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Monday, January 14, 2013

The latest worst idea of all time, students grading teachers.

I can see it now, Mr. G are you sure that paper is due today and I can’t have another week, or, Mr. G are you sure you want to write me up on a referral, that could come back to bite you?

The latest worst education reform idea making the rounds is having students’ grade teachers. It is one of the recommendations from Bill Gates fifty million dollar teacher evaluation study and it gaining traction with policy makers in among other places New Jersey and Florida. The vast majority of these policy makers by the way have never been in a classroom as a teacher. They come up with these ideas in a vacuum and think to themselves, yeah that will work, after all no student would ever give an unfair evaluation to a teacher.

I wonder what I can expect from the kid who tells me; don’t bother to write me up, nothing is going to happen anyways, followed by a few expletives?  How about the kid who is tardy everyday or who only shows up once or twice a week do they get to give me a grade too? Hardly seems fair since they aren’t there that much. What about disabled children, do they get a say too and for the profound how will they? Then how about kindergarten kids and if so do they answer with sad or frowny faces?

Many students today already play the system and the system is already stacked in their favor. Don’t feel like coming or doing your work? No worries we’ll give you grade recovery. Feel like acting up or disrespecting your teacher? Hey spend the rest of the period in ISSP with your other friends and just please promise to do better tomorrow. Now Ed Deformers want to give them the nuclear option? Mr. G are you sure you want to give me the grade that I earned, you know your job depends on what I put on your evaluation.

Also call me a pessimist but I am not sure if a lot of our kids understand that the teacher who is demanding and uncompromising probably cares about them more than the teacher who lets them get away with just about anything and whose class lacks rigor.  Can we trust the judgment of a Ritalin popping, video game playing, and fast food eating sixteen year old with an inflated sense of entitlement to make the best decision? Probably not but old Bill Gates, who doesn’t have an education degree and who has never taught a day in his life thinks the idea is just dandy. If you are scratching your head at this humdinger, you should probably be scratching your head at some of their other ideas too.

The class size amendment is being hit hard; Ashley Smith-Juarez (school board member) and Gary Chartrand (chair of the state board of ed) have both come out against it. If you want just ignore all the evidence and studies supporting it, they have, and just ask a teacher if they think they would do a better job with 15 or 25 students.   

Teachers experience and education have also been marginalized. The powers that be have advocated stopping paying teachers more for advanced degrees and experience, postulating it doesn’t matter. Can you imagine that? They want you to believe the one field where education and experience doesn’t matter is education. They would rather have a revolving door of inexperienced neophytes teaching our children. I am sure the fact we can pay them less and most won’t stay long enough to get a pension never enters into the equation. 

High stakes testing, basing teachers evaluations of high stakes testing and merit pay all have evidence that say they either don’t work, don’t lead to better education outcomes or involve questionable math. Yet the education reform movement hangs their hat on them.   

Then worst of all, well in this paragraph anyways, rather than fix the problems in public schools, some of which have been created by their other ideas (high stakes testing, cutting budgets, pushing every kid into a one size fits all curriculum anyone) they would rather replace our public schools with charter schools and send kids to private schools with vouchers.  How does that make sense? Shouldn’t we exhaust efforts to fix our problems before we throw up our hands and replace the institution, public education, that helped build our nation and led too much of its prosperity?

And now they want to have students evaluate teachers too. Wow!

The thing is, they ignore the fact that most teachers already take into account feedback they get from their students. They do so by looking at their papers and assignments and asking probing questions and by just generally being in the room with them day after day. They don’t need some kid with an axe to grind, a kid who doesn’t care or a kid who Christmas trees evaluation forms like they do standardized tests holding teachers fates in their hands. It is already a tough enough job. Plus teachers already know how the students who make an effort and who care about their futures feel without a formal evaluation.  

Proponents of corporate education reform are like climate change deniers. They don’t like evidence or facts and every time there is a charter school that performs well they use it as evidence that they all do. The problem with that however is how can we have serious improvement, when those that are running the show in between blaming teachers for all the problems and taking credit for any of the successes, when the solutions they offer aren’t based in facts or don’t require evidence to be implemented. It’s easier for them to either just go with their gut or to zero in on solutions that make education cheaper (not better) or make money for their friends and supporters or in the case of dozens of legislators, themselves.

If we want to improve things we need to slow things down and eliminate these fly by night, go with their gut and non-backed up by evidence reforms. Not doing so does not make things better it makes things worse and gives us a new worst idea ever every few weeks. 

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