Friday, March 16, 2007

Teaching and Accountability

Right on the tails of recent posts about teacher accountability and NCLB, I read a post today (via Joanne--see blogroll at left) that was full of wisdom.

As teachers, you cannot simultaneously negotiate evaluation-proof work conditions on the one hand, and instructional autonomy on the other. If evaluations continue to focus on teacher actions -- objectives posted, adherence to 5-step lesson plan, etc. -- rather than student outcomes, if there continues to be no accepted tool to measure teacher effectiveness, if we reject the very notion that certain educators may be superior instructors because of what they do and not what the kids bring relative to their demographics, than you don't get autonomy. You can't.

Put simply, there has to be some check on our behavior and performance. We can't "negotiate evaluation-proof work conditions" and also expect to be able to teach whatever and however we want. Someone, somewhere, has to have some influence over what we do in the classroom. They either have to be able to evaluate our effectiveness, or at least insist on the curriculum we teach.

I really liked the next paragraph:

Dig it: As a teacher I should get to teach whatever I want because I know best and no one is allowed to determine if what I taught or how I taught it was important, valid, or successful because I earned tenure in the name of academic freedom.

That's the argument our profession makes. It's weak sauce.

So how do we fix this? I prefer a little accountability, myself. I'm not afraid of it at all.


Law and Order Teacher said...

I am a high school history teacher. I agree that we should be evaluated. We should open our classrooms to parents. They pay the freight and have a right to see how their money is spent. When I was a police officer the old statement that we knew best didn't wash and the statement that we know best as teachers doesn't wash either. Our track record stinks and I think there are reasons for it. We need to prove ourselves with results. It's about time. Our union is a joke and will not help us to succeed. We need to take it on ourselves to succeed. We do a good job. Some of our colleagues suck and need to be gone. A new approach is necessary and I'm willing to try.

Unknown said...

Autonomy isn't an all or nothing proposition. The issue is what degree of autonomy is appropriate, not whether there should be autonomy or not. If you teach an elective class and you're the only person who does teach that class, you can have more autonomy than if you teach a required class that twenty other people teach.

It's a question of degree.

Anonymous said...

The problem here is that there seems to be an underlying assumption by some that teachers are not accountable. I've taught in three public school systems in three states, and subbed in several others, and everywhere, every teacher was strictly accountable, was regularly observed and evaluated, the progress of their students was reviewed, and teachers who were not living up to their professional obligations were given the opportunity to improve, and failing that were fired.

I'd love (figuratively speaking) to find one of these school districts that so many speak of where teachers are virtual laws unto themselves. I've certainly never seen one, and I don't know any teacher who has. In fact, if such places exist, my first notion would be that there are serious administrative and supervisory issues present and that the schools boards involved, and if necessary, the citizens of those districts, need to properly use the system and restore accountability. The means are, after all, there.

That being said, full accountability can be acheived, in fact, acheived more effectively, if principals are actually out there in the classrooms observing, talking, reading and reviewing student work, and seeing what actually goes on, rather than sitting in their offices reading mandatory test spreadsheets from the state and making a mandatory, once yearly 30 minute observation in a teacher's class. I beg my administrators to come to my class and do all of what I've outlined here at any time. I believe my best protection against specious accusations is principals who know exactly how I work and how my students learn. But bless their hearts, they just can't. They're too busy generating local, state and federal paperwork.

I, and I suspect, most teachers have limited autonomy. As a teacher of English for a given grade level, I have very specific goals and standards to teach, a get many things to accomplish in a short time. I can choose, say, between any one of 20 novels to teach at a given moment, but I can't decide to have the kids read magazines instead without facing some hard questions. I can modify my instruction to focus more on, say, grammar for a class that needs it, and less for a more advanced class, but I don't have the autonomy to ignore it completely. This is merely the kind of autonomy, if you can call it that, that every effective teacher needs.

No, I'm afraid some folks are just overstating their case when they assert that teachers are essentially unaccountable. I know with no doubt that I am not, and count myself fortunate that I am judged not only or even primarily on mandatory test scores (though my kids routinely score in the mid 90's and I teach remedial classes for seniors who have yet to pass--they all eventually do), but on how I interact with my students on a daily basis and upon my demonstrated success in helping them make real progress throughout the year. That way, my principals know that when Johnny fails my class, there are very likely to be good reasons for it that have nothing whatsoever to do with me. That's Johnny's accountability, but that's another post and another story.

Darren said...

I'm evaluated once, maybe twice, a year, but under California law it's illegal to use student results as part of my evaluation. Essentially, I'm about as accountable for student performance as I want to be.

It's fortunate that I care enough about my students' progress that I use their progress to inform my teaching.

Jeff said...

It's fortunate that I care enough about my students' progress that I use their progress to inform my teaching.

And if you don't, you should get out of teaching. End of story.

Mike nailed it, btw.