The editorial page in today's New York Times takes a bizarre pot shot at teachers. In discussing a teacher evaluation system under development in New Haven, Connecticut, the Times overtly dismisses on-the-ground educators:
School reformers were excited to hear that New Haven planned to take student performance into account in its teacher evaluations. But they uttered a collective "uh-oh" upon hearing that the details -- including how much weight would be given to student performance -- would be hashed out by a committee that includes teachers and administrators.
(Pause for my Peter Finch moment. Okay, now a deep breath...)
So teachers and principals -- the people who actually work with students, know the kids, and understand what works -- deserve no place at the table? Actually it's worse; teachers are demeaned by the Times as a destructive force when it comes to developing systems that work in schools.
So... the people in schools are part of the problem, not the solution? Talk about a dead end approach to improving schools.
The point in question in New Haven -- and across the country -- is how greatly student test scores should weigh in evaluating teachers. The Times makes the same dangerous (and lazy) mistake that has swept the national conversation on education: conflating "test scores" with "student achievement."
High-stakes test scores represent only a part of students' learning, growth, and achievement. Is your child a 1, 2, 3, or 4? Those are the only scores given on many of these state exams. Basing the majority of a teacher's evaluation on moving those numbers (which are derived from a one-time pressure-cooker test), will further distort and corrupt curricula and use of precious time in American classrooms. (See Campbell's Law.)
A teachers' job is complex (to put it lightly), and does not begin and end with test scores. The scores should count toward teachers' and students' evaluations, but our country has boarded a runaway train of overvaluing these tests. The directive in Times editorial to force teachers to further emphasize the Big Test damages hope for genuine strides toward fair accountability and supportive education.
There are a lot of reasons that high-stakes testing has become so entrenched in our school system. The test results are easy to tabulate, reductive and malleable for political purposes, meet the short-order demands of condensed news- and election-cycles, and keep publishing companies raking in cash.
If you don't know students personally and know nothing about classroom life, it's a lot easier to advocate the Times simplistic strategy: cut all teachers out and let self-proclaimed "reformers" impose testing regimes designed to churn out stats, not to support children's diverse needs.
We need the New York Times to be better than this.
Dan Brown is a teacher at a charter school in Washington, D.C. He is not a member of a teachers' union.