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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Expert: transforming teacher evaluation isn't easy



TAMPA -- As we reported Sunday, many Hillsborough teachers were shocked by the new evaluation system rolled out this year with $100 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Teachers who had been rated as virtually perfect in previous years learned that they needed to improve under the new system -- and fast.

And that's no accident, says Charlotte Danielson, architect of the evaluation rubric Hillsborough adopted. In a recent Education Week interview with Rick Hess of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, she says school districts are in for an unpleasant surprise if they think they can just purchase her book and consider their teacher evaluation system revamped. She recalled working with one large, urban school district in New Jersey that had a "horrible" one.

"It was top-down and arbitrary and punitive and sort of 'gotcha,'" she said. "And they developed a new one based on my book, and it was top-down and arbitrary, and punitive. All they did was exchange one set of evaluative criteria for another. They did nothing to change the culture surrounding evaluation. It was very much something done to teachers, an inspection, used to penalize or punish teachers whom the principal didn't like...[and] I discovered that if I didn't do something here, my name would get associated with things people hate. "

She didn't want that, so she dug a big deeper and figured out exactly what makes the difference when it comes to setting up systems that actually help teachers become more effective. Danielson concluded, perhaps unsurprisingly, that you have to treat teachers like professionals. Provide them with plenty of information on what's expected, give them time to look honestly at their own strengths and weaknesses, and help them talk with good teachers who are working on the same things.

"And when you do those things, you have enormous growth," she said. " [Because] people appreciate the opportunities to talk in-depth about the challenges of practice, and it becomes a vehicle for professional learning instead of just a ritual you go through."

Danielson suggests that good evaluation systems require an investment in training and support. If she's right that principals can occasionally be punitive or biased, it can't hurt that Hillsborough also added peer evaluators and mentors, reducing principals' power in the equation. (We won't go into the controversial third leg of this stool, value-added, which comprises 40 percent of teachers' total score in Hillsborough. The first scores are due out this fall.)

Even if you do everything by the book, it appears you're going to wind up with a bunch of unhappy people, at least in the short term. But if Hillsborough officials are right, much of that can be ascribed to growing pains.

What do you think? Will life get easier as Hillsborough teachers and administrators adjust to the new system? And what's going to happen to the other 66 school districts in Florida, all of whom are rushing to overhaul their teacher evaluation systems by this fall without a dime of Gates money?

[Last modified: Monday, June 27, 2011 4:59pm]


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