Saturday, March 10, 2007

Measuring Teachers

"If teachers are to be held accountable for the performance of their students, strategies for measuring the impact of their work must be refined or, at least, the uncertainties of these measurements must be taken into account in assessing the impact of teachers and schools on student performance."

The word performance can be viewed narrowly (how kids score the reading and math test) or broadly. Once behavior enters into it - often discounted as an "excuse" but to teachers one of the most important factors - things get very sticky. I do not mean behavior in the sense of "good and bad' but in the wider sense of the resources students bring to the table and the ability of the teacher to work with them in that framework. I had "successes" with kids who did not move higher in reading but moved significantly in their ability to control their emotions, function within the context of a classroom, etc. Can these things be measured?

I taught in a rotation system in elementary school. One year you get the higher performing class, the next you don't. Same school, same families, same teacher, etc. This was not a big school -- 2 or 3 classes on the grade. My measured performance varied vastly depending on which level I taught. In some ways I was better with the struggling kids. There were teachers in my school who were awesome with the top classes but fell apart when they had the bottom classes. We had teachers who were willing to sell their souls to stay out of the bottom classes.

Class size made a difference but the administration in my school in the 70's at least tried to make the lower exponent classes smaller. Most teachers fought to teach the better classes even with the higher class size. Favorites of the principal were often rewarded (violating the contract) with these classes year after year. Or they tried to put the teachers they thought to be the best with the top classes, relegating the lower classes to some sort of triage.

The entire process is so complex, trying to judge teachers on performance is very difficult. In the old days the key thing was if you could control your class. The entire school -- colleagues, admins, parents, etc measured you as a teacher based on that factor alone. When I learned how to do that I felt it was one of the major accomplishments of my life and turned me into a confident teacher. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Dealing with actually teaching them after that became the next hard thing.

I met a top lawyer at a party a few years ago and he entered teaching around the same time I did in the late 60's to stay out of the draft. He couldn't believe I stayed in all these years. He taught in the south Bronx for 2 years and said it was the hardest thing he ever did. He was not referring to the teaching part.

Klein was there too as a teacher escaping the draft at the same time for around 6 months and you never hear him sat a word about that experience. I know what he must have went through. We all did. He knows what it's all about and that is why I consider him such a snake in the way he and others put the main blame for failing schools on teacher competency.

Cerf said as much at the Manhattan Inst luncheon. That is why we have all the phony prof. development. The way I and other generations of teachers learned PD was from the great teachers who worked with us.


  1. What's really frustrating about all these demagogues who run the system is that quality education is really attainable. I really believe if they were to insist on good teachers, smaller classes and decent facilities they'd have what they claim to want.

    That, though, will cost some serious money that wouldn't enrich their cronies. But where I live, I see my prescription working every day of my little daughter's life.


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