As more details emerge from the budget agreement hammered out between Assembly and Senate leadership and Governor Andrew Cuomo, more questions seem to need urgent answers. The Governor got many of the education items that he wanted, especially regarding tenure and teacher evaluations. His original proposal called for 50% of teacher evaluations to come from standardized testing, 35% from an “outside evaluator,” and only 15% from school principals. All three of these elements are in the budget framework and potentially the budget bills being debated as the deadline looms, but the final weight of the different items will depend upon work done by the New York State Education Department between now and June 30th. Regardless of the final weight given to these items, no teacher in the state will be found to be more than “developing” if the test score component is “ineffective,” and all teachers will be evaluated with an outside observer’s input. Any district that does not submit and receive approval of an evaluation plan using these guidelines will get no increase in state aid for the coming year.
The outside observer component was of special interest to Governor Cuomo who called the current evaluations (that he fought to implement originally) “baloney” and who apparently does not trust that school principals are capable of evaluating their teachers. Taken out of context, the idea of an additional set of eyes observing teachers using some kind of common metric is intriguing. Kind of like giving every newborn child in the country a pony. You like the idea until you start thinking about how it could possibly work. In the end you realize that the most predictable result is that a lot of people are going to end up with pony poop in their kitchens.
Capital New York reports this morning that a few more details are emerging on the teacher evaluation system:
There will be two required observations, from a teacher’s principal or administrator and an “independent” evaluator, who could be a principal, administrator or “highly effective” teacher from another school or district. As Cuomo originally proposed, a college professor or retired educator could also serve as the independent evaluator. A peer observation will be optional.
The logistics of this will likely prove very daunting. Who, exactly, will be the “outside evaluators” for all of the schools in New York State? According to the governor and law makers, they will be a hodge podge of administrators, “highly effective” teachers, college professors, or retirees. This, at least, is a more qualified proposed group than Pearson Corporation’s essay scorers who were recruited in part by advertising on Craig’s List, but what is the scale of this endeavor?
Classroom observations are currently done by school principals and other related district administrators who are already employed by districts to do a full range of duties, not just teacher evaluations. There are 4,530 public schools across all of the school districts in New York State (not including charters), and 203,457 classroom teachers who work in those schools (not including paraprofessionals, etc.). That means that in any given year, roughly 4500 principals are doing some or all of the observations for all of the teachers in their buildings. This includes scheduling a classroom visit, doing the observation with appropriate notes, optimally having a pre and post observation discussion with the observed teacher, and writing up the evaluation report using the current scoring band system. Now that work will have to be duplicated over 200,000 times by the outside evaluators who will be approved to observe and to evaluate teachers in the state.
So who will we get to do this?
Will school principals do this for teachers outside their districts? I have my doubts. Principals are very busy people with a heavy load of time intensive and often politically sensitive work to accomplish. If a principal is already observing and evaluating all teachers in his or her building, how much time will that person have to travel to other districts and replicate that work for a school system that does not employ him or her full time?
Will “highly effective” teachers do this for teachers outside their own districts? First, the proposed system is not designed to find very many teachers “highly effective” to begin with, so this will be a limited pool that may change from year to year. Second, it is highly doubtful that many teachers, regardless of skill level, will line up to undertake this role outside of their own schools. There is some precedent for experienced and highly regarded teachers taking a role to assist and review peers within their own schools and districts, but such programs are costly and usually require release time from classroom teaching. Will many of New York’s “highly effective” classroom teachers take on travel and cost their districts substitute teacher costs so they can travel outside of district to evaluate other teachers? I would not hold my breath waiting for that.
Will college professors do this in addition to their scholarly and teaching pursuits? For that matter, how many professors are actually qualified to do such work in the state? The NYSED website says that over 100 university based undergraduate and graduate programs in the state lead to teacher certification, so there may, in fact, be qualified faculty in the state to take on some of the load. However, recall that roughly 4500 school principals or assistant administrators are responsible for ALL of the teacher evaluations for over 203,000 classroom teachers. Very few university faculty will likely consider taking on even a partial load of teacher evaluations if it inhibits their ability to teach on campus and to conduct research in their fields. If the state were considering fostering many more deep university and school district partnerships it might be plausible to use faculty for some of this work, but it is highly unlikely if the call is simply for faculty to take on additional responsibilities that do not serve their professional goals.
Will retired teachers agree to do this work? I do not know. Maybe, but I kind of doubt it under current circumstances. A retired teacher would likely not be qualified to evaluate too many teachers in a single school if it meant observing outside of his or her certification area. As a teacher education program director, I know many retired teachers who have been willing to give of their time and wisdom to supervise our student teachers. They do it because they love teaching and want to help mentor new young people into the profession. Will Governor Cuomo and the NYSED be able to find large numbers of retired teachers who want to do work aimed at REMOVING many more teachers? I have my doubts.
This will also be an expensive proposition. Doing all of teacher evaluation twice every year will require a workforce large enough to do that portion of administrators’ work each and every year. We will need a workforce of at least 1100 evaluators doing at least one evaluation a day during the school year to observe and evaluate every classroom teacher in the state (and, of course, every school day is not a day available for observations), and that assumes a nice, evenly distributed available pool of evaluators matched to teachers. Unless there is a line item in the budget to pay for all of them, then it will likely be up to the districts to hire evaluators and pay them for their time and travel. So which art or music teacher will your district have to cut this year to pay for the outside evaluators?
Come to think of it, the pony idea might be more feasible. And cleaner.