Although many think that teaching can be measured in numbers, we who are in the classrooms know that there is so much more that happens every single day in our classrooms that cannot be measured.

- A Teacher

Educational Policies

I don’t want to say that our educational system is broken, but it is damaged. The only reason our education system is as good as it is is because of the outstanding teachers (and administrators) that exist at every school. It needs to be recognized that it is through the hard work of teachers that our education system attains the educational quality that it does, and it seems like the demand to work even harder increases every year.

There is educational opportunity in every school, the truth is that too few take advantage of that opportunity. The biggest problem I faced in my classes was the fact that relatively few disruptive students could destroy the learning environment for all students. The second biggest problem was lazy students who could not be motivated to work hard for any reason, who were seduced by the ease of entertainment and distraction. When a significantly large number of students do not want to learn, for whatever reasons, the result is that a learning environment ceases to exist, and teachers do not control that environment. Classroom management has become more of a science, but no teacher can force a student to learn.

Administrators and policy makers continue to operate (and make decisions) as if teachers do have that control, which places teachers in a no-win situation. Teachers are caught between the reality of students who cannot be made to listen, pay attention, or work hard – and the increasing expectation of administration and policy makers to produce documentable results showing significant educational gains.

What are the biggest problems facing teachers? There are many. Following is only a partial list:

Demand by administrators and policy makers to reach every student (the 100% rule). This is impossible, and a focus on the most reluctant students harms those students most eager for learning because of time and resource limitations. Teachers are not supermen (and women).

This expectation to show yearly educational gains in every student demographic butts up against students who are legally protected by the students with disabilities act. Teachers are legally required to meet certain requirements which include modifications that require singling out those students for attention, to create and implement alternative teaching methods, and lowered standards, while at the same time are expected to have time (and higher academic expectations) for students not protected by law, meaning normal students.

What I am describing is a battle between students on one hand and administrators on the other with the teacher caught in the middle. The best a teacher can do is create some kind of balance between the two.

Teachers want to teach, and if they are given tools and freedom they can achieve great success.

My recommendations:

  1. Eliminate the focus and expectation that teachers reach 100% of their students. The focus should be on what I call “area under the curve”, which is to have the most educational attainment by the most students. The American ideal has always been the greatest good for the greatest number, we need to apply that in the classroom.
  2. Change the Americans with Disabilities Act. The legal protection some students have ties the hands of teachers, placing them in a situation that harms the education of the majority of students in the classroom. I point to this act as the single most important factor (though not the only) leading to the decline of educational quality in America. Advocates need to face reality: they have harmed the education of the many in order to serve the needs of the few. There is no question that the disabled population has a right to a quality education, but when that right harms the education of the rest of the population there needs to be accountability. A teacher cannot enforce higher standards in the classroom when some students have lower standards for academic performance by law.

What I am asking for is policy makers to acknowledge the tradeoffs that exist when making policy. Education is certainly not a zero sum game, but time and attention are as much a resource as supplies and equipment, and a movement of resources towards one population is a movement away from another.

What’s wrong with the current teacher evaluation system?

From our discussions, conversations with teaching and administrative colleagues, and examination of the
research, we have identified the most problematic elements of the current evaluation system:

• The standards that aim to guide teaching practice (example: the California Department of Education’s California Standards for the Teaching Profession) list elements of effective teaching but fail to elaborate on evidence of these elements. Teachers and their evaluators do not share a truly well-defined and detailed pictures of what constitutes good professional practice at each level of teacher development.
• In most cases, evaluations are conducted for compliance, and therefore do not improve the quality
of teaching. There is rarely substantive discussion that occurs either before or after an observation
that is focused on ways to improve instruction.
• The time available for principals to conduct effective evaluations is seriously limited, particularly
in large schools and high-need schools where administrative demands are large. Furthermore, the
preparation principals receive in conducting evaluations is inadequate. One evaluator in a school
is rarely sufficient to judge the skill of teachers across a range of content and developmental levels,
no matter how well-resourced a school might be.
• Most evaluations pay little or no attention to the performance of a teacher’s students, even though
California’s Stull Act requires student outcomes to be considered. Evaluations too often focus on
easy-to-observe practices like classroom management, rather than looking for evidence that students are actually mastering the learning goals set for them.
• Current evaluation procedures occur on schedules mandated by local agreements that are not
considerate of actual needs of teachers and have no sense of urgency about which teachers’ work
needs more careful support or scrutiny.
• Most evaluations are not used to target needs of individual teachers and help them select professional development to address areas in which they need additional knowledge or skills. This further contributes to teachers’ views that evaluation is not about developing mastery of professional standards, but rather a routine designed to ensure that an administrator is performing his job.

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