Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Education

Both sides in teacher evaluation debate need dose of reality

They live in parallel universes, each one a creation of misguided hope.

On one side are the politicians who seem convinced that every classroom is identical, and the only reason students fail is because their teachers are inept.

On the other side are educators who see a world that's out to get them, and reflexively protect their own whether they are deserving or not.

In between is the real world.

A place where every home is different, and every school works with unique sets of challenges and attributes. A place where inattentive parents are all too common, and complacent teachers are too well insulated. A place where children are shy, rambunctious, curious, disinterested, motivated, lazy, cheerful, angry and forever in need of compassion on any given day.

So what's my point, you ask?

Simply this:

It's time for educators and politicians alike to put one foot back in the real world.

This week's release of teacher evaluation numbers reinforces the fear that both sides seem more interested in a battle than a solution.

You have politicians obsessed with this absurd notion that standardized test scores measure the value of every teacher in every classroom, regardless of the circumstances.

And you have school officials who are so outraged by Tallahassee's meddling that they overcompensate by singing sweet melodies in the subjective portion of job reviews.

The result is teacher evaluation numbers that are meaningless. And if you think meaningless is too strong a word, consider this:

• Of the more than 163,000 teachers evaluated statewide, nearly 98 percent were rated effective or better. Can you think of a profession anywhere in the country with a 98 percent success rate among its workers?

• All 3,391 teachers evaluated in Collier County got the same "effective" rating.

• Pinellas County had six times as many teachers rated "highly effective" as Pasco County. Pinellas also had twice as many teachers rated "needs improvement." The idea that neighboring counties could have such drastic swings indicates the measures are too ambiguous.

• Throughout greater Tampa Bay (Citrus, Hernando, Hills­borough, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk) only 138 teachers were rated "unsatisfactory." And all 138 were in Hillsborough. What are the odds?

Now it's true that school administrators are right to push back against Tallahassee's all-in approach to standardized testing. Numbers show that socioeconomic factors are a far better predictor of test results than individual teacher performance.

For example, the five Pinellas schools with the highest percentage of teachers rated "needs improvement" had school grades of D, C, D, F and D last year. So it makes sense that they had the most teachers in need of improvement, right?

But if you dig deeper, you see those schools had free/reduced lunch rates of 90, 75, 70, 88 and 70 percent in 2011. So are low standardized test scores the fault of teachers, or do they have something to do with all five schools drawing from high-poverty areas?

This is why Tallahassee's crusade to link teacher evaluations so heavily to standardized tests is horribly flawed.

On the other hand, education officials did themselves no favors by evaluating teachers so leniently. A 98 percent favorable rate is exactly why politicians feel the need to stick their noses into classrooms in the first place.

Educators have to be more realistic. They have to understand they are putting good teachers in jeopardy by letting the bad ones skate by with effective reviews.

Here in the real world, we're still waiting for real reform.

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