As a public high school student, I often find myself wanting to provide my ideas on how to strengthen the efficacy of our school systems. Unfortunately, in the status quo, the education policy decision makers too often disregard students from discussions on policy. The other day, though, I was thrilled to see a sign that this is changing. I read a recent post by HuffPost blogger Ellen Galinsky who wrote about how "knowing the views of youth might -- just might -- enrich adults' decisions."
The fact that adults, like Ms. Galinsky, are beginning to see the benefit of students voicing feedback about their education excites me. However, society's acknowledgement of this idea leads to a larger question: how exactly should our education system include students in the input process?
Personally, I feel that there exists a simple, innovative way to include students in this process. I believe that students should have the ability to evaluate their teachers.
I realize that, as the current education reform debate begins to focus on teacher quality and evaluation, this suggestion is likely scary to many readers. But, before you dismiss my idea and exit out of this post, I ask you to hear me out.
Students, through evaluating their teachers, can provide insight to their instructors on what they are doing well and how they need to improve. These evaluations, instead of being used in performance review processes and being used to decide pay or job security, should be accessed solely by the teachers about whom they are written. As a result of this confidentiality, teachers can learn how to improve their instruction quality, without fearing retribution from administrators. The evaluations can be a tool for growth, not as a cause of stress.
This idea is not new. In fact, as a leader in the California Association of Student Councils (CASC), I have talked to many students who want to provide both praise and constructive criticism to their teachers. For many years, CASC has publicly advocated the merits of students evaluating teachers. It has been clear that students want a voice in their education and a way to evaluate teachers. All they need is a way to do it.
Fortunately, this fall brings an opportunity for schools to create this kind of evaluation system. Thanks to generous grants from Yale University, Salesforce, and Media Temple, college student Aaron Feuer has developed Classroom Compass, an ingenious internet-based program that lets schools generate teacher evaluation forms that students fill out. After students rank their teachers in a variety of categories (for example: how well a teacher encourages class discussions or how often a teachers assigns students work that helps them learn), the completed evaluations get scanned into Classroom Compass. Teachers then have the ability to log into the website and see an analysis of their overall survey results.
These results are confidential, only accessible through a teacher's password-protected account. They highlight the areas in which teachers succeed and point out the areas where improvement is needed. Having come off of a successful, yearlong pilot program, Classroom Compass will officially launch on the national level in the coming weeks.
I realize that many teachers may be apprehensive about students evaluating them. But, as Classroom Compass is introduced, I urge them to consider the benefits of such a program. The results would not be used against them and, instead, provide them with valuable student opinion. With the education reform debate becoming increasingly polarized, students evaluating teachers in a confidential way shows that collaboration in education is possible. As students, we are not out to fire teachers or reduce their pay. All we want is a forum to express this perspective and better our education.
These evaluations could be that forum, if the adults are willing to give us a chance.
Follow Jonathan Jeffrey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jonathangjeff