This morning the NY Times (ever the neo-liberal paper of record) this morning argues that reform of teacher evaluations is fundamental to helping poor kids, and assumes unions as the culprit in ultimately perpetuating failing schools.
That teachers’ unions in much of the country now agree that student achievement should count in evaluations at all reflects a major change from the past, when it was often argued that teaching was an “art” that could not be rigorously evaluated or, even more outrageously, that teachers should not be held accountable for student progress.The problem is actually getting good data on student achievement. State tests give you terrible data for a variety of reasons, ultimately telling you very mixed stories about the actual effect of the teaching in the class. A quality administrator, given a proper amount of time, could look at what students are actually doing in the classroom and tell rather quickly how effective a teacher is. That so many teachers are given high rating by administrators says more about administration policy than teaching (except that so many teachers out there are doing a brilliant job in the face of terrible odds).
In the end, the push for data is driven by the notion that poor kids are being taught well enough by teachers. Yet this is often like squeezing blood from stone: parent background, etc. account overwhelmingly for student achievement, with good teaching making up a small portion of the margin.
Dealing with issues outside the classroom, by rearranging the classroom model itself - smaller classes, more aids, more counselors, etc. - are completely missing from the "reform" agenda, which primarily emphasizes accountability, testing, charters, union-busting and ending tenure.
But again, we aren't even begining to have that conversation. When it is brought up, teachers are accused of making excuses. Yet if teachers - the ones on the front lines every single day - feel this is the real need, what students need to be successful, who is really making excuses?