May 31, 2015

A Young Teacher's Voice on the Devastating Effects of Education Reform

Written by Candi Peterson, WTU General Vice President

Recently, I received an email from a New York teacher blogger friend. He thought I'd be interested in a blog post from NY blogger, Carol Burris who writes Round the Inkwell. Burris, a high school principal and former Spanish teacher also guest blogs for Valerie Strauss' who writes The Answer sheet which is featured in The Washington Post. On Burris' blog, she shares a letter from one of her former students who became a teacher.

Presently, this young teacher works in a DC Public High School. In her poignant letter to her former principal, she describes the effects of what education reform has done to teachers and students with the advent of the teacher evaluation system known as IMPACT.

To give some context to how we arrived here post education reform, the DCPS IMPACT teacher evaluation got it's roots in our district in 2009 and linked teacher performance to student achievement on standardized test scores.  A single standardized test score is used as a means to determine teacher effectiveness and there are no controls for differences among students, such as socio-economic level, attendance, learning disabilities, or other factors that are beyond a teacher's control.  Student scores are used to either reward or punish teachers for gains their students have or have not made.

Post Michelle Rhee, the fear factor is alive and well in DC Public Schools. Teachers report that there are strong messages by school/district administrators that they shouldn't speak up, complain, or offer constructive criticism. They fear reprisal, and most are in survival mode. For this reason, Burris wanted to protect her former student's identify. She states, "I have protected her identify, because sadly, that is what must be done in times like these." - © Candi Peterson 2015

Read her story below (Cross-posted from Round the Inkwell blog) and share if you like.

Good Morning Dr. Burris,

"I am not sure if you remember me, but I was a student at SSHS.  I went on to become a teacher and started my career right out of college at a high school in Washington DC.  In the four years since, I have seen what education reform has done to teaching and learning.
While I did not have any experience as a teacher prior to the introduction of common core, I have seen enough to know that this used to be a different game.  My first year of teaching, I felt incredible.  I worked in a school for students who struggled in mainstream classroom environments due to emotional or behavioral issues, but I had managed to figure out a way to reach them and make them excited about learning.  I found texts that not only challenged them academically, but also encouraged them to change the way they looked at the world.  I taught them the foundation skills they were missing and maintained a level of rigor throughout each lesson.

I was evaluated by my principal, assistant principal, and two “master educators” (unknown persons who show up in your classroom unannounced whenever they please).  I received a score of highly effective, which was to come with great recognition and a cash bonus. I was beyond elated.  My students were learning.  My students were excited.  I was learning and excited.  This seemed like great success, right?  Wrong.

After my students, who arrived reading at 2nd and 3rd grade levels, took the 9th grade DC CAS exams, my evaluation score dropped significantly.  No longer was I considered highly effective.  Their success in my classroom, while great, did not directly translate to the formulaic nature of the test; therefore, we were both unsuccessful. This didn’t just happen to me; it happened to all teachers in “testing grades.” For some teachers, this drop in scores meant that they were placed on probation, their pay was frozen at its current step value, or that they were simply pushed out of the system altogether.

My principal, though she worked SO hard to help us to improve the school culture and learning environment in our building, was soon under fire.  She was let go and replaced.  Under her replacement, the school culture/safety suffered, but teachers continued working.  Miraculously, we managed to improve our test scores.  Imagine my surprise when that still somehow negatively affected my overall evaluation score.

The teacher evaluation system in DC is a direct product of the damage that education reform is doing to real education.   Master educators and principals are encouraged not to give out too many “highly effective ratings.” Our value is based largely on test scores and our overall scores are calculated using a combination of a rubric and an “Individual Value Added” formula that we do not have access to.   It’s a process that I think fosters a culture of “teaching to the test” rather than really teaching young people to think and be curious, innovative forces in the world.

So many teachers are so frustrated, but so many administrators are following along because this is the mandate that has been given.  I have since moved schools, but common core hasn’t gotten any better.  The PARCC exam left many of my students frazzled and discouraged.  As teachers, we are struggling to keep up with what is required of us, both according to that test and our high stakes evaluation systems.  It is clear to both us and the students that this just isn’t working, but it’s not a truth that many want to hear and/or face.

I first heard about your work on this front when a coworker asked me if I had ever heard of you.  I was confused at first because I wasn’t sure if the Carol Burris everyone was buzzing about was really Dr. Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School.  Sure enough, after some quick research, I realized it really was you.  I said of course I had heard of you and that I had actually been a student of yours.  My coworker said, “your school must have been amazing.  She’s standing up for all of us.”  I told her that she was right: that it was, and that you are.

I may have been a bratty kid.  I may not have always understood you when I was a teenager.  However, when I tell you that I am so proud to have gone to high school with you as my principal, it is the truth.  You had our backs then, as students (even though we may not have always realized it), and you have our backs now, as teachers.  I am so grateful to you for taking the position you have and for standing on the front lines defending teaching and learning as it should be. From RVC to DC, your voice is heard and appreciated.  Thank you for all that you do."


1 comment:

Tyrone Asia said...

This is a very informative and great blog! It continues to apall me read and become educated that the hierarchy (Master Educators, etc.) have "cow towed" to a system which has and continues to have a "major setback" in educating our students whether it be in DC, Jersey, Philly, LA, etc. if in fact this "failed system" is or has been implemented in all the aforementioned (DC for sure)! Not being an educator myself, nor do I profess to be anywhere near an expert in the educational system and the intricacy involved in the educational process, I have long ago earned a degree in a "Masters in Common Sense" degree and none of these new evaluation systems that have been imposed "do not pass the common sense test but they have passed and been implemented to "create confusion and dismantling of our previous great educational system decree!" Any process or system implemented without "combining all the contributing factors and data" (social-economic hard data, learning disabilities).