Hillsborough teacher takes a parting shot at the evaluation system
After 25 years with the Hillsborough County school district, Gaither High School reading teacher Michaela Meyers turned in her resignation recently, citing frustration with the Gates-funded Empowering Effective Teachers evaluation system.
EET, now in its fifth year, has been praised for reducing the turnover in new teachers, who benefit from mentors.
But longtime teachers have not always embraced it. The evaluations by peer teachers and administrators use a rubric inspired by educational scholar Charlotte Danielson. Combined with a value-added score, they yield a numerical assessment and, in some cases, a call for corrective action. One teacher, Mary Borne, has a pending lawsuit because she had two "unsatisfactory" ratings, leaving the district no choice under state law but to fire her. Critics of EET say that although the teachers can write their reflections on the process, there is no grievance procedure if they are dissatisfied with the results. Meyers was told she needed a support team and action plan.
She disagrees, and here is some of what she included in her letter to principal Thomas Morrill:
"My concern is the culmination .. of apprehensions I’ve had for some time now about the teaching of remedial reading and how it is evaluated on the Charlotte Danielson rubric for EET. Not that my students are angels, but if every student is doing what they’re supposed to be doing (reading rigorous text for comprehension), the room is silent and every student is focused on the material. Imagine the SAT or ACT or even the FCAT Retake, for that matter. Imagine any college library. What are the students doing? They’re engaged in sustained, deep thought and a conversation with the author of the text.
In addition, teaching reading is different from teaching other disciplines, because the teacher is teaching a skill, not content. Additionally, this is a skill that at-risk students of 16 to 18—many of whom have had a negative school experience or are special needs or Limited English Proficiency—don’t particularly want or even need. We’ve been told repeatedly that this generation learns differently. To make matters worse, most of my students struggle with reading because they lack the language skills, or have learning disabilities or 504 plans for things like ADD, ADHD, or visual and/or auditory processing difficulties. Keep in mind, too, that my classes are often 20% or more ESE students, and I have no co-teacher as Intensive Reading is not a FUSE class. I believe I have mentioned this problem in my EET journal in the past.
As I continue to reflect on my concerns for the teaching profession, I see three problems that have developed over that last five years or so.
First, the Class Size Amendment does not offer parents what they thought they were voting for in 2002 as it was fully implemented in 2010. Instead of giving parents a better student/teacher ratio for their child, what they got was the complete opposite. Secondary teachers in Hillsborough County were given an additional class without a reduction in the over-all student load. Now, teachers had 50 fewer minutes for parent contact, lesson planning, and provision of additional instruction and Differentiated Instruction—these last two often stipulations on student IEPs. Teachers at the secondary level are expected to do all of these things plus grade papers and provide meaningful feedback with only 100 minutes of non-instructional time... I don’t think many people know that teachers give the District two and sometimes three full additional days (16 to 24 hours) after school and on weekends, grading papers and preparing lessons.
The second and third problems are inter-related. In an effort to implement the Empowering Effective Teachers grant, the district has chosen one teacher’s philosophy as the means by which to evaluate the effectiveness of every teacher. We threw away the “cookie cutter,” only to pull a newer, more expensive one out of the drawer. Additionally, we’re told we can’t “teach to the test,” yet we’re told to “start with the end in mind.” Because the district seemingly tries every new approach that comes down the pike, no matter how expensive, teachers are left wondering why nobody asks them what is effective in their classrooms. The best example of this is the HOTS program (www.hots.org/implement_student.html). The program is being considered throughout the district, even on the secondary level. Program authors, however, define the HOTS program as for students grades 4 through 8, low in reading or reading and math, but who “have the ability to perform at higher levels with the right help.” The program specifies that it is not for LEP students, transient students not likely to finish the year in a particular school, severely dyslexic students (which falls under SLD), and borderline EMH students. This would disqualify many of my kids.
So, at this point, teachers pretty much feel like Scarlett’s horse in Gone with the Wind. Scarlett, who has been traveling all night through enemy lines, sees Tara ahead in the moonlight. She beats the aging, malnourished, exhausted horse pulling the wagon until the animal finally collapses in the mud. The district wants the right thing, but in negotiating the difficult path to achieve it, has lost sight of who exactly is doing the trench work to get to that goal."
During her career, Meyers wrote, she sponsored the junior varsity cheerleaders at Plant City High School, helped develop the first district semester exam in reading, chaired the English department at Tampa Bay Technical High School, worked with non-traditional advanced placement students and served as a Students Against Drunk Driving sponsor at Gaither, among other accomplishments.
"At the end of this professional soul-searching, I have come to the conclusion that my teaching has been highly effective in my 25 years with Hillsborough County, albeit not in the Charlotte Danielson mode," she wrote. "I have heard as much from students (current and past), parents, fellow teachers, school administrators, and even current and past district administrators."
Before posting this letter, Gradebook shared it with Morrill and other district officials.
"Respectfully, I will not comment on the specifics of this letter due to the confidential nature of this personal issue," Morrill said in an email. "However, I can say that I have observed veteran teachers who, on the new evaluation system, have performed quite well. I always provide feedback, support and encouragement through many sources for teachers who may need assistance.
Added district spokesman Stephen Hegarty: "We have very high expectations for our teachers. Many teachers are thriving on the new system, and some are learning that they have work to do to become more effective in the classroom.
"One of the trends we have seen is that many teachers who were not effective have taken advantage of professional development and other supports and have become more effective. We see this with veteran teachers and with new teachers and that's the kind of outcome we want to see. In this case, a veteran teacher decided to resign. We wish her well."