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You Have No Idea What To Count, So Shut Up

Jose Vilson Mr. Vilson 1 Comment


Ira Socol, the unabashed scholar he is, dropped my first favorite quote of 2012 in his meme on December 30th:

Things I don’t want to hear in 2012: (3) “Accountability” – you have no idea what to count, so shut up.

Gospel. I almost fell on my face laughing. How did he jump in my skull and pull that thought out? After the recent news that the UFT (yes, my union) and the NYC Department of Education (yes, my employer) came to an impasse about how teachers ought to be evaluated, I could only think of the tense conversations that happened in that room.

DOE Rep: If you read the Danielson framework carefully, you’ll see right there that it says you can fire teachers at will.
UFT Rep: No, it doesn’t.
DOE Rep: I’m telling you, if you read the appendices and the fine print, she says so unequivocally.
UFT Rep: No she doesn’t.
DOE Rep: But we want to fire teachers.
UFT Rep: No.
DOE Rep: Please?
UFT Rep: No.
DOE Rep: Ummm … you really don’t understand. There were … umm … a few dimensions she just added …
UFT Rep: Where?
DOE Rep: Umm … they’re right … there. It says it. Why are you so difficult?
UFT Rep: I can read.
DOE Rep: You saying I can’t read? I’m insulted.
UFT Rep: Oh ok.
DOE Rep: So … when can we start firing teachers?
UFT Rep: Nope.
DOE Rep: Nope is not a good time. Nope isn’t even a time. What are you talking about?
UFT Rep: Not happening.
DOE Rep: Aww man. Well, we’re telling the media.
UFT Rep: #shankershrug

All this over a cool $60 million in funds that probably won’t go straight to the schools, but will be in “deliverable goods” like third party vendors and the like. They’ll eventually swim right through the schools, the city will have to foot the bill when the funds run out, and then they’ll be back to square one. $60 mil is a good spot of cash for any public school system, but if there is a school system that won’t do the money justice, it’s ours. Instead of investing in experienced teachers and administrators, we invest it in people we may or may not see a few times a year.

Naturally, some of my detractors might say that if I don’t believe in the DOE proposal for evaluating teachers, then I believe in the status quo. Well … not exactly. Sherman Dorn did a good job of addressing the issue of status quo a while back, but here’s something else: I do believe in teacher evaluation. However, if we’re going to do it, it’ll be under some stringent conditions, ones that might *ahem* revolutionize the school system as we know it.

  1. Evaluators need to have been in the classroom for five years or longer i.e. become a good teacher.
  2. Teachers ought to see and understand the nuances under which they’re evaluated.
  3. People should be taught the difference between tenure and due process, the latter which should be afforded to all teachers.
  4. Administrators should assure that the systems created help everyone in the system grow as professionals, not just make them punitive measures.

That’s only my off-the-cuff thoughts on teacher evaluation. Based on the Danielson model, it’s harder to “count” things or make them into checklists for administrators to see, but people have done it already anyways. In the meantime, the idea of mutual “counting” never happens here. It happens to the people at the school level (generally), but, for the person who controls it all, there is no accountability. No slap on the wrist. No expose in Newsweek or ABC Nightline. If a feeling of disappointment and a grimace are somehow the means for accountability, then we’re very far from an education system for all.

If it’s about $60 million, we ought to just give it back. Outside of that money, we don’t even know what to count.

Jose, who will savor as much writing as he can do for the next few days …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 1

  1. Courtney

    Jose, I love the conditions you have set out in this post. As a former teacher, I know that being a great teacher (however great may be defined or categorized) is a constant learning process. What I do in one year, I may adjust for the next, so having a newer teacher be evaluated after several years in the classroom seems reasonable and necessary. It allows the teacher time to focus on becoming that great teacher, and less on the stress of being evaluated in that first year–a time which is already stressful, though very formative.

    Secondly, I really appreciate your fourth point. Too often the evaluation seems more about punishment and reward, and less about the professional development of the teacher. Your focus on having administrators target the professional development seems better for the school, the teacher, and the students.

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