May 9th, 2012

WATCH: John Merrow And Joel Klein In Discussion

( Click here to download the podcast )

John Merrow appeared with former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein at The JCC in Manhattan on May 2, 2012. Above is the full video of their discussion. You can click the audio play button above that to listen to just the audio in podcast format.

This was John’s fourth “JCC Conversations” appearance of 2011-2012. Previous guests included Randi Weingarten and Wendy Kopp; you can watch the Kopp video here.

John’s series of conversations with education luminaries will resume in the fall of 2012; “JCC Conversations” continues year-round.

If you’d like to see some reporting that John did on Joel Klein back in 2005, click this link.

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I get the fact that JK ruffled myriad feathers as chancellor, but his background information was very instructive as to why he works the way he does. As always, great questions asked and even greater deal of information to consider. Thanks John and Learning Matters for another great use of my time.

John, I would like Joel Klein to have the following information:

For thirty years I was a teacher in a low-income school in a suburb of Los Angeles, CA. In 1971 there was a law named the Stull Act that required schoolteachers be evaluated according to the progress of their students.

Every other year I had my “Stull Evaluation” with the principal. In order to show student progress I showed the principal student tests,compositions and work throughout the year. In addition to that, the students’ standardized tests, stored in cum files, were available to the principal at all times. My permission was not required for the principal to review these scores.

By law my evaluator had the right to enter my classroom at any time,observe my lessons and become familiar with the progress of each child in my class.

Despite the Stull Act, the majority of principals did NOT take the time to follow the progress of my students. Although the best administrators looked at student work, many just went through the motions of looking at the evidence of student progress that I presented to them during my evaluation interview.

So although California teachers were supposed to be evaluated according to student progress since 1971, the fact is that most districts ignored this and instead gave teachers cursory evaluations and almost every teacher received a “satisfactory” rating. Obviously an ineffective teacher with twenty years of “satisfactory” evaluations cannot be easily dismissed. She has the same “due process” rights of any government employee (city librarian, firefighter, City Hall clerk, etc.)

Finally parents sued the Los Angeles Unified School District (Doe vs. Deasy) because teachers were not being evaluated according to student progess. Deasy had the nerve to imply that “the unions” were to blame but the court was not fooled. It was obviously a case of a district ignoring a law. Los Angeles was ordered to abide by the law but the judge left it up to the teachers and administrators to decide how best to do it. My guess is that principals will now have to be familiar with the progress in each teacher’s class.

It is not that difficult to evaluate a teacher but it is time-consuming and expensive. It can’t be done with a ten-dollar group test.

Why are 95% of all teachers given “drive by” evaluations and then given “satisfactory” ratings? That’s the real problem.

I’m not certain why almost teachers are judged “effective” but based on experience I think it’s because of supply and demand. During good economic times 50% of all teachers quit so that principals just wanted to keep everyone “with a pulse.” In addition to that, most principals were too harried to know what was going on in the classrooms.

John,of course you are right. A teacher CAN be evaluated but it takes other professionals to do it. To evaluate the art teacher, you must have a committee of art teachers (and parents and administrators) to be familiar with this teacher. Obviously a standardized test cannot do it.

Thank you, John, for being a knowledgeable voice of reason. Mr. Klein sounds like a nice man who truly cares about children, but he does not have a solid background in the field of education. When the economy improves and the talented women are in all professions, I believe there will be another severe teacher shortage. The people who have been indulging in all the shameful teacher-bashing at this time will be to blame.

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