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THOMPSON: Honest Evaluations

Honesty-pinnocchio-195x300 When announcing their pilot program for tracking the "value" added by individual teachers to the test scores of students, the New York City School System said it would obey state law and not use the data in a "formulaic" manner or for evaluations and tenure - at least until this summer. Given this ringing endorsement of the good faith use of data, should we be surprised by abuses by principals of this and other agreements?

Elizabeth Green described a principal charged with violating the UFT/DOE agreement by publicly distributing all of ELA and Math teachers' data and telling the faculty that the information would be shared with principals, effecting teachers' abilities to transfer to other schools. A superintendent, but not the principal, apologized.  She describes a more recent abuse here

Equally mixed messages have been sent in Washington D.C. where teachers "who complain or eject too many students say they are tagged as weak in ‘classroom management’ by administrators determined to keep a lid on behavior issues." One principal even put it in writing "that any instructor who refers students to his office every day ‘will risk placement on some type of improvement plan,’ a probationary status such as the 90-day plan." And let’s not forget the extreme cases in Philadelphia.

Some data-driven "reformers" seem unaware of the "kill the messenger" mentality that pervades education, and which is not uncommon in other bureaucracies. If the value added of high poverty neighborhood school teachers is low, what are the chances that any system will blame itself for failing to enforce disciplinary policies? Even the sleepiest administrators, however, can be amazingly efficient in coercing teachers who are victims of assault to remain quiet. After all, they know the drill ...

I am always perplexed that administrators and theorists can be so confident in their diagnosis that teachers are to blame for violence and chronic disruption. What I hear from the troubled and aggressive students are words like: "I don’t know why I did it," or "if you knew what was in my head ...," or "he (the victim) is cool, it just happened."

A couple of years ago, I knew it was the 320 pound gang leader who had blindsided me, knocking me semi-conscious (which I did not bother to report). Although he had brutally beaten numerous students, I felt no satisfaction when I eventually saw the student walk into the Long Term Suspension hearing, holding his frail grandmother’s hand. He had belatedly volunteered an apology of sorts to me. Even though he had never had me in class, the student liked me. In the craziness of the situation (and not having to look me in the eye) the student had struck out. In the chaos, the kid had a chance to put an authority figure on the ground, and I just happened to doing a job that did not concern him, while in the wrong place at the wrong time. - John Thompson


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