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.