“It’s not okay to check in with someone you deem a professional once every five years,” said Monica Jordan, coordinator of Memphis teacher talent and effectiveness.
Some teachers say administrators left them poorly prepared for the requirements of the new assessment. Classroom observers had conflicting interpretations of the performance criteria.
But teacher remorse over last spring’s choice, school officials say, is less about IMPACT than the unprecedented scrutiny from a rigorous new evaluation. It is difficult, officials acknowledge, for teachers with 20 to 30 years experience who have long been told they are meeting expectations to suddenly hear that they need to rethink much of what they do.
Memphis school officials said they are uncertain how many dismissals may result from poor evaluations this year. In an interview, Cash estimated 200, a number that his chief of staff, John Barker, later walked back, saying that more would be known in the next few weeks. The system’s approximately 2,000 non-tenured teachers — those with less than three years experience — are more vulnerable. For those with tenure, the future may hinge on what kind of evaluation, if any, they received last year. Under Tennessee law, tenured teachers with two consecutive poor evaluations are subject to dismissal.
Cash, a former Martha’s Vineyard superintendent who worked in Miami and came to Memphis in 2008, has some misgivings about the intense push to appraise teachers through metrics.
“The artful parts of teaching are more difficult to measure,” he said.
Teacher evaluations are just one element in a time of immense upheaval for the Memphis public schools, which serve a poor and heavily minority population of 105,000 students. The city is in the throes of negotiating a consolidation with majority-white suburban Shelby County schools, a move compelled by funding issues. The Memphis Education Association lost much of its power after state lawmakers outlawed collective bargaining by public employees last year.
In the midst of political challenges, Cash said he worried about the evaluations being seen as an assault on African American women, who comprise 75 percent of the city’s teacher corps. He called it one of the “third-rail issues” of the kind that undid Rhee and former D.C. mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). Of particular concern, he said, are about 800 mostly veteran teachers who have scored poorly on evaluations and may not be reachable by coaching or professional development.