Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rating Teachers

I heard a story on NPR yesterday about New York City releasing teacher ratings to the public.  Los Angeles has already done this, and if NYC follows suit, I would expect school districts all across the country to jump on the bandwagon. I know a lot of people, forward-thinking educational reformers, think this is a good thing. I'm not so sure.

As a parent it seems like a good idea.  If you know who the best teachers are, you can push to get your kids in their class.  Of course, everyone will want the top-rated teachers, and since this isn't possible, it stands to reason there could be some unintended problems if a rating system is made public. I'm not sure pundits have thought this through. Seems like an awful lot of politicking will ensue. The pushiest parents get the best teachers. That doesn't seem like an answer to our problems.

As a teacher, I have concerns as well. Ratings will alienate teachers on the lower end of the scale, possibly driving people from the profession. Some would say this is a good thing, get rid of the dead weight. Again, this sounds good in theory, but who's going to take their place? Last I checked, people aren't exactly lining up to work in America's public schools. I'm not saying that means Amercian kids have to settle for inferior teachers, it's just too easy to say getting rid of all the bad teachers will solve the problems.

The ratings are heavily based on standardized test scores. A growing number of people seem to think a teacher is only as good as the standardized test scores of their students. I agree that the scores are important, but they don't tell the whole story. Let's say I have a class of kids. Every single one of them failed the standardized test the year before they come to me. After a year with me, they all still fail. Am I a bad teacher? Not necessarily. What if each of those kids improved by 20% on the test? Would that change your mind? I think most reasonable people would say I did a helluva job, and yet, the way these ratings are done, I will very likely be rated poorly. I don't think that's fair.

I have other problems with these ratings, both as a parent and a teacher. Teachers are taking a beating from both the right and the left these days. One of the only things Democrats and Republicans seem to agree on is that evil teachers are ruining public education. I think it's only a matter of time before rating teachers is standard practice across the country. What do you think, is it a good idea?


  1. Thoughtful post, I'm not sure I can build a solid argument for either camp. I do know this: the most important entity in a child's education is their family... that is assuming they have one.

  2. I have been a substitute teacher in English and really do feel for teachers. What do you do when a student refuses to turn in work or even show up? Is that your fault? As parents we need to quit expecting teachers to raise our kids, education happens outside the classroom as well.

  3. I think it is tricky. It seems that teachers have been evaluated when they graduated from collage. The ratings can only bring unhealthy competition and stress for teachers.

  4. Oooo...good question.
    People become teachers for various reasons. Some women become teachers because it is good for combining income and time with their children. Maybe the male teachers feel the same.
    Some, because their parents were teachers. Some don't know what else they could have done, and felt that teaching would be "easy."
    But the best teacher, regardless of IQ, is the one that cares about the education of kids, and it will show in their students' attitudes. A kid that likes his or her teacher will want to come to school and will put more effort into learning. That kid will also challenge his or her teacher with questions and ideas that will make the teacher strive to be better.
    I know I didn't answer your question; I guess because I don't know the answer. We all want to know how we can have better teachers and better pay.

  5. I think it's a bad idea and a lazy one at that.

    I don't care how a teacher is rated. I don't blame teachers for my children's test scores. I take an active role in my children's education, as all responsible parents should.

    The only thing a teacher should be required to do is to make sure your child has the opportunity to learn within his/her classroom. If, as a parent, you feel that goal is not being achieved, it is YOUR job as the parent to find out if the problem is the teacher, the school, your child...or YOU.

    By the way, I am not a teacher but I have raised two daughters to adulthood as well as volunteer my time to help my friends' and co-workers' children when they are struggling in school.

    I grew up with a mother who was struggling to learn English and I made sure that I got everything I could out of every class I attended, whether the teacher was good or not.

    I really don't think a teacher's hands should be tied any tighter than they already have been.

  6. Two thumbs up for this post.
    I think there are better ways to improve teacher performance. And I agree that making ratings public is just opening up further politicizing - the most assertive parents will end up getting what they want. Not very democratic, imo.

  7. Teachers need lifelines more than ratings. How many movies receive rave reviews and then when you see them your reaction is meh? It's too subjective.