Friday, August 12, 2011

Teacher Accountability & PLC

Below is a blog article by my colleague Daniel Venables, author of The Practice of Authentic PLCs. I had a hand in it's creation as I was the one that said, "Daniel, you need to write this article!" Please let us know what you think.

By Daniel Venables
(written with contributions from Cari Begin of Performance ED, LLC)

Teacher Evaluation & Accountability reform has been firmly placed on an educational front burner becoming a hot topic of state boards of education, district boards across the US, local school administrators, teacher advocate groups, teacher unions, the media and the general public. {The topic has also served as a seemingly endless source of material for blog posts, this one not excepting.}

This year, the NEA (National Education Association) has adopted a Policy Statement on Teacher Evaluation and Accountability; many individual state teacher unions as in Delaware, Missouri, Oregon and others have begun initiatives honing guidelines for teacher evaluation.  In North Carolina, Pay-for-Performance and the new North Carolina Teacher Evaluation Process (NCTEP) will affect almost a hundred thousand teachers beginning next year.

In Charlotte, where the authors have spent recent years as Professional Development Coordinators, we witnessed first-hand the groundswell of anxiety with which the NCTEP was met by teachers.  In our opinion, the NCTEP is a solid, though far from perfect, document; but like most evaluation instruments, its use in practice exists in a context of evaluator intention – principals’ intentions, in this case.   In a climate of shrinking budgets and Reductions-in-Force (RIFs), it’s hard to convince teachers that the NCTEP is an instrument for professional growth and not for ridding faculties of their ineffective teachers.  Regardless of how principals actually use the instrument, teacher perception of possible misuse quickly pins teachers’ stress needles.  

All this is not to suggest that we think teacher evaluation and accountability is a bad thing.  It is not.  Nor do we oppose, a priori, the notion of external teacher evaluation based in part on student performance.  (We said, “in part.” :)   Our query is this:
Regardless of the criteria or instrument used in evaluating teachers, At what point do we teachers begin to hold each other accountable?  Lawyers do it, doctors do it, journalists do it, basketball players and filmmakers do it.  When will teachers wean themselves from their dependency on edicts of administrators and hold one another to the standards of high quality teaching?  After all, if we were doing this all along, there wouldn’t be such a need for external evaluation and imposed accountability systems.  There will always be some degree of external evaluation and that’s not unreasonable.  But isn’t it high time we did some serious self evaluation and took action based on that evaluation?  Are we not the ones in best position to decide what is not working and what it might take to improve those things? 

There is no telling when teachers will move toward active (both proactive and reactive) self-evaluation but we’re quite sure how this will happen.  It will involve teachers working together as authentic professional learning communities (PLCs).  Self-evaluation and self-accountability will require big doses of trust and honesty among educators – the degree of trust and honesty found in authentic PLCs. 

It’s not that we should do it; it’s more that we must do it.  Would educators really prefer the continued bombardment of external evaluation and accountability systems to sitting down together and having honest, often hard, conversations about what is needed to do better by kids?   We don’t think so.  

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