Yasmeen Khan is a reporter covering education. You can find her stories on the air and on SchoolBook.org, WNYC’s education website.
Teachers are just beginning to sort through the details of the lengthy evaluation plan released over the weekend by State Education Commissioner John King.
The plan for teachers is about 140 pages long, and includes the broad brushstrokes teachers expected to see: their evaluations will rely on a combination of classroom observation, components of student learning and student test scores. But now that the new evaluation system goes into effect this September, many teachers said they were anxious about the details.
"I think the general feeling is 'overwhelmed,'" said Renny Fong, a computer teacher at P.S. 130 Hernando De Soto in Manhattan.
He said that he, like many teachers, is happy to move away from the current evaluation system that requires one observation and gives teachers only a "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory" rating. He said that he is looking forward to meaningful feedback from and conversation with his principal.
But he likened the arrival of a new and complex evaluation system to a "Big Bang" happening in education. It comes at the same time that schools are adjusting to new Common Core learning standards, more difficult state tests and special education reform, among other major initiatives.
"No one knows what's going to come of it," he said, especially with limited time to prepare for implementation this fall.
Katie Lapham, a teacher of English as a second language to kindergarten through fifth grade students, said she is reading the new evaluation plan through the lens of how it will affect her students.
"I'm going to look at everything and say, 'Does this benefit the kids or does this take away from their education?'" Lapham declined to give the name of her school, noting only that it is a Title I school in Brooklyn.
She said she has a positive working relationship with her school adminstrators who make frequent informal observations of teachers in the classroom. She is concerned about the time and paperwork the principal and assistant principals will have to put into observations, she said. And she is not happy about the focus on standardized test scores as measures of student learning.
"For me, I'm very sensitive to it," she said. "I'm an ESL teacher so my students are all English language learners. And especially for the ones who are newcomers and barely speak English, school can be a scary place," she said, referring to the stress around testing.
When Michael Mulgrew, the teachers' union president, released a letter to teachers calling the new plan "professional and fair," he added that the key to the plan's success would be its implementation.
That was an exact sentiment echoed by Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of the group Educators 4 Excellence, in a blog post.
"A plan is only as good as its implementation and we hope the city and the union get to work quickly to make sure principals and teachers are thoroughly trained and are ready to make the most of this opportunity," he wrote.
Schleifer praised the plan as a "critical first step" and said it included much of what Educators 4 Excellence recommended in a recent policy paper.
But the MORE Caucus, a group of teachers within the union, lambasted union leadership and called the plan "bad for educators and the children they serve."
"The system will create an even greater climate of fear and effectively ends tenure as we know it by placing too much value on high-stakes testing," said Julie Cavanagh, an elementary school teacher and member of MORE, in a statement. "Educators are best positioned to evaluate and assess our students and teachers, not imposed tests, not junk science, not pre-packaged rubrics."
Many of the comments on the union's Facebook page echoed MORE and displayed the unease that many teachers are feeling around the new plan.
Christine Russo wrote: "This will always be a "gotcha" situation until the state tests are fair for all students. We are told that we need to differentiate our lessons to meet our students individual needs, yet they ALL take the same state exam."
"I cannot understand how our union can say this is good for us," wrote Connie McGinn. "Did they read it before posting it?"
And Mariya Korob said, "This will force many great teachers to leave high needs schools."
On Thursday, when students are out of school for a staff development day, teachers and principals will have a chance to review the plan's components. Information and training sessions will be held for teachers this month and throughout the summer.