Sunday, April 17, 2011

Value Added is THAT teacher

I have read quite a bit recently about pay for performance plans in our schools. The Feds continue to push states to tie teacher evaluation and pay to student data. States have struggled to keep up creating suspect standardized tests. Resources continue to flow towards large testing companies like Pearson and away from local schools.

I have yet to read a more appropriate response to the Value Added Model being adopted of rating teachers. It comes from Superintendent John Kuhn of Texas who was testifying in front of Public Education Committee in the Texas House of Representatives. He was asked "teachers give students grades all the time...why shouldn't they be graded?" Below is the response he wishes he had given and it is how many of us feel and I encourage you to read up a bit more on these issues.

Representative, you make a good point. The state has adopted the role of teacher, and teachers are the students. And this is the root of the problem--you are a bad teacher, and that is why we students are getting rowdy now. That is why we are passing notes to one another saying how mean you are. We are not upset that you grade us. We are upset that your grading system is arbitrary and capricious. We are upset at the way you hang our grades on the wall for everyone to see, instead of laying our papers face down on our desks when you pass them back. We are upset because when you treat us unfairly there is no principal we can go to, to report you for being unjust. There is no one but you and us, ruler and ruled. Your assignments are so complicated and sometimes seem so pointless. You never give us a break, never a free day or a curve. And we heard you in the teacher's lounge talking about how lazy we are. You stay behind your desk, only coming out to give us work or gripe at us. You never come to our games; you didn't ask me how I did in the one-act-play.

Representative Hochberg, the problem isn't that Texas wants to grade us; the problem is that Texas is THAT teacher, the one who punishes the whole class for the misbehaviors of a few bad apples, who worries more about control than relationships, who inadvertently treats all kids as if they are the problem kids. This approach has made you the teacher all the kids dread. The one who builds fear instead of trust, who never takes late work or asks how our weekend was. You are the teacher and we are the student, and if you want us to mind, you should create a happy classroom, work with us, relate to us, build trust with us, seek our input, and ask our opinions once in awhile. Give us choices. Give us room to experiment and permission to risk new things in your classroom, permission to try and fail without disappointing you.

I again take the opportunity to remind folks it is not just me who thinks this is a bad idea. I am not an obstructionist, really. I am not afraid of being held accountable. I am just scared of how we are choosing to do it. I wish others would express this opinion more often. Arne Duncan and any other politician getting mileage out of this plan might want to rethink it when all is said and done. Myth and emotion are powerful forces in public debate and sometime truth and accuracy can take a backseat to political will and motivation. In Chicago for example the jury is still out just as it is in Texas, New York, Colorado and elsewhere. This conclusion is not unique and one shared by many. Love to hear other thoughts on such plans.