Big Brother Evaluations – Wyoming’s Plan to Video Tape Teachers

Teachers Evaluation

Educators know the concept of evaluation very well. Depending on state and local policies, public school teachers are evaluated formally or informally quite often. This process of evaluation and feedback is a very good thing. Federal and state policy makers are constantly on the look out for ways to improve teacher evaluation in order to insure that the best teachers are in the classroom, that best practice keeps evolving, and that student achievement keeps improving.

The standards and practices for evaluation are constantly evolving as well. In Colorado, where I teach, educators are held primarily to state standards and student achievement for half of their evaluation and then local school board standards for the other half of an evaluation. Other states have a body of educator standards or use only student achievement. The evaluation itself has always been done by a school administrator observing the teacher in his/her classroom and direct observation of teacher/student contact. If the state legislature in Wyoming gets their way, teacher evaluation could soon look very different for Wyoming educators.

Big Brother Evaluations – Cameras in the Classroom

Wyoming Rep. Steve Harshman (R) has proposed a bill that would put cameras in classrooms that would record teacher/student interaction. These videos would then be used by administrators as an evaluation tool. Details such as student and teacher privacy, evaluation criteria, and recording logistics still would need to be hammered out, but if all goes as proposed, evaluation will never be the same. Harshman, a former teacher himself, believes that a principal’s presence in the room dramatically alters the classroom environment, and therefore authentic evaluation is difficult. By recording daily lessons, an administrator could randomly choose what lesson to evaluate and therefore have a more realistic view of a teacher’s performance and skill.

Wyoming Sen. R. Ray Peterson (R) has introduced a companion bill which would set up pilot programs in four districts that would use cameras for evaluation. Peterson’s bill includes the same idea of random and spontaneous evaluation by a team of evaluators which would include administrators and parents. The cameras and evaluation team, Peterson believes, would help teacher evaluation be objective and fee of bias. There would be an objective eye in the classroom that witnesses without editorializing.

Benefits Cameras in the Classroom

Educational Policy expert Michael Petrilli thinks that if done right, “…cameras in the classroom could be a helpful instructional tool.” Bill and Melinda Gates agree. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has initiated a project in which 3000 teachers in six school districts have volunteered to use cameras in the classroom to monitor interaction and evaluate best practices. The high tech solution, while not used for evaluation, is used to try and find what is working in highly effective classrooms.

Panoramic cameras capable of recording the entire classroom are installed. The recordings are then evaluated using a set of five criteria, and then student achievement is measured in the same classrooms. Practices from classrooms where there is a high correlation between teacher efficacy and student achievement are documented and then, hopefully, replicated. If Wyoming’s evaluation cameras can be utilized in a similar fashion, there could be extraordinary benefit to all of Wyoming’s students and teachers.

Cameras in the classroom can also be used to clarify disagreements between teachers and administrators as to what has and has not occurred. The recording becomes a record and can be sent to observers, advocates, or professional groups for professional development. More importantly, the cameras could streamline the educational growth process and help make teacher evaluation and professional development more efficient and cost effective.

Drawbacks of Cameras in the Classrooms

While few would disagree that unannounced classroom observations are more effective than scheduled evaluations, video taping leaves out several key components of the evaluation process. When an administrator walks into the room, they can speak with students, monitor work, and evaluate climate and atmosphere. A camera recording is impersonal and distant; it takes the human element out of educator evaluation, and education is a human art.

Cameras in the classroom could also be perceived as too much scrutiny on educators during a time of unprecedented teacher criticism. The recordings can easily be seen as an attempt to “catch” teachers being bad or intimidate teachers. Cameras could easily create an atmosphere of fear and doubt. Many good teachers would feel insulted, and new teachers would be afraid to get started. It would be the equivalent of school districts installing cameras into the homes of families before students could receive special education or remediation services. Evaluation and scrutiny are close concepts and they line is easy to cross. Cameras might be the tool that crosses that line.

Regardless if the Wyoming educational reform bills passes or not, the fact that education is evolving both conceptually and technology is indisputable. Tax payers want a return on investment, teachers want to be viewed as professionals, and parents want achievement and safety. The tools and measurements of those goals continue to refined, and with then our educational process. Hopefully, there will be balance between all of the stake holders so that education can continue to transform.