Monday, February 27, 2012

The Flawed NYC Teacher Ratings Released

Local media outlets had been pressing for the release of teacher evaluations collected and evaluated according to criteria that the Department of Education had admitted were incomplete, inaccurate, and would lead to incorrect conclusions. They succeeded in getting the evaluations released over the weekend, and the most striking thing that hits at the utility of the grading system is the margin of error associated with many of the teachers.

Consider a teacher with a grade of 50. That grade may be accompanied by a margin of error of 35. That means that the teacher may have either flunked (needing serious remedial assistance) or was a very good teacher. Sadly, a margin of error wasn't uncommon. In fact, it's on the low end of the margin of error. Quite a few teachers had margins of error of 50 or higher, which means that the teacher either flunked or was excellent.

How exactly can anyone glean anything of worth from a measure like that?

It's something that the media outlets themselves aren't exactly delving into. The criteria that went into the scoring was flawed, and the teachers union themselves admit that there are good teachers and bad teachers - but this evaluation does nothing to indicate which teachers are or aren't good.

Based on the margin of error alone, it would make the data dump to be useless as an educational tool, but quite inflammatory if one wants to use talking points to undermine the UFT's ability to negotiate a new contract with the City.

This doesn't mean that teachers shouldn't be graded - they should. The measures that the Department put together don't take into account whether a teacher does a satisfactory job or not. Basing a teacher rating on the ability of a class to pass a standardized test doesn't mean the student is necessarily prepared for future employment or academic achievement - only that they're teaching to the test. When a significant number of students are learning English as a second language, those teachers are at a major disadvantage.

A better approach would involve much more screening of teachers through in-class assessments and evaluations on a regular basis. New teachers would get more support from the Department so that they can get up to speed. After all, many professions need years before the given person can claim competency in the nuances of their given profession. The same goes with teaching - learning how to teach and reach out to even the problem students to get them to learn (often when many students don't want to learn, let alone be in class).

That's something that could be accomplished by reducing the number of administrators in the bureaucracy and increasing the number of teacher-mentor positions who can assist teachers with fewer years of service.

Not only would this reduce pension costs over the long run (where administrators have higher pensions than teachers whose pensions are largely capped to their actual salary and required coverages), but it would likely result in more teachers in the classroom. Adding bureaucrats does nothing to improve the in-class experience for the students (or customer if you're going with a business-centric model).

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