Sunday’s New York Times featured a front page article entitled “States Try to Fix Quirks in Teacher Evaluations” that is remarkable for its ironic understatement of the problems inherent in the new teacher evaluation protocols spreading flu-like across the country. The article opens with a Nashville principal perplexed at having emerged from watching what he understood to be a very good literature lesson but knowing that the rubric he is expected to use to evaluate the teacher’s performance will render his official report of the lesson less than very good. He will be forced to give parts of it the lowest possible score for what he knows to be foolish reasons. This is one of the “quirks” that some states are looking to fix, we are told.
It’s much more than “quirks” in the evaluation procedure that is at the heart of the principal’s problem. Assuming that he knows what he is talking about and that the lesson was to his experienced eye very good, what sort of lunacy is it to oblige him to suspend his professional judgment and mindlessly apply a rubric that assigns values to parts of a teacher’s lesson and loses track of the effect of the whole in the process? No, it’s not a quirk in the rubric driven evaluations that need fixing. It’s the entire concept that renders both teacher and principal slaves to an essentially arbitrary model of what a lesson should be, a model that degrades the craft of teaching. How long do we think it will take for students to figure out the rubric from experiencing lessons of the same shape period after period, day after day? “Here comes the group work,” I can hear them saying now.