How often are teachers given the time to work collaboratively for professional development, not for accountability?
A research project on education reform states that “the emphasis on improving examination scores and grades has overwhelmed every aspect of teachers’ work, forcing them to spend precious collaborative time poring over student data rather than having conversations about students and teaching techniques.”
In this blog, the key question asked is: what form of accountability is driving teachers out of the classroom?
In a Network for Public Education survey, 61% of respondents noted that the use of student standardized test scores in teacher evaluations had a negative impact on their relationships with their colleagues citing reasons such as forced collaboration and competition.
The Network for Public Education – an advocacy group (in Arizona, USA) whose goal is to fight to protect, preserve and strengthen the school system – commissioned a study and survey to learn more about the impact of teacher evaluation on the education profession. The survey asked educators about the impact of evaluation on their work, their students, and the culture of their schools.
Over the course of a few weeks, 2,964 teachers and principals from 48 states responded.
The second of 6 headlines recommends this:
We recommend that teacher collaboration not be tied to evaluation but instead be a teacher-led cooperative process that focuses on their students’ and their own professional learning.”
Comparisons to UK:
In a series of six posts, this being the second, I’d like to share the key findings and consider the implications and/or differences to the system in the United Kingdom.
In the UK and USA, we know far too many educators are leaving the classroom.
Headlines report teacher shortages in nearly every sector and area of the UK and USA. One factor reported in almost every story, is the discouragement teachers feel from a reform movement – highlighted by Pasi Sahlberg, author of Finnish Lessons and in the book, Flip The System by Jelmer Evers and Rene Kneyber.
‘Education is threatened on a global scale by forces of neoliberalism, through high stakes accountability, privatization and a destructive language of learning. In all respects, a GERM (Global Education Reform Movement) has erupted from international benchmark rankings such as PISA …’
Teacher collaboration, by definition, should be led by teachers and be an authentic component of their professional life. It is less effective when mandated and tightly managed from above. Teachers should have a voice in determining the focus of collaborative activities and guide the process
In the best examples of collaborative CPD, collegial support is essential.
More time is spent on data than actual collaboration of strategies. Professional development is usually irrelevant to teaching, [but is] relevant for data.”
In the second of six recommendations, a “top-down, forced model of collaboration does little to improve instruction” is highlighted.
The majority of the comments from the survey note that collaboration with colleagues is now carefully orchestrated by administration with a majority of time spent determining how to improve test scores. It narrows the curriculum, stifles teacher autonomy and makes it nearly impossible to make holistic decisions about students. It directly contradicts the research showing that most effective models of professional collaboration leverage the expertise within a school to build collegial communities
(The Missing Link in School Reform. Leana, 2011).
On page 3 of the report, ‘Collaboration and Data’ highlights this quote from a teacher:
Most everything my peers and I do in terms of instruction, planning, collaboration, professional development, and reflection is driven by the need to improve student test scores, even to the detriment of student needs.”
Collaboration or Competition?
Does collaboration stifle or enhance teacher-autonomy? If the former, how often is this due to collaborative and evaluation-based, data-driven activities?
If I’m going to be compared to my peers, then my inclination is to keep the best lessons and the best strategies to myself. Collaboration goes out the window.”
I’m confident this is already happening in many schools throughout the UK, especially when we factor performance related pay. How damaging would this be if it were the default for us all?
Empower teachers through collaboration and peer learning.”
The report gores on to say, “what makes collaboration effective is still contested.”
All reviews analysed in the above research found that peer-support is a common feature in effective professional development. There is evidence to suggest that access to some form of collegial support for problem solving is essential. However, the strongest review included in this overview found that while collaboration was necessary, it alone is not sufficient. (You can read more on this blog)
- How can schools facilitate collaborative CPD for their staff?
- How can opportunities for this ‘type of CPD’ become embedded as a default model?
- Can data be separated from teacher-training opportunities? If so, when and how?
- How can schools facilitate a bottom-up approach to collaborative CPD, rather than top-down?
- If collaborative opportunities were provided, what else would be required to make ‘working together’ meaningful, rather than for punitive and comparative accountability?
Please leave your answers in the comments section below.
- You can read part 1 here: What form of accountability is driving teachers out of the classroom?