Thursday, December 29, 2005

Teachers Grading Teachers

In Chicago, the current system of evaluating teachers is said to be "meaningless." So the union and administration have agreed to experiment with a new paradigm:
Declaring that the current system of evaluating Chicago teachers is "meaningless," district and union officials have created a pilot program where skilled teachers mentor and evaluate their peers.

The program, modeled after a successful peer-review program in Toledo that over 20 years screened out 8 percent of non-tenured teachers for incompetence, will launch next year in eight struggling city schools. The peer-review system works, leaders say, because it gives top-notch teachers a stake in improving professional standards and holding colleagues accountable.

"No one has a vested interest in incompetence, but we accept it," said Dal Lawrence, a 30-year teachers union president in Toledo and the architect of the nation's first peer review teacher evaluation system. "Shame on us for not thinking we can do it better."

Both Schools Chief Arne Duncan and Union President Marilyn Stewart are convinced Chicago can do it better. If the program works as expected, Duncan vowed to take the program systemwide--a rollout that could take years and would cost millions more to pay for teachers to work as evaluators rather than in the classroom.

Now, about two-thirds of the 20,600 Chicago teachers evaluated in the last two years received the top rating of "superior." Most of the rest received the second-best rating of "excellent." Principals say they end up marking a lot of teachers as superior because downgrading a teacher's rating is not worth the hassle--sometimes it even triggers a union grievance. And because the top grade is given out so freely, principals don't view these ratings an accurate measure of performance.

Trying to get rid of a bad teacher is an even bigger hassle for principals. In a typical year, only about 20 tenured teachers--out of a total of 26,000--face firing because of unsatisfactory ratings, and fewer than half of these end up leaving the system, according to district reports. Some transfer to other schools after a principal marks them for firing. Others take extended medical leaves, which stops the legal process and allows the teachers to keep getting paid by using sick days.
Apparently, the union had put a similar proposal on the table back in 1985. The proposal went nowhere, and that particular negotiating cycle ended in a strike.

In our own California district, principals are responsible for evaluating classroom teachers. A three-tier ranking system is used:

1. Meets professional standards
2. Needs Improvement
3. Unsatisfactory

Tenured staff are evaluated every other year. The probationary period is 2 years.
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