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Give Teachers Some Time

Posted: 2013-12-04

The writer makes an important point--for teachers everywhere, not just Georgia.

And here's another Georgia educator's evaluation.

Dear State BOE,

I heartily agree with everything that Susan McWethy has so eloquently written. I speak as a public school parent and as a college professor of English.

I add my emphasis to the fact that there is no research to substantiate the usefulness of the TKES system. None.

I also would like to ask questions about the financial ends of TKES—who is receiving money for Georgia implementing this unproven “evaluation” system? How much? What connections do those making profit have to legislators and members of the BOE? If you cannot answer these questions with full candor, disclosure, and integrity, then you must not implement TKES.

There are better ways, much better ways, to evaluate teachers IF we truly care about kids. You can start with Peter Smagorinsky's work at UGA.

The question is whether or not you care about kids. TKES is not the way to do that.


Cindy Lutenbacher

Dear Members of the State Board of Education,

I am writing as a library media specialist in DeKalb County. Over my twenty-five years in education, I have witnessed radical changes in the schools and the students. Teachers have always been on the front lines of these changes, scrambling to keep up against almost impossible odds. It is difficult for me to come up with the name of even one lazy or incompetent teacher.

As you contemplate more changes to the status quo, I ask that you consider the most significant element that is lacking for Georgia's teachers: time. Teachers' responsibilities have expanded significantly over the years, yet more continues to be expected of them. The Teacher Keys Effectiveness System concerns me greatly because it is demanding that teachers now spend a significant amount of their limited time meeting the requirements of a complicated evaluation process that has not even been properly researched for its own effectiveness.

Where can we find more time for teachers? It would be wise to see how a school day is organized for teachers in countries that have demonstrated success. The newest PISA results reveal Asian countries at the top again, followed by several European countries. One of the greatest differences between the schools in these top-performing countries and those in the United States is time embedded in the schedule for professional development, collegial interaction, expanding content knowledge, and interfacing with parents. At a typical primary school in Shanghai, for example, teachers typically teach only three 35-minute lessons per day. The rest of their eight-hour day is spent on lesson planning and teacher improvement, which involves working with peers and master teachers. They also have time to communicate in a meaningful way with all parents on a more regular basis than we can expect to do here, even providing parent classes in computer skills so that they can better support their children's schoolwork. In most European and Asian nations, nearly half the school day is spent on professional development, collaboration and working with parents.

By contrast, Georgia middle and high school teachers on a traditional schedule can expect to teach five or six 50-60 minute classes per day, elementary teachers sometimes more, along with other duties and activities. There is no formal embedded time for professional development, unless one considers the four or five days that used to be set aside for it, but that have been sacrificed to furlough days for many systems. Working with parents of most students tends to be reduced to the few evenings throughout the year that are set aside for short conferences.

If we were to use other countries as models for success, we would not be "racing to the top" and burdening teachers with a complicated evaluation system that eats away at the very time they need to refine their profession. (Racing is a terrible metaphor for education, as learning is subtle and it evolves over time. Racing also implies winners and losers. What is supposed to happen to the "losing" students?) Instead we ought to be finding ways to reduce the hours that teachers are actually teaching, and provide the ongoing resources that will allow them to grow professionally. They also deserve staff who can relieve them of the myriad clerical tasks such as entering grades, creating word walls, updating web pages and photocopying.

With so little mentoring and no embedded time for ongoing professional development, TKES comes across less as helping teachers become better teachers, and more as punitive and judgmental. Its "quality performance standards" and student achievement measures have not been researched as valid tools for assessing teacher performance, and until they are, they should not be imposed. House Bill 244 makes clear that salary increases and job prospects are jeopardized by unsatisfactory performance evaluations. This makes the process intimidating. That is not what our teachers need. They need nurturing in the form of peer and master teacher support, constructive feedback and time to deepen their content knowledge, which includes the burgeoning need to understand and incorporate technology into instruction. Professional development must be continuous with all teachers, not simply an intervention for those who are judged poorly.

Young students evaluating their teachers is a very questionable practice that especially needs to be thoroughly researched before it is imposed. I have seen firsthand the attitudes of middle school students when they do online teacher surveys. I've overheard comments from "I just put down all 'strongly disagree'," while others said just the opposite. Clearly they do not take seriously the consequences of their decisions, and I question whether elementary and middle school students possess the moral maturity for judging the performance of adults. Furthermore, the surveys monopolize the computers and laptops, making them unavailable for instruction several days per year.

If or when TKES is demonstrated to be a valid tool to judge the quality of teachers (and that will require years of sustained research), it should be incorporated into a school day where teachers' time has been freed from marathon classroom teaching every day. Georgia should join the rest of the industrialized world where teachers are given reasonable time for growth and reflection. If it is working elsewhere, it will work here.

Thank you for considering my concerns.

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