Letter: Reevaluating Evaluations

Thanks for the excellent article about the new teacher evaluation system. ["The War on Teachers 2: Teachers Revolt!" by Cari Wade Gervin, Nov. 21, 2013] I left Knox County Schools two years ago, just as they were gearing up for the new system. I miss the students, but I'm glad I left.

There are good elements in the new system, but they add up to something destructive. Lessons that must address 61 criteria—how about lessons that address student needs and interests? Days spent penciling bubbles rather than learning. Evaluations that are enormously time-consuming and subjective, based in part on factors outside of teacher control (e.g. the scores of students they do not even teach), by evaluators who may not know the subject matter, and have been told to avoid giving high marks. Intrusive cookie-cutter coaching that ignores what teachers ask for. The process was sold as peer-to-peer professional development, which would be great, but cannot possibly work when your "peer" can kill your career with a check-mark. Last week I talked with a teacher who took time after school to visit a family whose child was assaulted, and put them in touch with the police. I applaud KCS for increasing efforts to reach out to families, but the testing regime undervalues it.

I wish the article had touched a little more on the context for this "war on teachers": the national campaign by ambitious politicians and corporate lobbyists like Michelle Rhee (her ex-husband Kevin Huffman runs the state Department of Education) to undermine public education while shoveling billions of taxpayer dollars at their corporate sponsors.

Cooking the data, they start with the claim that teachers are lazy and incompetent. Blaming teachers serves three purposes: diverting our attention from the huge resource gaps between middle- and low-income families; demonizing teachers and their unions, so the lobbyists can steamroller through these nonsensical "reforms"; and panicking taxpayers into adopting the industrial model of schooling. Self-appointed education experts like Bill Gates imagine they can crank out students like they manufacture video games: standardized parts, a focus on the numbers, privatizing and outsourcing, and assembly-line teaching-to-the-test. Studies by Elaine Weiss and others show that these changes have failed in city after city.

Teachers prepare students to take care of themselves, make the most of their talents, and contribute to the community. But the industrializers can't measure those outcomes, which also don't put public money in private pockets.

I've heard teachers say over and over: We welcome evaluation. We want evaluations that are fair and will help us teach better. There are effective models for evaluation and sharing skills. Let's take the useful parts from the current system and fashion something that will really help students and teachers.

Paul deLeon