The historic closing of 49 elementary schools in Chicago left many parents bitter and feeling left out as they try to get involved in new schools. Yet parent engagement is essential for school improvement, and principals are faced with the challenge of building trust at schools that scored poorly on surveys of parent involvement.
Evaluating the CPS evaluation
The check-sheet form that principals use to evaluate teachers in the Chicago Public Schools contains six broad themes that are broken down into 33 skill areas. The options for rating teachers on each skill area are "strength," "weakness" or "does not apply."
Ratings in three of the broad themes—instruction, school environment and professional and personal standards—are based on the two class visits required of the principal. The other three—school-wide environment, community relationships and professional responsibility—are rated through unspecified "additional observations."
The skill areas include such things as:
provides written lesson plans
provides bulletin board
maintains attendance book(s)
presents an appearance that does not adversely affect the students' ability to learn
is punctual and regular in attendance to school & duty assignments.
The two-page form contains three lines where principals may include additional "local school unit criteria" to assess and another three lines for comments, which are sometimes—but not often—given. More often, teachers simply receive their checkmarks and a one-word summary, usually "superior" or "excellent." Sometimes, the one-word summary is all they get.
Few teachers, principals or observers of the check-sheet forms find them adequate, although some teachers are concerned that a revised system might not maintain the forms' objectivity. Here is what some of them had to say:
Different voices, similar views
Pam Clarke, senior associate director, Leadership for Quality Education, which has been facilitating joint CTU-CPS sessions on the topic
"It's just not a meaningful process. It's a piece of paper that has to be filed, and it's filed, and it's never thought about again. Everybody was in agreement that they want to make this a process that starts a dialogue. Even outstanding teachers have areas they can improve upon."
Xavier Botana, director of teacher accountability, Chicago Public Schools
"It should be changed to reflect something that is clearly connected to what you want kids to know and be able to do. It may be more than a form. It has to be well-understood, which begs for a higher level of clarity and specificity."
Clarice Berry, president, Chicago Principals and Administrators Association
"It's so generic. There are some specific things that should be tied into the instructional focus that principals are expected to maintain. It needs to be more streamlined in terms of what is actually happening in the schools right now."
Donald Feinstein, principal, Chicago Academy
"Some of the line by line items could be made a little more relevant and authentic, and genuine to teacher evaluation. It's vague, a little archaic, and could be more relevant to the duties and responsibilities and activities that teachers perform on a day-to-day basis."
Cydney Fields, principal, Ray Elementary
"Some of the stuff that's in there may be important in terms of, what is the role of the teacher, maintaining attendance books and lesson plans. It's not that it's not important, but that's not, when I go into a classroom to observe, what's at the top of my mind. I'm looking at how they present the instruction, and the kinds of strategies they use, and are they meeting the needs of all of the learners."
Linda Sienkiewicz, principal, Audubon Elementary
"There's areas that, I look at them and wonder, what are we actually supposed to observe? I don't even know how to judge a teacher's performance on a couple of the categories that are listed. There's nothing that mentions test data, student progress in terms of standardized tests or any other kind of diagnostic testing."
Allen Bearden, assistant to the president for educational issues, Chicago Teachers Union
"It's just a check-sheet, things like whether your room is in order, whether a bulletin board's up. Not that these things don't have value, but they're not informative about your practice."
Sandra Finkel, librarian and art appreciation teacher, Franklin Magnet
"It seems pretty general. We're professionals, and it covers the things we do. Principals could use it as a real punishment for teachers. If they don't like a teacher, they could give them a poor rating for 'keeps an attractive classroom.' "
Bella Rudnick, 2nd-grade teacher, Lozano Bilingual
"This way it's not so critical and it's not so personal. You just go down a checklist. Then you don't say, 'Why did he write this on hers, and he didn't write this on mine?' Maybe this keeps it where you don't take it so personally. It's safe."