Response to Satire

I have been following the national debate about teacher evaluation for some time. As an educator, I have mixed feelings about the discussion. On one hand, I agree with the reformers who say that measuring teacher effectiveness is critical to improving teachers and thereby our entire public school system. On the other hand, however, I find fault with most of the current systems for evaluating teachers.

Bob Bowdon’s recent satirical piece on the issue (“Classroom Grading is an Attack on Students“) does much to convince me that attitudes need to change before we’ll find a good solution to this problem. Bowdon uses student grading as a metaphor for teacher evaluation and tries to show that teacher unions are being unreasonable in their focus on the fairness of current systems. While fairness is not the most important factor, it is the one that most separates student grading from teacher evaluation. Students are graded based on multiple measures of performance and with great emphasis on consistency. Teacher evaluations are much more subjective.

Now, I have nothing against honest and accurate measurement of teacher mastery. I’ve written before about the positive changes that have come to the North Carolina Teacher Evaluation Instrument. No one whom I know is arguing that teachers should not be evaluated. On the contrary, most teachers that I speak with welcome evaluation. Fairness is certainly an issue, but it isn’t the biggest one.

The most important parts of this debate center of what constitutes great teaching. Is it the ability to produce high test scores from your students? Is it a knack for helping your students’ scores improve? It is building meaningful relationships and teaching citizenship and character along the way?

If you agree that it is some mixture of all of these characteristics (and more!), then you recognize the absurdity of using only student test scores to determine which teachers are effective.

Just as it would be absurd to measure a student’s mastery based on a single test score.

One thought on “Response to Satire

  1. The comparison between student evaluations and teacher evaluations doesn’t only differ with the fact that teachers’ evaluations are more subjective. Students are evaluated on their own performance, while teachers are evaluated on students’ performance. Therefore, I think you raise the all the right questions about what great teaching is – what this “performance” should look like.
    The more complex the measure, the more it allows for all the gradations of different teaching styles and classroom realities, the more accurate it is. However, the public and politicians are less comfortable with this; it’s too messy. They want it to be boiled down to a number, easily publishable in newspapers and put in comparative charts and graphs. (This is the same for the students’ standardized assessments.) Ironically, the more simplistic and black-and-white, the more people feel good about it being safe, solid data to hire, fire, promote, or penalize by.
    It used to be that the idea of boiling down “What is healthy?” to one single number was the laughable comparison to make pointed commentary about the error of mandates such as No Child Left Behind:

    Now, looking at state employee’s new BMI requirements for health care coverage, it seems the medical community is taking a page from our book instead of the other way around.


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