In a few years, teaching will be a lot like fantasy baseball.
Principals will be selecting their draft picks, organizing their order to fill difficult slots, like math, science and special education. As for myself, the stats show I’m a solid .700 hitter, with an 80% pass rate last year. I’m a good pick for power and distance, although I may fade down the stretch into June. As long as the bullpen comes through in the clutch, I should be alright. God help those teachers on the waiver wire.
It would be incredible if every aspect of our professional lives can be effectively reduced to a number. Classifying and ranking would be much simpler. A simple graph would tell who was pulling their weight and who couldn’t hit out of a paper bag. How many principals would love to shove a chart into a failing teacher’s face, bellow out “the number’s don’t lie!” and give the unfortunate loser the boot.
If education were only that simple. It isn’t.
Recently, the New York Post ran a story about the teacher’s union, the UFT, allegedly obstructing efforts by Mayor Mike Bloomberg and schools chancellor Joel Klein to include student test scores as a factor in determining teacher tenure. The State Assembly recently killed any hope of even creating a commission to investigate how test scores can fit into the process–a commission supported by UFT president Randi Weingarten and the larger umbrella group New York State United Teachers. The commission was seen as an olive branch in the feud between the Department of Education and the Union over the test scores issue, and was even included in this year’s controversial budget. Yet the chair of the Education Committee in Albany, Catherine Nolan, refused to even allow a vote on the matter.
Teacher tenure is an issue that really bothers me. On the one hand, many teachers who have long since proven a disservice to students are protected by the tenure system. I won’t name names, but i’m familiar with a number of teachers in various schools that probably do more harm than good, yet are protected by the system. Even if they are excessed by a principal, these teachers are guaranteed a salaried position by union contract. While this is helpful to most, it can also be detrimental by keeping bad teachers in play. Just like the Yankees who are obligated to keep and pay for useless players based on contract (Randy Johnson, Carl Pavano, etc.), the system of tenure, when abused, can create a class of benchwarmers that drain resources for next season.
However, tenure is also an important safeguard for teachers against the lesser natures of administrators–especially those with no experience in the classroom. An administrator without classroom experience can quickly turn into a bean counter. Statistics, numbers, charts, graphs–the quantifiable data that is so useful in the business world makes little sense in education. If your supervisor had no experience handling children in a classroom, he/she will probably not be sympathetic to your terrible class forged by Lucifer.
Like baseball, teaching also has those “intangibles” that cannot necessarily be controlled. Who knows if Ted Williams would have hit a .406 batting average in 1941 had there not been a ridiculously shallow right field in Fenway Park. Sandy Koufax, the great Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher of the 1960’s, had the benefit of a concrete monolith in Dodger Stadium, where home runs were few and far between. In public schools, we cannot cherry-pick our students. Nor can we adjust the facilities. Our schedules are often held hostage by meetings, workshops, common planning periods and the like. Test day is also stressful; not everyone is a great test taker, even the really bright children. There’s also the home to consider: not everyone lives in an environment conducive to achievement. If Daddy is playing Grand Theft Auto with his son during homework time–which is sometimes the case–you can be sure that school isn’t much of a priority.
So let’s assume that test scores will play a factor in determining tenure. How much weight should they carry? Will the criteria include just tests, or a basket of assessments (portfolio, written work, observations, etc.)? Should all tests be used, just State assessments, or a selection of subjects? How will one set of scores compare to another? Should the raw score be used or the scale score? Are we looking for set targets, or windows of progress over time? Can we adequately assess a teacher’s skills based on the work of previous teachers in previous years?
Test scores may be numbers, but the factors surrounding them are anything but tangible. This is why using them to determine teacher tenure can become a volatile issue. If student work is to be used in assessing teachers, then that assessment should be done within a framework that fellow teachers can understand. Test scores must be viewed in context to a holistic learning experience that includes various assessments, observations and data. Scores alone cannot determine performance, since it is but one indicator of a complex process.
Let’s return to baseball for a moment. If Alex Rodriguez were to be assessed based on cumulative, one-shot annual state exams, he would be considered a failure. Look at his record in October and see if you doubt me. However, he is not judged merely on his October stats (though maybe he should be) but rather on a season-wide scale. This would include slumps, tears, injury periods and the like, producing results that look good on a stats sheet, even though he can’t perform during the playoffs.
I was actually looking forward to a commission studying how test scores can be used. It would have provided some form of closure to a contentious issue that mistakenly blames teachers as being against student acheivement. It would have also provided some real data to see how reflective are test scores to actual student learning. For now, I guess we will have to live with tenure as it is.
Funny, I would’ve gotten a kick seeing my principal watch some kindergarten teacher getting swamped, then make a call to the bullpen. Make sure you’re loose.