Some critics of America’s public schools say teachers don’t want to be held accountable for the challenges of struggling schools. Not true. In fact, teachers demand to be held accountable and they’re the first to say, “The status quo must go,” in education. But they want it done, fairly, realistically, and with purpose.
In a recent address to participants in the NEA Priority Schools Campaign forum, Changes, Challenges and Collaboration, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said, “We need to be dissatisfied with the way things are. It has to gnaw deep down in your gut so hard that you can’t stand it. That you can’t take it for one more day that it stays the way it is. That you not only accept change, you demand change,” said Van Roekel.
A group of educators in Romulus, Michigan did just that—change a system that didn’t work for them. District and school administrators, educators, and union leaders at Romulus Middle School seized on the public policy window afforded by the Obama administration’s School Improvement Grant (SIG) program to help raise student achievement and remove the stigma of a “failing school.”
Romulus was one of 28 Michigan schools to receive SIG funding. Part of the grant required school leaders to reform its existing teacher evaluation system. However, Romulus was ahead of most Michigan school districts in overhauling its evaluation system. Four years ago, local education leaders started looking at different professional growth models to transform its outdated assessment tool because what they had in place resembled a grocery list.
“The previous teacher evaluation was a check-off form. People were either ‘satisfactory,’ ‘unsatisfactory,’ or ‘in need of improvement,’” said Gary Banas, president of the Romulus Education Association. “There was no clear rubric. It was meaningless.”
The way it worked: Educators at the middle school would be formally evaluated every three years. The school principal and a content expert from the school district would conduct two formal evaluations that were thirty minutes long. Afterwards, they would go through the motion of checking off boxes.
“The initial system was ineffective,” said Jason Salhaney, principal of Romulus Middle School. “Educators were left feeling ‘I’m just okay’ rather than finding out what they’re really good at or what they’re not good at.”
Dissatisfied with its system, a committee was formed to research various evaluation and accountability systems. The group—union leaders, district and school administrators, and educators—spent two years looking at various professional growth plans.
After numerous revisions, the initial evaluation model allowed teachers and principals to develop a common understanding of Charlotte Danielson’s teacher performance standards and its relationship to student growth.
“Our goal in Romulus was to shift teacher evaluation from an event that teachers and principals endured to a process that requires teachers and principals to trust each other as they work to improve performance,” said Carl Weiss, superintendent of Romulus Community Schools.