Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen, I Give You, My New Favorite Person...

My employer is a strong believer of performance-based pay; in other words, if we perform our job functions above the company's expectations, we are rewarded.

My job function is not supervisory or executive-level. I am paid by the hour. It's very demanding, with a lot of responsibility and high performance expectations. Many of the people with whom I work are very tenured, some having worked there for twice and three times as long as I have. While some of my more-tenured peers do consistently perform better than what is required, most of them do a rather half-ass job, just to "get by". These people do not seek out promotions, special recognition, receive high bonus payouts, etc., nor do they expect them. They are happy to go to work and go home, doing the bare minimum. The job is just a job to them, and therefore not worth the extra effort.

However, if those low performers were teachers, they'd likely get the sun, the moon, and the stars, regardless of their performance/effectiveness in the classroom, thanks to years of school districts caving to the teacher's union.

...That is, unless they teach in the Washington D.C. public school system, in which they might be finding themselves with a pink slip in their hands.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, my new favorite person:
D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee announced Friday [July 23rd, 2010] that she has fired 241 teachers, including 165 who received poor appraisals under a new evaluation system that for the first time holds some educators accountable for students' standardized test scores.

"Every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher -- in every classroom, of every school, of every neighborhood, of every ward, in this City," Rhee said in a statement, announcing the first year of results from the revamped evaluation, known as IMPACT. "That is our commitment. Today...we take another step toward making that commitment a reality."
That's right, kids - over 200 teachers. She's kicking ass and taking names.

And this new set of evaluation criteria isn't just an arbitrary set of guidelines, put together by a group of administrators with little actual classroom experience.
IMPACT is the culmination of over a year’s worth of research and design informed by extensive guidance and feedback from the DCPS community. Critical to the development process were over 40 question and answer sessions and over 50 focus groups with school-based personnel. In all, more than 500 teachers and other school-based staff were involved in this process.
This is especially refreshing to learn, that those in the classroom every day had a direct impact (no pun intended) on their own evaluation criteria.

Another key part of IMPACT, are the "Master Educators." Master Educators provide assistance to teachers on an on-going basis with professional development; part of that professional development also includes evaluating teacher performance, as part of the IMPACT program.

If teachers are deemed "ineffective," then they can be terminated; if they are deemed "minimally effective," they will have a year to improve, or they can kiss their job goodbye. Not only that, but "minimally effective" teachers do not receive their yearly step-increase in pay.

Well, that sounds like any other job on the planet. What a concept!

As you can probably imagine, there are many who are not happy with this new system. A survey of 1,000 teachers was taken, and the results left me irritated beyond belief.
Of the 1,000 teachers who responded [to the survey], 52 percent said they did not understand what was required of them under the nine "rubrics" laid out in the framework; 79 percent said they weren't shown adequate adequate examples, either through video or through personal demonstration, of what constituted high-level teaching under IMPACT. Forty percent said they didn't receive extra support from their "master educators" following a poorly-rated classroom observation.
Okay, lets pick this apart.

Fifty-two percent said they didn't understand the evaluation guidelines, 79 percent said they weren't shown enough examples of top-notch teaching, and 40 percent said they didn't get extra help after poor evaluations. To all of this, I have only one question:  Did they ask anyone for help?

The first sign of a good employee in any profession, is one who wants to get better, and grow into a valued member of his or her field. School districts have support systems in place (in the case of DC Public Schools, the Master Educators) which are designed to provide that additional assistance. Also, the DC Public School District's own web site has training documents, and even sample lesson plans to help illustrate exactly what an ideal teacher should be doing. With all of these resources available to those who need them, the "I didn't understand" or "No one would help me" excuses don't hold water. It's the responsibility of the teacher - not the district - to seek out that help, and improve their performance. With over 6,000 teachers in DC Public Schools, it's foolish to think otherwise.

Michelle Rhee did exactly what she needed to do - clean house. Poor job performance is not tolerated in other professions, and it shouldn't be tolerated in education, either. Teachers who received poor evaluations and were lucky enough to keep their jobs need to stop whining, get off their duffs, and seek out every resource they can to improve their performance. It's absolutely no one's responsibility but their own.