Teacher Evaluation – D.C. Public Schools, closely watched for its reform efforts, is overhauling teacher evaluation and training
Teacher Evaluation – D.C. Public Schools officials have announced sweeping changes to the school system’s teacher training and evaluation systems that could profoundly affect how the system judges its teachers and how it seeks to help them improve.
Many in education — from the nation’s teachers to school district officials to federal policymakers — see current teacher training practices as a huge waste of time and money.
Now D.C. Public Schools, whose experiments in education reform during the past decade have been closely watched and sometimes imitated, is endeavoring to change that, jettisoning workshops that often are divorced from teachers’ daily work. Instead, teachers will meet weekly with small groups of colleagues who teach the same subject and they will work with a coach who is an expert in that subject and can help tweak lesson plans and address the nitty-gritty questions that teachers face in their classrooms.
The school system also is planning to overhaul its controversial teacher evaluation system. No longer will independent evaluators conduct classroom observations; that job will fall to school principals. And while D.C. was one of the first school systems in the nation to judge teachers in part by their students’ test scores, it will become one of a growing number to incorporate student surveys in its teacher evaluations.
The changes, scheduled to take effect in the fall, are notable not only for D.C. teachers, but for teachers and education observers across the country: D.C. Public Schools’ efforts to shape its classroom workforce during the past decade have drawn national attention, setting an agenda for reform that other districts and states have followed.
“The movement that we’re seeing in D.C. has implications for the entire nation,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, an advocacy group that endorses the city’s approach.
“Most districts think that the way you prepare for Common Core standards is to teach about instructional shifts in some kind of generic pedagogical way that really doesn’t mean a lot to teachers,” Walsh said. “If you develop a system where you’re learning how to make those shifts in the context of learning about ‘Romeo and Juliet,’ that becomes meaningful to teachers — and actionable.”
Because few details of the plan have been released, it is unclear what kind of direct impact the changes will have for classroom teachers in the immediate future. The head of the city’s teacher union, Elizabeth Davis, said that teachers are unsettled and exhausted after adjusting to a series of changes and new initiatives in recent years.
“It’s like building the plane while flying it,” Davis said.
D.C. Public Schools has made progress in recent years, posting faster growth than any other big city on a key national test in 2015. But the system’s academic achievement continues to trail the nation.
In 2015, about one-quarter of the city’s students in grades three through eight were on track to be prepared for college, according to scores on new tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards. And that city average masks staggering gaps between white and black students, and between affluent and poor.
D.C. Public Schools officials say that if they are going to help students make more rapid academic gains, they need a new approach to helping teachers get better at their jobs.
“I know sometimes professional development isn’t all that sexy, but it’s really sexy to us,” said Jason Kamras, the school system’s chief of instructional practice. “We believe we have the best teachers in America, but we also believe that we need to do more to help them meet the demands of the curriculum.”
Many teachers have criticized the city’s evaluation system, in use since 2009, as a punitive exercise to be endured rather than a tool to help them improve. Teachers who score low can be fired, and hundreds have lost their jobs for poor performance.
David Tansey, a math teacher at Dunbar High, said he appreciates the intent of the changes. “We can hopefully move beyond the narrative that the teacher is the problem, and we can start developing a system that allows us to listen to teachers to identify what their struggles are,” he said.
But there are many unanswered questions that make it difficult to know whether the new efforts will be truly helpful and fair to teachers, he said. “Are we asking teachers what they need and then providing it, or are we assuming from afar that we understand what the gaps are?” he said.
Tansey said he hopes coaches will not only be helping teachers gain skills, but also will learn about (and help school system leaders understand) some of the structural challenges over which teachers have little control — such as high numbers of students whose gaps in knowledge make it difficult to teach grade-level material.
The school system has announced only the broad strokes of the new teacher-training model, called LEAP, and revisions to the evaluation system, called IMPACT.
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