Last year, like so many others, I sounded the alarm on the so-called “rotisserie league” system of teacher evaluation, using stats like baseball cards to determine effectiveness. At the moment, I thought my lesson had been learned, at least when using Alex Rodriguez as an example.
(By the way, he again is a failure this season, according to NCLB standards)
The recent release of teacher data by the Los Angeles Times has shown the ghastly effects of such unscrupulous shaming. Morale is at a new low. Attrition is rampant. Few would want to enter a school system where taking the courageous stand of teaching children with special needs could land you on the front page with a noose over your head. Most shockingly, one teacher committed suicide over perceived low scores, even though colleagues and administrators alike touted him as an exemplary teacher.
Now, the grand poobahs in New York City want the same thing.
Last week, the UFT went to court to stop the New York City Department of Education from publishing Teacher Data Report scores for 4-8th Grade teachers in the city. The TDRs, as they were called, were a program designed to show teachers—and only teachers—how their students have done over time via standardized testing and other assessments.
The move is so controversial that even the CSA, the principals’ union, broke ranks with the DOE and sided with the teachers. When the TDRs were implemented last year, principals explicitly told their teachers that the data would be for their eyes only. Publishing these scores would not only undermine teacher morale, but also the integrity of administrators citywide.
Yet even with the injunctions, motions, stoppages, etc. teachers may probably still face the prospect of public data reports.
Harping about the validity (or lack thereof) of the data or the data collection will do little good. Nor will the constant chirping of union reps and teacher advocates, since the education reform crowd has already labeled teachers as the enemy.
What’s needed now is a counter-proposal.
If the city is going to publish teacher data, it must publish student and parent records alongside each teacher’s evaluation.
If the city wants to make everyone accountable in education, then all the cards should be face-up on the table. Let’s make data evaluation truly public—after all, we know all the intangibles and background that surround the stats in baseball, basketball, football, etc. There’s the differences in field surfaces, in flooring, in wind directions, fan attendance: all of which add up to some effect on the overall performance of the individual athletes.
The same could be said for teachers. If a teacher has a class that cannot read at their grade level, show the records that indicate their improvement, as well as any individual needs, problems, situations that help or hinder the classroom experience. If a teacher misses some phony cutoff in test scores for bonuses or whatnot, make sure the record shows the anecdotals of the little bastards who never do squat in the room.
Parents shouldn’t be off the hook, either. Alongside the data reports should be the page upon page of meeting notes with parents—parents who never show up for meetings, parents who get belligerent, parents who “yes” the teacher to death in order to get her off their back. Yet also show that parents who genuinely try to help, but are often frustrated with the curriculum themselves. The problem rarely just stops at teacher and student.
Thanks to privacy laws, this proposal will probably never see the light of day. Yet what makes teachers so worthy of exemption from professional courtesy?
It can’t be because of our status as public employees: no other public agency would allow such open pillorying of their staff. Nor is it because of our special relationship with children: parents have an even more intense bond, yet their results are hardly scrutinized in public.
Perhaps it’s because the inhuman, artificial nature of data allows administrators to show that they care about children without ever being involved with children. It’s like the old line about the imperious city planner Robert Moses, “He loves the public, but he hates people.”
Publishing student and parent data, while a pipe dream, can be an even better way to evaluate a teacher’s performance. It provides a holistic, broad-based picture of the circumstances each teacher must deal with. Then, and only then, should test data be considered.
After all, how can you score a baseball game if you haven’t watched a single inning of it?