Charleston County Schools surprises teachers by reducing job security 

A Learning Curveball

Reading, writing, and arithmetic — the keystones of learning. If you have them, you are generally capable of gaining as much knowledge as you care to cram into your melon. It's elementary, dear Charleston, which is why I found the rally on the steps of the Charleston County School District (CCSD) office that occurred this past Monday so entertaining and sad.

Led by Patrick Hayes, director of the teacher advocacy group, EdFirstSC, and a 5th grade teacher at Drayton Hall, the rally was a response to CCSD's newest attempt to statistically improve the quality of local, public education, with what appears to be no significant input from any local, affected groups. CCSD Superintendent Gerrita Postlewait has implemented a Professional Growth Plan strategy which seems to be based largely on students' scores on a variety of standardized tests. The plan, Hayes says, was an alternative to firing teachers. It's a fear-based strategy that he says is not healthy for anyone and one which employs a "Value Added Model" that is not being utilized responsibly by administration.

The Value Added Model, according to Hayes, has two main areas for concern that have the potential to create mistakes in the evaluation and potential firing of teachers. First is the collection of data. The Value Added Model suggests at least three years of data collection before conclusions should be made. Even then, it has a 26 percent error rate. However, CCSD is currently putting teachers on the Growth Plan after only two years of data collection. Secondly, the data is tainted. Hayes says the Value Added Model is only supposed to consider student scores in courses the teacher actually teaches. This was not done in the first year, meaning many teachers are on the hook for scores in areas they don't teach.

Additionally, Hayes points out the inherent danger of weighting student scores so heavily when a student can intentionally take a zero. This happened to Hayes recently when a student purposely took a zero on a MAP test. While completely out of his control, Hayes now has to worry about how that grade might affect his job security. He says this problem may force teachers to "teach to the test" instead of the richness of the content. And that's the crux of the issue. It's the business model of reducing people to numbers, a comparison Postlewait has publicly embraced.

While CCSD denies that student scores have that great of an impact on teacher evaluations, Hayes says that teachers being placed on Growth Plans suggests otherwise. The "Postlewait Policy" has already put instructors on Growth Plans who have been honored as "Teachers of the Year" according to Hayes. CCSD has also claimed that only teachers whose observational evaluation scores are below a certain number can be subjected to Growth Plans. Hayes says this has already proven false.

While the implementation of this policy and the lack of a reliable data set make putting any teacher on a Professional Growth Plan questionable at this point, the complete lack of communication is its own cause for concern. Postlewait casually admitted that she should have done better in regards to communication. However, the nonchalance with which the Superintendent took responsibility defies its grievous nature. Hayes says that teachers didn't learn about this policy until they began getting called into surprise meetings. He adds that even some CCSD Board Members learned about this for the first time when Hayes came to them with questions. Furthermore, CCSD has removed some principals from their schools in a move that Postlewait says is based on "cross training" and attempting to match their skills with a specific school. Hayes counters that these principals also happened to resist Postlewait's strategy.

In the end, there is nothing wrong with holding teachers accountable for student performance if it's done responsibly and respectfully — which brings me back to the keystones of education. Consider that reading and writing speak to communication — the former allows one to ingest information while writing allows one to provide it. Arithmetic deals with the properties and manipulation of numbers. If the Superintendent and the CCSD Board cannot observe basic communication skills, understand proper use of statistics, or even grasp the concept of "greater-than and less-than" when it comes to teacher observation scores, do they really have the capacity to evaluate teachers? Perhaps they should be subjected to their own flawed evaluation criteria and see what it's like to work on the top of a ladder with a broken leg. If we want our educational system to improve, perhaps we start by giving our teachers a little more respect.

Ali was born in Greenville, S.C. but grew up in High Point, NC where he studied English/Writing at High Point University. He has called Charleston home since 2006 and wants to believe Bigfoot is real.


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