The two of us were reflecting recently on the portrayal of teachers on-screen these days. There’s the snidely animated “dance of the lemons” and Michelle Rhee’s teacher bashing in Waiting for “Superman.” Now comes Cameron Diaz in Bad Teacher, portraying an impossibly horrifying educator. What happened to the teacher as guide? Or the teacher as inspiration? What happened to Ms. Frizzle?
We remember watching episodes of The Magic School Bus with our children, hoping that our toddlers would someday have teachers as dynamic, quirky, creative, and flamboyant as Ms. Frizzle. But it seems like today’s teachers are getting all the Ms. Frizzle drilled out of them, both on-screen and off.
Which got us thinking about teacher evaluations and how, like everything else, what you get depends on what you measure.
We both live in Washington, D.C. The 2010–11 school year marked the second under the District of Columbia’s new evaluation system, called IMPACT. In July, the school district announced that more than 200 teachers had been fired for flunking IMPACT.
IMPACT was launched in the fall of 2009 by former D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee, and was immediately lauded as a model for the rest of the nation. Much of the media focus on IMPACT has been about its use of test scores—so-called Value Added Measures—to judge teacher effectiveness. But the majority of teachers in D.C. are not subject to the value added components of IMPACT. They teach in grade levels or subject areas that are not tested (yet). For these teachers, 50 percent of their evaluation is dependent on two unannounced 30-minute observations conducted by “master educators” known as “MEs.” Three additional observations are conducted by the school’s principal.
What are these evaluators looking for? What gets measured? IMPACT established a “Teaching and Learning Framework”—essentially a checklist of nine teaching practice areas that each teacher is expected to demonstrate during the course of their 30-minute surprise evaluation. Within each practice area, there are a set of specific skills that must be demonstrated to qualify for an “effective” grade, and additional skills that must be present for the teacher to be considered “highly effective.” In all, to receive a perfect score on their observation, teachers must demonstrate more than 60 strategies and skills over the course of 30 minutes.