Wednesday, November 3, 2010

At what point do we have too many rights?

Even though election day brought little in terms of surprises (the Republican wave was prognosticated over a year ago), it certainly is the fruition to a shift in public privilege (entitlement is probably too strong a word here).  Everybody wants their rights back.  I'm not sure anyone knows how they'd like to exercise those rights, but they sure don't want even the thought of someone taking them away.

Public education was not on the radar at all this past election cycle (this is not a surprise, as it seems to be the only area that Republicans are willing to praise Obama).  So, what is the natural extension of this "I have my rights" mentality in the public school debate?

Probably something like this.  The editorial makes the case for the public's right to know the quality of teachers they support with their taxpayer money.  This means the public release of teacher evaluations, including the "value-added" scores which measures how a student compares to their predicted success score.

This brings many questions to my mind:
  1. Have we developed the value-added formula to measure the band teacher's performance, yet?
  2. Can we do the same for police officers?  Because I'd really like to know which ones are pulling over the most people.
  3. Would the general public understand the dataset?  Would they care to?
  4. Once the public has the data, what will the actually do?  Are they enabled now?
  5. If I'm an administrator, how likely am I to add constructive criticism into a teacher evaluation, knowing I could have any citizen with a grudge looking at it?

Where do I begin?  Measuring students on student achievement data alone is already a problem, as it is to measure teachers on it alone.  This action would only reinforce the idea that this is what makes kids successful.  Even if it was a valuable measure, collecting a dataset which will demonstrate the value of a teacher in student achievement is an impossible task.  The data will be tainted with a myriad of other variables.

But what strikes me most is that the thought of communities being "enabled" to act on this information is utopian.  What are they going to do?  Spend a lot of time and money to try to force them out of work?  That principled dedication is reserved only for action on our state supreme court justices.  When it comes down to it, the community passion for a wave of change in schools isn't there.

The end result is instead that teachers feel ostracized and unfairly judged more than ever.  Simply put, it uses "accountability" as a cover word for implementing "motivation by fear".

Yes, schools need changing.  But this change requires cooperation between educators and the community, not distrust.  Community need more rights, more data?  Open the doors.  Invite them into the school to observe what's going on in the classroom.  Find ways for them to take part, to offer their reflections on what they see.  This offers accountability in a constructive manner, with all parties on the same side. 

Kids cannot be a political football.

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