There will never be enough bad teachers to satisfy some people (The Chicago Tribune).


The editorial board of the Chicago Tribune is still unhappy with the way teachers in Illinois are evaluated because the current system still has too many teachers rated in the top two tiers of the ranking categories.

When Arnie Duncan was Secretary of Education for President Obama he created a grant-based funding program called Race to the Top. To qualify, each state had to submit a plan that had an evaluation system that included a value added measure. VAM is a metric that demonstrates by a tally or a number how much a teacher contributed to an individual students performance in school.

Usually this meant a test score.

Illinois applied for the grant and then-governor Pat Quinn picked Illinois Education Association Executive Director Audrey Soglin to head the committee which wrote the legislation that the legislature passed creating the Peformance Evaluation Reform Act or PERA.

What problem was PERA supposed to solve?

There were just too many teachers who were getting good evaluations from principals who were hired to evaluate them.

Whose fault is that, according to the Tribune?

The teacher unions, of course.

That was fine with the teachers unions because their dues-paying members kept their jobs. But a weak evaluation system had kept poorly performing teachers in front of classrooms, shortchanging students year after year.

Now we have PERA with a strong value added measure component. What is the result? Teachers are still receiving good evaluations.

What the hell?

Student scores are up. So if you believe -unlike me – that this means not much more than a lot of test prep and some number juicing by administrators, it would not be surprising that teacher evaluations would be good since the evaluations are tied to individual student performance measures.


Not according to the Trib. They still want more bad teachers. In the editorial writers own words, they want “a more realistic curve.”

In what other job are employees evaluated on a curve? Meaning if you have some great teachers you must have some on the other end of the measurement curve.

You just must!

I find the entire conversation about teacher performance evaluation so disconnected to what I know from decades of being inside school buildings and being in classrooms and seeing teachers teach.

What do I know?

The other day a teacher told me a story about their district requiring teachers to use and post learning targets. For the last half dozen years or so this has been a thing.

This teacher explained that all the teachers in their building were to post on their bulletin board what they wanted their students to learn that day. That was the teacher’s learning target. Extra points were awarded if they included some decorations. Like an arrow on a target.

Arrow target? Learning target? Get it?

Also to be posted were the students “I can” statement. The idea being that if an administrator was to walk into the room they would immediately know what the teacher was covering that day and if a student was asked, they could repeat the “I can” statement verbatim. No student interpretation was required.

First, let me say that in thirty years of teaching it was a rare day that I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted my students to get from me or discover by the time they left my room. It was also a rare day that those plans weren’t shifted a little and sometimes shifted a lot by the dynamic of what went on in the class. Questions. Accidents. Interruptions. Unplanned occurences which were sometimes miraculous and sometimes disastrous.

I asked the teacher, “Does the posting of learning targets and “I can” statements show up in teacher evaluations?”

“Yes,” she responded.

What nonsense.

Which is to say that no Danielson rubric, no system to figure out the teacher’s added value, no “I can” statement posted on a bulletin board will ever tell you what kind of teacher is with our kids.

The Tribune will never be happy because they are mainly looking for all the bad teachers.




9 thoughts on “There will never be enough bad teachers to satisfy some people (The Chicago Tribune).

  1. “First, let me say that in thirty years of teaching it was a rare day that I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted my students to get from me or discover by the time they left my room. It was also a rare day that those plans weren’t shifted a little and sometimes shifted a lot by the dynamic of what went on in the class.

    My time as a full fledged teacher was much less than yours, but it really does my soul good to hear seasoned teachers echo my own experience so completely. I know my teaching style was very flexible. I always knew what I wanted to do and wrote an outline for myself on the board to keep me on track, but the needs of my special ed students often took us onto back roads for awhile. It was a rare day, although seldom less productive, when we actually got to the end of my wish list. When SWBAT (Students will be able to…) was introduced to me in a new district, I was not quite sure what to make of this mandate. Fortunately, no one ever asked my students to explain what they were supposed to learn. Since they were in process, the understanding wasn’t there yet although they could parrot the required SWBAT written on the board. I used it just like I had used my old outline–to help me stay on course. It never ceased to amaze me that administrators did not see the dynamic nature of the classroom. Maybe that is why some people are in love with computer instruction. The content and delivery is controlled by the machine not by the human actors.

    1. Thanks for this. I was actually hoping for this exact (of course, anonymous) response. If you could set up a mathematical formula that identified a range of teaching quality from “ten” to “one” then, yes, of course some would fall into the “one” end of the curve. But, first of all no such formula could ever be established without missing many of the qualities that make good teachers. And even if someone could come up with that formula, what would you do about it? Fire all those on the “one” end of the curve? Then next year you would have a similar distribution. And the year after that. And the year after that. There would always be those on one end of your normal distribution.

    2. Actually, no they are not. If so, then you have to concede that any occupation will have a normal distribution of bad actors. Half of our lawyers, doctors, firemen, electricians,…are less than average and therefore should be at the least retrained and at the most purged. Stupid idea. Pit everyone against each other to achieve that all important arbitrary ranking. Let me know when you discover that ranking system that accurately determines who makes the cut.

    3. Here’s why there’s not a “normal” distribution of bad teachers:

      In most school systems, there is a trial period of some three years before a teacher receives “permanent” status, aka tenure. (Achieving that status DOES NOT guarantee a lifetime sinecure as some choose to portray it – it means due process must be followed for dismissal.) In the years before gaining tenure, a teacher can be dismissed for no reason at all; just “sorry, no, bye-bye”.

      Poor teachers do not make it past this gauntlet and leave the profession in their first few years. Those who remain have figured out how to do the work well and how to survive and thrive in the classroom and even then many leave the profession. If bad teachers have been rehired despite shortcomings, that’s due to shoddy supervision, wouldn’t you agree?

      A survey of teachers targeted for dismissal in my union showed that nearly all veteran teachers who were having difficulties in the classroom fell into one of these categories: substance abuse; a change in life situation such as divorce or death of a loved one; or serious health problems. When they were able to receive help to address their underlying problems they were able to remain in the classroom and their experience and expertise were not lost. The district did not have to replace them and churn through new hires and the expense entailed.

      1. Since SB7 was passed in Illinois, tenure was weakened to where it is tenure in name only. Their only protection is a strong defense from their union. If Rauner gets a Wisconsin style “right to work (for less)” law in Illinois, it will weaken teachers protection against unjust firing even more.

  2. The core of successful teaching is building relationships. Can relationships be positioned properly on a bell curve?

    A Bad Teacher in Jersey

  3. This is an excellent post necessitated, unfortunately, by the sweeping ignorance (& anti-union stance) of the Tribune editorial board. (If this is what it looks like now, imagine after they’re bought by Sinclair.) Having seen it on a smaller scale as a south suburban teacher, but coming in gigantic waves in CPS, where there can be daily traumas induced by outside influences (friends, relatives killed; hunger at home; parental job loss; poverty, etc.), how many more times does the “lesson plan” shift, whereby, due to aforementioned, a teacher is compelled to interrupt plans to comfort students, to have to go somewhere else, to become a social worker or a counselor or a school nurse(& don’t get me started on the lack of such personnel/cuts to in the schools–enormous caseloads, too big to not fail our students)?
    And now, thanks to the passage of SB 1 & SB 1947, there will be even less services in publics, & not only will CPS continue w/its nefarious plans,
    cutting special ed., but other school districts will follow suit. As kids are given less services–but, of course, more test prep & testing–adherence to lesson plans (many of which are based upon test preps, so what lessons are learned/curriculum-based anymore?!) will continue to go out the window.

    And all of the above is the fault of all those bad teachers out there.
    Off with their heads!

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