Don't insult teachers to get them to improve

info@islandpacket.comJanuary 6, 2013 

State education Superintendent Mick Zais needs to listen to teachers and members of the state board of education as his teacher-evaluation plan is reviewed.

He wants to label teachers with letter grades based, in part, on student test scores. And in many cases, the test scores would be from students the teacher did not even teach.

To give a teacher a letter grade is insulting and degrading. Teachers have cried foul, and Zais needs to listen to them.

Too much emphasis is already placed on standardized tests, which at best capture a moment in time, not the full scope of a child's knowledge and potential, as many assume.

Despite its obvious flaws, the superintendent's proposal is being tested at 22 "beta" schools. It could be massaged after this school year and tested in a larger number of schools next year before perhaps going statewide in 2014.

It is supposed to help administrators prove statistically whether teachers and principals are doing their jobs.

Even if the statistics were gathered fairly -- which in the case they are not -- that's no way to measure the art and science of teaching. Teachers are but one of many factors in a child's life that are reflected in school performance. Day in and day out, in the most trying circumstances, teachers attempt to understand factors swirling through the lives of a room full of young people, and help each child learn in spite of it all. That effort cannot be translated into a statistic. Teachers are not selling timeshares or making widgets, and it is sad when that is not even appreciated by the state school superintendent -- a slot filled by election with no classroom experience required.

What Zais claims to want -- a record of which teachers and principals are good and which are ineffective -- is already known. Any good administrator knows it. And they already are working on it. It's not as if teachers are never evaluated. They are constantly evaluated, and methods are in place to get rid of bad ones, which includes due process.

Zais is a retired general, which makes him a rare and honorable American. But his lack of experience in the classroom -- and the civilian world as a whole -- shows in this top-down approach that comes across as a new way to flog overworked teachers until the morale improves. Teachers want students to succeed. Teachers are not the enemy. Yet teachers say they were not part of Zais' plan, and they are upset to once again be disrespected in their under-valued, under-paid profession.

The state board of education has balked at the proposed A-through-F labels for teachers, passing a non-binding resolution opposing it. The new evaluation plan has not yet come to the board for a formal vote. Zais says the pilot program should be evaluated first. That evaluation needs to be top-heavy with the people society wants to dump all its problems on for a quick fix -- teachers.

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