In a recent conversation with a former colleague and close friend, I discovered she had a nervous breakdown in June and that was why she had not returned calls or emails. I knew she was feeling poorly but the extent of her illness I did not know until our recent conversation.
She is an experienced, caring, excellent educator. She is the teacher who is there for the students before and after school. The one who helps with lunch money at times. The one who brings life to the classroom. Where students come to hang out when they are kicked out of someone else’s classroom. Add to this her scores are always amongst the best if not the best in the school, a school not on anyone’s list to perform because they have always been successful. Yet this teacher collapsed under the weight of educational scare tactics, in the name of educational reform.
In a recent NYT article reviewing the changes in teacher evaluations, most of the public comes away with a feeling that this process is a fair and equitable way of evaluating educator performance. Let me state up-front that having lived through an evaluation system based on absolutes, and performance quotas, it is not possible to be fair nor equitable. If you have 100 employees and your target states that 10% of your employees are allowed to get the top rating, but your team is a group of handpicked professionals that you know are all working at their capacity doing great work and while yes there may be a few here and there who could do better, how do you pick 10 people? How do you give those outstanding employees who have given you more than you’ve asked for a rating of OK while their colleague receives an outstanding doing the same job? Now add to this the idea that this rating will be made public, so everyone in small-town USA will get to see who is OK, who is mediocre, who needs “improvement.”
My colleague collapsed under the weight of fall-guy responsibility. All the problems of the educational system were now hers. Parents want to take over schools, administrators who are meaningless educational accountants instead of instructional leaders, school boards blindly put into place the next educational reform to get the funds needed to build and equip schools. And of course students are not to blame. Their’s is the plight of young people existing in an unfair world where more is expected of them than ever before. While I’ve not seen many school systems where students get up before dawn to do chores, go to school, and then go home to work the farm, I’ve seen plenty with the newest cars, smartest phones, and longest sleep cycles of any group of young people to date.
To my friend, my colleague, I want to tell her that this will all get better but frankly I don’t see it happening anytime soon. In fact the opposite is happening. The educational system is fracturing and bits and pieces are flying off. Private schools, home-schooling, web based learning, charter schools, charters for private schools, parent schools, all pulling apart the educational system. Perhaps this is akin to natural selection, and it is a trimming of the weak points allowing a stronger system to evolve. Whatever this process is, the effects are being felt by good, strong, and caring educators everywhere and the result is a red circle on the grade page of educational reform.