Changing the Catch 22 for master educators

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On Thursday, NCTQ President Kate Walsh joined Montgomery County Education Association head Doug Proudy and Washington Teachers Union head Nathan Saunders on the Kojo Nnamdi show to discuss peer evaluation in education. High on everyone's minds were the distinctions between peer assistance and review systems, as in Montgomery County, and systems where teachers participate directly in teacher evaluation, as in DC Public Schools. When asked if the DCPS system constituted a kind of peer review, Saunders was quick to dismiss the DC framework, saying:

"The master educators work downtown for the chancellor 100 percent. They are told by the chancellor and her subordinates what schools to go to, how long to stay, who to evaluate. They are 100 percent accountable to management and not to the teachers, not their job to go out there and tell the teacher how to teach. It's their job to go out there and evaluate what they see the teacher doing."

Saunders' distrust of teacher evaluators has been codified in DC, where master educators are part of the administrators' union. As the Aspen Institute's Rachel Curtis pointed out in March,  WTU "worked to establish a firewall between MEs and instructional coaches," preventing the two groups from talking to each other and keeping instructional coaching from informing evaluation. This semantic juggling also leads to a strange paradox: while almost everyone believes teachers should play a role in the evaluation of their peers, teachers given significant roles in staffing decisions are no longer considered teachers by their union or their district.

Arkansas has the reverse system, and it seems just as paradoxical.  As part of its statewide mentoring program, all new teachers are required to have three observations annually, conducted by mentor teachers. But information gleaned from observations is only used to provide feedback to new teachers and cannot be shared with administrators.  So if the mentor thinks the new teacher is struggling, the administrator is left in the dark. 

We believe that effective teacher evaluation systems are marked in part by whether they have real consequences for teachers who fail to meet expectations. They are also marked by an attitude of cooperation and trust between evaluators and the teachers being evaluated. To form that trust, master educators have the rather steep task of changing district culture to connect evaluation with professional development and support. That task is not made easier when the seeds of distrust are sewn in public by a district's education leaders.