Discussion: (2 comments)
Comments are closed.
A public policy blog from AEI
Even though the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) freed states from No Child Left Behind’s directive to find “highly qualified” teachers, they still must unearth “ineffective” ones. States and districts have struggled to define teachers this way, and Pennsylvania and the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) are no exception. In the last five years, the commonwealth’s two major teacher evaluation and dismissal systems have been fully overhauled. Pennsylvania’s new system has dramatically improved the process for identifying teachers who commit crimes or engage in unethical behavior. But Philadelphia’s new system echoed its predecessors in labeling an overwhelming percentage of SDP’s teachers as satisfactory, despite persistently low student performance.
This wasn’t for lack of trying. SDP’s system was modeled on best practices and overhauled in response to the Obama Administration’s Race to the Top program. With a federal grant in hand (and changes in commonwealth law), Philadelphia changed its previous “satisfactory/unsatisfactory” evaluation system to one with four levels: “failing,” “needs improvement,” “proficient,” and “distinguished.” (For legal purposes, teachers who receive “failing” are considered “unsatisfactory”; all others are “satisfactory.”) Teachers receive an annual score based on student and school achievement data and formal principal observations. Principals use a 10-criteria version of Charlotte Danielson’s well-regarded Framework for Teaching. Teachers who receive a low score — less than 0.50 on a 0 to 3 scale — two years in a row are candidates for dismissal.
Philadelphia’s new system echoed its predecessors in labeling an overwhelming percentage of SDP’s teachers as satisfactory, despite persistently low student performance.
Although SPD’s new teacher evaluation system does include student performance, principal evaluations comprise 50 percent of the rating. The problem is that, whatever the merits of the Danielson framework, data suggest that principals don’t differentiate teacher quality well. Almost 40% of teachers who were formally observed in the 2013–14 school year received scores between 2.00 and 2.19, just above the default score for “proficient” of 2.00. Further, the number of teachers rated as “unsatisfactory” declined from the prior evaluation system. In 2014–15, only 2 out of 7,356 teachers evaluated were rated as unsatisfactory. (In the previous year, 24 of 8,013 teachers were; before the new system, about 30 teachers a year were.)
One flaw of SDP’s system is that it is focused on teachers, not students. Formal principal evaluations occur only once every three years for tenured teachers (non-tenured teachers receive one to two formal evaluations a year) and are preceded by a meeting between the principal and teacher about what should happen in the classroom. Teachers who fail the formal observation are given two additional chances to pass before they are officially rated as “unsatisfactory.” Then they are placed in the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers’ (PFT) Professional Assistance Program for intensive mentoring for the following school year. They are formally evaluated again at the end of the year, and if they fail this observation they may be dismissed by Philadelphia’s equivalent of a school board, the School Reform Commission (SRC). Although SRC’s and PFT’s focus on helping teachers improve is commendable, it’s hard to square with the district’s academic and financial challenges. Student performance in Philadelphia remains consistently below even big-city averages on NCES assessments.
This contrasts with Pennsylvania’s newly reinvigorated Professional Standards and Practices Commission (PSPC). The PSPC gained the power to act more quickly and decisively in 2014 after widespread outrage at decades of sexual abuse of minors by former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. In conjunction with the Pennsylvania Department of Education, the PSPC can conduct hearings and investigations separately from the court system and may order treatment, suspend teachers, or revoke teacher certification. Pennsylvania now also has a “snitch law” that requires teachers to report fellow teachers’ conduct to the PSPC or face legal sanctions. The PSPC has revoked 21 SDP teacher licenses and acknowledged the surrender of 18 others since 2004 for “bizarre and irrational behaviors,” inappropriate student discipline, violating the integrity of state tests, and sexual assault of students, among other causes. The PSPC now sees more than 750 reports a year across all school districts versus 240 a year before the changes.
One flaw of SDP’s system is that it is focused on teachers, not students.
The PSPC has shown real teeth in disciplining wayward teachers, but SDP hasn’t boosted academic performance. It appears that despite substantial teacher supports, training, and coaching, SDP’s new teacher evaluation system has done little to identify teachers who either need improvement or increase student achievement.
Can SDP do better? Sure. The district could rotate observers between schools to provide a measure of detachment. Or it could introduce an alternate scoring system where the commonwealth-mandated cut scores weren’t so obvious for evaluators. This would help remedy the scoring cliff at 2.00. But for serious reform, SDP needs to drop the district’s bias for keeping every teacher. Robust evaluation systems like that in Washington, DC, give teachers a short on-ramp to the profession, but after that teachers have to be good or they’re out. Philadelphia has made staff recruitment a priority, but it needs to identify and retain quality staff, too, and exit the rest.
In this new era of ESSA, SDP offers a caution. Like other teacher evaluation programs around the country, it has little to show for its efforts. SDP’s evaluation process was designed to improve teacher practice and borrowed from well-regarded rubrics, but evaluators don’t seem to differentiate between teachers. Student performance remains stagnant. In Philadelphia, at least, it is implementation, not intentions, that seems to have stymied progress.
Read the full report:
Comments are closed.
1789 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036
© 2018 American Enterprise Institute