You may recall that George W. Bush's critics absolutely despised the emphasis put on test scores by No Child Left Behind. They said it cheapened the educational process and forced teachers to spend all their time "teaching to the test." Of course, that was just for public consumption. What really worried them was that tests -- along with the process of aggregating the data according to race -- would reveal, for all to see, the lousy job that public schools are doing in educating minority students.
Well, now, as some critics on the left have pointed out, the Race to the Top actually puts even more emphasis on those dreaded test scores than did No Child Left Behind. The Bush measure used test scores to evaluate schools; what Duncan has in mind is to use those scores to evaluate individual teachers.
It's about time. That idea is brilliant, and just what the reformers ordered. The reason many teachers resist education reform is because they want to insulate themselves from the product they turn out. Until that mentality changes, we'll never close the achievement gap or bring all students to grade-level in math and reading.
Teachers need a reality check. Those of us who work in the private sector don't have the luxury of turning out mediocre products year after year, resisting accountability and higher standards, and then demanding a raise for just showing up. Teachers shouldn't have that luxury either. They demand to be respected as professionals. Fine. Step one is to play the game by the same set of rules that the rest of us have to adhere to, and that starts with standing behind what you produce.
This is so ridiculous as to be almost beneath the contempt necessary to rebut it. But let's go through the motions.
1) There is actually near zero research data to support the vaunted idea that "assessment should drive instruction" and that high-stakes assessment is a universally good thing. Quite the contrary: there is a lot of data illustrating the harm of high-stakes testing especially in situations where teachers start the year working with already under-performing students who do not have the base skills necessary to achieve grade-level standards in a single year. High-stakes testing that does not measure individual student growth and development over a period of years [and that sort of testing is prohibitively expensive on a district-wide or state-wide scale] is a virtually meaningless indicator of teacher performance. This is especially true in a state like Delaware wherein up to 20% of the public school population in some parts of the State is enrolled in at least two different schools in every academic year. Nor does it examine the idea that people championing physician success ratings have never successfully come to grips with: the best teachers will often be assigned the least-promising students, and success there is measured one tiny footstep at a time.
2) High-stakes testing environments are the ultimate in unfunded mandates and self-fulfilling prophecies: districts with more resources and more affluent parents will always have more computers, more assistance in the classroom, more supporting textbooks, and better libraries. But when we sit down to the test, all the WNJ sees is the teacher. Who must be lazy or unprofessional if his/her students don't perform. This editorial can only have been written by someone who never spent a single day in a classroom with forty students, trying over the course of a semester to figure out some way to get diagnostic help for the two students in the back that he knows have slipped through the system with an undiagnosed learning disability. What utter crap.
But my favorite is this:
Those of us who work in the private sector don't have the luxury of turning out mediocre products year after year, resisting accountability and higher standards, and then demanding a raise for just showing up.
Aside from the fact that this is being published in a Gannett newspaper notable for its lack of detailed local coverage and cut-and-paste national news, a newspaper that survives while cutting its size and raising its price primarily because Delaware has no television station and no other statewide newspaper to compete with it, the obvious answer to this question is
General Motors. Chrysler. AIG. Freddie Mac. Fannie Mae. TARP.
There is room to criticize public school teaching practices and the lack of imagination sometimes displayed by schools and school districts. But in a State wherein the General Assembly hobbled more than a decade's worth of Delaware students with a DSTP that they knew was inappropriate and not actually measuring what it advertised, in a State wherein the application of Annual Yearly Progress in NCLB cells has actually caused schools of 400+ students to be listed as failing for the scores of 2-3 students [or, better yet, for the scores of students who never actually set foot in the building], this editorial represents a complete failure of journalism.
If you are actually going to talk about public education, high-stakes testing, and teacher performance, then you really ought to have some idea about your subject matter before you open your mouth and remove all doubt that you are an idiot.