Curious teacher ratings? Or curious reporting?

Questions reporters should be asking—but aren’t—about teacher ratings and evaluation.

The New York Times continues to not tell the full story when it comes to teachers and teaching.

In a recent article, “Curious Grade for Teachers: Nearly All Pass,” Jenny Anderson raises questions about the high marks teachers continue to receive, despite big policy changes across the nation to make sure teaching evaluations are based primarily on student test scores.

In the epicenters of such reforms, e.g., Tennessee and Florida as well as New York City and Washington DC, almost all teachers meet expectations—and beyond. Anderson points out that in Washington DC, the education-policy home of Michelle Rhee, 95 percent of the district’s teachers met the standard, and only 0.4 percent (that’s right, 4 in 1,000 teachers) received the lowest rating. The New York Times, once again showing its ideological stripes, titles Anderson’s article “Curious Grade for Teachers,” suggesting that there is no way that so many teachers could be rated effective.

So is the problem faulty systems, where teachers are graded on the test scores of students they did not teach (as in Florida), or that the value-added measures used to judge teachers’ effectiveness in raising test scores are unstable barometers of measuring educators’ performance?  Or is it, as suggested in Anderson’s article by promoters of “get tough” evaluation systems, the fact that principals do not have the guts to give teachers bad marks? These are questions that we need to be talking about—and answering.

However, Anderson misses the mark by not asking the questions that should be surfaced in such a journalistic foray. Would the system be better served if teachers themselves were leading evaluation reform (as SRI research strongly suggests)? Have teacher-evaluation reformers ignored the need to build a teaching development system first and foremost (as concluded at the recent International Summit on the Teaching Profession)?

I wonder if Anderson and her editors have read Thomas Friedman’s latest column in their own newspaper. Drawing on the wisdom of Tony Wagner, Friedman calls for Accountability 2.0, where teachers are judged, like their counterparts in Finland, on the degree to which their students innovate and their classroom teaching focuses on “play, passion, and purpose”—not 20th-century standardized tests built on 19th-century principles of teaching and learning. What will it take for real journalism to reemerge and for reporters to ask the important questions instead of kowtowing to school reform bromides?

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  • BillIvey

    Another point…

    … that bothered me was in the middle of the article, when someone was quoted as saying that we “know” 5% of the people in any profession are ineffective. Really?! How do we know that? Do we know that? As a journalist, I would have feigned delight in getting such a useful statistic and pressed for details about the studies and conclusions and where I could learn more.

    What will it take for real journalism to re-emerge? I wonder if that goes to cuts in that profession. Keeping someone on who has the time and expertise to focus exclusively on the education beat is probably not within the means of many media outlets, and so by necessity journalits become generalists. I don’t think the problem is limited to education by any means.