The ‘rotten’ teacher problem

One of the favorite subjects of opinion writers is the presence in public schools of what they call “rotten” teachers (“Why New York refuses to identify rotten teachers,” New York Post, Jun. 2).  They claim that the only objective way of identifying them is how their students perform on standardized tests.

I understand their anger and frustration.  There are teachers who do not belong in the classroom and should be fired.  But what I object to is the belief that standardized test scores are the way to do so.  The truth is that so much of the effectiveness of teachers is determined by the students assigned to them.  As I’ve written often before, give a weak teacher a class of Talmudic scholars and that teacher will shine.  Conversely, give a strong teacher a class of future felons and that teacher will fail.

If teachers were randomly assigned students, which is rarely the case, then perhaps an argument can be made for using test scores.  Even then, however, great caution has to be taken in drawing conclusions.  I emphasize that because much of any teacher’s performance is dependent on factors beyond his control.  If students come to class without proper rest and nutrition, they are not going to be receptive to learning, regardless of the quality of instruction.

Blaming unions for resisting the use of test scores to evaluate teachers is scapegoating.  Yes, unions exist to protect their members, but that does not mean nothing they do is without merit.  De-linking test scores from evaluation is a good example.

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