City Journal Winter 2014

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Marcus A. Winters
Grading Teachers in Los Angeles « Back to Story

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Interesting article- I know from experience that observation is flawed at best- although "pop-in" observation has some value. I'm arrogant enough to think I'm good- but if you looked at my written evaluations you'd think I was Jaime Escalante. I teach AP level kids; they do well, therefore I'm a good teacher- my colleagues who teach the less able, well, they aren't as good as I am! There are many measures- all of them with some drawbacks; but it would seem a combination would work. Also- in MA, where I teach, if you can't get rid of someone before their first three years are up, you're stuck with them forever. And of course the unions....
Problem solved : Let's bring in salesmen to teach now. Education is now a commission job with salary based on the random success of students the teacher does not get to select. Students are assigned to classrooms, not chosen. Teachers are then judged by an assessment with a margin of error that could inadvertently destroy a good teacher's career. Let's dump Science, Social Studies, Music, Industrial Tech and focus only on getting the student's to pass tests in reading and math. Don't let them think...just teach them how to take a test. After all, the teacher's salary depends on their performance on the tests. Unfortunately for the teacher, a child's ability to perform in school is linked to a myriad of other factors including parenting, genetics, IQ, family life, education level of the parents, the child's nutrition, health, amount of sleep, their processing speed, emotional or behavioral problems, parental involvement in their education, their personality, their temperament, transient families and learning disabilities to name a few...What should we do with the student's who need special assistance ? Would you want them in your class if your job depended on their ability to pass a test? What about the mentally challenged ? What about the student's whose parents do little or nothing at home to help their children learn ? Do we have an assessment to see if the parent is efficient in all aspects of the child's upbringing. There are bad teacher, don't get me wrong, but to base a teacher's ability to teach students, and their livelihood, on test results is absurd. If not, let's just hire a bunch of sales people because education is no longer about the student but about test scores and the money they generate.
"Tenure protections ensure that poorly rated teachers can’t be removed even when they receive poor performance reports." Why do you continue to perpetuate this lie? I have not seen any contract that guarantees a job for life. For the first 25 years that I taught, my contract stated that a tenured teacher receiving a poor evaluation was to be placed on probation for one year under the leadership of a "master" teacher. In the last five yeaars, that probationary period was reduced to one semester. Any teacher not meeting a standard could then be released. I know there is a vast anti-teacher union agenda out there, but please be fair and honest.
All part of the same malaise. Mr Winters is perhaps admirable that he could see something good comming out of Obama´s team, taking into account its composition of utterly unsavory characters. Or, he is foolish and wasting his time dealing with paraphernalia, not the root of the problem.
Homeschooling Granny August 28, 2010 at 10:15 PM
If so many teachers are inadequate for their jobs, what does this say about the colleges that certify them? Are ed schools doing the right things?

A good article. I am a retired university professor. When I began teaching almost fifty years ago all my freshman students could write respectable English prose. In the decade or two before I retired I was forced to spend the first week of classes teaching some of the basics of English because so few students understood much about their own native language. Even such simple things as the difference between 'its' and 'it's' were beyond the scope of their understanding.
I can recall very clearly once watching a national news story on a teacher's strike in Chicago. The network news reporter asked one of the people on the picket line what she taught. To my utter astonishment and intense anger, she replied, "Ah teaches English". Is it any wonder our students are so illiterate?
Publicly listing individual teacher's value-added scores doesn't necessarily imply that test-score analysis is sufficient. Instead, it induces LAUSD and UTLA to respond rationally to a potentially valuable, new metric that, if it had been left to their own devices, might otherwise never have seen the light of day. After all, the union leadership's initial, knee-jerk reaction was to call for a boycott of the newspaper.
Just one more good reason why labor unions in the public sector are a bad idea!
Patrick MacKinnon August 26, 2010 at 11:10 PM
Of course I know where I was wrong; at least partially. We are still in the little red schoolhouse of education
in an age where we should be taking advantage of the improvements which can be provided by mass communications.Not only to provide better teachers but to identify better students as well.
Given teacher's unions; I fear this is a utopian dream.
Patrick MacKinnon August 26, 2010 at 11:01 PM
I remember years ago when television began I watched a lecture on Shakespeare
given by a prof from UCLA. This guy was absolutely captivating and communicated his enthusiasm for the subject so well that I as a teenager, who had thought the subject dismal, was enthralled.
Wow. I said this is going to be great, From now on we just need a TV set in each classroom across the country and we will be able to make an objective study of student suitability since we will all be getting the same input,
already deemed to be excellent.
Where was I wrong?
I agree there are bad teachers (and they aren't all in LA, either) but the bigger problem (in my opinion) is students. When I was a parent volunteer in middle and high school I saw loads of kids who couldn't care less what the class was about. They 'forgot' homework all the time, 'forgot' to do reports, 'forgot' to study for tests. The teachers would extend the due dates, postpone the made no difference. You can have a great chem teacher and fail because you think chem is lame or a waste of time. The LA Times did a story on a teacher from Taiwan who was brought in to teach Chinese to kids who CHOSE the class as an elective. In less than a month the poor man was ready to leave because he could not get the students to stop talking, texting, and literally walking out of class when they felt like it. It's time we put the spotlight on the kids and see how they rate.
How can these tests form even part of teacher evaluation when the students (the test takers) have no stake in their outcome? Doing poorly on these tests does not affect a student's GPA, ability to play sports, or - later on - admission into college. If the students do not take these tests seriously - and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that they do not, especially in the higher grades - how can we use these tests even as a partial factor in evaluation? Furthermore, data published in the Wall Street Journal (The Numbers Guy column) indicates that - if we judge by test results alone - today's excellent teacher has a 20% chance of being tomorrow's lousy teacher.
It's the beginning of another school year and teachers all over America are asking themselves, "Are my students going to be any good?"

Articles like this never seem to address the issue that many, many students do little or nothing to actually learn anything. Acquiring knowledge requires the student to actively seek out information and think critically about it. Many students do not do this, and their parents consequently blame the teachers. School administrators and politicians do not want to alienate parents, so they, too, blame the teachers.

How is it that researchers and "senior fellows" like Winters never seem to address the issue of the quality of students? Perhaps we can add "value added" to good students, too.
I hope to see this program come Alabama. The are unfortunately bad teachers sometimes. it's not fair to the really good teachers to be fired based on seniority.