Friday, June 18, 2010

Michelle Kerr's "The Right Way To Assess Teachers' Performance"

A shout-out to a fellow pink-slip recipient!

Having written a bit about my support for teacher's unions here, I was intrigued to find that I agreed so much with this piece in the Washington Post by a teacher who declares herself to be "not a union fan". She lays out four plainly reasonable conditions by which teachers could be assessed using student test scores (something I argued against here). Moreover, she acknowledges that, "I suspect that my conditions will go nowhere, precisely because they are reasonable." She's right about that, too, unfortunately. Her conditions are:

(1) Teachers be assessed based on only those students with 90 percent or higher attendance.

(2) Teachers be allowed to remove disruptive students from their classroom on a day-to-day basis.

(3) Students who don't achieve "basic" proficiency in a state test be prohibited from moving forward to the next class in the progression.

(4) That teachers be assessed on student improvement, not an absolute standard -- the so-called value-added assessment.

She explains all these well, though I think the first three, at least, don't need much explanation. After reading her piece, I wonder why she doesn't like the unions, and I have to suspect that it has something to do with issues unrelated to teacher assessment, because I'm inclined to believe that the unions would be far more amenable to the use of student test scores in assessment if these conditions were met. In fact, if these conditions were set down in black and white language and enforced consistently, I would go so far as to say that unions would accept somewhat aggressive merit pay systems. Speaking only for myself, I would love to see critics of unions try to call the unions' bluff by implementing these reasonable policies. These reformers would also need to pony up the money to hire the teachers needed to teach all the remedial classes her third concession would require. They would also have to guarantee that teachers not be prevented from implementing the second by threats of dinging them in their annual reviews for kicking out disruptive students. If union-bashers would make these concessions, and unions still refused to allow student data to drive the assessment of teachers, I might side with Miss Kerr in her "not a union fan" position. But I think that's just about as likely as the possibility that these reasonable concessions will be implemented.

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