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A Monster Rubric to Define Who's Effective and Who's Not

Posted: 2011-10-09

The Denver Public Schools 28-page rubric raises some questions. For starters, how many pages does it take before a rubric becomes a checklist?

Every teacher in America should look at what's happening in Denver. You're next.

NOTE: They changed the url. Find the document Here. If you want it in color (which they say is better for viewing online), find it here. This is Version 3.1, rather like Gates with its various updates on Windows.


NOTE: The Denver Public School System and the teachers' union are partners in a $10 million grant from the Gates Foundation to fund an overhaul of the district's teacher support and evaluation system. Here's how the Denver Post described it:

Denver Public Schools testing system to give teachers in-class evaluations and feedback


By Yesenia Robles
The Denver Post
Posted: 01/30/2011

An effective teacher will ask students to explain their answers whether they are right or wrong. Effective teachers also wait about 3 to 5 seconds for students to respond, but will give more time to students who are English language learners.
Those are part of the specifics outlined in a 28-page rubric that will be used to evaluate teacher effectiveness at Denver Public Schools using a new framework two years in the making. A pilot version of the framework, called Leading Effective Academic Practice, or LEAP, has been sent out for testing in 16 DPS schools this month.
"We have to roll it out to see how it works, but we really hope it will help us identify our highest performers so we can learn from them and spread that knowledge to the lower-performing teachers who need support," said Tracy Dorland, executive director of educator effectiveness for DPS. . . .


Here's the announcement from the Gates Foundation:
Date: January 2010
Purpose: to accelerate the districtâs human capital reform by implementing an aligned teacher performance management system based on research findings from the measures of effective teaching project with student achievement and growth at its core

Amount: $10,000,000

Of course, this is peanuts. Elsewhere, Gates spent big bucks to define teachers in its image:

Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching sites:

  • Hillsborough County Public Schools (Tampa, Fla.): $100 million

  • Memphis City Schools: $90 million

  • Pittsburgh Public Schools: $40 million

  • The College-Ready Promise (five charter school networks in Los Angeles: Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, Aspire Public Schools, Green Dot Public Schools, Inner City Education Foundation, and Partnerships to Uplift Communities Schools): $60 million



  • Ohmygod, how many pages are in their rubrics?


    Date: November 2009
    Purpose: to support Denver Public Schools to participate in the Measures of Effective Teaching project, designed to develop reliable indicators of a teacher's impact on student achievement in order to improve college-readiness rates for low-income and minority youth

    Amount: $878,493

    Here are a few jobs openings currently advertised in the Denver Public Schools system:

    2011
    Job Opening in Denver last updated 1/14/11
    Job Title: Peer Observer Director (0694) -- DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATOR EFFECTIVENESS -- NB11218901-1011

    Location: Department of Educator Effectiveness

    Salary Range: $67,396-85,929, Dependent On Experience and Qualifications

    Work Year: 235 days

    Application Due Date: Open Until Filled

    Position Start Date: ASAP

    Position Objective:

    Through the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), DPS is developing a comprehensive strategy to improve student achievement through a focus on teacher and principal effectiveness. A key deliverable of this work is the development of a comprehensive teacher performance assessment system, LEAP (Leading Effective Academic Practice), which will incorporate multiple measures of effectiveness. This system will be the cornerstone to which DPS aligns professional development, recruitment, retention and other teacher-focused HR strategies.

    To support the rollout of this new multiple measure system, and more specifically, the peer observation component, DPS is hiring a Peer Observer Director. This position will supervise, organize and support the development of the Peer Observers. Key roles will include observation of Peer Observers (in classrooms and during feedback), ongoing training and support for the peer observation team, evaluation of Peer Observersâ performance and hiring of Peer Observers for 2011-12. The position will collaborate with and provide support to the Gates Project Leadership Team on all aspects of deliverables as related to peer observation in the LEAP project. More information about the peer observation process and the Peer Observer Team is below.

    Peer Observation in LEAP:

    One of the multiple measures in the new teacher performance assessment system involves peer observation. A team of centrally managed Peer Observers support the peer observation process. The work of Peer Observers involves direct observation of teacher performance and evaluation of that performance, followed by oral and written feedback. To be clear, the position of Peer Observer will offer support to teachers through feedback about performance. Ratings from the peer observation process are one of several multiple measures in the new evaluation system for teachers. Therefore, the Peer Observer role is supportive and important to the notion of feedback loops in the new system, but it is not a coaching position. The Peer Observer team also does extensive work around inter-rater reliability with the observation tool.

    Essential Duties:
  • Plan and deliver professional development/ongoing training for Peer Observers.
  • Observe Peer Observers in the field -- observe classroom observations and oral feedback conversations between teachers and Peer Observers.
  • Provide feedback on such observations to Peer Observers, identifying areas of strength and growth, as well as providing support and next steps to enhance their performance.
  • Ensure Peer Observer understanding of proper implementation and ongoing opportunities for practice with the new DPS Framework for Effective Teaching.
  • Analyze data that result from peer observations -- identify trends, outliers, and inconsistencies in observation ratings. [Don't you wonder how they define "outliers?"]
  • Support organization and facilitation of feedback opportunities from teachers on the peer observation process and Peer Observers.
  • Analyze feedback data as related to the peer observation process and Peer Observers.
  • Collaborate across Gates Project Leadership Team to support all aspects of the teacher performance assessment system (student data, professional development, teacher performance management, technology solutions). [Drink all the Kool-Aid--or else]
  • Under leadership of Executive Director, Assessment, Research and Evaluation, engage in analysis of observation data and triangulation of observation data through both pilot and initial roll out.
  • Support development and facilitation of training for Peer Observers, principals, and teachers around teacher performance assessment tools for 2011-12 roll out.
  • Support and develop plans and processes for recruitment, hiring and retention of Peer Observers for 2011-12 roll out.
  • Evaluate Peer Observers using DPS' Employee Performance Management System (EPMP).
  • Collaborate with other DPS teams as appropriate on peer observation process (e.g., Alternate Route Licensure Pilot, Leadership Development, etc.).


  • Required Education & Experience:
  • 5 or more years of successful teaching experience in an urban setting, including demonstrated experience with increasing student achievement and closing the achievement gap.
  • Valid Colorado Principal/Administrator License.
  • Leadership experience within an educational setting, including but not limited to service on a school leadership team, leading professional development, planning school-wide initiatives, etc.
  • Experience in observing practice, recognizing various levels of teacher performance and knowledge of how to write language differentiating that performance.
  • Experience with coaching and/or training adult learners.
  • Experience in designing and delivering feedback that leads to increased performance.
  • Extensive knowledge and experience with best practice for culturally and linguistically diverse student population.
  • Skilled in managing others for optimal performance and operating with a focus on service.
  • Ability to analyze data and knowledge of Excel.
  • Experience with direct supervision and management of a team.
  • Ability to identify ways to support others in new, often ambiguous tasks.
  • Team player -- able to collaborate with others, often cross functionality, on challenging, time sensitive projects.
  • Organized and able to meet deadlines.
  • Commitment to ensuring a high quality teacher in every DPS classroom.
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills.
  • Bilingual in Spanish and English preferred.


  • Job Title: Data & Reporting Analyst, Leading Effective Academic Practice (LEAP) (6204)

    Department: Teacher Performance Management

    Reports to: Executive Director, ARE

    Salary Range: $45,000 - $60,000 DOE

    Work Year: 235 days

    Work Schedule: 40 hour work week, with intensive work periods requiring evening work as needed

    Application Due Date: Open Until Filled

    Position Start Date: January 10, 2011

    Overview:
    As articulated in the 2010 Denver Plan, Denver Public Schools (DPS) is committed to improving student achievement through putting in place a comprehensive set of human capital strategies focused on teacher and principal effectiveness. A critical component of this effort is a new system for teacher performance assessment, Leading Effective Academic Practice (LEAP). LEAP will provide teachers and principals with teacher performance information from multiple sources, including student outcome data, observations from principals and peers, and student perception surveys. Through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, DPS is working to develop and rollout components of LEAP to 16 schools in a pilot that begins in January, 2011, and the comprehensive system to 80% of DPS schools in August, 2011.

    Objective: The Data and Reporting Manager will be responsible for providing DPS and project leadership with reports analyzing key performance elements of the LEAP system, and ensuring the accuracy of data captured within LEAP. The Manager will be responsible for working collaboratively across departments to develop and manage processes and reporting tools to ensure that the mapping of teachers to students to subject is accurate. They will develop and provide ongoing reports to support the effective management of LEAP and any human capital decision making based on information within LEAP.

    Primary Responsibilities:
  • Develop reporting tools to allow project leadership team to effectively track performance of LEAP system, and compliance with all elements of system.
  • Responsible for the ongoing data gathering, data analysis and data management required for internal and external reporting related to educator effectiveness, and specifically LEAP.
  • Analyze performance elements of LEAP system and make recommendations to project leadership team based on findings.
  • Work with DPS Assessment team and DoTS to develop and manage structures to ensure accuracy of data captured within system and system operations. Specific activities will include management of a roster validation process to ensure accuracy of linkage between teachers, content areas, and students.
  • Ensure accuracy of core data systems and manage reporting processes to utilize LEAP data to inform broader DPS human capital decisions, such as decisions around granting of non-probationary status (tenure). Work closely with principals, Instructional Superintendents, HR, and School Support Partners to address questions regarding data and resolution of data issues.
  • Proactively identify, track and resolve issues, risks and dependencies associated with LEAP data, and communicate risks, issues and solutions to project team and senior leadership. Identify and implement issue resolutions.
  • Perform other related duties as assigned

  • Required Skills & Experiences:
  • Strong analytic background, including high level of proficiency and expertise with Excel, Access, Sharepoint, and/or other data capture, reporting and analysis systems.
  • Strong collaboration skills, and ability to translate customer needs into technology and process solutions [Who's the customer here?]
  • Commitment to high levels of customer service
  • Ability to identify trends and meaningful information within data and develop compelling reports to inform strategic decision making
  • Strong detail orientation with experience developing and managing data collection processes and data reporting structures
  • Ability to multi-task and juggle management of several projects in parallel, and within tight timelines
  • Strong interpersonal and collaboration skills
  • Interest in education reform


  • Required Education:

  • Bachelorâs degree

    Job Title:Director of Operations-- Leading Effective Academic Practice ( LEAP) (0261)-- Teacher Performance Management-- MM117315005-1011

    Location: Denver
    Last Updated: 1/13/2011

    Department: Teacher Performance Management

    Reports to: Executive Director, Teacher Performance Management

    Starting Salary Range: $80,000 - $92,000

    Work Schedule: 235 day work year

    Application Due Date: Open Until Filled

    Position Start Date: ASAP

    Overview:
    As articulated in the 2010 Denver Plan, Denver Public Schools (DPS) is committed to improving student achievement through putting in place a comprehensive set of human capital strategies focused on teacher and principal effectiveness. A critical component of this effort is a new system for teacher performance assessment, Leading Effective Academic Practice (LEAP). LEAP will provide teachers and principals with teacher performance information from multiple sources, including student outcome data, observations from principals and peers, and student perception surveys. Through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, DPS is working to develop and rollout components of LEAP to 16 schools in a pilot that begins in January, 2011, and the comprehensive system to 80% of DPS schools in August, 2011.

    Objective:
    The Director of Operations will manage a team of operations and training personnel charged with overseeing the day to day management of the LEAP system. Within this role, the Director will manage data collection and quality, communications, reporting to Sr. DPS leadership, student data mapping integrity, logistics management, and helpdesk operations. Eventually, once the system is rolled out successfully, the Director of Operations, LEAP, will manage the ongoing training necessary to maintain the LEAP system.

    Job Duties/Responsibilities:
  • Oversee team of 3-5, and deploy resources to ensure schools and teachers are provided with technical and logistical support throughout the LEAP process
  • Develop structures and communications to address all questions, concerns and issues that arise from teachers and principals, throughout ongoing implementation. Develop training and communications plans for departments across DPS, including HR Connect (HR Help Desk) to ensure effective Tier 1 through Tier 3 support. Establish and manage the LEAP helpdesk (phone, web, email).
  • Develop reporting tools to allow project leadership team to effectively track performance of LEAP system, and effective implementation of all elements of system. Drive the data gathering and analysis process for internal and external reporting.
  • Collaborate with DoTS to provide technical training for LEAP systems and ensure technology systems are meeting user needs.
  • Manage the logistics (location, extra pay, scheduling) for all LEAP related events and training. Oversee materials development and production for rollout and follow-on training.
  • Work with DPS Assessment team and DoTS to develop and manage structures to ensure accuracy of data captured within system and system operations. Specific activities will include supervision of roster validation process, assignment of peer observers to teachers based on content (peer observer case loads), and ongoing management and support for peer observer case loads.
  • Manage reporting processes utilizing LEAP data to inform broader DPS human capital decisions, such as decisions around granting of non-probationary status (tenure)
  • Proactively identify, track and resolve issues, risks and dependencies associated with LEAP operations, and communicate risks, issues and solutions to project team and senior leadership. Identify and implement issue resolutions.
  • Directly manage dedicated operations management team and liaise with business leads across work streams.
  • Manage training sustainability plan for principals, school staffs and central office departments on the LEAP system and processes.
  • Perform other related duties as assigned.


  • Requirements:
  • Bachelor's degree required
  • Background in education strongly preferred
  • MBA preferred
  • 7-10 years operations and general management experience, preferably with experience leading the development and management of a growing team responsible for a new product or initiative
  • Strong collaboration skills, and ability to translate customer needs into technology and process solutions
  • Strong customer service background
  • Experience managing a large team and budget
  • Experience developing and managing large, complicated operations and data collection processes and data reporting structures
  • Ability to multi-task and juggle management of several projects in parallel
  • Must be analytic and strategic thinker, with ability to translate strategic vision into actualized structures and processes
  • Strong interpersonal and leadership skills
  • Team player with the ability to collaborate across academic and operations departments
  • Ability to motivate the team and drive success
  • Strong command of MS Office toolset (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access) and MS Project

  • So what are all these jobs about? Here's the Overview of LEAP, as provided by Denver Public Schools:
    The district and the DCTA have worked in collaboration with DPS teachers and school leaders to develop a new teacher performance assessment system. Through their work on Design Teams, teachers and principals applied the guiding principles from the focus groups to develop recommendations for a meaningful system of observation, feedback, support and evaluation for teachers. This is what we now call LEAP -- Leading Effective Academic Practice.

    LEAP provides teachers with additional feedback and support so they can continue to learn and grow professionally. Teachers want to be the best they can be for their students and our students deserve nothing less than GREAT teachers.
    The Denver Public Schools system has

    a 28-page rubric

    DPS Framework for Effective Teaching 2010-2011

    That's the black and white version--for printing out. The Denver DOE recommends that you view it in color.

    You can see a pie graph of how multiple measures play out in evaluation here.

    And here's the Handbook, which, the DOE says, includes "overview, full evidence guide, and a deep dive into each indicator."

    Okay, before I get into the rubric, I need to be very clear: I've always felt that people who want to evaluate teachers should take a page out of Raymond Chandler. He said of fiction: "If the stuff doesn't vibrate, the hell with it. I don't care how ingenious the plot is, it seems to be to mean nothing unless the prose has that glimmer of magic."

    Even though I will readily concede that it is obvious the people who worked on the Denver Framework for Effective Teaching thought carefully--and deeply--about what good teaching looks like, I worry that when this is translated into a rubric, nothing vibrates and forget magic. It's likely to be misinterpreted as "interrupted instruction" or "deviance from standards-based learning objective."

    I worry that the game is now afoot in Denver, and spreading like locusts elsewhere, to encourage form over substance. What the 28-page rubric will produce is people who master the evaluation form.

    Twenty years ago when competency-based teaching was sweeping the country, I was staff writer at Learning Magazine. We received a manuscript from a triumphant teacher who explained how she'd come out on the top of the Master Teacher heap in her district. She couldn't figure out why she had failed to earn enough points the first time she applied for mastery rank. So she asked colleagues to observe her class and evaluate her teaching according to the Master Teacher checklist. She also had herself videotaped so she could measure her performance against the checklist.

    After coming up short on points a second time, she figured out the problem. "My class was too well behaved. They didn't provide me with the opportunity to prove I could handle a discipline problem--so I didn't get any points in that category," she explained.

    Before she performed for the judges for the third time, she made sure she had a behavior problem in class. She carefully chose the child, one who would add the needed bit of spice to her well-practiced lesson, but one who could be easily controlled.

    Depending on your grip on classroom reality and your vision of teaching excellence, the story has a happy or an outrageous ending. The candidate earned official master teacher certification. And she regarded the certificate and the paycheck as earned merit, the fruits of her persistence and her ability to game the system. She saw no disconnect in the fact that, in her article she never once mentioned who or what she taught. Apparently she saw no irony--or outrage--in the fact that for all the superficial examination by outside experts, she never measured herself by anything but someone else's checklist.

    I look at the Denver rubric and can report there has been some progress in the last 20 years. The checklist of old contained the following:

    16.3.1 Provides guided practice related to specific objectives.

    20.1.2 Begins instructional task promptly.

    36.1.4 Relates today's lesson to the next day's lesson.

    42.6.3 Avoids outbursts.

    51.2.5 Provides grammatically correct bulletin board displays.


    I chose one section of the Denver rubric to put on display. I'm displaying them vertically, because this page does not accommodate a 6-column horizontal array.

    DPS Framework for Effective Teaching 2010-2011

    Learning Environment

    Indicator: LE 4:
    Implements high, clear expectations for student behavior and appropriately responds to misbehavior

    Observable Evidence: Teacher Behavior

    Ineffective 1-2


  • Teacher's expectations for student behavior are inconsistent and/or low from student to student; may be evidenced by ignoring misbehavior.

  • Teacher often stops instruction to address misbehavior and/or it take multiple attempts, often to no avail.

  • Instances of misbehavior, especially repeated ones, are ignored when should be addressed.

  • Teacher's responses to misbehavior are ineffective and unfair from student to student and do not respect students' dignity.


  • Approaching 3-4
  • Teacher's expectations for student behavior are mostly consistent from student to student, though may be lower for some students; may be evidenced by ignoring some students' misbehavior.

  • Teacher sometimes stops instruction to address misbehavior; it may take a while or repeated attempts.

  • Instances of misbehavior, especially repeated ones, are sometimes ignored when should be addressed.

  • Teacherâs responses to misbehavior are sometimes ineffective and/or unfair from student to student; response is mainly reactive, but an effort is made to respect students' dignity.


  • Effective 5-6
  • Teacher communicates high behavior expectations for all students and holds all students accountable.

  • Teacher rarely needs to stop instruction to address misbehavior, or when necessary, handles it quickly and resumes instruction.

  • Instances of misbehavior, especially repeated ones, are addressed, not ignored.

  • Teacher's responses to misbehavior are effective and fair from student to student; response is proactive and respects' dignity.


  • Distinguished 7

  • Teacher holds high behavior expectations and holds all students accountable, which may not be seen because of embedded systems and expectations.

  • Teacher almost never stops instruction to address misbehavior, or when necessary, handles it swiftly and seamlessly without interrupting instruction.


  • Student Behavior
    Observable Evidence

    Ineffective 1-2


  • Students' misbehavior consistently distracts from others' learning.

  • Students are sometimes productively engaged.

  • Several students may exhibit inappropriate behavior (e.g., leaving classroom without permission; passing notes, pushing, fighting; talking [sic] excessively long to complete routine tasks; using unauthorized devices; throwing objects).


  • Approaching 3-4

  • Students' misbehavior sometimes detracts from others' learning.

  • Students are often productively engaged.

  • A few students may exhibit inappropriate behavior.


  • Effective 5-6

  • Students' misbehavior rarely detracts from others' learning.

  • Students are productively engaged nearly all the time.

  • Almost no students exhibit inappropriate behavior.


  • Distinguished 7

  • Students self-manage their and others' behavior.

  • Students' misbehavior does not detract from lesson.

  • Students are productively engaged all the time.

  • No students exhibit inappropriate behavior.


  • And so on and so on. The official observer has 30 to 45 minutes to award teacher effectiveness points according to the 28-page scale. I invite you to read my book about teaching combined classes of Grades 7-8 graders Caught in the Middle: Nonstandard Kids and a Killing Curriculum and take a guess how long an observer would have to sit in one of those classes to figure out if there was any "productive engagement" occurring. Said observer would have seen LOTS of me ignoring misbehavior. I regarded this as one of my singular talents: high tolerance for misbehavior.

    When I taught in an alternative high school where one of our important functions was to keep "those" keeps separate from kids at the regular high school, the administrator's evaluation scheme was to count what every kid was doing every 10 minutes. When he reported that six students were "playing with clay," I insisted that he change it to "working with clay." As it happened, they were involved in an architecture project that would later be checked out by a graduate architectural student from the local university. Work. Play. In a good classroom, who can tell? It is my credo to honor play, but any teacher sees the problem here.

    Bad as the rubric "Learning Environment" framework is, there's worse to come.

    Instructions

    Expectation: Standards-Based Goals

    Indicator: 11: Clearly communicates the standards-based learning objective(s) for the lesson, connecting to larger rationale(s)

    Observable Evidence

    Teacher Behaviors

    Ineffective 1-2


  • Standards-based lesson objective(s) are not evident or clear, or objective(s) are not aligned to standards.

  • Teacher makes statements that connect lesson skills and objective(s) to assessments and/or grades, but does not connect them to standards, unit goals, or real-world situations; or, teacher does not provide purpose or context for lesson skills or objective(s).

  • Activities may be more the focus of lesson than objective(s), if any are given.


  • Approaching 3-4
  • Teacher may post standards-based lesson objective(s) and may refer to objective(s) at the beginning of lesson, but does not make connections to objective(s) throughout lesson or when closing lesson to reflect on and assess learning.

  • Teacher may or may not make statements that connect lesson skills and objective(s) to unit goals, content standards, and/or real-world situations. If done, connections may not be clear or in kid-friendly language.

  • Activities may be more the focus of lesson than objective(s), or evidence suggests that students understand activities more than objective(s).


  • Effective 5-6

  • Teacher posts standards-based lesson objective(s), verbally tells students lesson objective(s), and refers to objective(s) throughout lesson.

  • Teacher makes statements that connect lesson skills and objective(s) to unit goals, content standards, and/or real-world situations. Connections are made during lesson and/or when closing lesson to reflect on learning.

  • Teacher connects activities to objective(s).


  • Distinguished 7

    In addition to "Effective":
  • Teacher connects standards-based lesson objective(s) to any prior, related learning and allows students to talk about objective(s).

  • Teacher invites students to add or comment on connections between lesson skills and objective(s) to unit goals, content standards, and/or real-world situations.

  • Where appropriate, teacher may maintain digital presence connected to objective(s) (e.g., Web pages, video capture of lesson, online grade books) that students can refer to in their lesson reviews.


  • Student Behaviors: Observable Evidence

    Ineffective 1-2


  • When asked what they are learning, students struggle to clearly articulate what lesson is about or can only describe task but not objective(s).

  • Students cannot talk about how tasks they are working on connect to objective(s).

  • Students ask, "Why are we doing this?"


  • Approaching 3-4

  • When asked what they are learning, students can read lesson objective(s) where they are posted or describe activity, but might not know activity's objective(s).

  • Students may not be able to talk about how tasks they are working on connect to objective(s).


  • Effective 5-6 and Distinguished 7

  • When asked what they are learning, students can talk about lesson objective(s) and how lesson connects to tasks they are working on and authentic, real-world situations.

  • Students can communicate larger standards or unit goals, as related to lesson objective(s) (e.g., when asked why a summary is important, students respond that if you can summarize, it is evidence that you comprehend what you've read) and real-world situations.

  • Students expand on the larger picture that teacher outlined for them (e.g., they make their own connections between content and objective(s) and larger units or life).


  • Ohmygod, now when a kid in Denver whines, "Why do we have to do this?" his teacher is going to lose "effectiveness" points.

    And as for sticking to that standards-based lesson, just remember the Bird in the Window. This excerpt is from Ask Ms. Class, available from Amazon.com at shockingly low prices.

    For Pete, wherever you are. A piece of my heart is with you.

    Metaphors are important. At the risk of incurring the wrath of her husband, who says he's very very tired of hearing about the bird in the window, here it is.

    Early in her career, Ms. Class was fortunate to encounter a beautiful little essay titled "The Bird in the Window," written by the philosopher/science educator David Hawkins. The metaphor has remained her guiding principle and passion for more than twenty years. Hawkins points out that there is an essential lack of predictability about what's going to happen in a good classroom, not because there's no control but precisely because there is control, of the right kind--the teacher bases her decisions on her observation of actual children in actual situations.

    Such a classroom makes room for accidents, the unexpected happening that directs attention in some new way. Suddenly there it is. The bird flies in the window, and that's the miracle you needed. If the teacher is ready for and is able to make educational capital out of the interests and choices of children and out of this accidental appearance of the bird, then great things happen. If the bird coming in the window is just a nuisance, interrupting your planned lesson, then you don't deserve it, and in fact, it never happens. If you deserve it, the bird will fly in the window.

    Ms. Class treasured this metaphor for years, and then one day there was a bird in her window. Well, close to the window. She noticed that Pete, the second most obnoxious student who had ever graced her classroom, was staring out the window. This wasn't unusual. Since Pete could not read and could barely write, he looked for other things to occupy his attention. Ms. Class asked Pete, "What's up?" and he pointed out that for several days he'd been watching a bird sitting in a nest with three eggs.

    Pete was shocked when Ms. Class handed him a Polaroid and told him to go outside and take a picture of that bird's nest and eggs. Pete knew as well as Miss Class that a sacred rule of the school was Never let any kid out of your classroom--particularly a kid like Pete.

    Ms. Class told Pete: "I'm writing you a pass that says you are outside the building on essential business. If any adult gives you a hard time, be polite, but tell him to take it up with me. Tell him I said this is an extraordinary circumstance; tell him it's an emergency. That's exactly what I'm writing: EMERGENCY PROJECT."

    After all, how many times does a teacher have a robin's nest right outside her window? Ms. Class never doubted that Pete had to go take that picture. Here she was, a teacher who had tried to work under the principle of a bird in the window for twelve years. And now she had one, and she certainly wasn't going to ignore it.

    Pete thought Ms. Class was nuts. He did not return to class and write a five-hundred-word essay on birds' nesting habits. He did not read a book about robins. But he seemed pleased by the pictures he took. When he thought nobody was looking, he took it out of his pocket and looked at it. And he grinned. And Ms. Class noticed that he didn't curse for six days. And she grinned.


    I am my stories, and I refuse to apologize for it. The education managers who add up the points from official classroom observations can't judge what really counts: Flexibility, the ability to bounce back after 63 defeats, ready to try again. I'm not much interested in seeing how a teacher carefully structures her lesson so that the kids stick to the objectives and the bell always rings in the right place--just after she makes her summary and gives the prelude for what will come tomorrow. I want to find out if that teacher is flexible and tough and clever and loving. I want to be sure she's more nurturing than a halibut.

    What does she do when a kid vomits (all over those neat lesson plans)? Or an indignant parent rushes in denouncing a book? Or the worst troublemaker has a meltdown? Or somebody spots a cockroach under her desk?

    The most wonderful satisfactions of teaching happen in the blink of an eye and are usually unplanned and unexpected. You can miss their importance and lose their sustenance if your eyes are glassily fixed on the objective your lesson plan promises you'll deliver that hour. Our joy is in the daily practice of our craft--and often in those unexpected interruptions. We must talk, not of time on task but of the tantalizing vagueness and the lumps in the throat, the poetry and true purpose of our calling.

    Bill Gates be damned: Keep your eye on the sparrow, not on the Standards.

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