Tuesday, February 20, 2018
Education

Both sides in teacher evaluation debate need dose of reality

They live in parallel universes, each one a creation of misguided hope.

On one side are the politicians who seem convinced that every classroom is identical, and the only reason students fail is because their teachers are inept.

On the other side are educators who see a world that's out to get them, and reflexively protect their own whether they are deserving or not.

In between is the real world.

A place where every home is different, and every school works with unique sets of challenges and attributes. A place where inattentive parents are all too common, and complacent teachers are too well insulated. A place where children are shy, rambunctious, curious, disinterested, motivated, lazy, cheerful, angry and forever in need of compassion on any given day.

So what's my point, you ask?

Simply this:

It's time for educators and politicians alike to put one foot back in the real world.

This week's release of teacher evaluation numbers reinforces the fear that both sides seem more interested in a battle than a solution.

You have politicians obsessed with this absurd notion that standardized test scores measure the value of every teacher in every classroom, regardless of the circumstances.

And you have school officials who are so outraged by Tallahassee's meddling that they overcompensate by singing sweet melodies in the subjective portion of job reviews.

The result is teacher evaluation numbers that are meaningless. And if you think meaningless is too strong a word, consider this:

• Of the more than 163,000 teachers evaluated statewide, nearly 98 percent were rated effective or better. Can you think of a profession anywhere in the country with a 98 percent success rate among its workers?

• All 3,391 teachers evaluated in Collier County got the same "effective" rating.

• Pinellas County had six times as many teachers rated "highly effective" as Pasco County. Pinellas also had twice as many teachers rated "needs improvement." The idea that neighboring counties could have such drastic swings indicates the measures are too ambiguous.

• Throughout greater Tampa Bay (Citrus, Hernando, Hills­borough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk) only 138 teachers were rated "unsatisfactory." And all 138 were in Hillsborough. What are the odds?

Now it's true that school administrators are right to push back against Tallahassee's all-in approach to standardized testing. Numbers show that socioeconomic factors are a far better predictor of test results than individual teacher performance.

For example, the five Pinellas schools with the highest percentage of teachers rated "needs improvement" had school grades of D, C, D, F and D last year. So it makes sense that they had the most teachers in need of improvement, right?

But if you dig deeper, you see those schools had free/reduced lunch rates of 90, 75, 70, 88 and 70 percent in 2011. So are low standardized test scores the fault of teachers, or do they have something to do with all five schools drawing from high-poverty areas?

This is why Tallahassee's crusade to link teacher evaluations so heavily to standardized tests is horribly flawed.

On the other hand, education officials did themselves no favors by evaluating teachers so leniently. A 98 percent favorable rate is exactly why politicians feel the need to stick their noses into classrooms in the first place.

Educators have to be more realistic. They have to understand they are putting good teachers in jeopardy by letting the bad ones skate by with effective reviews.

Here in the real world, we're still waiting for real reform.

Comments
Today: Senate to put its own stamp on Florida education proposals

Today: Senate to put its own stamp on Florida education proposals

The massive education measure known as House Bill 7055 has received plenty of attention during the legislative session, with its emphasis on decertifying teachers’ unions and using state-backed scholarship programs to steer kids away from public scho...
Updated: 11 hours ago
50 years ago, Florida teachers walked off their jobs. Today’s union leaders are inspired

50 years ago, Florida teachers walked off their jobs. Today’s union leaders are inspired

Ulysses Floyd remembers February 1968 all too well.Teachers by the thousands walked off their jobs across Florida. Among their concerns: low pay, poor funding, a lack of planning time, missing materials, and more. "We were at the mercy of the School ...
Published: 02/19/18
ROTC leader shocked that accused school shooter 1 of his own

ROTC leader shocked that accused school shooter 1 of his own

PARKLAND, Fla. — The sound of gunfire still ringing in his ears after his mad half-mile sprint, Jack Ciaramello was standing with friends in a grocery store parking lot when a sheriff’s deputy approached. He asked the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High se...
Published: 02/18/18
From meek to militant: The Florida teachers strike that unsettled a nation and fueled a movement

From meek to militant: The Florida teachers strike that unsettled a nation and fueled a movement

Some teachers left goodbye messages to their students on classroom blackboards. Others cleared their desks.It was Feb. 16, 1968, a Friday, and a sign of what was coming that Monday in Florida: the nation’s first statewide teachers strike.When schools...
Published: 02/18/18
Principal of a pained Stoneman Douglas High just sent a message to his students

Principal of a pained Stoneman Douglas High just sent a message to his students

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High principal Ty Thompson exuded deep emotion and a positive view forward in his first public comments since Wednesday’s mass shooting that killed 17 people.In the two-minute video posted on the school’s website and YouTube,...
Published: 02/18/18
Hillsborough rethinks its strategy for struggling schools

Hillsborough rethinks its strategy for struggling schools

TAMPA — "Elevate," a Hillsborough County School District initiative that was to focus on seven troubled schools and use them as models for dozens more, is becoming but a memory as the district seeks instead to support all schools equally."We’re more ...
Published: 02/17/18
Plant High students commemorate Parkland victims with sidewalk messages

Plant High students commemorate Parkland victims with sidewalk messages

TAMPA — Students at Plant High School honored the victims of the Parkland school shooting with a series of sidewalk chalk messages.The chalk art carried a series of messages such as "How many times?" and "Do something. Protect us." according to a Fac...
Published: 02/16/18
At public schools in Tampa Bay, a day to mourn, assess and reinforce

At public schools in Tampa Bay, a day to mourn, assess and reinforce

While fielding calls from anxious parents after the Broward County high school shooting that claimed 17 lives, school officials in the Tampa Bay area took a close look Thursday at what they are doing to keep students safe.There are gates and locks an...
Published: 02/15/18
Joe Henderson: April Griffin won’t run again for school board. She says she means it this time.

Joe Henderson: April Griffin won’t run again for school board. She says she means it this time.

Assuming April Griffin follows through on her decision not to seek re-election to the Hillsborough County School Board, well, meetings just won’t be the same. Chances are they’ll just be filled with boring reports, proclamations and routine business....
Published: 02/15/18
‘I don’t get paid for teaching,’ says Pinellas teacher accused of inappropriate acts. Now he’s gone

‘I don’t get paid for teaching,’ says Pinellas teacher accused of inappropriate acts. Now he’s gone

A St. Petersburg High teacher has retired in the middle of the school year after students said he called them "baby," "babe," "missy," "honey," "sweetie," "little girl" and ended one girl’s name with "-licious."The Pinellas County school district fou...
Published: 02/15/18