NBC’s third annual Education Nation summit kicked off Sunday with a focus on solutions: ideas with a track record of success and potential for replication. But for teachers attending the event, a central concern continues to be new evaluations, which helped set off a teacher strike in Chicago this September.
Thirty-two states have made changes to teacher evaluation policies in recent years, according to a 2011 report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, and 23 now require that data about student learning be included in teacher ratings.
In a poll during a teacher town hall hosted by Education Nation on Sunday, 72 percent of teachers in attendance said they believe less than a third of their rating should depend on student test scores. Many said their students face barriers that affect their scores, which can lead to unfair assessments of their teaching. They expressed frustration about a lack of resources, the prevalence of poverty among their students, and a belief that the public doesn’t really understand what they’re up against every day.
Tension rose quickly after a charter-school teacher said that while previously working at a district-run school, the union told her not to work past a certain time. “I didn’t care, I just stayed,” she said. District teachers in the forum responded that they too work long hours. AFT president Randi Weingarten wrote on Twitter that there are “no prohibitions” in contracts regarding hours spent at school.
NBC education correspondent Rehema Ellis said her main takeaway from covering the Chicago teachers’ strike was that “teachers suffer from a perception problem,” explaining that most people do not understand why teachers are upset about some issues, like lack of air conditioning in schools, because many of the issues are not framed correctly and may seem trivial to the public.
Despite the divisions over evaluations, however, teachers were united on other ideas about how to improve classroom teaching. “Teachers need to know kids first, content comes second,” said one teacher. “What our children most need is the belief in their ability to succeed,” added another. “They absolutely must have that message.”