New nonsense about teachers

(school improvement network)
(School Improvement Network)

Renowned school reformer Deborah Meier has been having a discussion on her Education Week  “Bridging Differences” blog with Eric Hanushek, an economist who is a vocal supporter of evaluating teachers based in part on standardized test scores. In his latest letter to her, which you can read here, he makes this statement:

In our conversations about accountability, we have skirted around the issue that I think drives the most heated debate — namely, that accountability involves evaluation of teachers and administrators. And teachers and administrators are “agin it,” period.

 

Can’t we pare through some of the smoke and move the discussion forward to a better place?

Actually, it’s hard to move the discussion to a better place when the basic premise is wrong. Teachers and administrators aren’t against evaluation. In fact, the two major teachers unions, which were admittedly too slow to push to improve evaluation systems, did so a few years ago. In 2010, the American Federation of Teachers issued a new teacher evaluation model, and the National Education Association in 2011 endorsed the idea that student learning must be part of teacher evaluation. One of the most effective teacher evaluation systems in the country, in Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, is run by teachers — without, incidentally, basing a set percentage of an evaluation on student test scores.

Are there some administrators and teachers who don’t want to be evaluated? Sure. Is that most of them? There is no basis on which to make that claim. (I asked Hanushek in an email if he really believed that all teachers and administrators don’t want to be evaluated. He answered: “Not all. That is too many.”)

Then Hanushek wrote this:

It is curious, for example, that there is a sudden uproar about high-stakes testing with school accountability, but that there were essentially no complaints when only students were subject to high-stakes testing. The standardized SAT test — to say nothing of the entrance exams for medical, law, and business schools — have been fine.

The uproar over high-stakes standardized tests isn’t “sudden” and didn’t start when teachers began being evaluated by the results. Educators and students and parents have been complaining about high-stakes standardized tests throughout the era of No Child Left Behind, which began to be implemented in 2002, and even before NCLB, as evidenced here FairTest, a non-profit fighting the misuse of standardized tests, has been around for many years. Students and education activists have been complaining about the value of the SAT test for decades; in fact, Richard Atkinson, then president of the University of California system, threatened to stop using the SAT as a requirement for admissions in the system’s universities because it was “distorting educational priorities.” He said in 2001 speech to the American Council on Education:

Anyone involved in education should be concerned about how overemphasis on the SAT is distorting educational priorities and practices, how the test is perceived by many as unfair, and how it can have a devastating impact on the self-esteem and aspirations of young students. There is widespread agreement that overemphasis on the SAT harms American education.

His threat led to major changes in the SAT a few years later. And he has written that questions about the SAT were decades old. He wrote in this piece that his concerns about the SAT started in the 1940s, when he was an undergraduate at the University of Chicago:

Many of the Chicago faculty were outspoken critics of the SAT and viewed it as nothing more than a multiple-choice version of an IQ test; they argued forcefully for achievement tests in the college admissions process. Their opposition may have been influenced to some degree by school rivalry; the leading force behind the SAT at that time was James B. Conant, the president of Harvard University. Eventually Chicago adopted the SAT, but not without controversy.

Hanushek isn’t the only school reformer to try to insinuate that teachers are complaining about high-stakes standardized tests because it is now, under Obama administration policies, that teachers are being evaluated by scores their students get on tests — tests, which, incidentally, weren’t designed to evaluate educators. It is one of the newer lines among pro-reform forces to make teachers look as if they care for themselves and not their students. And I’m already really sick of hearing it.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | March 19, 2013