Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Set up to Fail: The Thrilling Sequel

A while back, I wrote a post here called Set Up to Fail that was partially inspired by the now-in-doubt closings of Jamaica High School et al. In this post, I wrote that many school "reforms" are, benignly or malignly so, actually setting more teachers (and students) up to fail than their proponents realize. Because "reform" sometimes ends up sweeping away that which was effective as well as that which was ineffective, demoralization, confusion, and loss of self-efficacy are likely among teachers, which undoubtedly is passed on to the students.

Fast forward to late April. I have a colleague who is up for tenure this year and I suspect that my principal may be looking for a reason to discontinue her. She had a preobservation with my principal today that revealed some expectations that I had to admit sounded unreasonable; they would be difficult at best for a teacher that had had a long time to practice what she was being asked to do, and well nigh impossible for someone newish at this like my colleague is. She has already been U-rated once this year, and, without tenure, I don't guess my principal needs too many more reasons. Don't ask me to sort out my personal opinion about this teacher--if nothing else, it's irrelevant--but I can say for sure that I have my suspicions about what my principal, and I imagine many others, might try to do to take aim at other teachers they don't want:

1.) Set expectations that are unreasonably high;
2.) Offer documentation that the individual had assistance in reaching the expectations (e.g. a preobservation);
3.) Document the failure to reach that observation;
4.) U-rate teacher.

This is a different kind of "set up to fail," but the result is the same: a teacher who might, under some circumstances, look competent or even excellent is made to look incompetent under others. It's particularly pernicious when a teacher is asked to do something outside the scope of his or her licensure and certification. That's why I don't trust the so-called higher-ups to redesign teacher evaluation systems, and why, failing a teacher-driven movement to do so, the system we have now ought to stay in place.

Maybe I'm being paranoid. Maybe my principal is just trying to set the bar high. Can't fault that.

But I wonder.
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