President Barack Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and billionaire Bill Gates are think teachers should be judged on the basis of how much their students’ test scores improve year by year.
This sounds good. But there are problems. One is that when you have students from poor neighborhoods, with high crime and lots of broken homes, you can’t know how much of an individual student’s performance is due to the teacher, and how much due to family, peers, circumstances and the student’s individual ability and motivation. I know teachers who’ll tell me that this year, they have a really good class, or a not-so-good class.
The other is that neither Obama, Duncan, Emanuel or Gates has ever taught in public schools. None of them knows what it is that good teachers do that sets them apart from bad teachers. What they advocate is what the late W. Edwards Deming, father of Total Quality Management, called “tampering”—altering a process without knowing how it works.
The way to improve public education is the same as the way the Obama administration is trying to improve medical care—determining the best practices, what works and doesn’t work, and disseminating that knowledge. It is easier to scapegoat teachers of high-risk students.
The President’s Race to the Top education program and the recent Chicago teachers’ strike shows that Obama and Emanuel are willing to fight for their ideas. I wish the two of them had been half so willing, when Emanuel was the President’s chief of staff, to take on the Wall Street bankers. If I had the power, I’d set performance standards for the too-big-to-fail banks and bail out the public schools.
Click on Why Rahm Emanuel and the New York Times are wrong about teacher evaluation for a great article with links on educational research on value-added teacher evaluation. Hat tip for the link to Diane Ravich’s Blog.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel sends his own children to the University of Chicago Laboratory School, an expensive private school which was founded around the turn of the previous century an an experimental school by John Dewey. Barack Obama sent his daughters there when he lived in Chicago, and now sends them to Sidwell Friends School, a private school in Washington, D.C. The Chicago Lab School does not use value-added teacher evaluations. I don’t criticize either Emanuel or Obama for sending their children to a private school, but I do suggest an inconsistency in their public and private judgments as to what makes a school good.
Click on Director of Private School Where Rahm Emanuel Sends His Kids Opposes Using Testing for Teacher Evaluations for background. Hat tip for the link to Making Light.
The U.S. Department of Education was created in 1979 during the administration of President Jimmy Carter to “establish policy for, administer and coordinate most federal assistance to education, collect data on U.S. schools, and to enforce federal educational laws regarding privacy and civil rights.” Conservative Republicans at that time warned that the new department opened the door to the federal government dictating education policy to local public school systems. Their warning has now proved true, but neither conservatives or liberals in Washington seem to care.
One problem with value-added testing is that it creates incentives for manipulating test results rather than for better teaching. I’m sure most teachers are teaching as well as they know how already. When the test results are self-reported, there is an incentive for cheating, and there have been many cheating scandals in the past few years. Click on Can we grade the teachers? for an earlier post of mine on this subject.
Click on Chicago Teachers’ Strike: What Do We Want? for an argument that the so-called education reformers follow the management philosophy of Frederick W. Taylor rather than of W. Edwards Deming.
Click on 5 Biggest Lies About the Right-Wing Corporate-Backed War on Our Schools for thoughts about the drive to privatize public education.
Of course there should be a way to weed out teachers who are grossly incompetent or guilty of misconduct. I am sure such teachers exist. But it should be obvious who they are, with or without a testing system.
[Update] Click on The More I Teach, the More I Want to Home School for a teacher’s reaction.