Musings from a BOE EES session

Last Wednesday I attended a Board of Education meeting at Kaimuki Middle School. It was put together to give educators a voice on the current Educator Effectiveness System that has plagued the nation, causing a mass extinction of passion among educators who are more frustrated than ever.

I arrived a few minutes after 4 pm to find a crowd of about thirty teachers waiting outside of the library. By 4:45, that number had doubled, and continued to grow as teachers traveled from all over the island to have a moment to share the woes of failed education policy.

Don Horner and Amy Asselbaye were the only Board of Ed members kind enough to attend. The other two that attended were two Complex Area Superintendents.

Emotions began to rise quickly. Teachers that shared were visibly shaken from the stress that this school year has embodied. The common theme describing EES included terms such as “demeaning” and “demoralizing.” Another great educator described the implementation of EES as “building a ship as we are trying to sail it” while more and more annoyed and overworked educators are abandoning ship with a heavy heart.

Educators from all over the island came to the following consensus on EES:

  • The Student Growth Percentile is determined by the school but it affects teachers’ ratings.
  • Tripod surveys should be used for reflection, not evaluation tied to salary.
  • Tripod surveys include questions that are negatively phrased and confusing, and include too many questions for upper grades and aren’t appropriately implemented for elementary grades.
  • Student Learning Objectives do not aid teachers in creating better instruction but instead take away from planning in exchange for paperwork.
  • The extra work that vice principals have taken up has taken away from other administrative responsibilities.
  • The ‘Core Professionalism’ component asks teachers to give more than the set contractual hours and creates a system that furthers the stigma that teachers are merely volunteers and shouldn’t be reimbursed for going above and beyond.
  • The added stress is affecting teacher retention and creating divisiveness in schools.
  • Student growth tied to teacher salary will result in a greater turnover and overall under-staffing of low-income schools in exchange for employment at schools in upper-class communities.
  • The roll-out and implementation has been been unsystematic. The confusion between the DOE, administrators, and teachers have created adversarial relationships and divisiveness due to changing expectations on a week-to-week basis.
  • SLOs are furthering the “test culture” that reduces students to numbers and eradicates creativity from education, as elementary grades are pushing math and reading and eliminating art, history, and music.

A former soldier turned educator shared that he began seeing a similar “chain of command” system that he had seen in the military, and said that it is damaging to morale and killing positive educational innovation.

Among the many voices that shared, a few shared positive changes that the DOE could make to fix the system.

Mike Wooten, an 11th/12th grade English teacher as well as co-founder of the non-profit organization “Learning First” stated that we must have a philosophical switch that put the two issues below at the center of education policy:

  1. Hiring and nurturing teachers that are experts in subject area, pedagogy, and child development.
  2. Investing in instruction instead of assessment.

He then posed the question to the Board: “If you had the choice of sending your children to a school that valued standards, tests, and evaluations or one that hired teachers that are experts in subject matter, child development, and pedagogy, where would you send them?

Corey Rosenlee, a social studies teacher, HSTA representative, and educational activist that runs the organization “Hawaii Teachers Work to the Rules” insisted on the importance of reopening the contract for negotiation of EES. He also stressed the evaluation of considering why we are doing this when 70% of teachers feel that it hasn’t improved their practice, and more teachers than ever are considering leaving the profession.

Mark Adato, a STEM resource teacher, encouraged the Board to consider not only how we can improve the evaluation system but also to look at the big picture of how we improve the quality of teaching. He suggested a philosophical switch that focuses on the input instead of the output: if we focus on the “input” by investing all of the money that was spent on EES instead on teachers’ salaries and focus on “picking the right team,” the “output” (the ‘fix-after’ philosophy) would take care of itself. He furthered his claims against EES stating that it didn’t work when Bill Gates implemented it at Microsoft, and that employees claimed that it killed innovation and collaboration.

Another teacher, Amber Tyndzik, said that the system in place is labeling and stigmatizing children. An HSTA representative, Amber completed her Masters’ thesis on the current testing culture, and found through her research that the focus on testing has had an enormous negative impact on teaching practices. She also stated that we need to reevaluate professional development, and begin considering the research behind project-based learning instead of test-preparation.

Another great educator shared research that proved that three components create successful schools: administrative support and leadership, a positive atmosphere, and teacher autonomy.

Overall, the meeting lasted for over two hours. The panel that included the two Board of Ed members, Don and Amy, as well as two Complex Area Superintendents, was reduced to only one who stayed the entire time (Don Horner). Both Don and Amy were very empathetic to the concerns shared and clearly have the best intentions at heart. Amy thoughtfully shared that she is a mom of public school children and that is why she became a Board of Ed member. Don kindly stated that “educators are the solution, not the problem” and that he was not happy with the EES implementation either.

However, there continues to be a disconnection between how teachers feel the system should be fixed and how the Board of Ed feels that it should. One of Don’s final comments included, “If Corporate America built this system it would be a lot better than if educators did.” The problem in that statement is not only that it is factually incorrect, as Corporate America did build EES (remember Bill Gates?) but also the concept that educators are not worthy enough to design a system that evaluates what we know best. A contractor wouldn’t hire a painter to evaluate a cabinet-makerThe shift in education must include the philosophy that educators are at the center of education policy.

At this point, we can only cross our fingers that positive changes arise next year. And if they don’t, we know what to do when our next contact comes up. Thank you to the teachers who attended. Let’s keep fighting for what we know is best for our students as well as for our professional autonomy and growth.