Needs Improvement

Former DC principal and whistle blower Adell Cothorne says don’t believe the hype about IMPACT.

The verdict is in and the results are unanimous: Washington DC’s IMPACT teacher evaluation system is a smashing success, successfully separating the highly effective wheat from the underperforming chaff—and sending the latter scrambling for the exits. But former DC principal Adell Cothorne warns the system’s cheerleaders to cool their jets, arguing that the system was deeply flawed from the outset, and that the most important lesson we can learn from IMPACT is not to repeat its mistakes. Here’s a look.

By Adell Cothorne
No doubt you’ve heard by now that Washington DC’s IMPACT teacher evaluation system is *highly effective.* Before we start popping the champagne corks though—or encouraging other districts to adopt IMPACT-like systems—allow me to tell you a few things about the system that you may not have heard.

1) IMPACT is a system that can easily be manipulated
I was a principal in a Washington DC public school when IMPACT was being rolled out. I knew of other principals who had their secretaries fill out the complex teacher rating systems for them. In other words, there were no safe guards to ensure that the system wasn’t being manipulated. How can we justify a rating system that can be gamed?

2) The DC Public Schools never trained administrators on how to observe the teachers they were evaluating
The Montgomery County Public Schools, where I’ve also been an administrator, has an extensive system in place for training administrators on how to observe teachers, including how to look for evidence in order to support the claims that are being made regarding teacher effectiveness. Not so the DC Public Schools. IMPACT required administrators to observe teachers extensively yet administrators never received any training at all on what they were looking for or why.

3) IMPACT is so complicated that not even its designers could explain how it was supposed to work
At meetings prior to IMPACT’s roll out, DCPS officials were unable to answer basic questions about how it was supposed to work. I attended one meeting where a young man charged with presenting the evaluatory rubric to us got so flustered that he threw up his hands and said that ‘maybe a statistician could explain it.’ We explained that since we’d be presenting the new system to our teachers the following week, that really wasn’t very helpful.

4) DCPS is losing great teachers and leaders
I personally know of several strong instructional leaders who have left DCPS to work for other school systems because they could no longer deal with the system’s dysfunction. Jason Kamras, the Chief of Human Capital for DCPS, claims that “We’ve invested a ton of resources, energy and money into developing folks and getting the right folks and holding onto the great folks that we have.” Since DCPS is such a data-driven system could we possibly see the data points on retention of staff from 2008 to present?

5) IMPACT isn’t tied to student achievement
If you read the recent stories about IMPACT’s supposed greatness carefully, you may have noticed a sentence like this:

But while average teacher evaluation scores rose during the first three years of IMPACT, the study is silent about whether the incentives have translated into improved student achievement.

Isn’t that what educators are committed to—increasing student achievement?  DCPS administrators are forever ready to put forth that IMPACT is great and test scores are rising. I say it’s time for a little due diligence. If IMPACT is really resulting in higher student achievement, which to district leaders means test scores, show us the relationship between these.

6) District leaders have never owned up to IMPACT’s problems
True leaders ask questions, reflect on the answers and adjust—questions like: How did we devise a plan that only a few people could understand and even fewer could successfully implement? Recently, there was a school superintendent who apologized to his/her entire school community regarding a decision made in rolling out Common Core.  Teachers were frustrated.  Parents were angry.  Students were stressed.  The school superintendent owned the mistake and took full accountability for the aftermath.  When is Chancellor Henderson going to apologize for the ignominy that has come to be known as DC Public Schools?

Better yet, when do we get to assign IMPACT scores to DCPS central office staff?

Adell Cothorne has worked as an administrator in public schools in Washington DC, Montgomery County and Baltimore County. Contact her at adellta724@yahoo.com or follow her on Twitter.

6 Comments

  1. This is just like LCFF in California. They say it will be simple to understand only two CPA’s cannot figure it out on the financing and I cannot figure it out. How about take 20 laws multiply that then take 5 laws and multiply that and on and on. Then you come to the numbers on which they base the future LCFF from the past state revenue and I have looked and the numbers they give have nothing to do with reality by thousands of dollars/student. Then they have illegally operated it breaking the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) law, rules and regulations, the Bagley-Green Act and the Greene Act. When we were in Bakersfield for the last LCFF public hearing the comment period was supposed to end that day at noon. After I brought up their breaking the law suddenly the comment is wide open. Then why is the California Dept. of Education having an organization of four states supported by 4-700 corporate sponsors running the states business for? Scam, Scam and Scam again as with the D.C. phony teacher evaluation.

    What ever happened to Administrator Evaluation? Are they supposed to be exempt? They, not teachers, spend the money, determine curriculum, decide who will work where. What about them, like Rhee, Deasy and all the others? Shouldn’t they, if teachers have to, be held accountable? So, let’s dream up for them a twisted way to evaluate them so they lose their jobs also. Fair for one, fair for all. Phony is as Phony does.

  2. Stunningly blunt critique of an evaluation protocol that catapulted Michelle Rhee to the head of the line of education reformers. She’s moved on, leaving the shambles that developed from a system so complex it can’t be explained and for which administrators were never trained. Absolutely unbelievable, but there it is!

  3. […] One should realize that StudentsFirst was founded by the same Michelle Rhee who made children’s mouths bleed and spoke casually (and fondly) of the incident years later to an audience of new teachers. This is the same Michelle Rhee seriously implicated in cheating during her time as DC chancellor and who was never thoroughly and competently investigated. I note as much in my post on the highly-questionable DC IMPACT study. (Whistleblower and former DC principal Adell Cotherne discusses the shoddy nature of DC teacher evaluation in this interview.) […]

  4. […] One should realize that StudentsFirst was founded by the same Michelle Rhee who made children’s mouths bleed and spoke casually (and fondly) of the incident years later to an audience of new teachers. This is the same Michelle Rhee seriously implicated in cheating during her time as DC chancellor and who was never thoroughly and competently investigated. I note as much in my post on the highly-questionable DC IMPACT study. (Whistleblower and former DC principal Adell Cotherne discusses the shoddy nature of DC teacher evaluation in this interview.) […]

  5. […] One should realize that StudentsFirst was founded by the same Michelle Rhee who made children’s mouths bleed and spoke casually (and fondly) of the incident years later to an audience of new teachers. This is the same Michelle Rhee seriously implicated in cheating during her time as DC chancellor and who was never thoroughly and competently investigated. I note as much in my post on the highly-questionable DC IMPACT study. (Whistleblower and former DC principal Adell Cotherne discusses the shoddy nature of DC teacher evaluation in this interview.) […]

  6. […] One should realize that StudentsFirst was founded by the same Michelle Rhee who made children’s mouths bleed and spoke casually (and fondly) of the incident years later to an audience of new teachers. This is the same Michelle Rhee seriously implicated in cheating during her time as DC chancellor and who was never thoroughly and competently investigated. I note as much in my post on the highly-questionable DC IMPACT study. (Whistleblower and former DC principal Adell Cotherne discusses the shoddy nature of DC teacher evaluation in this interview.) […]

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