Teach Me

Okay, let me understand.  The Seattle School Teachers’ Union just approved their contract.  But they opted to take the tiniest possible step when it came to authorizing teacher evaluation based on student test scores.  The approved version is limited in that test scores will merely trigger a closer look at teachers.   They will now be rated as innovative, proficient, basic or unsatisfactory — rather than satisfactory or unsatisfactory.  But a “basic” score only means a closer look — not termination or even probation.

And a few months ago,  Washington state was eliminated from the federal Race to the Top (RTT) competition.  In fact Washington finished 32nd out of 36 states.  That means our state will not get $250 million in new education money, which would have helped a lot at a time when schools are struggling to make ends meet.  If you don’t know, RTT is a federal program encouraging innovation in public education.  In short, the program rewards states for proposing significant changes to their public education systems in order to improve education.  Imagine that.

I am embarrassed.  I cannot understand why any teacher would not want student achievement as part of their evaluation.  I certainly agree that it should not be the only criteria.  But c’mon,  to resist including student test scores is absurd.  Trust me when I tell you that my children have had their share of bad teachers.  (To be fair, they’ve had way more good ones.)  I’m talking about teachers who prohibit questions from students, teachers who merely read from the text, teachers who are robotic, teachers who are burned out and going through the motions, teachers who keep returning after 15, 20 and 25 years who clearly don’t enjoy what they do.

In the private sector if you don’t do a good job you get fired.  In the private sector, a score of “proficient” or “basic”  is grounds for termination, especially if it continues.  Why would any teacher be proud of a score of proficient or basic?  Why would teachers not want their students to shine on tests?  Why wouldn’t teachers push their kids to be as good as they can be?  Why wouldn’t teachers want their salaries to — at least in part — be based on how well their students do?  Why wouldn’t teachers demand more of themselves?  Why wouldn’t their union demand it as well?

I understand there are lots of factors like home life, crowded classes, and not enough resources that contribute to the teaching and learning environment.  But in my view there is nothing more important than an engaged, passionate, creative and inspiring teacher.  Those are the teachers whose students tend to do better than their peers, regardless of their socio-economic situation.

I love great teachers.  They are noble and deserve to be recognized as heroes.  Yet, we lump good and “proficient” teachers together and basically let tenure dictate employment.  We have opted not to participate in public school reform — at least in any significant way.  We have chosen mediocrity, at best.

In the Race to the Top we are among the very worst in the country.  But the good news is that we beat Mississippi and Alabama… barely.


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