I just read the first part of an article in The New York Times indicating the fact that 95% to 100% of teachers who are observed received a highly satisfactory rating! In the second part of the article, the author informs readers that in many districts principals rated some teachers just satisfactory and a couple not satisfactory. But when the test scores of their students were factored in, the teachers all were rated highly satisfactory.

On what basis did the principals make their judgments? On a 20 minute observation!!!

Did the principals record the 20 minutes? Did they look at a transcript? Did they discuss the excerpt with te teachers? No! No! No!

In studies of classroom interaction such as The language of the classroom by Arno Bellack et al., which i have mentioned in previous blogs, agreement between 2 people coding the same exchange, using terms that have examples to illustrate them, agreement is between 50 and 90%! The coding of these exchanges–was the student stating facts or making inferences or relating the theme to personal experience to cite a few examples–which had been transcribed was as I just said never 100%. So having principals decide whether teachers are asking higher order questions or fact questions based on a live observation without looking at a transcription and comparing the principal’s decision with others is not valid in any sense of the word. The comments on a 20 minute observation are not only a waste of time but fail to indicate the complexity of classroom interaction.

Let’s say that one question the teacher asks is “Why did the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor?” The students respond saying “Well, the American government was about to impose an embargo on oil imports and it was going to this and that and the other thing.” On the surface, this “Why” question requires higher order thinking, not just the repetition of facts. But if the teacher had the previous day told the students the answer to the question, then the responses were not showing any thinking but only regurgitation. So the 20 minute observation is neither valid or reliable nor does it show any understanding of the complexity of classroom interaction, as I said in the previous paragraph.

The state of Florida has spent forty three million dollars to develop observation systems to evaluate teachers. What have the teachers learned from the observations that their principals have made? What have the principals learned? I would claim that they have learned nothing and that they are going through motions spending money that could be better spent on paying the teachers to record and analyze their interactions with their students to understand what they are doing and to begin to contrast activities that are useful with those that are not useful.

The focus on top down evaluation of students and teachers will not produce any changes in learning or teaching because the focus is on not on understanding but on evaluation, on so called improvement.

The forth three million spent in Florida if multiplied by other states means billions of dollars spent on what is quite a useless enterprise.

I am attaching an article I wrote about analyzing our teaching which would be more productive than the observation schemes that the state of Florida spent because they would put the analysis of what teachers are doing in the hands of teachers. If teachers cannot see how what they are doing is different from what they think they are doing and want to do, no evaluations form principals will enable them to make these connections.

The positive evaluations of teachers in Florida reported in the NYTimes article are not unusual. Adrienne Herrell and Michael Jordan wrote a book called Fifty Strategies for Teaching English Language Learners. In the book jacket the authors have inserted a DVD showing some of the strategies. In the lessons on the DVDs, the teachers speak from 140 to 160 words per minute. The students utter single words or repeat phrases or sentences the teacher says or chant as they read aloud. The authors say that they produced the DVD to accompany their book so that teachers could see examples of “exemplary teaching”. Like the principals in Florida, Herrell and Jordan fail to ask how what the teachers are doing that they think is useful might not be useful and what the teachers are doing that they might consider not useful might be useful. In short, they fail to apply the null hypothesis–trying to disprove what we think is true, the basis all any serious research.

I am attaching the shortest item I have written about trying to analyze what we do in a way that removes the blinders we all have on our eyes and in our ears.

Enjoy.

John

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