On August 30, 2012, a two-year effort to restructure teacher performance evaluation fell silent. Assembly Bill 5 called for the use of student test scores to be considered when rating teacher effectiveness. This is not a new concept and it is sure to be resurrected, as the author of the bill urges a future review of the amendments attached to the proposed bill.
While district’s and the nation propose possible quantifiable measures to assess teacher effectiveness, classroom teachers are experiencing a proverbial stoning for their current teaching practices. Educators stand accused for their inability to consistently improve test scores- scores that are moving targets due to a system that readjusts annual measurable objectives. With bubbled scantron forms and number 2 pencils as evidence, the public is prompted to arrive at the conclusion that public school teachers are ineffective and overpaid. Teachers are simultaneously seen as the problem and the answer. The public places learning in teachers’ hands but ties those hands with strict pacing guides and scripted lessons; the craft of teaching has largely been placed in the hands of those who write textbooks and standardized tests.
If we are to enter into a meaningful conversation regarding the evaluation of teachers, we must consider a way to reframe our present thinking. To achieve this, we are obliged to revisit the overall purpose of education. Inextricably linked are the ways in which we perceive student learning. Moving to an educational ideology that “helps young people embrace their role as the change agents and humanitarians of their generation” move us away from what to learn or how to learn and causes refocusing in order to contemplate why we should learn (Langness, 2010).
It is this promotion of critical consciousness within our schools that will need to be revisited with all stakeholder groups at the table. (Yes, students and parents must also be seated at the table.) As Becker and Couto (1996) point out, “Teachers are unchallenged in the schools as long as they don’t challenge the theory and/or practices of the modern American political economy.” This perception has a long tradition, but maybe the current attack on teachers will serve to fuel some action. While teachers are the public scapegoat, administrators and students are also experiencing the weight of the corporatization of education. Sitting at a table with a common goal is a beginning, but what will transpire at that table?
This gathering of stakeholders promises transformation. In the end (or more accurately as a beginning), it is an experiment. Dewey’s (1916) experimental mode where we stop talking and theorizing, and start doing. The opportunity to imagine a better way to improve the current state of education is in our hands. We must cast away old ways of thinking in order to visualize the possibilities. We have to begin again, with our minds unblemished. Achieving this we are able to see opportunities.
As Zen Buddhist Suzuki (1980) explains, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few” (as cited in Burke, 2007, p. 21). Becker and Couto (1996) explain that the transformation will take time. “It can only proceed step-by-step, classroom-by-classroom” (p. 16).
By Marisol Rexach, Ph.D. in Education Student