The Teaching Profession Must Police Itself

In his Living in Dialog blog, Anthony Cody posted an insightful reflection written by John Kuhn, superintendent of the Perrin-Whitt School District in Texas.  John wrote the reflection about his testimony before the Texas Public Education Committee earlier that day.  Anthony then posed the following questions.  My answers follow below.

What do you think of John Kuhn’s reasoning? Should teachers be graded? Why or why not?

I believe John is very courageous, and speaks from his heart with the best interests of his students, teachers, and principals in mind. I wish there were more like him willing to speak openly, in public, and on the record, about the dilemmas in education today. Dilemmas created, in part, by well-intentioned, but misguided, mandates from state and local governments, as well as a raft of factors outside of the classroom many of which derive from socioeconomic status.

Instead, he stands alone, likely without the benefit of collaborating with other superintendents, or AASA counsel, fielding unanticipated questions which a team experienced in legislative matters could have foreseen and so readied John to answer decisively. At the same time, his late night, pillow-inspired response, while resonating well with teachers, as it did with me, misses the question asked by the representative. A question that lingers unanswered in the minds of many challenging teachers unions today, which is how can teachers be assessed fairly to make sure they perform their duties competently? As harsh as it may seem for me to write the question, it is a fair one to consider. One that left unanswered fuels the rhetoric of many who have little understanding of the demands of the profession, or appreciation for the compassion driving the unsung actions of teachers everywhere; yet answer it we must, as difficult and imprecise as our answer might be given the immense uncertainty associated with measuring teacher performance as even the most “scientific” of recent measures, value-added measurement, reveals.

This is not to endorse use of VAM, especially as it uses the results of standardized tests ill-suited to assessing teacher performance. However, it is to say that teachers must propose some method to police our own, using some measure of performance, subjective and/or objective, or outside influences will mandate something that may not yield any reliable results. Yet, they will have taken their pound of flesh, effective measure or not.

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About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Secondary math teacher teaching math intervention, algebra 1, honors precalculus, and AP Calculus AB. I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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4 Responses to The Teaching Profession Must Police Itself

  1. dwees says:

    A deeper question to me is, how are lawyers, doctors, and other professionals judged?

    For the most part, my impression is that they are judged on a reputation based system, not on individual results of their clients. So why not judge teachers on the same system?

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    • Agree that those are sound counterexamples, David, in part…at the same time, your response could be perceived as evading the question, too. I do not believe that teachers need to be judged by their students results, per se. However, the customers of doctors and lawyers can vote with their checkbook, unlike students, parents, or principals with teachers; doctors and lawyers also do not have onerous mechanisms in place that make it nigh impossible to remove them from payroll. So, as someone who understands the plight of teachers, and the need to ensure due process rights to prevent whimsical treatment, I also know that it is abundantly clear that a fair, reliable, and efficient system must be established by the teaching profession before misguided attempts at implementing one succeed, as we see happening across the US today. This will not simply go quietly away in the night. As Randi Weingarten recognizes, teachers must actively participate in changing the existing system or suffer the consequences of hiding behind tired expressions that garner little support from an unsympathetic crowd looking to force change upon the profession, whether it wants it or not.

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    • Dwees, as a teacher, I yearn at times to be treated with the same sort of respect and prestige that the professionals you mentioned are often treated with. However, you still didn’t answer the question.

      Dave, there are some ideas floating around out there. The New York Times actually had a panel of people in the education field that made some interesting suggestions that you can see here.

      Some of the ideas include revamping what evaluations are measuring themselves. In some places a large percentage of teachers get the overall highest or at least satisfactory rating, making it harder to train or fire them when necessary. If we’re honest with ourselves, we can probably all think of someone that we deem unqualified to teach, yet they’ve done fine on evaluations.

      Another interesting idea related to what you mentioned (policing our own). Teachers need to be peer reviewed instead of just administrator reviewed. Administrators have a big job with lots of responsibilities, and certainly their input is needed and valued. However, in many places, a formal evaluation might consist of an administrator staying in the teacher’s room for one period ( or in lower grades, for half the day or a whole day). If we want an honest evaluation and really want to know where our strengths and weakenesses lie, then we actually need administrators and other teachers (possibly even education experts hired by district, but who knows how much that would cost) in our room on a much more regular basis. True, no one wants to feel like Big Brother is watching, but how else would you know what a teacher is doing on a regular basis?

      Anyway, there are some interesting thoughts there, some I agree with more than others. None are fleshed out entirely, but there’s a lot of food for thought. Enjoy! 🙂

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      • The ed panel illustrates that everyone has an opinion, some of which are pretty radical (e.g. fire everyone to include the lunch lady) to insightful (e.g. measures of output that do not account adequately for input are rife with errors) to realistic but problematic (e.g. teachers deemed incompetent are incentivized to hold out for as long as possible to secure their pension). Prevailing sentiment of the ed reform movement is aligned with the first. The public is aghast with the last. As teachers, we need to get involved leading change to improve our profession so that a few bad apples do not continue to cause the whole bunch to be thrown out.

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