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How Are We Beating Up On Teachers Today?

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Oh good, we had become very worried about what has appeared to be a brief lull in teacher-bashing but now that everyone is bored with bashing gays and saying ignorant things about buttseks, we can all go back to bashing teachers now, hooray.


Anyway, turns out that too many teachers are too good. We know this because an old ratings system rated over 90% as "satisfactory."

The solution to this was to give everyone raises and Hawaiian shirt Fridays as a reward. Just kidding, no it wasn't, the solution to this was to invent a new ratings system wherein teachers would be more likely to be unsatisfactory.

But before we even dive into a discussion of this new ratings system and the money that was spent on it, let us first address the assumption embedded in the lede of this New York Times article, which, innocuous though it may seem, betrays a fairly significant internalized bias:

Across the country, education reformers and their allies in both parties have revamped the way teachers are graded, abandoning methods under which nearly everyone was deemed satisfactory, even when students were falling behind.

Did we catch that? No? Here, we will explain at you: it is taking issue with a system where teachers were deemed satisfactory even when students were "falling behind." The rating system is supposed to rate how well teachers teach; it is not supposed to rate how well students learn or perform, which are different from themselves, as well as from the quality of teacher performance. That's ok, it is only "journalism," no need for it to be "objective." 

As we do not live in a perfect world, many children come to school totally unprepared to learn. Maybe they have crappy parents or maybe they have great parents that have to work three jobs each to put food on their family, and no one is ever home to enforce bed time or help with homework. Those students probably aren't going to the same kinds of things that other more fortunate students will respond to, which is why teacher performance and student performance, while related, cannot be measured by the same tools, not even if those tools are the product of a public-private partnership and cost a bazillion dollars.

More than half the states now require new teacher evaluation systems and, thanks to a deal announced last week in Albany, New York City will soon have one, too.

The changes, already under way in some cities and states, are intended to provide meaningful feedback and, critically, to weed out weak performers. And here are some of the early results:

In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or highly effective in the most recent evaluations. In Tennessee, 98 percent of teachers were judged to be “at expectations.”

Good job everyone, instead of having "satisfactory" teachers we have teachers that are "at expectations," thanks to the millions of dollars spent on a test that was supposed to measure student performance and teacher performance at the exact same time.

Does this mean that a) the system was a waste of time and money, or b) that teachers may in fact be "at expectation," which means we should maybe address other problems in our public schools (like, for example, the fact that more than one in five children in the U.S. lives in poverty and maybe needs extra support outside of the classroom), or c) be meaner to teachers.

Duh, the answer is c) be meaner to teachers.

The new systems, a central achievement of the reform movement, generally rate teachers on a combination of student progress, including their test scores, and observations by principals or others. The Obama administration has encouraged states to adopt the new methods through grant programs like Race to the Top.

The teachers might be rated all above average, like students in Lake Wobegon, for the same reason that the older evaluation methods were considered lacking. Principals, who are often responsible for the personal-observation part of the grade, generally are not detached managerial types and can be loath to give teachers low marks.

“There’s a real culture shift that has to occur and there’s a lot of evidence that that hasn’t occurred yet,” Ms. Jacobs said.

Research design is not our forte, so please, feel free to correct us if we are wrong in assuming that researchers should have maybe taken this "culture" into account before designing a test that relied so heavily on principal evaluations.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that even though the data from these systems “was not ready for prime time,” it proved what she had long argued: That the majority of teachers are very good.

“Maybe this information will debunk the myth about bad teachers,” she said.

Ha ha Randi Weingarten, what have we told you about bringing facts to an ideology fight? This information will not debunk the myth about bad teachers; it will just enable more and more money to be poured into private "research" companies and "testing" companies so we can maintain the myth that if every teacher was just a little more like Jaime Escalante, we wouldn't need to address issues like widespread child poverty, diminishing funding for public schools, and growing class sizes to have a functioning system of public education.

[NY Times]

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