As a university-based teacher educator in New York City for the past 12 years, I’ve witnessed the debilitating effects that evaluations based on unreliable single-measure instruments have on schools, students, teachers and communities. Of all of the educational policy fiascoes of the last decade or so, the move to tie teacher evaluation to students’ standardized test scores rates high on my list of ill-conceived initiatives. The teachers I work with in New York teach in classrooms where a good portion of their students are undernourished, live in substandard housing and dangerous neighborhoods, and are in foster care or in the homeless shelter system (23,000 on any given night in the city). If these teachers are to be judged on the test scores of their students, is it any wonder that new and experienced teachers both think twice about accepting a job in a “high-needs school,” serving the kids who need them most?
Vermont is not New York, but as noted in the Aug. 9 TimesArgus article “Vermont ed chief roasts No Child policy,” its own unique conditions argue against the use of a single measure to assess teachers. In my 10 years as a teacher educator in Vermont in the 1990s, where I also directed an educational policy institute and served on the state steering committee for that decade’s curriculum framework, I was impressed with education decision-makers’ commitment to carefully deliberate issues, and their willingness to go against larger national currents when these were determined not to be in the best interest of Vermont’s children, teachers and schools. Rebecca Holcombe seems to sit firmly in that tradition, and is to be praised for her clear-minded, insightful pragmatism, her courage to resist the intimidation of the “adequate yearly progress” threat, and her willingness to take a public ethical stand against misguided federal educational policies.
The writer is the chairwoman of the Department of Teaching, Learning and Leadership in the School of Education at LIU-Brooklyn.
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