Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bill Gates, $5bn, and a good idea gone horribly wrong

I'm feeling more reflective than I have in a while.  Maybe it's the approaching end of the school year.  There's less to look forward to, which is not to say there is less to do.  It was in the mindset of thinking back on the school year that my RSS feed told me about Bill Gates's 5 billion dollar plan to film teachers and use that to evaluate them.  I'm broadly in favor of filming teachers teaching.   The first several times I felt self-conscious, and I felt like I was changing my behavior away from my norm and towards what I though I was supposed to be doing, usually with disastrous results.  I can only imagine how the students felt about it.  After they got done mugging for the camera, maybe they just felt like I was spying on them, despite my reassurances that I wasn't recording them, I was recording me.  Whatever the case, I consistently get a good idea of what I'm doing after watching myself do it.  Some brave souls even open up their videos to student critique in class time.  I'm not there yet--I still feel like I know what good teaching looks like better than they do--but I see the value in it.

Having said all that, I agree 100 percent with Valerie Strauss's evaluation of this system of evaluation.  It should be used strictly in a coaching environment, and not as an "evaluation."  The conversation should be, "This is how you get better," not "This is what you did wrong."  There are a number of problems with billionaire philanthropists paying for social changes in areas they know nothing about, but among the problems with this particular movement is one of timing.  Teacher improvement and teacher evaluations are not the same thing.  To use the lingo, we should be talking about formative assessments for teachers, and instead summative assessments are taking up all the oxygen.  Instead of talking about turning good teachers into really good teachers, we're talking about firing bad teachers, and making the metric for "bad teacher" eventually impossible to overcome.  Futher, while I agree that having strangers (presumably experts, but somehow I doubt it) watch our videos and provide us with feedback could provide an unbiased perspective, it also would remove all context from the lesson.  That context makes all the difference.

No comments: