"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

How To Recognize a Good Teacher

Last month, the President said in his State of the Union Address, "We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones." This statement was met, not surprisingly, with a round of applause. Almost everyone can agree that good teachers are absolutely essential to a good education. Yet our schools, even our good ones, have their share of bad teachers who seem to be as hard to get rid of as underarm stains on t-shirts.

Reaching agreement on the means to identify those good teachers has been the subject of much debate lately. The President and the DOE have stated in the past that they support merit pay as a means to identify and retain good teachers. However, one must first figure out how to measure "merit" so that a funding formula can be developed to calculate the appropriate salary. The first metric jumped upon, because it is so seemingly obvious, is student test scores. But you don't have to ponder this metric too long to see the problem with it. If it is just a matter of having the children score higher on the standardized tests, there are all kinds of ways to achieve that end and not all of them involve better teaching methods. There are already teachers who manipulate test scores in order to improve how their students look on paper, and consequently how they look at performance review time. Poor performing students are hidden by this practice and are passed on to the next grade to be "somebody else's problem."

The Association of American Educators surveyed its members last year to find out what education reform efforts they supported. A summary of their findings can be found here. They asked the teachers what they would like to see included in their evaluations. Findings of note include:

  • 61% of members surveyed agreed with a Delaware policy that teachers must be removed from the classroom if they have an ineffective rating for more than two years.
  • Teachers disagree strongly with the saying, “Last hired, first fired.”
  • 80% believe achieving tenure does not indicate an effective teacher.
Their study identifies a number of evaluation points that make up what they are calling a "value-added" model of teacher assessment. Their list of data points includes (in diminishing ranking):
  • Administrator/senior faculty reviews
  • Student test scores
  • Peer classroom observation
  • Self-evaluation
  • Teacher subject competency testing
  • Level of education
  • Parent reviews
  • and lastly, Years in the system.
This list looks very different from what the teacher's unions, supposedly the voice of the teachers they represent, usually presents as the criteria for teacher evaluation. That list pretty much includes; tenure, length of service and student test scores (not necessarily in that order). We, as parents, are never asked for our input on teacher retention but, it should be noted that such input is included on the AAE list.

As local school districts contemplate ways to reduce their budgets and hold out things like teacher salaries as sacred cows because of union contracts, keep in mind that the teachers protected by those contracts do not always support what their unions have negotiated for them. This video from Kids Aren't Cars gives you an idea what they really think and the pressure they are under by their unions to fall in line. So when things get heated at your school board meetings when discussing the budgets, keep in mind that, among the union banner toting and time card punching teachers, are some real gems who probably feel just like you do.

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