Sunday, May 5, 2013

But Zero Percent Confidence: Teacher Reform Gets Squishy

Imagine what would happen if the so-called education reformers knew what they were talking about. Could actually articulate a meaningful program that would improve teaching and learning. Didn't have an agenda that blamed unions and teachers, and relied on privatizing the public schools.


Unfortunately, that's not the kind of reform movement we have in this country. What we have is a reactionary movement of right wing ideologues who want to impose market-based principles on a system that must serve all children in the United States. They also want to thin the ranks of union membership and rely on self-selecting administrators to run the schools without input from the very people who have been trained to educate its students. The worst part, though, is that these reformers seem to be making this all up as they go along.


This past week, the New Jersey State Board of Education agreed to lower the percentage by which standardized tests will be used to evaluate teacher performance from 35% to 30%. They also raised the amount of time a student would need to be enrolled in a particular teacher's classroom for their tests to count for that teacher's evaluation from 60% to 70%. Impressive numbers that show a marked concern for teaching, learning, effective evaluation and a nod towards the science of educational assessment, no?

No. Emphatically, no.

These numbers mean absolutely nothing. There is no research to suggest that 30%, 35% or any other numbers will accurately measure the teacher's role in a student's learning. It's being made up. In fact, about the only number that would accurately measure the student-teacher learning relationship would be zero percent, because standardized tests should not be used for that purpose.

Further, the State Board did nothing to raise the student level of concern for these tests. They mean very little to the children, but everything for the teachers, and I'm sure that parents, and the students themselves, understand that it's OK for them to not do well on the tests especially if the student has test anxiety or simply doesn't care. Thirty percent of nothing still means nothing.

The larger point, though, is that Governor Christie, Commissioner Cerf, and the true believers in the Department of Education see this as a negotiable percentage. It proves that there isn't a percentage that's tied to effective teaching and lowering it by 5% in New Jersey is a political decision, not an educational one. They are simply making it up as they go along. Any teacher who did that wouldn't last two months in the classroom. The Governor wants another four years.


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