by Kelly Amis
Today I'm thinking about how and why we got to this point in the evolution (painfully slow as it is) in K-12 education that we need to put so much emphasis on the test scores of students within an individual teacher's room, in a sense to force accountability for good performance from the outside of the school (i.e. we're not increasing the power of the principal to make staff decisions from the inside).
Sadly, principals have little say in who they hire, and, then, even when they are given a terrible teacher (I mean, objectively terrible - a teacher who doesn't show up, doesn't teach, injures children, etc), the work required to try and fire them is incredibly time-consuming and usually fails. That is, if there's any result, it is the teacher getting switched to another school and another group of kids (not fired). Sometimes these non-fired teachers are sent to sit in an administrative office somewhere and still get paid. In California, advocates for changing this insanity couldn't even get a bill passed to make it easier to fire teachers who have sexually-abused students. That bill came up after a teacher at Miramonte Elementary in Los Angeles had been found to have been blindfolding his students and feeding them spoonfuls of his semen among other outrageous acts (which he captured in photographs, so the proof was indisputable); that "teacher" had to be PAID to leave because they couldn't straight-out fire him. Google this if you're not familiar with the story.
After years of thwarted efforts trying to make it easier to fire people who do not belong working with children, many education reform advocates started fighting for the use of student test results (in a "value-added" way) in a teacher's evaluation, basically to provide something tangible that could be measured and put into an evaluation in an objective way. I understand the reasoning behind this (it would theoretically help remove truly incompetent teachers), but it has many flaws: first, not every grade and every subject is tested every year, so some teachers would be impacted by this policy while many of their colleagues would not; second, it allows policymakers and the media to reduce an individual teacher's value to a number that may or may not be understood by the public (the shaming of teachers by name in the Los Angeles Times was a low point in this battle). We still need to fight to let principals have the power to hire and fire teachers and hold them--the principals-- accountable for the success of the entire school.
Principals should be actual leaders with power, it is how effective organizations operate: bosses are responsible for hiring and firing their staff members and held acccountable for that staff's results.
To hear it from most avid opponents of using test scores in teacher evaluations, you might think that it is impossible to evaluate on a "value-added basis:" it's not. The problem is that principals armed with that information could help steer the entire ship of their school, making personnel decisions that promote success for all students, while outsiders using it will never have the full picture. It is the solid opposition to giving principals the right to hire and fire their teachers that has led us to this point. It's ironic that the intransigence against any change to the teaching profession (especially seniority, tenure, and "last-hired, first-fired" policies) is actually the reason WHY we have such a strong focus now on using childrens' test scores in teacher evaluations.
We need to keep fighting to bring accountability to the teaching profession, commonsense to how and why teachers have -- or lose-- their classroom placements, and power to the principals to actually run their schools.