Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Accountability and Teacher Evaluation

Like other parts of the country, New York City is having problems with obesity.  According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, childhood obesity is an epidemic, and 1 in 5 New York City kindergarten students are obese.
Photo: Flickr, Citizenactionny

Because of this, New York City is seriously looking at the lack of performance by city doctors, and demanding accountability.  A new test is being developed that will be taken by patients that will measure doctor effectiveness, and allow the city to get rid of the worst performing doctors.  These tests are meant to both evaluate doctors and create a system of accountability which will force doctors to do their jobs better. 

Every year patients will be given a Body Mass Index (BMI) test to determine how healthy they are.  At the end of the year, patients will be given the same test to see if their doctor has been effective in making them healthier.  Doctors who do well on the evaluations will be given bonus checks.  Doctors who have patients who score poorly on the evaluation for two years in a row will be banned from practicing in New York City, since they have proven to be ineffective.

If you haven't noticed by now, the above two paragraphs are total fabrication.  The very premise that we would evaluate doctors based on such tests is absurd.  To start with, the tests would define "health" in a ridiculously narrow way (only using BMI).  There are many factors that are out of the doctors' control when it comes to their patients' progress in staying healthy.  It would force the best doctors to ignore the patients who need them the most, since bad evaluations would mean less money and less job security.  Many doctors would choose to practice somewhere outside the city.  In all ways, this would be a terrible idea, and lead to a worse health care system for the city. 

Photo: Comstock/Thinkstock
Yet, this is exactly what New York City is proposing to do to evaluate teachers

If you want to evaluate the effectiveness of a teacher, evaluate their teaching.  I've heard the arguments against this:  it's too costly, administrators don't do a very good job at evaluating teachers, there's no way to hold teachers accountable if we don't in some way quantify their effectiveness with a number.  These are all hollow arguments.

If you want to get data cheaply, you get cheap data.  We should be using the best data to drive our instruction, not the cheapest and/or easiest to obtain. 

If administrators are doing a lousy job of identifying teachers who are using best practices, that's a good reason to put pressure on administrators to do a better job of evaluating teaching.  It's not a good reason to take away more learning time for our students to take tests and prepare for them. 

Some jobs do not relate well to the business world, and can't be quantified easily.  You can't judge the effectiveness of police officers by the number of arrests they make.  You've got to look at how well they deal with situations they face.  You can't judge the effectiveness of firefighters by how many fires they put out.  You've got to look at how well they fight the fires with which they are faced.  You can't judge teachers by how well their students do on standardized tests.  You've got to look at how well they teach the students that they are given.  Those students come with a variety of home situations, emotional issues, economic issues, and a plethora of other baggage that may affect how they score on tests.

The most important things we do in school can't be measured on a test.  Show me someone who disagrees, and I'll show you someone who doesn't know what's important.