I’d pretty much agree with Robert Pondiscio in “Observations on Observations” (Core Knowledge Blog, August 27, 2009). He writes, for example:
Of all the “best practices” that have migrated to education from the business world, the one that didn’t make the trip is the idea that good managers hire excellent people, empower them with real decision-making authority, then get out of their way.
Indeed, this is the thing the every teacher knows, that every armchair expert does not: it is simple (but time-consuming) to create an environment that gives all the appearances of being a high-functioning classroom and still be a lousy teacher. Among the very first survival skills a new teacher learns, either through the advice of a kindly colleague or through a series of administrative reprimands, is the art of the dog and pony show. In some schools, it’s the quid pro quo that earns you the right to close your door and practice your craft. In more punitive environments, it’s the tail that wags the dog. But the aim of observation-by-checklist is not great teaching, it’s plausible deniability–and it’s the enemy of accountability, for both teachers and administrators. Miss Jones’ classroom demonstrates a high degree of student engagement and all of the indicators of high quality teaching, but her students are still not making progress. Why? Miss Jones’ energy is misdirected. She’s learning to play the game, not become a great teacher. After a few years, she gets tired of it and quits. Mediocrity wins again.
This all comes back around to the philosophy of John Dewey, as I’ve discussed many times before.