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Teachers and Market Reforms

Tingley-021 colorThe Chicago teachers’ strike is over, leaving educational pundits to debate what it all meant and what it might mean for the future.

Writing in the LA Times last Saturday, Sandy Banks offers a reasoned approach to both questions.  While teachers insisted that their strike was about respect for teachers and about kids’ welfare, Banks suggests that it was also about “market reforms” that tie salaries and jobs to how well students perform.  In other words, it was about job security and accountability.

“Market reforms, “ says Banks is “public school lingo” for tying student performance to teacher evaluation.  Of course, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel isn’t the only big city supervisor who believes that test scores should be part of teacher evaluation.  As Banks notes, here in LA John Deasy, LA Unified School District superintendent, believes that the school district, as the employer, should be able to design a teacher evaluation system without union approval. 

While many teachers object to including test scores in their evaluations, Banks says that the handwriting is on the wall.  Chicago teachers will, in fact, have test scores as part of their evaluation.  It will be phased in and the total percentage will be less than the mayor wanted (to my mind a good thing), but it will still Chicago_strike_lg be part of how teachers are judged.  And for those who still protest about the fairness of using test scores, Banks asks, “How do we find a way to measure good teaching, reward it, spread it through the ranks?” 

In an article I wrote earlier this year for the NYS ASCD publication, I argued the same thing.  Using test scores as more than 30% of a teacher’s evaluation is problematic given all of the variables that can occur.  Test scores should be just one measure.  How can we design a clear, valid tool that is easy to use and doesn’t contain 25 different categories?  We have the intelligence and the experience in the field to do this.  Teachers and principals know what good teaching looks like.  Why can’t they work together to develop a workable format?

I have to fault state legislatures and other officials for taking an idea with promise and turning it into a thoughtless mandate.  Parents have the right to know how their kids perform on standardized tests and which teachers have a track record of helping kids perform well.  It is not the only measure, but it is an important one.  To all of the folks who complain constantly about reform, let me ask you:  Which teacher do you want your personal child to have?  The one whose students score well on standardized tests or the one whose students are perpetually last? 

As Banks notes, it’s true that kids do better in school when parents are involved, when they feel safe, and when their home life is free from disruption.  But some schools perform well even when conditions are poor.  So we can’t continue to use the excuse of poverty to cover a school’s failure.  If teachers can’t overcome home conditions, why even teach?  Why bother?

Banks says, “It’s time for district leaders to listen – and for teachers to talk about something more than how hard it is to teach urban kids, with their academic shortcomings and chaotic lives..”   Both sides need to abandon their defensive positions and come together to problem solve for the good of their students.





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