Experts, LIers weigh in on teacher evaluations

Michael Dawidziak, left, and Arnold Dodge are answering

Michael Dawidziak, left, and Arnold Dodge are answering questions about the pros and cons of New York State teacher evaluations. (Credit: Newsday)

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New York State and its teacher unions have reached an historic agreement to rate public school teachers’ job performance, based in part on their students’ scores on standardized tests of English and math.

Newsday.com hosted a Web chat Wednesday night so Long Islanders could submit questions and comments for our panelists.

Guest panelists were Arnold Dodge, assistant professor and chairman of the Department of Educational Leadership and Administration at the LIU Post campus in Brookville, and Michael Dawidziak, a Bohemia-based political consultant, pollster and frequent contributor to Newsday’s opinion section. John Hildebrand, Newsday’s senior education reporter, served as moderator.

A transcript of the live chat is below:

8:00 MODERATOR: Thanks for joining Newsday’s web chat. Tonight, we’re going to be talking about teachers’ new job evaluations, which the state plans to launch in June. Joining us are two distinguished panelists — Dr. Arnold Dodge, chairman of the Department of Educational Leadership and Administration at the LIU Post campus in Brookville, and Michael Dawidziak, a Long Island-based political consultant and frequent contributor to Newsday’s opinion pages. I’m John Hildebrand, Newsday’s senior education reporter and tonight’s moderator.

8:00 John Hildebrand- MODERATOR: Mike and Arnie, every time we report on the subject of teachers' job evaluations, we can expect at least 100 comments on Newsday's website. Why is there so much debate on the subject?

8:03 Michael Dawidziak: The bottom line is that the taxpayers are paying a lot of money for a quality education system. Overwhelmingly, the voters say they are willing to pay for it as most school budgets pass. But, they want to know they are getting quality.

8:04 Arnold Dodge: There is so much debate because there is so much misinformation. I believe that the public is not fully aware of what happens in schools and what is the definition of "quality" teaching.

8:05 [Comment From Guest Guest : ] How will teachers in non testing grades, including special area teachers, be evaluated?

8:07 Arnold Dodge: Special area teachers - including all other subjects beyond ELA and math - will have to be evaluated in order for any system to be fair. The question is how will we evaluate teachers in subjects like art, PE, etc. For that matter how will we evaluate librarians, guidance counselors and other support personnel? This is a very difficult issue that has only the most prelimary answers being suggested. 

8:09 [Comment From Frank Frank : ] what is wrong with the way evaluations are done today...?

8:10 Michael Dawidziak: All sides agreed that a new evaluation system was necessary to replace the current "satisfactory/unsatisfactory" scale that has been used for decades to judge teachers. The main problem with the current system is the inability to get a bad teacher out of the system which is the real hot button issue among the taxpayers. in a year marked bu historic action, not addressing mandate relief was absolutely the biggest failure by Albany last year.

8:13 Arnold Dodge: As a former principal, I can testify to the fact that while the evaluation system that I used was not perfect, it had rigor and responsiveness that the current system denies a teacher. The binary system that is used by some districts is not acceptable. However, the alternative that is now known as the APPR is much worse than anything that I have seen to date. 

8:13 MOD: John Hildebrand: Here's a question a lot of people are asking us: Should teachers' names be released to the public along with their performance ratings?

8:15 Michael Dawidziak: Teachers' names should absolutely not be relesed to the public along with their performance rating. The idea here is insuring quality and improving the system, not painting a scarlet red letter on somebody.

8:15 Arnold Dodge: Shame is a poor motivator - even Bill Gates has weighed in on the negative impact of publishing teachers names along with their performance ratings.

8:17 MOD: John Hildebrand: Still, New York City did decide to release teachers' names last month, under the state's Freedom of Information Law. Is the cat out of the bag?

8:19 Arnold Dodge: This is an unfortunate precedent that will not serve the public weal. If the rest of the state follows suit, we move from demoralizing the city teachers to demoralizing every teacher in the state. A very poor policy indeed. 

8:19 Michael Dawidziak: Just because New York City went ahead doesn't mean that all the other school districts in the state should go along. Ultimately, each district will have to answer this question for themselves but I believe that most will opt to protect the individual teacher's privacy.

8:20 [Comment From John John : ] How will this evaluation process account for such variables as student attendance, home life, social issues, disabilities, etc. that are out of a teacher's control?

8:23 Arnold Dodge: It won't. Not making central the outside influences on the life of a child (and how those variables affect learning), may be the most significant flaw in the new system.

8:23 Michael Dawidziak: While you can't come up with a perfect system that would address all these situations, the fact that you can't come up with a perfect system doesn't mean that you shouldn't try to come up with a better one. That is what this agreement between the Governor and Teachers' Unions tries to do.

8:25 Arnold Dodge: I disagree. A flawed system that has false negatives and positives does damage that will be serious both to the teachers who are unfairly targeted and to the entire culture of schools. We certainly should try to come up with a good system This current version is not a good one.

8:26 MOD: John Hildebrand: And Arnie, getting back to your comment that the evaluation system won't account for such variables as student attendance...You would agree, wouldn't you, that the state is going to try to use such factors as student poverty and disabilities in the formula use to rate teachers?

8:31 Arnold Dodge: Student poverty and disabilities are so complex, that any formula that attempts to account for differences - and asserts that these variables are now controlled - can be very misleading. As one example, children who come to school from impoverished backgrounds have an enormous deficit in school vocabulary. This deficit can follow a child throughout his school career. No formula can possibly account for the weight of such deficiency.

8:31 [Comment From Dave Dave : ] As a Special Ed Teacher (Math) I am worried. I teach a 7th grade self contained Math class, and my students are performing at the 2nd grade reading and math levels. Even if I get the students to go forward to grade 4 performance (which is a huge leap) it would not be reflected in the State Math testing because the students will be taking grade 7 tests, and what I teach them in class is not measured by the test. So I fear being labeled ineffective... any suggestions ?

8:32 Michael Dawidziak: Teachers, especially special ed teachers, will hve the ability to get an "efefctive" rating even if their students' test scores are low, as long as they showed at least some progress. Progress becomes the more determining factor over raw test grades in these cases.

8:35 Arnold Dodge: In fact, a teachers' ratings can be determined as ineffective if test scores do not reach a certain level based on the valued-added model. The offense to a teahcer who is trying his or her best with a challenged population (a population who may not score well on tests) is to be labeled ineffective and therefore be in jeopardy of losing his or her job. This is fundamentally unfair.

8:36 MOD: John Hildebrand: Was the state correct in deciding to issue the first new teacher job ratings this June? Or should the state have taken more time to perfect the system?

8:37 Michael Dawidziak: Procrastination and kicking the can down the road is usually what elected officials do best. Albany is showing leadership and being an inovative example for the rest of the country. This spirit should not be discouraged. Flaws in the system can be addressed as you go and in fact, is the only way anything will ever get done. If you wait for a perfect system, it will never happen.

8:39 Arnold Dodge: No profession or business would use a model that had not been fully tested that has such high stakes. If anything would have made sense, it would have been to use the new model in parallel to the present model and compare results. Going on-line with this high stakes system, when there are so many questions from the educational community - and others - is sheer folly and is sure to backfire.

8:40 MOD: John Hildebrand: Shaun by email asks: I work for the NYC DOE in a transfer school for kids who have been kicked out of other schools or have dropped out and have gaps in there education. They are typically overage and under credited. What is the incentive to stay at a school like this, our scores are historically low due to our population. I would be labeled a bad teacher for trying to help these kids?

8:42 Michael Dawidziak: Teacher motivation has always been a mystery to me and one of the finest examples of excellence for the sake of excellence. Let's face it. There are poor techers, fair teachers and superlative teachers. The superlative ones choose to do a great job for no greater compensation than their poor cointerparts. You name me any other profession where that would be the case. Great teachers have always been identified as such and they will continue to be.

8:44 Arnold Dodge: Shaun, you are so right to be concerned. And, at the same time, it is so sad that you are asking the question. A form of this question will be asked by even the best teachers, i.e., should I take on challenging kids if it means that my scores will suffer? This is not about teacher ethics, but about human nature. We all want to know that we are appreciated for our work and we all want to keep our jobs. I would suggest, Shaun, that you hang in there, and keep up the good work. We can only hope that there will be a turn of events soon when level heads prevail regarding your dilemma. Wednesday March 14, 2012 8:44 Arnold Dodge 8:44 MOD: John Hildebrand: JDarr on newsday.com asked: A lot of the commentary about publicizing teacher evaluations is framed as an issue of taxpayers' right to know or some philosophical issue. How about the practical side? When parents figuratively line up by the thousands to demand that their children be removed from the classrooms of teachers identified as ineffective and are turned down by beleaguered principals, will they then line up outside the superintendents' offices? Then the governor's?

8:46 MOD: John Hildebrand: We hear that a lot: that parents are going to pull their kids out of classes where teachers are rated less than perfect. But I'm not sure experience demonstrates that this is the case. Take New York City, where they recently released teachers' names along with ratings. Many parents interviewed there seemed to take the ratings with a grain of salt. So long as their kids were happy with their present teachers, the parents seemed satisfied also.

8:47 Michael Dawidziak: Parents have for years been trying to get their children switched out of classes of teachers that either they or their children don't like or don't think is effective. The school principals have been dealing with this for as long as there has been schools, so this possibility is not caused by the new evaluation system.

8:49 Arnold Dodge: Yes, they will line up to have their children removed. And how else would we expect a concerned parent to behave? My experience as a superintendent in a Long Island school district that parents are very demanding - as well they should be. Quite frankly, I do not know what I would say to someone who asked for his/her child to be removed. One more reason why this new system must be looked at from all sides before it is implemented. Remember that the ratings are unstable measures and a teacher who is labeled ineffective one year, may very well be labeled effective the next year. But will a parent really buy that answer?

8:50 [Comment From jennie jennie : ] Why are so many teachers against this evaluation system?

8:52 Michael Dawidziak: Almost anybody would avoid being evaluated if they could get away with it. The bottom line is that teachers are working in a system that is based on evaluation and preparing children for a world where they will be evaluated. If the teachers themselves had come up with a better evaluation system years ago, we wouldn't be here talking tonight. The taxpayers are the end users footing the bill and they are demanding accountability. This is a public system. It's not a private railroad where you can take a "the public be damned" kind of attitude.

8:55 Arnold Dodge: My experience with teachers over a 40 year career tells me that the vast majority are dedicated and sincere folks who care very much about their students. When they see an evaluation system that is so capricious being used to bludgeon them as professionals (and maybe even publicly denounce them) they are shocked and overwhelmed. How can you get up each day and work in a craft that requires sensitivity when you yourself are being treated so insensitively. This is not accountability, but as David Weinberger, a business writer says, this is "accountabilism."

8:56 [Comment From Tom Tom : ] Here is the real question. Why is Long Island education being dragged into this mess when if taken by itself and not with the rest of the state our education system is very solid?

8:58 Michael Dawidziak: Nobody disagrees with the fact that Long Island has some of the best schools in the counrty. That does not mean that the voters of Long Island don't support teacher evaluation. They do in overwhelming numbers. Teachers like to tell me that they have the most important job in the world - educationg our children. Let's say I agree wih that. More important than a doctor or a U.S. Senator, whatever. If it really is the most important job in the world, now defend to me not getting a bad teacher out of the system. That's what the voters feel needs to be addressed.

9:01 Arnold Dodge: And here is another fallacy exposed about the new system. One could ask why is the entire country faced with this issue? The answer is that we have a federal role in education that has gone way beyond the original intent of support for the states. Race to the Top is a boondoggle that is sure to be the next train wreck. Long Island is faced with having to succumb to the dictates of remote policy that does little to respond to its individual regional needs. If this entire scheme is a smokescreen to get rid of "bad" teachers, then we are wasting enormous resources , time and talent on the scope and size of this federal initiative that creeps into the lives of each school classroom in the country. There has got to be a better way.

9:01 MOD: John Hildebrand: Well, our time’s up. Thanks for participating, and please keep checking Newsday and newsday.com for more news on this important subject. This chat will be posted on newsday.com. Please continue to comment!

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