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Reviews Of Public School Teachers Should Be Made Public

Francesca Bessey |
November 28, 2011 | 2:50 p.m. PST

Staff Contributor

LAUSD Public School in the Sycamore Grove neighborhood of Highland Park. (Creative Commons)
LAUSD Public School in the Sycamore Grove neighborhood of Highland Park. (Creative Commons)
A recent poll conducted jointly by USC Dornsife and the Los Angeles Times indicates that the majority of California voters support making teacher evaluations public, and also support incorporating test scores into those evaluations.

Such a poll of public opinion comes at a crucial time for the California educational system, as outraged parents across the state are demanding education reform. The push for reform comes from two main sources: the desire to improve education nationwide, which is supposedly a major objective of our current administration, and the reaction of shock to recent data that puts reading and math test scores of California elementary school students at nearly the lowest in the nation.

Both parents, who are raising hell, and teachers, who are adamantly refusing the publication of their performance reviews, need to remember what the real objective is: offering California youth the best public education possible. This objective—not avoiding upsetting parents, not securing teacher tenure, and not proliferating union propaganda—should be the primary concern when determining how teachers should be evaluated and how much access the public should have to those evaluations.

That is precisely why 58 percent of California voters, who said that public schools would be improved if the public had access to teacher evaluations, were right on the mark. What is the number one way to improve teacher performance? Increase their accountability for that performance.

As taxpayers, California residents certainly pay for public education, as they do for administration, highways, public transit, welfare, and countless other forms of government spending and public programming. What makes a teacher review any different from public reports on the conditions of roads and bridges the government is responsible for maintaining? People have the right to know what the government is doing with their money. That includes knowing just exactly whom the government is paying to teach their kids.

On a larger scale, what makes public education different from any other service that costs money in the state of California—from hair salons to dog kennels? Restaurant reviews, websites like Yelp and Carfax, and the entire movie critic industry exist because people deserve to know what they are paying for before they pay for it. The businesses under scrutiny via these mediums understand this is the case. Once they have developed a product and have exposed it to the world, basic economic principles say the world will judge that product carefully and publicly.

In some industries, standards are even higher. For example, the Food and Drug Administration conducts regular inspections on producers and distributors of items we ingest, not just to ensure that they will be satisfactory to the customer, but also to ensure that they are safe. Teaching should be included among these industries. When teaching is so vital to the future capacity and well-being of students, how could it not be? The state of California has an ethical obligation to scrutinize any party so instrumental in the development and culturing of the minds of its youth, and no one fits this description better than a teacher.

However, California must be careful about exactly what it chooses to evaluate. And increased reliability on student test scores as a measure of teaching ability is not the solution to this dilemma. Test scores, particularly at a younger age, can be extremely misleading regarding student aptitude. Many well-educated kids perform badly on standardized tests because they have a poor attention span, psych themselves out, or simply don't understand how the Scan Tron works. Additionally, as noted by the Orange Country Register, test scores do not take into account disparities caused by English learner students—that is, students who might not even be able to fully comprehend the language of the test they are taking.

My personal experience with teachers and the experiences of many people I know has taught me that higher test scores often indicate good teaching, but not necessarily. Teachers who “teach to the test” often neglect entire portions of certain subjects that happen to be untested, but remain vitally important to a student's education. And no standardized test can examine crucial critical thinking or communications skills because, as certainly any college student will indignantly tell you, they cannot be judged by a simple yes-or-no rubric.

The best course of action, then, is to make reviews of teacher performance public, but to make sure these reviews really are indicators of teacher performance. If colleges only use SAT scores as a benchmark for evaluating their applicants (and the SAT comes at a time when most students are well-adjusted to test-taking, unlike tests administered in elementary and middle school), then test scores of public school students should count for even less. The California public desperately needs to inspect its teachers holistically, in order to ensure that they provide its youth with a holistically positive education experience.

 

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