Teacher Evaluation Theater!

I think we have all been there.  Whether as a parent, adult or kid —  we have been forced to do something we really did not want to do and we simply “went through the motions.”  We complied — but we did not complete the task with any effort.  We did it because we had to do it and…I can think of all kinds of examples, far too many to list — but you get the idea.  I cannot help to think as I observe full implementation of the new Ohio Teacher Evaluation System (OTES) that it is simply compliance and really bad theater.

What do I mean by Theater?  The best example I can give is the TSA screenings at the airport.  Post 9-11 we instituted mandatory screening of all passengers boarding an airplane.  We all herd into lines, dutifully removing our belts, shoes, jewelry, wallets, empty purses, laptops, phones to be scanned as we pass through a metal detector or body scan machine.  We invariably forget that we cannot carry-on that full-size shampoo bottle or can of hairspray.  All in the name of safety — in reaction to a horrific act of terrorism.

In the beginning, I think the screenings were an effective deterrent.  But in 2014,  I watch all the TSA agents and airline passengers simply “go through the motions.”  They comply.  It is theater in the sense that we all play our roles for the illusion of safety —  even if we know intuitively it has not made us safer. Each year we hear about what the very human TSA agents miss.  Knives, guns, and other banned items end up on airplanes.  Kids somehow bypass the TSA checkpoint and get on planes without tickets.  We unconsciously know that if someone wishes to do us harm they will find a way to get banned items onto a commercial airliner — yet we all line up and play our roles in this production.

I fear — as I have witnessed the implementation of the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System(OTES) that it is becoming mere theater.  We are playing our roles out of compliance.  The principal plays his part the teacher has a starring role, the kids play supporting roles with the Ohio General Assembly as the director.  In the end, nothing changes.   We simply go “through the motions”  acting like this matters when it is just like the TSA screenings at the airport — bad theater.

The paperwork, the observations, the goals, the pseudo-science in our usage of student test results to rate teacher performance is done out of compliance — because they have to do the evaluations that way….and in the end very little has changed….teacher evaluations still don’t have the positive impact on the professional craft that we had hoped.

That is disheartening to me who helped implement and developed the rubric with great intentions. We wanted a system that put a premium on improvement of our professional craft.  A way to identify and reward good teachers and good teaching rooted in the latest research.  In the end, we got a solid rubric.  In fact, teachers all across the state of Ohio applauded the rubric as a sound and effective measure of good teachers.  The rubric is a very high bar for even veteran teachers.  If we just had the rubric, I believe we would have less theater.  But what has happened in Ohio is so ironic it is almost a form of sick humor.

The major concern during the development and roll-out of OTES  in Ohio was the insistence on the part of the legislature to assign 50%  of the evaluation to student performance on standardized test. You cannot find anyone with any credibility tell you that this was a good idea.  In fact, we know student test results are often independent of teacher performance.  But the Ohio General Assembly insisted and passed legislation that required teachers to count 50% student performance and the other 50% based off the rubric.

So the sick humor is this…..all kinds of teachers are scoring at the highest level because of student performance — the exact opposite of what those who insisted it be a part of this system anticipated! In fact, this new system because of the student performance piece that is not the least bit valid is boosting otherwise mediocre teachers to the top category.   It has also had the effect of hiding otherwise “ineffective” rated teachers who get boosted by the same metric.  School principals now realize that regardless of the rubric rating teachers will get lifted because of the pseudo-scientific usage of student standardized test or performance on teacher generated student learning objective (slo’s).

This diminishes and obfuscates the entire OTES model and relegates the entire process to really bad theater.  Principals and teachers are going through the motions and our chance to really improve and develop teachers is lost on this time intensive and intrusive process — not what anyone wanted in this new system.  We will all play our parts in this production as we comply with another ill-conceived law passed by those who are not educators.



About James Herrholtz

Consultant, Teacher, Coach, Administrator for over 23 years. I have been a superintendent of schools, College Instructor, and worked at the Ohio Department of Education heading up the Division of Learning.
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