Sunday, March 21, 2010

New York Times Thinly Veiled Support of Charters Is Wrong

Today the New York Times published an editorial titled "Who Grades the Graders" and in its first paragraph proposes that a more complex form of evaluating teachers is needed, including rethinking the role of principals and superintendents.

I agree with that sentiment, but the editorial says little about principal's role in evaluation and nothing about superintendents. Instead it focuses on a study by the Center for American Progress about the effectiveness of teacher evaluation in 5 charter schools representing the three major charter school operators. The NYT once again is pushing the charter school solution for American education rather than a broader view about best practices evident in mainstream public schools as well.

Many education leaders believe in a view of teacher evaluation that insists on multiple measures and focuses the conversation on teacher development rather than a punitive approach to simply weed out bad teachers. Principals and superintendents do have important roles here, especially around providing the time and resources for this to be implemented.

But this isn't happening just in charter schools.

One of the leaders in teacher development is the New Teacher Center which mentors and coaches over 49,000 teachers across the country. The involvement of organizations like NTC, who work in thousands of mainstream public schools, in the re-authorization of ESEA is critical if the Feds are to create a balanced view of teacher development and evaluation.

In fact, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island is proposing the Teacher and Principal Improvement Act, which would amend the ESEA Title II to include more comprehensive developmental evaluation processes for teachers. One statistic quoted in a description of Reed's proposal states that the cost of replacing teachers who leave the profession is $7,300,000,000 annually! Firing bad teachers isn't the key issue, it's developing new teachers so they will be more successful and stay.

But we need to go one step further in teacher evaluation by focusing on the work of students as well. The Schlechty Center's work with thousands of educators provides methodology for using a collegial  coaching process for looking at the quality of student work as evidence of effective teaching. By examining the design of learning activities and resulting student products, teachers are evaluated by the success of their customers - their students - who are depending on schools to enable them to be productive and responsible members of our society, in their work and in their civic duties.  This broader, student-centered approach, could fundamentally and positively impact teacher development and retention, as well as the quality of American public schools. We don't need charters to make this happen for all children.

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