What Vince Gray really said about grading D.C. teachers

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Sunday, January 30, 2011


What Gray said on grading teachers

On Jan. 18, a Post reporter missed much of a point made in an education panel about fairness in teacher evaluation. Post bloggers and editorial staffers then twisted the missed point.

"It's a step in the right direction, but it's got a long way to go to be a fair evaluation," The Post quoted Mayor Vincent C. Gray regarding how teachers are evaluated.

The mayor's statement - unbeknown to Post readers - was in response to a comment and question from an attendee (me). The thrust of the question was that, as much of an improvement as the D.C. schools' new IMPACT evaluation process is, it is both a work in progress that needs more test-driving and but one leg of a stool that needs more legs to stand on.

Those additional legs include self-evaluation, peer review, input from students and parents, and teacher and staff input into the evaluation of principals and administrators.

That context was not provided. Instead, readers were told that the mayor's comment constituted a "clash with a core tenet of [former D.C. schools chancellor Michelle] Rhee and her successor, Interim Chancellor Kaya Henderson: that excellent teachers can help children thrive academically, regardless of the students' economic or social backgrounds." But the mayor said nothing to even suggest that he did not advocate excellence in teaching, and I find it hard to comprehend how such an inference could have been drawn - unless someone wanted mainly to fan flames or provoke controversy.

Controversy did ensue - in follow-up articles, columns and an editorial headline that warned, "in being fair to educators, the District must not be unfair to students."

Well, of course not. But the assertion is a non-sequitur, because only a fair teacher evaluation process will also be fair to students. Any teacher evaluation that is less than fair - in that it unfairly disqualifies a good teacher or that it unfairly allows a poor teacher to slip through - will not serve students well.

Which gets us back to the (unreported) points that I made at last week's discussion. Yes, the new IMPACT teacher evaluation process is a major step forward. It seems pretty good on paper (including its attempt to account for students' socioeconomic differences and disadvantages). But it has barely been run around the block or had its tires kicked. The mostly young cadre of clipboard-carrying evaluators are so far somewhat stiff and constrained in a marching-orders, Cultural Revolution sort of way. And no matter what, IMPACT is still just one tool for a toolbox that needs several.

Only when that toolbox also includes the aforementioned additional tools of self-evaluation, peer review, input from students and parents, and teacher/staff input into the evaluation of principals and administrators will there be sufficient tools to understand how well teachers are really doing.

Jay Silberman, Washington

The writer served on the D.C. Board of Education from 1991 to 1998.

Needed: Some snow driver's ed

I was out in the storm on Wednesday night along with thousands of others. I hitched rides nine miles down Connecticut Avenue from Olney to meet my wife to help her get home.

My experiences in helping drivers get moving showed me once more that many people around here just don't know how to drive in the snow. When the wheels start spinning, these drivers push harder on the accelerator, which causes the wheels to spin more. Eventually, usually as they approach the top of a hill, they lose momentum and get stuck. Also, no one whom I tried to help knew how to rock the car back and forth to get it going again. I actually got in the driver's seat (with the driver's permission) in one car and helped get it moving. Learning how to rock the car is simple and can be practiced in the early winter when there is a light snow.

What's the answer? How about a region-wide program to teach people how to drive on snow? If even 500 fewer cars had been stuck Wednesday night, I believe things would have moved along a lot more smoothly.

Doug Terry, Olney

© 2011 The Washington Post Company

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