Clueless: The Dept. of Education Fails Again

I'm a public high school teacher, and when I voted for Barack Obama I thought I was voting for change. Turns out, as far as education goes, I voted for Bush Lite.

According to a recent NY Times article, the Obama Administration is dangling $4.3 billion in education funds in front of the states.

Here in California where our governor has never seen a cop, a firefighter or a public school teacher he couldn't wait to furlough, our Democratic controlled legislature is dying to pass a law connecting test scores to teacher evaluations; that's the president's pre-requisite for gloaming on to some of that free federal largess.

The talk is all about getting rid of bad teachers. I'm all for that. Heck, I sit in the lunchroom with some of these clowns, and I'd be happy to point them out to someone from the federal government to get the ball rolling.

But that wouldn't solve the nation's education woes. Here's the rub the politicians don't seem to get or don't want to consider: there's no frackin' way to quantify what teachers do or their overall effect on students' learning.

Grading and ranking teachers isn't like figuring out a player's batting average. If it were that easy, someone would have come up with that formula decades ago.

Here's why the notion of connecting scores to teacher effectiveness is ridiculous:
The classes we teachers are assigned to are different from one another. Radically different.

For the past 12 years I taught at an LA public high school located in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in America, one that draws its 2600 students from 110 zip codes. English classes were divided between AP students (most of those students would likely attend prestigious colleges), honors students (who would most likely attend state universities and community colleges) and regular students (who would most likely attend community colleges, go straight into the work force or along the way drop out).

AP students functioning way above grade level when they enter the class will eat up these standardized tests. They're in AP classes because they're smart, motivated and good test takers. And so, the teacher assigned to these students will be deemed an effective teacher no matter if he or she teaches with imagination, intelligence and energy or sits in the back of the class smoking a hookah and writing friends on Facebook.

Compare that AP teacher with the teacher whose job it is to prepare the class of regular students whose reading, writing and spelling scores are light years below grade level. This class is most likely populated with several kids whose first language is not English, kids who are poor, kids who have been shuffled from one school to another, kids who might have spotty attendance and are sharing a room with discipline problems and draining their teacher of every ounce of imagination, intelligence and energy.

The game is fixed. Over before it starts. Even if the teacher who teaches the below-average kids is an exceptional teacher and the teacher who teaches the best and the brightest students is mediocre, scores won't reflect the difference between them.

The No Child Left Behind tests, which the Obama Administration won't drop, show numbers and rank. Nothing in those standardized tests speak to the quality of the teacher administering those tests, with the possible exception for the teacher who devoted hours and hours to rote learning rather than including in the curriculum some critical thinking.

If a school wants to honestly judge teachers' abilities based on standardized tests, I have the solution. Run the schools like little league tryouts. Attach a number to each kid's back and allow the teachers to put them through a series of grueling academic exercises. When every student has been tested and observed, teachers would take turns drafting students so that each class is filled with the same percentage of smart kids, average kids and struggling kids.

Once all the students are divvied up, the teachers, like little league coaches, will be allowed to swap students, thus building up their best possible franchises. Schools in wealthier neighborhood may well buy a few "players" from private schools. Under this scenario, the playing field would be level, test scores and their relationship to teachers' abilities might be relevant, and our president may be onto something.