Who’s Running the Schoolhouse?

OR Who Should Be Running the Schoolhouse?

In Chapter 6 of my book, Principal’s Passion: A Quest for Quality Public Education, I show how over the past twenty years, the focus of public education has changed dramatically.  Instead of basing instructional decisions on the developmental needs of children and the quality training and development of teachers, the emphasis has shifted to the importance of creating high-stakes standardized tests. Then came a national curriculum to teach to those tests, called the Common Core State Standards.  This was followed by teacher evaluation systems to grade (or degrade) teachers on their effectiveness of students’ achievement of those standards.

Competitive bids had to go out to companies who could develop those tests, resulting in millions of dollars spent on lobbying by those same companies at both the state and federal government levels. Thus, began the national corporate school-reform movement, which has made some corporations and entrepreneurs multi-billionaires while creating distrust in public schools and the people who have the experience and expertise to run them. 

Why aren’t teachers and administrators in public schools making the decisions about how children should be learning? 

Teachers must have at least a bachelor’s degree in education, and many have their master’s degrees and further specialization and have received certification by the states to teach their subject content areas. Teachers who teach preschool and kindergarten must have a separate certification in early childhood education. Teachers who teach special education students must have an added certification in the specific area of special needs they teach. All teachers and administrators must have mandated rigorous training components in strategies for English speakers of other languages (ESOL) students. Administrators must have at least a master’s degree in school leadership or administration and a state and local certified program to advance from teacher-leader to assistant principal to principal. Both newly hired teachers and administrators have teams of highly experienced coaches and mentors who support them during their first year and longer. These certifications and programs signify the many years of study and practical, on-the-job experience these professionals have undertaken to hone their craft.  Do you think they are qualified to make decisions about teaching and learning? 

So then why are legislators and politicians are currently making the decisions on how and what students will learn and how they will be tested on their knowledge and abilities? Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Are legislators’ and politicians’ decisions driven by outside interests that have corporate and political influence with their constituents? 
  • What involvement do these outside interests have with the legislators and politicians in their elections and in their decision-making? 
  • Could the legislators and politicians pass the tests currently mandated for teachers or even for students? 

Testing and evaluation companies that currently write the tests for students in the state of Florida and other states across the country are now multibillion-dollar businesses. 

Pearson Education is the richest of this handful of companies, and they are based in the United Kingdom. The money currently being spent on standardized testing was previously spent on innovative programs, “per-pupil allocations” or dollars given for materials and supplies for students, and teacher salaries.

Teacher salaries in my Florida district in 2007 were $38,500 for a beginning teacher; $45,770 for a teacher with fifteen years of experience; and $70,000 for teachers at the top of the pay scale with twenty-one plus years. In 2017, teacher salaries in my Florida district were $40,724 for a beginning teacher and $46,164 for a teacher with fifteen years of experience. The pay scale currently stops at fifteen years because teachers are no longer paid for years of experience but are paid for “performance” instead.

Teachers can currently make an extra $3,650 per year for a master’s degree or up to $8,000 for a doctorate degree. However, “pay for performance” means the teacher’s salary is determined by the test scores of their students and the rating their administrator gives them on the current evaluation instrument. Those ratings can be “highly effective,” “effective,” or “needs improvement.”  Highly effective and effective ratings earn a 3.5% and 2.5% bonus respectively.

However, teachers who taught students who were not tested on the content area of their teaching (like art, music, or physical education) would be paid based on the performance of the “school scores” for all students and not on the quality of lessons that integrated reading, writing, math, social studies, and science into their area of instructional expertise. Bottom line? These teachers received no bonuses, no raises, and no “highly effective” ratings on their evaluations regardless of my administrative evaluations of the quality of their work. 

Teacher evaluations have always been a part of identifying quality teachers, and I believe they should continue to be a part of constructive feedback, support, and assistance for all teachers. It is not the evaluation process teachers object to, it is the state process and secret formulas used. 

Teacher evaluations are now also written by companies who are for-profit based, and the state formulas for rating teachers (Value- Added Model or VAM) are convoluted and make no sense regarding the actual teaching and learning that takes place in the classroom. One of these profitable companies is Dr. Robert Marzano’s Learning Sciences International based out of West Palm Beach, Florida.

In 2007, Dr. Robert Marzano published a book, The Art and Science of Teaching: A Comprehensive Framework for Effective Instruction, which presents a model for ensuring quality teaching that balances the necessity of research-based data with the equally vital need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of individual students. Along with Classroom Instruction That Works and The Highly Engaged Classroom, Marzano’s books are used by schools across the country to illustrate the evolution of effective teaching practices over time. Five years later in Florida, these valuable resources morphed into the new Marzano’s Standards-Driven Causal Evaluation for teachers, which required administrators to see evidence of sixty specific instructional elements in a thirty to forty-minute period that would result in student achievement in a standards-based classroom.

This change played right into the hands of the standards-based FCAT test and the test-focused learning environment that had become the new normal in public schools. The Marzano Framework for Effective Instruction was never designed to be used as an evaluation tool; it was designed to be a developmental learning tool for teachers to improve effective teaching practices over time. As an evaluation instrument, it does not allow a principal to use other criteria to determine a highly effective rating. For example, if a teacher is a district trainer in their content area, works with other teachers at the district and state levels to coach or model best practices, or has achieved a Teacher of the Year ranking at the district or state levels, there is no place on the teacher evaluation instrument to give credit for those achievements. It is strictly confined to the thirty- to forty-minute classroom observations. 

My question is, “Who is benefiting from these companies and the tests and evaluations they are paid to create?”

In 2013, I decided to retire a bit earlier than I originally planned because my answer to this question was not “students” or “teachers” or the “learning organization” I had dedicated my life’s work to achieve as the standard of quality. I could no longer be expected to grade or degrade teachers whose innovative lessons authentically engaged students in learning by picking apart sixty elements I may not have observed or deemed appropriate for that lesson. I personally had highly effective teachers who were leaders of other teachers in and beyond the schoolhouse, but that did not count toward my thirty to forty-minute observation. It also did not account for a teacher’s “pay for performance” ranking from the state, which was determined by the school’s student scores in tested grades only, whether the teacher taught those students or that grade or not.

That went against the very fiber of my being and my convictions of what was developmentally right for children and morally right for adults. 

This week, an article posted by Teacher Voice shows the  latest in the ongoing saga of teacher evaluations by the Florida State Board of Education. And we wonder why we have a teacher shortage!

wtsp.com/video/news/local/teacher-evaluation-process-under-scrutiny/67-8380671(opens in a new tab)

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