I don't often find myself disagreeing with NYC Chancellor Joel Klein or other smart, determined education reformers who are warriors for equity in education. But I have to disagree on this new drive to publish (in newspapers) the student test scores of individual teachers, even in a value-added way. It's akin to grabbing a pendulum that has gotten stuck in one extreme position and pulling it all the way to the other side. We need a system of evaluating teachers (and having the evaluations count) that is balanced and fair, and that supports great teachers and hard work. 

Right now we have a system where there is hardly any accountability of teachers-- very few teachers ever lose their job no matter how they perform--and in which principals, therefore, have little reason to spend much time seriously evaluating their teachers-- in fact, in some places, principals can't even walk into a teacher's classroom without following prescribed systems of forewarning. Can you imagine having a boss who is not allowed to look at your work without giving a few weeks' notice? Can you imagine being that boss and trying to make an entire organization work effectively?

Value-added data can help inform the effectiveness of a teacher, especially over time, and especially within a context of the school where the teacher is working.  This is information that principals should readily have and be able to use  in their evaluations of teaching staff.  AS WITH ANY OTHER JOB ON THE PLANET, this type of data could be used in evaluations to help improve teachers' work in the classroom, or to sometimes reveal when a person is simply in the wrong field -- in this case, when a person is clearly not able to teach successfully.

We need to allow principals to actually act like bosses-- hiring, training and, when needed, firing their own staffs, and we need teachers to be treated like professionals: given feedback on performance, training when needed, and rewards for excellence. But this means the potential of being fired for poor performance must be there too -- right now there is very little incentive for teachers to improve their skills, or do their best every day, unless they are super-heroes (and fortunately there are a lot of these in teaching, bless them), because a system with no consequences for poor performance does not inspire greatness. IN ANY JOB.

Back to the issue at hand, why should test score data, even crunched in a value-added way, be published in the paper alongside the names of individual teachers? Is this meant to shame some of them into leaving the profession (instead of dealing with the reality that principals have little if any say over hiring and firing their own staffs)? I fear it will also shame/humiliate plenty of hard workers who, once context is provided, will be revealed to be teachers we should be trying to support and encourage.  Kind of reminds me of how NCLB ended up putting all schools into two categories: "failing" or "not failing."  This is ridiculously blunt. Is this where we are heading for teachers, labeling them as "failing" or "not failing" based on numbers and no context? How does that help principals (or the teachers themselves) improve? Are we going to have a cut-off number that fires teachers, even if there are principals who see a way to effectively use them in a successful school?  

Why not hold principals accountable for the success of their schools--- and give them the tools to be real managers, bosses, executives-- and let them decide to what degree and how they use student test scores in assessing their teachers? 

Last word: we need test scores to ensure all children are being taught equally and to high standards. They are necessary and helpful, absolutely. We can use them to evaluate the effectiveness of entire schools and districts. But who will teach if their individual value becomes judged--fairly or not--by a single number based on test scores and published in the newspaper? Would you? I think reformers need to rethink this one.

Here' s Chancellor Klein's op-ed on this issue, with a different take, in the New York Post

Posted on October 28, 2010 .