This column is written by High School English teacher Jerry Heverly.
There is one statement about education that, from my experience, is almost universally endorsed by people of every persuasion.
We ought to get rid of the bad teachers.
At least in this one case teachers can’t fault the public for complaining about something the average citizen knows little about.
Somewhere in our lives most of us have had someone we would identify as a bad teacher. Therefore we all know such individuals exist. We’ve met them. We’ve personally suffered from their faults. We can, if pressed, give real life examples.
If you can’t remember your own bad teachers you certainly have read about them. I see the stories in newspapers just about every week.
They sit in class and read the newspaper, oblivious to the children in their care.
They come to work at 8 a.m. and leave at 3 p.m.
They can’t spell better then your average fourteen year old. They can’t do the math problems at the end of the chapter.
They’re too young or too old to manage 30+ children.
They discriminate between kids based on the race of the child.
They hurl insults at students, demeaning those who most need encouragement.
I’m sure you can add to my list.
This widespread frustration about bad teachers accounts, I think, for the most notable development of the soon-to-be-departed 2012. All over the nation states and school districts are charting a new path toward teacher evaluation.
The new buzzword is “value-added”. Florida just enacted a system. Pennsylvania and South Carolina are on board as is Tennessee and a host of other places.
To gain exemption from the odious provisions of No Child Left Behind a state must promise to use numbers to evaluate teachers; Governor Brown’s objection to this stipulation has prevented California from escaping NCLB.
The Los Angeles Times developed their own system, which they explain here: http://projects.latimes.com/value-added/.
You want to fire bad teachers. I get that.
The logical way to do that would be to empower the school’s principal. You elect the school board; the school board hires the principal; the principal should be able to hire people to her liking. It’s the only logical way you can hold her accountable for the school’s success or failure.
Union contracts and state statutes won’t abide this way of doing things.
Therefore you look for another way to get your nose in the door. Which has led to our present reform, evaluating teachers by test scores.
I can’t believe that any of you, readers, think this is a sensible way to rid yourself of bad teachers.
I don’t think I even need to list the many ways that a numerical system will lead us to the proverbial hell via the road of good intentions.
Good teachers will lose their jobs because they teach in poor districts, thus giving one more incentive for smart people to work in the rich suburbs.
Bad teachers will flock to jobs in physical education, art and music where test scores aren’t feasible.
Administrators will put the best teachers in honors and AP classes to protect them from poor test scores; thus the worst teachers will teach the neediest kids.
Everyone will teach to the test. I mean really teach to the test.
You know the numbers will often lie. The victims of the system will be all the wrong folks; the people you want to get rid of will survive.
I’d love to end this year with my suggestions for giving you the thing you want, a system for removing bad teachers from your schools.
But I have no such solutions. All I think I know is that the way we are headed is folly.
Read other columns from the Entirely Secondary archive. The tag line is inspired by education blogger Joe Bower who says that when his students do an experiment, learning is the priority. Getting the correct answer is entirely secondary.