There is most certainly a very interesting tidal wave on the horizon. And in the mighty seas that are swirling these days in education, that’s no small feat (to create a potential tsunami that is teacher evaluation, that is. See here for the Obama chides California article which this blog post references).
Now, I have no problem with accountability. And no one is above it. I do have a problem, however, with evaluating a professional based on what I consider to be a weak, and quite possibly, inadequate means of assessment to make one’s decision… but I am holding back judgement right now on this Arne Duncan/Obama plan.
See, I think the tests are flawed to a degree. I believe we need growth model assessments to see how much kids learn over the course of the year under the direction of an educator in order to be able to fairly evaluate that educator. Otherwise, by comparing this year’s students to last year’s kids, it’s really apples to oranges (as I have said many times). How my 10 graders measure up this year should be based on where their skills were when they started the year with me — and then we can see their “growth” (there’s that word again). However, to evaluate my 10th graders this year against my 10 graders last year is practically an arbitrary comparison. All kids are different and if we can’t agree on that, then we can’t agree on much at all.
Additionally, my hope is that in this plan comes a recogniztion that there are a few different criteria to “evaluate” teachers — and please tell me that there are more tricks up their sleeves than the simple “kids taking bubble tests in May” approach which so often favor the upper socio-economic areas of our nation.
For example, a teacher who works in a suburban school with a population of kids where 98% of their parents went to college is, if we use our present data system, going to have students that (for the most part) outperform students where greater than 50% of the kids are English language learners.
Sure there might be some anomalies but for the most part this data holds true. The more wealth and education that the parents own in a community, the higher the test scores.
But, does this mean that the teachers who work in elevated socioeconomic areas are “better” teachers than those who do not?
Really… I question it. Because as of right now, I do not see how the teacher evaluation system that is being proposed does not seem to slant towards this end result. (Yet, I am trying to be patient, reserve judgement and wait to see what is actually on the table for all of this.)
But if it does end up that the teacher evaluation system slopes towards this end result, it’s almost un-American.
Two scenarios: Teacher 1 in the suburbs with kids who get high test scores. Teacher 2 in a Title 1 school with all the problems that run attendant to our nation’s lowest performing academic institutions.
Test time comes and the students of Teacher 1 outperform the students of Teacher 2. No one is shocked by the way by the result of their bubble tests.
Now, does this mean that the teacher in scenario 1 in the suburbs is a “better” teacher? Does it mean that the teacher in scenario #2, if the kids struggle to even read the tests, is a worse teacher? See this is where the problem exists for so many. And for me, I don’t want to stop working with the Title I population in inner city Los Angeles.
I LOVE IT!! However, I also don’t want the tests to demonize me as not measuring up because on the whole, my students do not score on these bubble tests at the same level of proficiency as kids who have lawyers, doctors and MBAs for parents.
American society is bifurcated along socioeconomic/class divides and while we all want to be rich, the truth is, all of us are not… and there are a great many of us striving to do 10 dollars worth of work with 5 dollars worth of resources.
My fear is that, unless these teacher evaluations take into consideration all the other mitigating factors that go into making for a really “great professional” what we are going to see is that folks who work in areas where the families have solid educational backgrounds and deep financial pockets are going to be rewarded while the folks who work in our more “troubled areas” are going to inevitably thrown under the bus.
And that is, as I have said many times before, un-American. Accountability is fine as long as it is not used as a weapon and if this plan is going to chase everyone to pursue jobs where the kids are already high-performers even before the school year starts, then we are going to do a disservice to the kids who most need our attention, care, solid efforts and skills.