Is teacher evaluation even worth it?
A new article in the journal Education Researcher looks at whether teacher evaluations lead to enhanced student learning. To date, the authors say evidence from standards-based teacher/VAM evaluation systems has not met the standard for making accurate and equitable high-stakes personnel decisions for individual teachers. They point to concerns about the stability of VAM teacher estimates across subjects, grade levels, and time; the capacity of administrators to produce valid evaluations when employing these new tools without extensive training; and the efficacy of evaluation to yield improvements in teaching practice. Over the last decade, the authors have seen little discussion about what teacher evaluation actually is: an instrument of industrial-era management, of managers directing the work of the laboring class toward greater efficiency. This model privileges bureaucracy, hierarchy, and institutionalism under a veneer of professionalism. A new world is taking shape in education, the authors write, and pillars of industrial management do not fit particularly well in it. And even if the teacher-evaluation machinery was functional and managers had the skills to operate it, it is "nearly impossible" to believe they have time to undertake the work. Moreover, a robust body of empirical research indicates that if school improvement is the goal, school leaders should spend time and energy in areas other than teacher evaluation.
America’s toxic culture of testing
First No Child Left Behind and Common Core, and now this: Charter schools in our nation’s capital are going to give high-stakes tests to 3- and 4-year-olds. This “culture of testing” is deeply troubling for what it emphasizes – and what it doesn’t. After all, if testing were the best way to ensure success in today’s economy, why did a Chinese educational leader recently say that he would know their education system was improving if students started doing less well on tests? Our ultimate goal is to help children live up to their potential to become happy adults who make positive contributions to society. The key traits that characterize such adults include a zest for life, creativity, perseverance, empathy, effective communication and the ability to cooperate with others. These are things that can’t be measured well – if at all – by tests. So why are we investing so much time and money in testing children along the way? The cost of this culture of testing extends well beyond wasting teachers’ and students’ time, and taxpayer money. These tests undermine learning, the very thing they’re designed to promote. Studies have shown that people who are observed and judged while learning new material learn less than those who aren’t. And test preparation steals time and energy from other, far more productive pursuits, most notably free play and exploration. (As Hara Estroff Marano also writes in “A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting”: “It’s in play that cognitive agility really develops. … It fosters decision-making, memory and thinking, speed of mental processing.”) Play also promotes creativity, which – inasmuch as it can be measured – has been found to be the best predictor of adult success. But creativity requires not just space and freedom, but a tolerance for making mistakes (not allowed on tests) and learning from them. These are the foundations of scientific and business innovation and entrepreneurship. Our world is changing rapidly, and the majority of people will soon work as free agents. Those who thrive will be flexible and creative and able to continually update their skills to remain relevant. Fortunately, children are born eager to learn. But the culture of testing dampens their enthusiasm, turning learning into a chore that is to be avoided if at all possible (hence the perennial question, “Will this be on the test?”). Tests are a disservice to children in yet another way, because they assign value to human beings. From a very early age, children internalize these labels, which can either become self-fulfilling prophesies (in the case of low scores) or else discourage risk-taking or perseverance (in the case of high scores, as explained in Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s book, “Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children”). Tests are also seen as a way to ensure teacher and school “accountability.” But the emphasis once again is on the wrong thing – it should be not on teaching, but on learning. Meaningful learning – new knowledge that the brain retains by integrating it with previous knowledge, rather than data that is memorized for a test and then discarded – can only happen when students are motivated, interested and engaged in the material, because they need to understand it to meet personally relevant goals. This need arises from within; no teacher or other adult can make it materialize.
Scott won’t give cases of "federal intrusion"
In a letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday, Gov. Rick Scott called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers a "primary entry point for the involvement of the federal government in ... state and local decisions." Scott was so concerned that he called on the Florida Department of Education to withdraw from the multi-state consortium, which is developing student assessments around the new Common Core State Standards. But when pressed by a reporter to explain how PARCC was an example of federal intrusion, Scott was short on details. "If you look at it, it's their entry point into having more involvement in our education system, and my goal is, let's make sure we continue to raise our standards," Scott said. "I want to thank [former] Gov. [Jeb] Bush for his focus on that. He really led that effort and he's led it around the country, but I want to continue that focus on education, but we don't need the federal government intruding in our lives." Asked a second reporter: "How can a test that's developed by a consortium of states be federal intrusion? How is that their entry point?" Replied Scott: "It was their entry point to intrusion and their involvement in our system. What I believe in, is we should be able to come up with an assessment that works for us. Again, we want high standards but we don't need their involvement." A third try from another reporter: "But governor, you haven't given us any examples. Give us an example of what you mean by federal intrusion. What specifically has happened?" Scott: "It's the entry point to where the federal government would be more involved in our education system, and I oppose that. That's what I talked to Secretary Duncan about." Scott also declined to say whether he supports the Common Core Standards, a set of new national benchmarks being taught in schools across the state. The governor returned to his talking points instead. "A lot of people want to say, 'Is it 'yes' or 'no' to Common Core?'" he said. "That's not the right way of looking at it. It's 'yes' to high standards because that's what going to pay off in a global economy, and we say 'no' to federal intrusion."
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Lifelines for poor children
The current debate over economic inequality lacks serious discussion around investing in early childhood from birth to age five. This would require rethinking how we develop productive people and promote shared prosperity. Current education reform proposals ignore powerful research that shows which skills matter for successful lives. These reforms ignore the role of families in producing relevant skills, and downplay the critical gap in skills between advantaged and disadvantaged children that emerges long before school age. The cognitive skills prized by the educational establishment and measured by achievement tests are only part of what's required for success in life. Character skills are equally important determinants of wages, education, health, and other aspects of flourishing lives. Self-control, openness, the ability to engage with others, to plan, and to persist -- these attributes get people in the door and on the job. Cognitive and character skills are dynamic complements; skills beget skills. Motivated children learn more, and those who are informed usually make wiser decisions. These established findings should lead to a major reorientation of policies. The opportunity for education should begin at birth -- and not depend on the accident of birth.
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