John Meeks: CASTing out fear in our schools

By
John Louis Meeks, Jr.

If
Florida’s teacher assessment system was designed to improve learning for
students, it was way off the mark.
The
Collaborative Assessment System for Teachers (CAST) is supposed to be an objective
way to grade educators on their classroom performance.  It is supposed to be a way for
administrators to observe classroom work and combine their observations with
student data.  Instead, we
have what I call FEAR (Failing Educators through Alienation and
Retribution). 
Education
reformers initially designed CAST because they felt that teacher evaluations
were letting too many teachers off the hook when too many students were not
making the grade.  CAST was
initially created to expose the teachers who were not contributing to student
success.
After
the first year of this experiment, however, a disproportionate number of
educators received ‘Effective’ ratings or higher.  This did not bode well for a system
that was supposed to align teacher performance (or lack thereof) with student
success and failure.
There
is rumbling in many quarters today that Tallahassee’s message is loud and clear
– there will not be another year of ‘effective’ teachers in a state of
ineffective results.  The
heat is now on for school districts and administrators to lowball educators in
advance of our test results. 
It
should be no surprise that administrators now have taken the message from state
legislators to be marching orders to downplay and belittle the work that their subordinates
are doing. 
Principals
and assistant principals know what they are doing when they observe a classroom
with their minds already made up who they are going to scapegoat for their
respective schools.  They
know how to take the smallest flaw in a teacher’s lesson and how to magnify it
into the observed teacher’s inability to do the job that they were hired to do.
If this
sounds like a conspiracy theory, it likely is one because the administrators
manage to cover themselves in the event school test scores stagnate and the
state legislature manages to justify their merit pay plan that supposedly
rewards the good teachers that CAST is supposed to identify.
And how
do we identify good teachers?  CAST
is a narrowly-defined metric that expects educators to teach to the metric in a
way that abandons their individual teaching styles and negates their
professional skills in favor of a cookie-cutter method of teaching that allows
for no differentiation within the teaching profession.
Our
state government chose to force this long-term damage into our schools for the
quick fix of winning federal money in the Race to the Top program.  The same legislators who will fight to
the death to oppose Medicaid expansion are the same ones who would gladly take
any strings-attached funds from the U.S. Department of Education to make a
point about how we indeed should hold our teachers in such low regard.
Teaching
is supposed to be about creating hope for our communities to build a better
future.  By playing politics
with teacher evaluations the way we are, however, is creating a climate of fear
in which teachers are destined to fail no matter what they do.  It is not too late to repair and
reform CAST, but it is up to Florida’s educators to finally evaluate the tool
that does such a poor job of judging them.
To
remain silent is to tell our leaders that we are on board with this
travesty.  I, for one, am
not.
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2 Replies to “John Meeks: CASTing out fear in our schools”

  1. John, that has been my experience exactly. My evaluator asked no questions. She just gave me a bad evaluation and wrote the most petty comments imaginable. I plan to vigorously rebut the eval and others should too.

    DTU said that evaluators can use info from other administrators and it seems that they sit around gossiping about the teachers and then put us on the defensive explaining why it isn't true.

    I'm so mad…I do so much for the students, work all evening and every weekend and they never show appreciation, just pick at us. I thing teachers should be able to evaluate the administrators.

    Would love to share some of the ridiculous things she wrote, but worried about identifying myself. There is still a lot of retaliation. I'm starting to hate this job and it's not because of the kids. DCPS wants obedient teachers, not intelligent or dedicated teachers.

  2. If you would like to write up what happened I would be glad to put it on the blog. People have to know whats happening in our schools.

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