Brooklyn Broadside: Teacher Evaluation – Making Sense of a Thorny Problem

February 28, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff
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By Dennis Holt

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BROOKLYN — Readers of The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal a few days ago, if they were interested in the subject, spent a lot of time staring at dots on a chart. The question at hand was the business of evaluating teachers in the public schools, and just about everyone seems drawn to the argument.

The Wall Street Journal did a better job with their dots because they were in color — red and green — and they focused only on schools above or below average in English and Math. The Times used black and white and focused on schools with the top-rated teachers. Using its dots, the Times tried to impart too much information. One could get a headache trying to figure out six kinds of dots.

Teacher evaluation is a thorny and very complicated issue, which is clear from how differently the Times and Journal reported on the controversial study that was recently released by the Board of Education. There are dozens of ways this data could be analyzed, and that alone exemplifies how hard it is to assess teachers’ performance.

Teacher “grading” should be conducted objectively and should have no connection to the teachers’ union or any union. It should have nothing to do with the issue of charter schools, which itself has become a complicated matter.

Nor should politics figure in the mix. We had our fill of politics when the now-discontinued local school board system, which was set up to provide some answers to the problems facing the public schools, became a political patronage system instead. In some communities, there was more interest in who was elected to the local school board than in who was elected mayor.

I hope that in the coming weeks, we will get away from finding fault with the methodology used by this study and its results. The study was clearly flawed and dated. Some of the teachers who were evaluated have since died or retired.

But the study is worth a new effort, honing what seems valid and getting rid of what isn’t. Perhaps we should reach out to qualified people who have nothing to do with teachers or schools — people with the skills to take an independent look at the whole matter. Perhaps there should be more than one approach to the subject, a variety of different reports, and at least one effort to include students in the evaluations.

None of this will be easy, as we already know, but how we educate our children is just about the most important decision we make.

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