but guess what? One-by-one, they’re all turning out to be true. Sigh.
So now the DOE is analyzing test scores on a teacher-by-teacher basis – but, learning nothing from Nixon or any other historical examples of cover-ups and dissimulations, they’re doing it all secretly!
And while the whole thing is being touted as an experiment, it’s easy to see where the DOE’s enthusiasms will lead:
“If the only thing we do is make this data available to every person in the city — every teacher, every parent, every principal, and say do with it what you will — that will have been a powerful step forward,” said Chris Cerf, the deputy schools chancellor who is overseeing the project. “If you know as a parent what’s the deal, I think that whole aspect will change behavior.”
The effort comes as educators nationwide are struggling to figure out how to find, train and measure good teachers. Many education experts say that until teacher quality improves in urban schools, student performance is likely to stagnate and the achievement gap between white and minority students will never be closed. Other school systems, including those in Dallas and Houston as well as in the whole state of Tennessee, are also using student performance and improvement as factors in evaluating teachers.
The United Federation of Teachers, the city’s teachers’ union, has known about the experiment for months, but has not been told which schools are involved, because the Education Department has promised those principals confidentiality.
So here’s the thing: I’m all for finding new ways to evaluate teaching, but, um, hell no! Even if – and it’s a big IF – we could accept test scores as valid from year-to-year, from classroom-to-classroom, even IF we could find a way to compare students’ growth in a way that would fairly account for the vast differences in school and classroom circumstances which are oh so real in our system, even IF, IF, IF, I don’t think there’s a person out there who believes that test scores alone should be the basis for evaluating a teacher’s effectiveness. It’s a great way to create incentives for narrowing the curriculum, cheating, and all manner of similar things, a great way to empower principals to favor one teacher over another in student placement and administrative support, a great way to ignore a few other things that parents and students appreciate in a teacher and that yield results that may be farther-reaching but less easily examined.
What is most astonishing about the whole thing – and I don’t mean astonishing in the sense of surprising, more like biggest-PR-disaster-ever-astonishing – is the secrecy. I mean, c’mon, the majority of adults affected by this are prima facie against it, so why not damn it with the undecideds too by tainting it with underhandness? (Also, as Eduwonkette points out, it’s ethically questionable, if not illegal or technically disallowed).
So now that the ranting part of this post is over, the usual questions linger about how to reform a system built on distrust, secrecy, pettiness, and politics. The outcomes for the kids must be the bottom-line, and I do not believe that these things cannot possibly be measured. Certainly not in a single test or any other unidimensional way, but clearly, some kids make greater gains, some schools add more value than others, some teachers do more in a year than others. And it matters. As Eduwonkette persuades us, individual schools may not make a huge difference in your child’s test scores, but an inner-city (or any) mom clearly has an interest in which school is going to provide her kid with a strong foundation and a world-class education built upon it. So where does accurate information about schools come from? (Deeper question: could we create a system where all schools are so great that it really doesn’t matter, except for issues of good-fit?)
We don’t trust our principals to evaluate us fairly, if anything actually depends upon those evaluations, and with good reason. We (obviously!) don’t trust the city to crunch the numbers, add a little extra-credit, and decide who makes F’s and A’s, who goes, who stays. I’m not saying the solution is to become more trusting (see title of post), but how can the web of distrust be untangled to allow us all to work together for the same goal, ostensibly the reason we’re all here in the first place: the kids. Is there a reform out there that can cut through it all? Or do we fall back on stronger and stronger defenses? Do we work for the defenses now while hoping for broader change later? Does that ever work?