The disaster plan. Illinois’ teacher evaluation.


-By Mark Stefanik

Having just experienced the new teacher evaluation process in my district, I’ve had my fears confirmed.  It is a coercive instrument whose first purpose is not to improve teachers, but to control them.  It is a negative metric which creates and seeks flaws. It is a checklist for ‘Wuzza’ teachers who have mutated into administrative hacks. It is a template for mediocrity.

Under the grand banner of improving public education, the pinky-ringed wizards of Springfield enacted a law that turned an essential truth – that teachers are the most important element in schooling – on its head.  If there’s something wrong with schools,  there must be something wrong with teachers.  Put another way, a simpleton’s syllogism swayed the sages of the statehouse:

There are problems with public education.

Teachers are the most important element in schools.

Therefore, there are problems with teachers.

Oh, the ideas that this bit of reckless reasoning inspired.  Oh, the strange bedfellows it rallied.  Billionaire dilettantes linked arms with working class mothers.  Tax policy conservatives swayed PTA parents into charter school advocates.  Union bashers recruited the voiceless and disenfranchised, the very folks that unions protected.

Forget inadequate funding.  Forget socio-economic factors.  Forget prejudice.  Ignorance and Want gave the politicos an early Christmas present.  A consensus swept the land.  Fix the teachers and we fix our schools. 

And so, in 2011, SB7 was born.  It went right to the heart of the teacher problem.  

We’ll make teachers better by diminishing their rights and protections, and, it only follows, that this will improve the classrooms. Which will improve our kids.  Which will secure our futures.  Yada-Yada-Yada.

A key to this improvement would be the state codified Teacher Evaluation Plan, a colossal cluster of criteria adapted by each school district.  

If you believe that this approach will be used to improve teachers, then you must believe that the City of Chicago’s restaurant code is designed to make 3 star restaurants into 4 star ones.

The codes, standards, and regulations look good on paper, but the devil awaits in their execution.  With a surfeit of regs, the city can shut down any establishment it wants to.  With a surfeit of standards, an administrator can silence or remove any teacher.  That’s the beauty of a negative metric, at least for the evaluators.  Flaws can be found anywhere.  Excellence can be minimized, or as is the case with most Evaluation tools, omitted.  

Is a teacher at fault when only 20 of 25 students participate in a 45 minute class discussion?  Is this a sensible criteria when the evaluator judges that teacher by only 1 period in an entire school year?  

Is a teacher at fault when her Math classroom must also double as a science room and the requisite marble topped wooden tables are not conducive to modular desk arrangements?

Is a teacher at fault when the theory behind a class activity, even though it was thoroughly discussed in a post-observation meeting, is not provided in writing?

The list of petty applications of the plan is as long as the plan itself.  I have offered only a sample of the supposedly constructive criticism of the teachers’ classroom management and curriculum design.  The metrics for “Professionalism” would require their own column.  Let’s just leave it at this:  Whatever cockamamie project your boob of a principal wants you to do on your time had better be done.  Her ‘career’ rests on you.

Speaking of principals or administrators or assistants, their roles in this farce bear examination.  If we account for all of the stake-holders in a school district, who benefits from these eval plans?

The students?  Hardly.  The major flawed assumption of this entire mess is that they will benefit from the diminishment of a teacher’s rights and autonomy.

The teachers?  This should be obvious.

The parents?  They’re not getting transparency.  They’re getting diversions based upon bad data and disingenuous interpretations of student and school performances.

The taxpayers?  They are getting the short term benefits of a cheaper work force (out with the wise; in with the inexperienced) at the long term costs of a morale-gutted and visionless faculty.  Even if they don’t care about the schools, they should certainly be aware of the relationship between the schools and their property values.

Whose left?  The administrators, of course.  They’re the big winners.  More power.  More false measures with which to deceive.  It’s the old story of the Emperor’s new clothes, re-imagined where the School Board is the Emperor and the managers to whom they have entrusted the well-being of their district are ambitious charlatans, most of whom couldn’t sharpen pencils in a good teacher’s classroom.  

What will it take to challenge the myth that administrators were formerly the best teachers?  This, too, would make another column.

Finally, let’s not underestimate the damage being done.  There is only so much time in the day.  Considering time as a commodity, we can apply the economic principal of opportunity costs. For every hour spent on satisfying administrative  needs for forms, one hour less will be spent on preparing thoughtful activities for students.  For every hour spent collaborating with colleagues on how best to explain to administrators what it is we do, one hour less is being spent on getting better at what we do.  For every mediocre evaluation received, the seeds are being planted, not for creative and risk-taking lesson planning, but for plans that will meet the crushing and petty and gap-filled expectations of these current instruments.

Make no mistake.  These new tools will change things.

I fear for my grandchildren.

9 Replies to “The disaster plan. Illinois’ teacher evaluation.”

  1. I wish I thought that anyone who has the authority to call for productive, rational change actually listens to what teachers say, but I have too much history that validates what you say.

  2. As a building administrator I can tell you that we are not big winners under SB7. My time spent evaluating has tripled and there are lots of hoops to jump through in our district eval plan. This is the real trouble for me. The joint committee did more harm than did SB7. I’m glad we have to work together but we built a plan that was harder on the teachers even though they had representation on the team.

  3. sos

    Illinois (and all state) school administrators need to “stand up” against the teacher evaluation SB7 “nightmare”. While it is understood that public school administrators are not “job protected”, and hired and fired “at will”, it is essential that “push back” come from the evaluators.

    Tenure and seniority protection for teachers is under attack in all states (note especially my home state of Wisconsin where I spent my first two and a half years teaching before coming to Illinois (1967) to teach). In many public schools, a kind of policy is practiced to limit the number of excellent rated teachers. This practice predictably results in failing to rate many good teachers as Excellent.

    There are far more “good” as opposed to “bad” administrators in schools. It is easy for teachers to “scapegoat” the administration. So, working together, teachers and administrators, can bring about a professional solution to the “nightmare” and better serve all students.

    Yours in Education,
    Dr. Charles W. Birch, public school teacher

    1. Even if there more “good” as opposed to “bad” administrators, one bad administrator can destroy the careers, financial survival, and pensions of many, many excellent teachers. One bad administrator can decimate an entire school. “Good” administrators, who show integrity and refuse to give good teachers bad ratings are threatened and leave or are forced out. They are then replaced by “bad” yes-person administrators who have no integrity or ethics. They are the ones who excuse their dishonesty with the “I was following orders” excuse. Each time a “good” administrator leaves, and is replaced by a “bad” administrator, the ratio changes. Thus we are left with more and more “bad” administrators. They are not interested in working together with teachers, they are hatchet-persons carrying out orders, and getting big raises for doing so. A massive teacher shortage is developing.
      SB7 + Tier 2 pensions = very few new teachers who stay.

  4. Holy shit, here in Tennessee we’ve been dealing with the same bullshit for 8 years now. Just blame ALEC and the Republican Party.

  5. IIs The Republican Party A Gang Of Terrorists?
    Terror = extreme fear, dread, horror, fright —- Terrorism = use or threat of violence especially against the state or the public as a politically motivated means of attack or coercion —- Terrorist = a person who uses violence and intimidation (threat of violence or coercion), especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims:

    Ryan ——> House Terrorist McConnell ——> Senate Terrorist Trump ——> Terrorist-in-chief

    There’s a high percentage of Americans who have a deathly fear of terrorist attacks. While the fear of terrorist attacks not just by fringe groups have become a part of our daily fears, it would do us well to consider the true existential threat to our country and the world that’s causing us to fear even more. That very real threat does exist and has existed under our very noses for more than three decades. Ironically, it’s well within the power of American voters to deal with that threat and simultaneously to eliminate the pervasive fear that’s now gripping most of the country…

    Gun control — Where in the world, other than in today’s horrific war zones of the Middle East and Africa, do more than thirty thousand people —- men, women, and children—- die annually through gun violence? Gun violence wipes out the equivalent of an American town every year without any external “terrorist” involvement. Think of the horrific massacre of 20 innocent, little children and 6 of their teachers in Newtown, Connecticut. How much blood money do you get from the NRA, Republicans? Do Americans have a right not to get shot, Republican politicians?

    Recklessness (the “culture of life”) — Where in the “advanced” world have 100,000 people, including 9,000 vulnerable children, in one city, been poisoned by filthy, lead-contaminated water caused directly by Republican policy? Does an event like the one that occurred in Flint, Michigan give rise to fears that it may occur in “my town?” Who bears responsibility for that, Snyder, Chaffetz, and the rest of you Republican politicians?

    Health Insurance — How many people die each year in the United States of America, “the richest and most powerful country on Earth,” from lack of health care due to a lack of affordable health insurance, even under the ACA (Obamacare)? Medicare does not cover everything. Medicare Part D = high cost of medicines, right Republicans?

    Medical Bankruptcies — How many bankruptcies across the country are caused by serious, often long-term diseases, Republican politicians?

    Attacks on America’s working men and women — Reagan’s firing of air traffic controllers — the decline and destruction of unions — destruction of the American middle class. Nice going, Republicans!

    Economic destruction — exploding deficits, financial deregulation, austerity, privatization, recession, depression, NAFTA and other trade deals (loss of American industries and jobs) —- Your specialties, Republican politicians!

    Destruction of Public Education — vouchers, charter schools, privatization —- Greed on steroids, Republicans?

    Environmental destruction — global warming, droughts, tornadoes, Oklahoma earthquakes, gag orders for EPA.

    Bigotry — homophobia, misogyny, Islamophobia, anti-Mexican immigration rhetoric & deportation policies. What decent person uses bigotry disguised as “dog whistle” politics for political advantage, Republican politicians?

    Racism — continued discrimination, voter suppression, police brutality, legalized murder of African-Americans.

    Corruption — Citizens United decision — Republican justices undermined and are threatening American democracy

    Republicans Against Ethics in Politics — The first act of the new Republican Congress under Ryan and McConnell was an attempt to gut the Congressional Ethics Office. Why are you afraid of the Ethic Office, Republicans?

    The first act of the Trump administration at the very second Trump finished his oath of office “to protect and defend the Constitution” was the removal of information on global warming and LGBTQ rights from the White House web page. Greed and pure malice, Republicans?

    We now get Trump’s freaks as cabinet choices and his daily fright show fully endorsed by the Republican Party. We learned a new vocabulary word from you, Republicans —- Kakistocracy: Government by the least qualified or most unprincipled people.

    Republicans, this is your record of “accomplishments” for almost 40 years, arguably since Nixon. It’s a sordid record that has caused more damage to our country than any foreign terrorists could ever imagine. Now, we have Trump and a power-hungry Republican culture of greed and corruption already on steroids that has added fear, dread, and hopelessness to its repertoire of evil. A majority of Americans now live in fear; proof which is in the number of daily protests, mass demonstrations, and resistance groups that have mushroomed across the United States. Way to go, Republicans!!! You’ve done considerably more damage on American soil than all foreign terrorist attacks combined, including September 11. 2001. 

    1. Most Republicans today are extremists, not even close to Republicans of years back. By today’s “Republican” standards, Nixon would be considered an extremist liberal Democrat. Although a dirty rotten scoundrel, he did do a couple of decent things. When the postal workers went on strike, he didn’t fire them. When the smoke cleared, they did get a raise and so did the other federal employees. He was not real nice to labor, but did not try to kill the unions like Reagan (and Rauner in Illinois). He told proponents of trucking deregulation that he would veto any attempt to weaken the Interstate Commerce Commission. He supported and signed the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, Which created the EPA. He signed the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, and asked congress to extend protection to workers outside of coal mining. The result was the passage of Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, the law MOST HATED to this day by management and wealthy factory owners. Today, Trump and the Republicans want to weaken/abolish all of those laws.

      At the state level, Republican Jim Thompson was under extreme pressure to veto collective bargaining for public employees in Illinois. Thousands of principals, school board members, mayors, city council members, police chiefs, county boards, and other public administrators crowded into the state capitol and around the table where they expected the veto to be signed. The governor walked in, pulled out his pen, and instead of vetoing the bill he signed it into law. Today, Rauner wants to weaken/abolish collective bargaining in Illinois.

  6. Great article. I’m a sped teacher and I spend so much time collecting data and jumping through hoops to please admin and for what? I used to think that I was hired to teach students.

  7. Thanks, Liz, for commenting on a post that’s over a year old, because it’s worth re-reading (the comments, as well). & as to Mark’s ? about a teacher being at fault if “only 20 or 25 students participate in a 45 minute class discussion”
    reminded me of a wonderful Social Studies Teacher, Mr. Frank McCardle (o.b.m.), I’d had in 7th Grade. If you fell asleep in class,* he’d come by & (not hard, & always w/a kindly smile) rap your hand w/a ruler (he wouldn’t embarrass
    the students by saying anything, literally “walking softly w/a big stick!”
    *& nobody fell asleep in his class because he was boring–as aforementioned, WONDERFUL teacher. Staying up too late, starting school too early in the morning=the life of an adolescent.
    Of course, this was 1964, when teachers were still allowed to teach w/o fear & “standardized” testing prep. nonsense replacing real curriculum.

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