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Teacher Evaluation… and Home Schooling

February 17, 2012

Andrew Cuomo brokered a deal to get NYS’s evaluation to be in conformance with the federal RTTT guidelines and won editorial praise. While my misgivings on the USDOE’s over-reliance on standardized tests is well documented in other portions of this blog, I am among those who agree that the “traditional method of teacher evaluation” is “terrible”. I’m not sure that the method NYS is adopting— which calls for evaluators to use four ratings instead of the current binary system– will yield any significantly different results on the low end but I AM confident that it will leads to lots of debates on the higher end. I think administrators will be hard pressed to differentiate between a “highly effective” and “effective” teacher based on classroom observations and/or test scores, especially if the teacher is one of the 75%+ whose performance cannot be measured by the tests administered at the state and local level. IF the effort to makes this discrimination results in more robust evaluations— like parent, student and peer surveys, for example— it will be worth doing. My hunch: administrators will be required to rate only 20% of their teachers “highly effective” and once that rule-of-thumb is adopted can compensation based on those ratings be far behind? In the NYTimes article that detailed the agreement, Arnold Dodge,  an assistant professor of educational leadership at Long Island University, said it was “…a “political deal” that would reduce the complexities of teaching to a simple number adding: “It’s not fair, it’s not reliable, and it’s not stable. You’re going to get a superficial number that has virtually no meaning for the long term.” Unless, of course, it is used as the basis for compensation, in which case it will have GREAT meaning even though is has no statistically reliable meaning. I’m sure as this rolls out there will be more articles… and more feedback.

Nick Kristoff also wrote a favorable editorial on teacher evaluation, in this case in New Haven CT. The system there identified 2% of the teachers as being so poor as to warrant dismissal… which sounds about right based on my experience… But to read editorials and op ed pieces one would be led to believe that 20% or more of the teachers are poor… and that’s probably because we remember that 20% of the teachers WE encountered in our schooling were “bad”. That could be the case, but in all probability if one were to poll students on which teachers they thought were “bad”, the overlap would be minimal: teachers who I loved were the same teachers that some of my classmates hated. 2% seems about right…. And the hours administrators spend with those teachers are countless!

Finally, the NYTimes ran an interview with Charlotte Danielson that was full of insights on teacher evaluation. A couple of bottom line points: test results and checklist driven observations are insufficient; we CAN do meaningful 360 degree evaluations with the technology available today; evaluation doesn’t need to be an annual event.

While I have tried to refrain from partisan politics, I feel compelled to include this little tidbit regarding Rick Santorum, who has declared his opposition to “government run (i.e. public) schools“.  The article suggests that Santorum home-schooled his children after getting his PA district to provide them with laptops. Enough said on Senator Santorum.

And speaking of home schooling, this USA Today article notes that the demographics of home schooling is changing… a completely predictable outcome given the narrowing of the curriculum in schools and the unwillingness of schools to tailor their instruction and “work day” to meet the needs of students and parents.

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