Nick Kristof’s column in the New York Times about Chicago teachers zeroed in on teacher evaluations, the issue at the center of the strike. Kristof says teacher quality must be addressed to improve the test scores of poor, urban children.
I thought the column was problematic for several reasons.
First, do we know teacher quality is a primary reason poor children are failing? Are suburban teachers so much better? If urban teachers need qualities superior to their suburban peers, will they be paid more?
Second, even if you accept that teacher quality can and should be improved, the use of students’ standardized test scores to grade teachers is suspect. Kristof admits this:
How does one figure out who is a weak teacher? Yes, that’s a challenge. But researchers are improving systems to measure “value added” from beginning to end of the year, and, with three years of data, it’s usually possible to tell which teachers are failing.
Value-added metrics are riddled with problems. For example, teachers rated highly one year can be rated poorly the next year. New York City insisted on making its teacher ratings public, leading to debate among news organizations about whether to publish them because they were so flawed.
Consider the fact New York State won’t allow districts to exempt truant students from a teacher’s evaluation. Then say with a straight face the evaluations are reliable tools.
Third, Kirstof has no problem with Chicago teachers being laid off when their schools are closed. In Rochester, there wouldn’t be many teachers left if the district was able to fire teachers when it closed schools. Franklin, Edison, Madison and Freddie Thomas have all been reinvented more than once. The current education reform movement shuffles students and employees and creates considerable chaos.
Fourth, Kristof supports allowing principals to choose the teachers they want to hire from the list of those who are laid off. If you think giving principals the right to hire and fire teachers creates a pure, merit-based system, you’re living in fairyland. Anyone who has observed school-level politics knows that’s unlikely to happen. There will be cases where inexperienced teachers are called back because they are cheaper and experienced teachers are left on the sidelines because of clashes with administration.
Unions exist as a check on management. In Chicago, the teachers union is checking management’s desire to control teachers’ fates based on the whims of principals and faulty metrics.
Bad teachers should go. But how many good teachers – and students – will be penalized under this new paradigm? Kristof wrote:
This isn’t a battle between garment workers and greedy corporate barons. The central figures in the Chicago schools strike are neither strikers nor managers but 350,000 children. Protecting elements of a broken and unaccountable school system — the union demand — sacrifices those students, in effect turning a blind eye to a “separate but equal” education system.
The corporate barons exist in education. (See The Broad Academy.) The new wave of superintendents and principals wants the same thing as the garment factory owners – ultimate power. This begs the question of whether this debate is about teacher quality or simply breaking unions.
And while we obsess over teachers, are we ignoring the more important reasons urban schools are failing?
Links of the Day:
– People who live and work in the East High School neighborhood are fed up with students loitering and smoking weed.
– A massive housing development planned in Brighton has finally started construction. It’s ritzy. It’s suburban. It’s expensive.
– This is such a cool project. The University of Rochester is building an online archive of the Post Family letters. The Posts were involved in the women’s rights, abolitionist and Spiritualist movements in the mid-1800s.