Uncommon Sense

September 20, 2012

Leftovers from the Chicago Teacher’s Strike, Final Part!

Filed under: Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:02 pm
Tags: , , , ,

This is the end, I promise!

One of the major bones of contention in this strike was the manner of the inclusion of “student data” into teacher’s evaluations. They settled on (I believe) that 30% of a teacher’s evaluation would consist of “student data” which would largely be test measures of student performance. They also agree on three test measures to be used.

This has been a sensitive issue for teachers for reasons that aren’t apparent to ordinary citizens. Should a craftsman be judged by his/her work? This is only reasonable, for sure. Yes it is, but consider, say, a cabinet maker. The cabinet maker chooses the woods to use in a project, the tools to use, the techniques, and then executes the design. Whether his/her client is pleased or not is certainly a reflection of his skill, etc. But what if the choice of woods wasn’t his/hers? And only pieces of wood from a broken wooden crate were provided. How do you think that would affect the outcome.

The analogy isn’t strong, but ask yourself: are teachers allowed to choose their own students? (No.) Are they allowed to choose their own classrooms? (No.) What about the air temperature? (No.) What about the furniture? (No.) What about the textbook? (No.) What about the teaching techniques? (Sometimes no.) What about the tests for accomplishment? (No.) Some teachers have lavish classrooms in air-conditioned classrooms, with attentive students from homes that send them to school having eaten and with expectations that they be “good students.” Other teachers have none of this.

Still evaluation is something teachers agree is needed because they know that “bad apples spoil the basket” and even the perception that many or even just some teachers are substandard affects them all.

So what is to be done?

Basically, what is needed is study, something teachers are supposed to be good at. If the tests used as “student data” turn out to be volatile, maybe a time average (three year or four year) would work better. If those three tests don’t work, how about just those two with this new third one? Steps in this direction are being made. For example, instead of absolute measures, relative measures are being used. If your sixth-grade class is sent fourth grade proficiency students, are they at least making progress appropriate to their situation?

The issue is important enough to get it right. But nobody wants their job to be determined by whether they can turn a sow’s ear into a silk purse.

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