Saturday, July 28, 2012

Early Morning Woes - AB 5

The other morning I woke up to the blessed sound of my phone. Of course within it lurked a mile list of messages, emails, and feeds. Reminiscent of the days when one would lay in bed and read the Sunday newspaper I began to sift through the mountain of media. A newsfeed that I often read "The Cabinet Report" had written about a new legislative lovely coming down the pipeline.

This little bit of clear cockroach insight is about....wait for it....teacher evaluation. Seriously, how is that this particular topic makes about as much news as the presidential election? It's especially odd, in that every piece of "well thought out" legislation on this topic is created in the bath of oxymorons. So there I lay, in that beautiful morning, reading about another politician trying to lay it down for teachers.

First a little background, the bill is AB 5 (find the bill here is by Filipe Fuentes from Los Angeles. Bless him for his noble efforts to "fix" our horrible teachers. Clearly the way to raise our kids' achievement is to have a strong way to evaluate teachers, right? I digress, yet again. On to specifics: AB 5-

"The bill was the product of much compromise between reform advocates, teacher organizations and key lawmakers – including Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, who merged his own evaluation proposal into the Fuentes legislation."

It's simply wonderful to know that we've brought together so many different organizations and lawmakers, all for the sake of evaluating a profession they know very little about. YA! I'm curious as to what teacher organizations were involved in this latest spawn of the educrats. It certainly wasn't CTA; they oppose it. The first version of AB 5 emerged last summer. It would have required districts to use student outcomes as part of the overall analysis of a teacher's performance. Gov. Brown was not quite smitten and wanted to look at other options. Hence AB 5 went back to depths from which it came. I'd like to imagine Gov. Brown as Gandalf from the Lord of the Rings, slamming his staff into stone bellowing "You shall not pass!" Although, AB's rebirth means that the Grey Wizard was far more effective than the Governor. Either that or the Governor has bonded with the beast.

Another lovely part of this legislation is its fiscal impact. Money, money, money. We don't have any money. So it makes perfect sense to pass a bill that could double or triple the costs of teacher evaluation. Let's think about that for a minute, really. As a whole, CA is in trouble. We have new cities going bankrupt, literally, every day. The state has been unable to meet its financial obligations to schools for quite some time now (Prop 98 deferrals...the pay you later scam). We've seen class sizes mushroom. Bless those saints who now teach Kindergarten in classes of 36 little monkeys! Counseling services, art and music programs, sports programs all have been limited or in some tragic situations squashed completely. School supply budgets have become an exercise in estimation, because we are never sure what we will really get. In fact truth is most us pay for 80% of our own supplies. Under the parachute of "it's time to tighten the belt because we cannot balance the budget", we have set our education system back ten years, literally. So riddle me this. How is it that we have enough money to pay for a new system? Beyond that why would evaluating teachers, based on student outcomes that are products of a system of depleted resources of any value? If we know the resources are limited, then how can we separate whether it is the lack of resources or the teacher that creates the results?

AB 5’s main expense comes from all of the training administrators will have to go through, combined with the subsequent costs of multiple observations. Observations are the dog and pony show of education. If a principal, or anyone for that matter, wants to come observe my class I specifically ask them not to tell me when they are coming. Sounds Coo-Coo for Coco Puffs, huh? If I'm asked to "create" for my principal, then that's not seeing me in my everyday fashion. That would be seeing me in Cirque De Nygren form, because that's what they want. To me, it’s inauthentic. However, the Queen of Hearts in Wonderland refuses to use a drop by for a formal observation, so for now the circus goes on. AB 5 would require the Queen to do multiple yearly observations. Comically, in order to be my evaluator she would have "received ‘appropriate training’", and "demonstrated competence in ‘teaching evaluation’". Does the fact that a significant part of a teacher’s evaluation rests on a single person seem odd to anyone else? We are supposed to have one of the greatest impacts on a child's life, yet we only merit one evaluator? What if our evaluator is archaic? Oh wait they'll be trained by people who have more classroom experience? It’s Doubtful.

So as I sat there on my lovely summer vacation, in bed reading on. I read on in horror at the thought of what would happen to a teacher like me in that system of evaluation. I used to be a strong advocate for using growth (within a year/month) as part of an evaluation. It made sense to me. I use that data; if I don't see growth I need to make adjustments. That's a huge part of my job, tracking data, delineating, diagnosing, researching, and reteaching. Why not evaluate me on my ability to effectively respond to students' needs? That was before Wonderland. I'm now at a school in which I have very little say in what happens with my students. In fact at schools all over my district certain curriculums and systems are mandated; some much to my disgust are even mandated on when they occur. So what does that mean? That means that four days a week my students are farmed out for 70 minutes a day for Language instruction and Response to Intervention. They are with other teachers, using curriculum that is completely unconnected to anything they do with me. I have no say in how that curriculum is executed either. When you combine that 70 minutes with the time they are out for PE, Music, and Library it equals about an entire day of school. Then my principal also likes to specify what she wants to see (program specifics) in her observations. In order to make that meaningful for my students I have to create major projects that will benefit them. I don't mind doing that, but would I rather approach it in an integrated fashion similar to how our brain actually acquires information? Hell yes I would! Would it be more effective? Hell yes it would! Can I do it? Hell no, not without causing a major uproar, some union issues, and possibly making a lifelong enemy of the Queen.

As I began to email my colleagues in a fit of disgust they responded with a "we'll make it work" attitude. Nice. That’s the right attitude to have! The man would be so proud! In this case I have no desire what so ever of making it work. Evaluating teachers in this way, in this kind of regimented segmented system, is not an evaluation of teaching. It is an evaluation of the district's choice in curriculum and mandates. It is an evaluation of their pacing and flaw-filled binders of woe. It is an evaluation of the administration's limited perspective and control over instruction.

If I am to be evaluated using my students data, wonderful. Then give me the freedom to teach them in a way that I can prove is effective. Treat me like the professional I am, and give me the space to make the educational decisions for my students based on their needs. Give me the opportunity to put all the things I read about in my nerdy neuroscience books into practice. Allow me the grace to change gears when I see that my students need a different format. By all means let me close the dang door when we are on a roll because neither of us wants to stop. Let me introduce language as a means by which to communicate, as well as create, craft, and color my students’ view of the world. Let me expose them to language of math in all of its explicit and direct glory. Allow me the time to read to them, the stories that they can connect with and find a little bit of themselves in the characters. Let me teach and you can evaluate me on their growth, throughout the entire year. Please, let me do my job.