Me and Charlotte

I rarely write about my academic writing here. These blogs are usually sillier. Less citations. More short sentences. Like this.

I’m writing about my academic writing this week. But I’ll try to avoid citations. At least too many citations.

A piece I wrote with my friends Andrea and Erin was published in August. Dr. Andrea McCloskey and Dr. Erin Miller are super smart. We wrote a piece critiquing Charlotte Danielson’s framework for teacher evaluation.

Look at all those links! Here’s another one. This is the paper we wrote.


We used the paper to think about how we evaluate what “good” teaching is. We think about how improvisers are evaluated and wonder if there are insights to glean about how we understand “good” teaching. Teaching is improvisational. And lots of folks think teaching is an art. I certainly do.

In the paper, I tell a story about being evaluated with a framework that was developed by Charlotte Danielson. It’s a story I’ve told any number of times. About almost being fired. For not being professional enough. Whatever that means. It usually means whatever the person holding Danielson’s rubric in their hands thinks it means. We interpret the story to think broadly about how teachers in the United States are evaluated.

Danielson’s framework has become widespread. Like a virus. And masks do nothing against Charlotte. The framework is used across the country. Our research revealed a couple of disturbing things. First, Danielson was never actually a teacher. Nor did she work in schools. Nor was she a scholar of education. Danielson was, however, a psychologist hired by ETS, a private consulting company to create a system for teacher evaluation. Danielson made a fortune (and I do mean a fortune) developing and disseminating her rubric. For herself. And for a variety of companies that profited from her work.

By the time I was teaching in Minnesota, Danielson’s framework was the unquestioned gold standard for teacher evaluation. This remains true in Pennsylvania as well.

It’s funny to me how things like this happen in education. Tragic too. Schools are so vulnerable to private initiatives. They purchase programs or curriculums developed by people who, ultimately, are interested in making money. Buzz words like “best practices” or “research-based” are all it takes for school districts to fall prey to standardized educational programming. Rarely do school districts react to such initiatives with the broader field or history of education in mind. Teaching and learning are contested acts. In theory and practice. Beware the smooth-talking consultant who has all the answers.

Anyway, here’s something we wrote in our paper. About what we were up to. Warning, academic writing alert:

We consider the broader political landscape of the last 25 years to suggest that The Framework for Teaching illuminates a preoccupation in education with so-called measurable results in ways that hurt teachers while advancing political agendas and profiting private corporations.

Us, 2021

Hurting teachers and advancing agendas that hurts students too. Yikes.


Teaching in K-12 schools is hard work. I spent nearly fifteen years as a high school teacher. I rarely had time to think about or make sense of what I was doing. Why I was doing what I was doing. Which isn’t to say I didn’t figure out how to meaningfully work with people. I think I did. But it is to say that my work was influenced by political or private agendas that, at the time, I didn’t understand. Michael Apple, a scholar of education, once wrote that teachers are foot soldiers fighting a war without realizing they are fighting a war. Something like that. Talk about a scary vision.

Here’s one thing I like about having spent the last seven years as a professor of teacher education. There is more time for me to think. To make sense of teaching and learning. To try and understand schools in the United States. And to share that thinking through writing. That’s part of my job these days. It seems like, if we care about creating “good” schools or “good” teachers or “good” students or a “good” society, we have work to do to better understand how we create spaces where young people grow into adults.

So I haven’t made a million bucks like Charlotte Danielson. And I haven’t designed or implemented programs that have been taken up in schools across the country. But I continue to move through the work of being an educator with a commitment to teaching and learning that doesn’t hurt people.

I’d rather be me than Charlotte. That’s all. And this paper is just one more tiny step in that direction.

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