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Eval system has problems and potential

New York Teacher

The new teacher evaluation and development system handed down by the state education commissioner in June has problems which must be fixed. That’s clear. But we shouldn’t let the problems make us lose sight of the new system’s potential.

This evaluation process can be a first step in getting teachers the support they need for the difficult jobs they do.

To fully realize the potential, we need to fix the parts of the new system that don’t work. And, as we expected from the beginning, the biggest concern this year is the DOE’s implementation.

The DOE doesn’t have a good record in adopting new systems. Look at what has happened with SESIS and the problems in getting new curriculum materials to schools.

So we’re frustrated, though not surprised, by the problems we’ve run into with the DOE over the evaluation system. The most serious is that the school-based committees don’t have enough choices for the local measures of student learning.

The DOE was by now supposed to have created performance assessments for every school subject. It had two years to do this and didn’t get it done.

As a result, the school-based committees have severely limited choices for their local measures. Many have as a fallback selected group measures. That means art and physical education teachers, for example, will have their evaluations based in part on state test scores for subjects they don’t teach, like math or English language arts.

Group measures may work well for groups of teachers who already work in close collaboration, such as when English and social studies teachers teach a combined curriculum. But many members feel uncomfortable with group measures. They don’t understand why they will be judged in part on the performance of students in other teachers’ classes.

The UFT will work to fix this new system, and we will have the opportunity to do so soon under a new mayor.

In the meantime, we should keep in mind the new evaluation system’s potential. It holds promise for us both as individual teachers and as a profession. It creates more opportunities for teachers to advocate for what they need to help students succeed.

Teacher evaluation under this process depends less on the subjective judgment of principals. Principals don’t hold all the power anymore. Through tools such as the initial planning conference, the required feedback from principals following classroom observations and the option for teachers to submit artifacts demonstrating their skills, this system creates a more level playing field and gives every teacher a professional voice.

As a union, we can also use this evaluation system to demand the support and resources we need to give our students the education they deserve.

It is in a way pretty simple: If we are going to be evaluated on our teaching, then we are entitled to get what we need to teach.

We need reasonable class sizes. We need an end to the current obsession with standardized test scores. We need a DOE and a Panel for Educational Policy that are responsive to the views and concerns of parents and educators.

The evaluation system can help us to underline the need for all these changes. In that way, we can change the conversation about public education and take back control over our profession.

Across the country, public education is in trouble. Philadelphia has had dozens of schools closed or privatized. Chicago has also had mass closings of its public schools, with many teachers there now out of a job.

Our nation needs to reclaim the promise of public education, and teachers’ unions around the country are looking to the UFT to help lead the way. I am confident that we will do that, and we will use this evaluation system to help us.