What Gray said on grad­ing teach­ers

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS -

On Jan. 18, a Post re­porter missed much of a point made in an ed­u­ca­tion panel about fair­ness in teacher eval­u­a­tion. Post blog­gers and ed­i­to­rial staffers then twisted the missed point.

“It’s a step in the right di­rec­tion, but it’s got a long way to go to be a fair eval­u­a­tion,” The Post quoted Mayor Vin­cent C. Gray re­gard­ing how teach­ers are eval­u­ated.

The mayor’s state­ment— un­be­known to Post read­ers— was in re­sponse to a com­ment and ques­tion from an at­tendee (me). The thrust of the ques­tion was that, as much of an im­prove­ment as the D.C. schools’ new IM­PACT eval­u­a­tion process is, it is both a work in progress that needs more test­driv­ing and but one leg of a stool that needs more legs to stand on.

Those ad­di­tional legs in­clude self-eval­u­a­tion, peer re­view, in­put from stu­dents and par­ents, and teacher and staff in­put into the eval­u­a­tion of prin­ci­pals and ad­min­is­tra­tors.

That con­text was not pro­vided. In­stead, read­ers were told that the mayor’s com­ment con­sti­tuted a “clash with a core tenet of [for­mer D.C. schools chan­cel­lor Michelle] Rhee and her suc­ces­sor, In­terim Chan­cel­lor Kaya Hen­der­son: that ex­cel­lent teach­ers can help chil­dren thrive aca­dem­i­cally, re­gard­less of the stu­dents’ eco­nomic or so­cial back­grounds.” But the mayor said noth­ing to even sug­gest that he did not ad­vo­cate ex­cel­lence in teach­ing, and I find it hard to com­pre­hend how such an in­fer­ence could have been drawn— un­less some­one wanted mainly to fan flames or pro­voke con­tro­versy.

Con­tro­versy did en­sue— in fol­low-up ar­ti­cles, col­umns and an ed­i­to­rial head­line that warned, “in be­ing fair to ed­u­ca­tors, the District must not be un­fair to stu­dents.”

Well, of course not. But the as­ser­tion is a non­se­quitur, be­cause only a fair teacher eval­u­a­tion process will also be fair to stu­dents. Any teacher eval­u­a­tion that is less than fair— in that it un­fairly dis­qual­i­fies a good teacher or that it un­fairly al­lows a poor teacher to slip through— will not serve stu­dents well.

Which gets us back to the (un­re­ported) points that I made at last week’s dis­cus­sion. Yes, the new IM­PACT teacher eval­u­a­tion process is a ma­jor step for­ward. It seems pretty good on paper (in­clud­ing its at­tempt to ac­count for stu­dents’ so­cioe­co­nomic dif­fer­ences and dis­ad­van­tages). But it has barely been run around the block or had its tires kicked. The mostly young cadre of clipboard-car­ry­ing eval­u­a­tors are so far some­what stiff and con­strained in a march­ing-or­ders, Cul­tural Revo­lu­tion sort of way. And no mat­ter what, IM­PACT is still just one tool for a tool­box that needs sev­eral.

Only when that tool­box also in­cludes the afore­men­tioned ad­di­tional tools of self-eval­u­a­tion, peer re­view, in­put from stu­dents and par­ents, and teacher/staff in­put into the eval­u­a­tion of prin­ci­pals and ad­min­is­tra­tors will there be suf­fi­cient tools to un­der­stand how well teach­ers are re­ally do­ing.

Jay Sil­ber­man, Washington The writer served on the D.C. Board of Ed­u­ca­tion from 1991 to 1998.

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