01 Apr The 21st Century Scarlet Letter?
I am completely stymied over the current trend to publish the evaluation scores of teachers in the press. The Los Angeles Unified School District started releasing teacher scores in 2010 with the Los Angeles Times doing their own internal “value-added” statistical analysis which was somewhat different than what the LAUSD has published. Most recently, New York Public Schools made their teacher scores available this year, which were published in the New York Times. Tennessee now has plans to release teachers’ scores in the next few months. Will more states follow suit?
The original impetus for these actions was based on a journalist’s requests under the Open Records Act. After a legal battle, the courts ruled that it was in the public interest and part of parents’ “right to know.” However, the data used to determine these test scores are filled with flaws and are difficult to translate into a value that parents can use to cast judgment on their child’s teacher. The release of the individual rankings has been questioned among the scientists who designed them in the first place. Douglas N. Harris, an economist at the University of Wisconsin said, “releasing the data to the public at this point strikes me as at best unwise, atworst absurd .” Bill Gates in a recent op–ed in the New York Times stated the recent release of teacher scores is a “capricious exercise in public shaming.”
Evaluations serve to highlight teachers’ strengths as well as their weaknesses but the basic purpose of evaluating teachers is to help improve instruction. Evaluations are intended to provide guidance to teachers to improve their skills by linking areas of weakness to recommendations for professional development opportunities. When evaluation feedback is linked to recommendations for improvement, evaluations become opportunities for growth. With this understanding, evaluations should be perceived as positive experiences, but publishing details around areas of weakness bring he about personal embarrassment rather than motivation to improve.
We all agree that the teacher is the most important in-school variable in a child’s educational experience. We agree that parents have the right and responsibility to know how their child’s teacher is doing in the classroom. However, we need to remind ourselves of what really motivates us to do better in our lives. Most of us believe that the best motivation includes external rewards and incentives. “That’s a mistake,” Daniel H. Pink says in his book, Drive . The secret to high performance and satisfaction—at work, at school, and at home—is the deeply human need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world. If Pink is correct, then this trend towards publishing flawed data about teachers will certainly motivate current and future teachers to run as fast as they can away from the teaching profession and into other, more fulfilling and less humiliating professions.
How can we improve the evaluation process with the goal of making information available to parents while preserving the dignity of teachers?