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The Operation Was a Success, But ...

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to make student achievement part of the decision to grant tenure to teachers, much to the chagrin, of course, of the teachers’ union according to yesterday’s New York Times.

 Not using the data, Bloomberg says, is “like saying to hospitals, ‘You can evaluate heart surgeons on any criteria you want – just not patient survival rates.’”

 As budgets tighten, Bloomberg also wants to be able to lay off teachers according to merit rather than seniority. 

 We’ve heard all the arguments against using test results to evaluate teachers.  You can’t control whom you get in class.  Kids aren’t motivated.  Parents aren’t supportive.  The tests are too hard or too easy.  You can’t measure love of learning.  You can’t control attendance.  You can’t be responsible for transient students that you haven’t had all year.

 But here’s the thing:  Currently we evaluate on process rather than product.  We assume that we know good teaching when we see it, and typically there is agreement between the union and the administration on that assumption.  Forms used for formal observations, for example, are often developed by teachers and administrators together based on a common understanding of what good teaching looks like – not what good teaching produces in terms of test scores.

 In addition, in many schools, direct, formal supervision of classroom teaching occurs perhaps once a year or maybe not at all.  In my experience, even the least talented teacher can pull together a decent lesson once a year for a formal classroom evaluation, especially one that’s announced in advance.

 So why not use test scores as part of the whole picture?  I’m not saying that test scores are the only criterion because some of the union’s objections contain some validity.  But looking at scores over three years and comparing them with students in similar classrooms with different teachers gives the teacher and administrator another piece of the picture.  Instead of looking for excuses as to why kids aren’t performing on tests, maybe we should embrace the challenges of attendance, motivation, etc. etc.  Isn’t that the point of teaching?  If only teachers who were excellent in the classroom and produced results were granted tenure, all layoffs would be hard.

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