Tampa Teachers Speak Out Against Gates Evaluations

In recent weeks, many Tampa teachers have been questioning and criticizing the multimillion-dollar, seven-year Empowering Effective Teachers effort funded by the Gates Initiative, writes Marlene Sokol at the St. Petersburg Times.

After an EET Concerns Facebook page was set up, teachers were posting comments like:

“I teach the best I can every day and when someone else is in my classroom, it throws my kids and me way off.”

And

“We’ve been made out to be good guys against the bad guys.”

At fundamentalfairness.webs.com, as many as 15 members blog about and discuss their complaints. The site was set up by Joseph Thomas, a Newsome High School social studies teacher. He is now running for union president.

In a survey of the district’s 12,000+ teachers, between 80 and 96 percent responding favorably to questions regarding the Gates initiative.

School board members say they’re getting both positive and negative feedback about the system, and for the most part, teachers are supporting the mentoring component and the data component that makes up 40 percent of their score.

However, it is the peer evaluations that are drawing the most complaints from teachers. Some are saying that their evaluators scrutinize them for minor flaws and take classroom events out of context.

David Steele, who oversees the project funded with $100 million from Bill and Melinda Gates, said:

“It’s not surprising at all that when you completely change a system as radically as we have, you’ll see a group of people who don’t agree.

“Unfortunately, in a system this large, if 10 percent don’t like it, that’s like 1,200 people.”

Turner Elementary School teacher Susan Hopper doesn’t agree with the peer evaluation system. She cites a time where she was marked down for safety after a student stumbled over a book.

Hopper said she was appalled when her school recruited a “cheerleader” to encourage teachers to support the initiative, writes Sokol.

“My school has always been a happy place,” said Hopper, 43, who, like many, plans to retire early and take a pension cut than continue under this evaluation system.

“I’ve never seen my teacher friends so stressed out and sad. And these are fantastic teachers.”

Classroom Teachers Association president Jean Clements acknowledged some teachers are struggling.

“We all expected that this would be a difficult time,” she said.