her kids. We found out that the district rated her as falling below, or significantly, below almost every standard (although they did give her a four in one area). Teachers were appalled. "I'm not superman," I heard one person say.

Now I agree that you should aim for perfection, but if you don't meet it, aren't you supposed to end up amongst the stars instead of in the unemployment line? The problem is that this system of unrealistically high expectations is tied to your quality of life, and if you don't live up to these expectations, may even drastically reduce your quality of life (if you lose your job). However, as with almost all assessment tools, this one is really just another reminder that the authority is getting ready to pass their own subjective judgement on you masquerading as an objective assessment tool. I do it with my own students all the time. I make a rubric and then pretend that I'm going to grade them based strictly on what the rubric says, which is never true. It would be impossible to do so. Grading and assessing, as much as they may be aided by tools like rubrics, are inherently subjective activities. This cannot be avoided.

Chancellor Rhee wants certain teachers to go. So she comes up with this outrageous assessment tool and now has a reason to get rid of those people without the lawsuits and hassle most schools have to go through to fire a teacher. Sure - almost no teacher will receive a passing score (there's even gossip from former central office administrators suggesting that Rhee said as soon as she came into office that she wanted all teachers labeled "below standard" so that she could pick and choose who to get rid of), and few will be happy, but in the long run I tend to think this is a good thing. It stressed me out like crazy and pissed me off at first, but when I realized that nobody else was going to pass this assessment either, I began to feel a lot better. This is just a way for Rhee to get rid of who she wants to get rid of. So the union hates her, and almost every teacher in DC hates her, but I like the idea. Subjectivity in hiring in firing is inevitable. Sometimes there are firings made for unjust reasons (on the basis of race, sexual orientation, and the like) and those things are, of course, wrong, but when it comes down to disagreeing about your performance on the job, whoever is in charge gets to make the call. If you don't fall in line with their vision (even if your vision is just as valid), then you're probably not working toward progress within that particular system and would be better off somewhere else.

I still don't know though, even as I write I think of reasons my arguments are flawed. It will be interesting to see how my evaluations go and how close to "Below Standard" I can come. Just as long as it's not "Severely Lacking" I'll consider myself a fine teacher - if I don't lose my job next week that is.

Teaching in DC is everything I thought it would be times ten. We'll see if I can last the year....

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