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UEA Editorial: Effective teacher evaluation programs can improve schools

1/29/2011

(This editorial appeared in the Salt Lake Tribune January 29, 2011)

By Sharon Gallagher-Fishbaugh, President, Utah Education Association

There’s been a great deal of talk recently about the importance of teaching in our public schools. Some have vilified teacher associations as protectors of bad teachers. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the Utah Education Association and its local affiliates in each Utah school district are constantly seeking ways to improve teacher effectiveness and ensure a quality teacher in every classroom.

While there are many factors involved in enhancing teacher quality, one critical component is an effective educator evaluation program. In a perfect educational world, an educator evaluation program helps teachers identify instructional strengths and weaknesses. Teachers and administrators can then use evaluations to build on strengths and remediate weaknesses. In situations where evaluation and remediation fails to improve classroom practice, teachers can be terminated through established district procedures agreed upon by administration and teachers.

A key figure in this entire process is the principal, the instructional leader in each school. Ideally, a principal is trained in evaluation procedures, knowledgeable in providing feedback, given time to carry out regular evaluations and held accountable for ensuring an excellent teacher in every classroom. The principal works with teachers, through their association, to carry out the evaluation process.

An excellent example of this collaboration can be found in the Granite School District. There the District and the Granite Education Association have worked closely over the past several years to create an effective, research-based educator evaluation program.

On a recent visit to West Valley City’s Monroe Elementary with several colleagues, we saw this program in action. Those of us who had not experienced the process first-hand were struck by several things: the training, time and support given to principals; the reliability of the observation data; the immediate feedback given to teachers; a school culture accustomed to frequent formal and informal observations; district specialists to help improve teaching practice; and the collaborative partnership between the teachers association and district administration in facilitating the evaluation process.

This partnership developed over time. Granite District began by establishing an expectation…to help every educator improve and succeed, not to simply eliminate struggling teachers. Meeting frequently with local association leaders to diagnose problems and assist teachers in improving their practice, the District developed a cadre of principals to implement diagnostic tools such as classroom management, drop-in, and time-on-task observations. Currently, nearly 140 Granite administrators voluntarily participate in these administrator cadres.

As principals perfected their craft, teachers recognized that administrators were in their classrooms, not to punish, but to assist and improve their teaching ability. Principals are trained on diagnosing and assisting teachers, collecting data and ensuring district procedures are followed. During the first year of classroom drop-in observations, there were complaints from 20 schools out of the 32 involved. In 2010, there were over 5,000 drop-in observations completed in more than 80 schools with ZERO complaints.

The teacher evaluation program works because all the partners collaborate to provide a quality teacher in every classroom and also make sure each teacher is treated with respect and is afforded their due process rights. Importantly, the District and the teacher’s association are partners in this work.

When you ask Annette Brinkman, Director of Teacher and Administrator Induction and Intervention for the Granite School District, why their teacher evaluation program works, she says, “It is the District’s responsibility to have a quality teacher in every classroom and also police due process.” Star Orullian, Granite Education Association’s Executive Director, responds with, “It is the teachers association’s responsibility to police due process and also to have a quality teacher in every classroom.”

There are some who find it politically expedient to portray teachers associations as an obstacle. Clearly, Granite School District administration feels differently. The success that comes from true collaboration benefits students. I challenge the naysayers to set aside their preconceived notions and reconsider how we can work together to create a great public school for every child.

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