Last week the Baltimore City Board of Education approved an unacceptable teacher evaluation process over the objections of the vast majority of the city’s public school teachers, who are represented by outstanding new, democratic union leadership.

At the core of the new policy is a demand from the school board that teachers should be open to formal observations without any prior notice from principals. At any time, on any day, a principal or assistant principal can walk into a teacher’s room, and a chunk of that teacher’s official evaluation for the school year can be determined by what the principal observes on that day.

The list of items that teachers are supposed to demonstrate for every lesson is longer than NASA’s protocols for moon launches. But that doesn’t matter to the school board. Every teacher, every lesson, every day, should have every item implemented, visible and documented on the chance that that will be the lesson their formal evaluation occurs unannounced.

Insanity, obviously.

The school board justified its policy by claiming that it was in the best interests of the students, as if teachers justify their positions based on their own interests and not the students’. Of course, this is just question begging. The whole question is what is in the best interests of the students, and merely claiming that your interests coincide with the students’, while your opponents’ interests diverge from the students’ is not an argument; it’s a disguise.

Disguising what? The school board seeks to disguise its unjustified feeling that too many teachers don’t care enough, don’t work hard enough or smart enough, don’t collaborate with administration, don’t know how to do their jobs. The board figures the good teachers are doing everything they need to do anyway, and it’s only the bad teachers who will have to change their ways in order to get decent evaluations.

But this is all counterfactual. Good teachers don’t follow all the rules, or even most of the rules. Good teachers are good precisely because they know how to teach well despite the rules. Teachers who really don’t care spend way too much time making sure they’re “in compliance” without actually responding to the needs of their students. The way you can tell these kinds of teachers apart is to simply ask the students. They want to learn, they try their little hearts out, and they do learn from good teachers and are frustrated by teachers who are just checking off boxes.

AuthorJay Gillen