Will Rating Teachers Really Improve our Schools?

 

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The Boston Globe published an opinion article* that decries the “disconnect between Boston’s teacher ratings and how the schools are performing”. The author, Lawrence Harmon, asks “why only about a third of Boston’s third graders in district schools read at an advanced or proficient level?” …if only 5.8 of Boston teachers need improvement and just 1.2 percent are unsatisfactory. He implies that teacher ratings are grossly inflated. Yet, there is no consideration for exactly what these numbers measure.

To suggest that teacher ratings should correlate to how schools perform is a huge oversimplification. Standardized test scores are not normalized for effects of poverty, parental education, first language, disability, transience, class size, availability of educational materials, etc. We have already done a huge amount of harm to our students and our schools with data that labels them under-performing. Our public schools are actually improving and the majority of teachers are very dedicated, and take responsibility for student learning. No one should give media attention to our public schools until they have read the book Reign of Error by the noted Columbia University professor, Diane Ravitch.

Our public schools and teachers have been degraded and demoralized using standardized test data. Granted, there are a small percentage of incompetent employees in all organizations, public and private. Schools are no different, so why do we single out the teaching profession? No one has defined what truly makes a good school or a good teacher. Pompous policy makers, data crunchers and think tanks ignore the true purpose of education: to build on what students know with instruction that is relevant to their lives in order to prepare them for successful futures. Standardized test scores do not reflect the quality of schools in the context of their true purpose. Similarly, teacher rating systems do not attempt to measure the most important component of good teaching. As evidenced by the students themselves in a video on the state’s web site, this is ability to motivate, interact, relate and care about their students.  Student Video

Publicly rating teachers, professionals (with as much college education as attorneys), is truly demeaning. To claim that the variables that impact student performance are excuses is ridiculous. Mr. Harmon states that “great urban police departments…take responsibility for the crime rate…” Yet, we wouldn’t dream of evaluating police departments and officers based on a comparison with the average crime rates for the entire state. This makes about as much sense as evaluating public defenders on the percentage of guilty clients they are assigned, or doctors based on the percentage of their patients who die.

* Boston Teacher Ratings Don’t Add Up by Lawrence Harmon,  The Boston Globe, November 30, 2013.

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