Are YOU Fired Up About the DC Firings???

What to say, what to say….

I guess when it comes to firing teachers, I’ve had a little something to say before.  Remember the Rhode Island teacher massacre?  Mrs. Mimi got herself all worked up over that one.  If you don’t remember, feel free to click here, here, aaaannnnndddd here.

As firing teachers is the latest rage amongst individuals trying to come off as Saviors of Education, Michelle Rhee decided to jump on the bandwagon and fire 241 Washington DC teachers, which is somewhere between 5 and 6% of the total teaching force.

I mean, it’s like these people just don’t GET IT!  Perhaps if they would take a moment and just listen to something other than the sound of their own voices…


I will try to stay calm.

Note I said “try”.  I can not make any promises.

Should our education system tolerate inadequate and ineffective teachers?  Um, no.  (Duh.)  As a teacher I could barely tolerate inadequate and ineffective teachers…they make the jobs of rockstar teachers that much harder and do NOTHING to improve the educational outcomes for children.  In fact, I’m sure some of them are subtracting opportunities and knowledge from children, but that’s just a hunch.

Should teachers be held to high standards as professionals?  Of course they should.  We are not idiots, and we can handle high standards as we are professional individuals who not only work hard to do our best everyday in our classrooms but actively seek out ways to improve our practice.

Should all of us be treated like morons because a few of us blow?  Should we be subjected to checklists of discrete skills that masquerade as the only markers of good teaching?  Should we work in fear that someone is going to catch us *gasp* spending an extra ten minutes on our science lesson, thus rendering us task OFF time and, as a result and according to many Checklists of Effectiveness, INeffective?

Can I get a big old “hells no” up in here?!

Some of the teachers fired in DC did not have the correct paperwork and credentials.  Fair enough.  Their bad.  Some of the teachers fired in DC probably were less than adequate.  Fair enough.  However, I take issue with the system of evaluation (IMPACT) which utilizes both “value added” (buzz word alert!) test score data and classroom observation.

I will leave the discussion of “value added-ness” to my colleagues out there who enjoy discussing and tearing apart numbers (Skoolboy, care to weigh in??) and will now focus on the reliability of classroom observations.

Now I know I am only a sample of one, but in my experience, observations have been canceled at the last minute, scheduled at the last minute, absently watched and blatantly hi-jacked.  Let’s see, there was the time that my administrator suggested that I post a chart that she was sitting in front of at the time.  (Way to go powers of observation!)  Then there was the time I was told, “Let’s just skip it all together.  You’re fine.”  Or the time when my suggestions for follow up were cut and pasted out of another colleague’s observation report, AND considering we taught different grades and were observed in different subjects, were less than relevant or helpful.  Ooo!  How about the time I begged for feedback on my teaching and was told, “No.”

Can we please base my salary and job security on that? ‘Cuz it seems like fun.  Like a big old carnival game or something.  But more rigged and with no stuffed prize at the end.

Perhaps the folks who developed the system of observations in DC had good intentions.  I mean, they DID think to incorporate master teachers to conduct two of the five evaluations in an effort to alleviate the potential bias of an angry administrator.  Yet, they also expect teachers to demonstrate 22 different teaching elements in 30 minutes.  Again, I’m no math wizard, but essentially that means one needs to demonstrate a new skill roughly every second-ish.

Well that sounds like it would lead to a coherent lesson focused on the students!

(There I go again with that destructive sarcasm!)

What teacher in her right mind can focus on her students when she has to keep all 22 elements at the front of her mind in order to ensure that she jumps through all 22 hoops in a timely fashion?  Even a master teacher who inherently incorporates these 22 elements into her work naturally would be hard pressed to make sure that someone would be able to actively observe and identify each of them in a 30 minute period of time!

Dog and pony show, say whaaaaa?

And who is the genius that identified these 22 elements?  There are only 22?  Seriously?  Maybe this job is easier than I thought…

*cough, cough* bullshit!  *cough cough*

Sorry, I had a little hypocrisy stuck in my throat.  I was just wondering how effective the Powers That Be would be if we gave them 30 minutes to demonstrate their full range of effectiveness in what must be a highly complex job?

Ready, set, GO!

(P.S. Technically, I’m on a bit of a blogger maternity leave, so Powers That Be?  Could you try not to screw things up anymore while I’m away?  Thanks and big hugs!)

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  • I read the article to my hubby about the firings and he was shocked, but not surprised. I think it's only a matter of time before teachers are judged based on their tests scores, which I think sucks. I teach at a Title 1, high EL populated school where my kids work their butts off, but sometimes that isn't enough to meet the standards or even make great growth. Try and try, they don't "get it" yet, but they work hard. And you want to judge me based on a crap pot test that sucks? Whatever! I agree there are crappy teachers out there that need to go, but it's gonna make it really hard to keep the good teachers and harder to keep the great teachers. My observations sound like yours – sometimes they came, sometimes they didn't. But I as prepared and did what I could. It'll be interesting to see what happens in DC and what the shockwave looks like throughout the US!

    July 25, 2010 at 3:31 pm
  • Here is the hell no you requested…
    HELL NO!
    And thank you for addressing this as rationally as you did. But doesn't all that is wrong with this sometimes seem way too overwhelming to even talk about? I feel like teachers are destined to be villainized and scapegoated no matter what.
    But we must not give up the fight. Too bad that one bad apple IS spoiling the whole bunch, baby!

    July 25, 2010 at 3:31 pm
  • If my ESE Super Colleague has 9th graders who read at a 4th grade level and by the end of the year gets them to 6th grade, THAT is amazing and we should throw him a freakin' party. And yet because they are not reading on a 9th grade level, he would be penalized.

    On the opposite end of the ESE scale, my Gifted Super Colleague will be penalized because her students didn't make any progress–even though they are already testing in the 95th percentile.

    Good teachers are not afraid of standards or of being held to them. We just want them to be FAIR.

    July 25, 2010 at 6:07 pm
  • Well said. Just the right amount of sarcasm to punctuate the valid, well thought out points. I had not yet heard about this, but that's because I've been enjoying my well earned cocktails and adult fiction. So now you can add "news source" to your many roles. Take that, maternity leave!

    July 25, 2010 at 6:07 pm
  • I would love to see the Powers that Be teach my classroom for 30 minutes while I judge and critique them on mastering the 22 elements of teaching effectively or whatever. What a load of shit.

    July 25, 2010 at 6:07 pm
  • Of course there are bad teachers (and bad judges, bad bankers, bad doctors…) but we're the ones the public hears about and complains about the most while taking away our creativity and funding. ugh.

    I once asked the administrator who was going to observe me if she liked doing the observations. Her response? "Yes, I like finding something for teachers to improve upon." Nothing like looking for the positive!

    Take a deep breath, spend time with the baby and enjoy

    July 25, 2010 at 6:07 pm
  • I think what I love most about your rants is that you are completely up front about the problems that there ARE.

    You admit there are bad teachers! You welcome being held to high standards!

    This is what is different than, say, the teacher's association here. I never hear them admit that there are problems, that some teachers do need to be fired, or that teachers should have high expectations. That's what frustrates me.

    Many people take the unions' voice as the voice of teachers- so therefore people see teachers as saying, "What? You want us to be accountable for doing our jobs? That's unfair! We are all doing fine!"

    And then the public sees 'teachers' as thinking it's unfair to be judged in any way on how they are doing (which doesn't sound too awesome when they get judged for success in THEIR job), and the public sees teachers lying- because the each member of the public has likely had at least one bad teacher and therefore know that bad teachers are out there.

    And that's my theory on how teachers became scapegoats. It's because unions, usually with good intentions to protect teachers from unfair evaluations and bad reputations, are putting out the voice of teachers in a way that doesn't really represent all of us and makes it seem like we are completely unrealistic, lazy, and so in want of job security that we'll let bad teachers have it, too.

    July 25, 2010 at 6:07 pm
  • HELLS NO!!!

    It is ludicrous that so many teachers would lost their jobs. There is no way every single one of them were ineffective…

    July 25, 2010 at 6:07 pm
  • AMEN to all the blog post and all the comments!

    July 25, 2010 at 9:40 pm
  • How in the hell do they expect these fired teachers to find another teaching job when they have just been given the rating of "You Suck!" Ridic!!!

    July 25, 2010 at 9:40 pm
  • I'm going to play a little devil's advocate here. For your reading pleasure, here is the IMPACT book for teachers that have students with incoming and outgoing test data:

    Note that a teacher's evaluation is a hefty 50% based on test scores if there are available. But your rating is based on progress your students make, not their absolute attainment of a certain level. That means that if you bump kids up two grade levels in reading, you're fine even if AYP would say you're not.

    I also appreciate that this whole business is put down on paper and you can see what they're going to judge you on. I do think 30 minutes isn't enough for each classroom evaluation if they are really going to watch for all of those items.

    This sucker is not tied to NCLB. Thank goodness! I will not say it's perfect and I will not pronounce any kind of good thoughts about canning a bunch of teachers. But I do think the process is a small step in the right direction. There are provisions for improvement if you're not up to speed. You get time and support and don't we all want that? I don't know how well the support provision was implemented in this case, though.

    The reality is that if we want a rational evaluation system that treats us like professionals, we have to start somewhere. There will be growing pains. I would urge Ms. Rhee to be kind rather than draconian with firings while the worst bugs are worked out. But we can take what she's done and start improving it to come up with something that's workable.

    I don't work in DC. And I cry for the teachers who were fired. 🙁

    July 25, 2010 at 11:31 pm
  • I run into the perception issue luckeyfrog is talking about ALL the time. Non-teacher people start trying to convince me that there must be SOME bad teachers. And I always have to stop them and say, "I know! I am totally on-board with you!" because they seem to be under the impression that all teachers think all other teachers are perfect, and that teachers don't want to be judged on their performance at all.

    Um, no. What I want is to be judged on whether my students have actually learned anything while they were with me. Which is not AT ALL the same thing as whether they passed their standardized tests.

    I go back and forth when I hear about teacher firings. On the one hand, I've worked in environments where the competent teachers were waaaay outnumbered by the teachers who talked on the phone all day and hit students. But on the other hand I know a lot of these firings are political. I just feel like I can't tell from outside what the reality is. Clearly, though, we'd all be better served by bad teachers being fired in a timely fashion, rather than waiting to fire a whole group at once for a bunch of different issues.

    Oh yeah, and about evaluations: I read a study a year or two ago, done in several large districts across the country, that found that upwards of 90% of teachers were deemed "above average" or the equivalent on their evaluations. Which strikes me as mathematically impossible, and probably contributes to that perception that teachers think they're all amazing.

    July 26, 2010 at 2:04 pm
  • I’m going to be unpopular here, and speak up in (conditional) support of IMPACT. I’m a D. C. Public School teacher, and I’ve experienced both the old evaluation system and the first year of IMPACT. While IMPACT is certainly not perfect, it’s much, much better than the old one (similar to systems still in place in my districts,) which makes talented, hard-working teachers like us feel pretty silly when 95% of our colleagues are rated as Excellent when we know they’re a long way off. And, though still in growing stages, IMPACT helped me become a much better teacher for my kids this year.

    The big caveat is, this system works when accompanied by “Highly Effective” professional development to help move every teacher to Highly Effective practice. I was lucky to be in a school that provided this kind of PD, but it should be standard issue for every educator. This PD matters mostly because all kids deserve great teachers, but also because we’re now being given some pretty high personal consequences in DC if we don’t deliver. I wrote a blog post on how IMPACT worked for me here: I hope you’ll read it to consider that A) IMPACT might not be all bad, and B) effective professional development CAN move teachers up the Effectiveness scale, and we need to get it to all DC teachers being judged on this rubric NOW.

    July 26, 2010 at 7:47 pm
  • TeachingSerendipity – never worry about being unpopular here. Thank you for commenting. I think you're lucky to have had such a great experience with IMPACT. I certainly agree that the system takes steps toward improving teacher evaluation HOWEVER, you need to be the lucky duck who is in a school with a committed administrator and effective PD. If those conditions aren't in place, I'm not sure I see an experience as wonderful as yours as being possible.

    Can't wait to check out your link!

    July 26, 2010 at 7:49 pm
  • This is part of a larger problem. The fact that 241 teachers and handful of other school employees were fired from DC Public Schools is only a symptom.

    For one thing, there's the issue of "Accountability."

    It's not accountability for the banks who brought the country to the brink of economic collapse…it's not accountability for the insurance companies who decide who lives and who dies by denying coverage when it doesn't fit their "bottom line"…it's not accountability for the politicians who involved us in a war so we could be protected from weapons of mass destruction which did not exist. No…it's accountability for teachers because they have not solved child poverty, hunger and poor medical care.

    Central Falls, Rhode Island, DC Public Schools…it's happening in dozens of places around the country.

    Second, the issue is of evaluation. Should kids be evaluated by test scores only? Should teachers be evaluated by student test scores? Does the "growth model" make a difference? The answer to these questions is "no" if you look at the research, but Duncan, Rhee, et al, don't care much for research unless they're using it to bash teachers for not using "Scientifically Based teaching techniques."

    The public has accepted that students can be evaluated by one standardized test and that teachers can be evaluated by the standardized tests of their students.

    As long as pundits (like Duncan and Rhee, neither of whom are educators)proclaim that teachers are awful because — look at the test scores — we'll have this problem. As long as people keep blaming the "unions" for the poverty that the government won't address (the US has the highest level of childhood poverty in the developed world) then we'll continue to have this problem. As long as we let them define the problem as being "test scores" we'll have this problem.

    It's going to get worse before it gets better. Right now schools are short of money because of a variety of reasons (see the paragraph on accountability, above). It makes sense to fire teachers, especially if they're older to 1) hire younger teachers and 2) have fewer teachers (raise class sizes).

    So, add my "Hell No!!" to the chorus!

    July 27, 2010 at 8:03 pm
  • If we could get the politics out of the school system, it would make teaching a lot easier. Who and what do they test these "new standards" on before they are implemented? Not only that; there is not enough time in the year to teach all the garbage they try to cram in. Teaching to a test is not effective…we want to create lifelong learners don't we? It is amazing to me that when one plan fails, they seem to come up with another bonehead plan to implement the next year.

    July 27, 2010 at 8:03 pm
  • Yeah I'll second this post times 20. or 200. My principal (who is overall a good one by the way) also cuts and pastes from observation reports. We learned this when my name was found in my friend's report haha. Awesome.

    Anyway, I agree with everything you said. And what a lot of the comments have said, there are bad teachers out there- we admit that, but there are also great ones that can't manage 22 ridiculous things in 30 minutes. Going over or under on time is one of my least favorite things about observations especially because we have unannounced ones so I have to stay on schedule all the time. What happened to teachable moments?

    Also I started reading your book last night and then I had my first "back to school nightmare" that my principal decided to change my classroom into offices and give me an office sized classroom instead. I think I'm going to wait a few more weeks to read the rest- even though I was reading every other passage aloud to my also-a-teacher husband.

    July 27, 2010 at 8:03 pm
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    July 27, 2010 at 10:00 pm
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    July 27, 2010 at 10:00 pm
  • Mimi, you're right that great PD is — so sadly — the exception, not the rule, in DC and a lot of other systems. I thought about your comment and wrote a post here: about what the standard DCPS training all DC teachers got on IMPACT. Read it for yourself, but it's pretty sad.

    July 28, 2010 at 5:37 pm
  • As a DC teacher I definitely have a lot of thoughts on the IMPACT system. I teach high school social studies and have received a range of observations from excellent to definitely didn't follow the rubric. The one thing that really gets to me (I think 30 minutes is fine overall) is that we are supposed to have a meeting to discuss the scores where we can show some of the hoops that maybe weren't visibly jumped through during the class time. For example procedures that have been in place all year to ameliorate bad behaviors. Or a binder system where they collect all their work and keep things organized. Unfortunately a meeting that should be a dialogue usually becomes a 'telling' where the administrator just tells you how you did without really requiring a response. I think that if they improved this part of the system in particular then we could move past some of the problems with the rubrics and the 30 minutes, because it is VERY hard to come up with something that captures what it means to be a good teacher and isn't completely subjective. We'll have to see what IMAPCT 2.0 looks like this coming year.

    July 31, 2010 at 3:27 am
  • Here's an interesting post by Walt Gardner about the firings…and teacher evaluations. He makes a rather unique suggestion that part of a teacher's evaluation should come years after his/her students have finished school…interesting.

    July 31, 2010 at 3:27 am

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