Monday, April 02, 2012

Public Release of Teacher Evaluations - As it should be or over the top?

As a profession we are divided on the merits of the proposed public release of teacher evaluations with newly adopted evaluation systems in place in many states. I could compare this to what would happen if doctors were evaluated annually and those evaluations were publicly scrutinized - or lawyers or accountants or yoga instructors! But the part that always seems to separate what we do from what they do is that we are publicly funded and the public "deserves to know."


But are teachers the only professions whose salaries are funded by public monies?

Anyone who works in a government position, whether it is local, city, county, state or federal is paid out of public monies. That includes a lot of people. I'm not saying that teacher evaluations shouldn't happen or aren't in need of improvement. I'm not even saying their results shouldn't be public knowledge. I think there is a difference between having teacher evaluations open to public inspection - which is true for others who work in some sort of public profession - and "publishing" our evaluations.

I believe that teachers are held to a higher standard than other professionals. We do teach a most precious commodity - our nation's children. But we don't do it alone. Parents are our partners in education. The problem is that the "family variable" is not taken into account in teacher evaluations or student performance.

For example, teachers give homework to give students more practice with new knowledge and skills and so it isn't lost over time. Students don't do their homework and parents don't ensure children do their homework. So what do many teachers do? We stop giving homework. I'm not here to argue the merits of homework, but as a teacher I cannot control or even influence what happens at home with students. And I wouldn't want to! I already have more than enough responsibilities.

As a doctor, I could diagnosis, prescribe care and offer preventative measures to my patients. Whether or not they follow my prescription is out of my control. I could be the best doctor in the world, but as a patient it is up to me if I take all my antibiotics or get my mammogram each year. Right now teachers are evaluated as "effective" if they perform in the classroom using the most up to date skills AND based on student achievement (measured by a variety of tests). I can be a masterful teacher in the classroom, but if students don't do their homework or study, why should I be held accountable for that? How can I be held accountable for that? If a child's parents aren't home in the evening because they work second or third shift and the child fends for himself, they often don't get any work done for school. It is not their priority. If a child goes hungry tonight, how do you hold a teacher accountable for his inability to focus in school tomorrow?

I strongly encourage everyone involved in this process to examine the variability in "care" provided to children. I can control what happens in the classroom and I should be evaluated on that and held accountable for it. But I cannot control what happens before or after school. And yet my evaluation, the one you want to publish is dependent on those factors as well.

There is no easy answer here. Let's at least consider that teacher evaluations are public record - not published purposely like the results of the auditions for the school play.

I guess it's a good thing parents aren't evaluated - right? As a parent as well, I must say I am grateful for that.