Sunday, October 20, 2013

Teach-NJ off to Inauspicious Start

Though I left teaching several years ago, I still have many friends in the business, and they are underwhelmed by the launching of Teach-NJ. I heard from one teacher who told me that under the current metrics demanded by their districts chosen system her weekly lessons plans are 15 PAGES LONG. Do you have any idea how much time is consumed to produce such lengthy plans, time that could be better used attending to other features of her curriculum and activities? She also mentioned being told by administrators that there will be about a 6 month delay in getting their evaluation of her required self-evaluation paperwork back to her. First of all, if these are to instructive evaluations for the teachers, how can this feedback be truly helpful? And what if we reach a point where merit pay is tied to these evaluations? The time lag would completely disrupt the whole remuneration process.

This teacher was recently visited by an administrator, who spent 20 minutes visiting her class and gave here feedback that made no sense had this supervisor actually attended the entire instructional period. Supervisors in some of these districts would have to conduct several hundred evaluations to fulfill their job requirements under Teach-NJ.

The reams and reams of paperwork and the hundreds of hours being spent on-line to attend to each of the specific elements of these evaluative metrics simply cannot be seen as a positive influence on classroom instruction. The end result of this legislation is to create a system where, if teachers and administrators actually abide by all of the features, classroom instruction will be negatively impacted. And on the other hand, if schools decide to "cut corners" and "fudge" the work product in order to get things completed on time, then it simply makes a mockery of the legislation's intent. Either way, the bottom line is that Teach-NJ is on course to become an onerous imposition on teachers and learning.

It has always been my contention that Teach-NJ was designed to emphasize accountability, an admittedly worthy goal, at the expense of improved performance. It is "gotcha" legislation that is filled with problems, notably its application throughout the spectrum of employees in a school.

From the start, the fundamental mistake was the lack of true teacher input in the process. I have yet to find even one teacher that feels like they have any "ownership" of the process; I consider this a fatal flaw that will lead Teach-NJ to end up being more "destructive" than "constructive."

My concern is that since we have already moved forward with Teach-NJ, it will be very difficult to take "two steps back" and rethink the system, especially the choice of metrics made available by the State to conduct these so-called evaluations.

Once again the Law of Unintended Consequences will end up ruling the day, and a opportunity to create a system that truly strives to improve teacher performance will have been lost. If problems like the few I brought up earlier can be tying up in knots a high performance district like the one my friend works in, I can only imagine what is going on in our poorer performing school systems.

My position is that New Jersey should have let each of the suburban districts, the vast majority of whom are doing a good job preparing their kids, to develop their own metrics for holding teachers accountable and improving teacher performance, and put the State's financial resources into creating programs to help our urban schools. It is analogous to the fight against AIDS; even though there were actually a few very specific geographic areas where AIDS had destructive potential, we instead spread our resources out to every district in the State rather than target that money where it could do the most good.

It really is time to take a step back with Teach-NJ, because I'm afraid that if we take another step forward we are going to step in something pretty messy.

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