Bill Schechter taught history for 35 years at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in Sudbury, Mass. Now retired from the classroom, he supervises the student-teacher practicums of students earning master’s degrees in teaching at a local university. He is also a volunteer tutor at a Boston public school.
A question occurred to Schechter recently when he was preparing testimony to give before the Massachusetts Board of Education, which will soon hold hearings on whether to base teacher evaluations on students’ standardized test scores — and if so, to what extent.
The question was: How do the schools serving the children of President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan handle this important school reform issue? He decided to find out.
The issue of linking a teacher’s salary and pay to how well students do on a standardized test has come to dominate the national education debate.
With the Obama administration’s support, more states are passing laws to connect teacher pay and test scores, even though experts on assessment say it is a bad idea.
The tests being used today were not designed to evaluate teachers (and they don’t do a good job of assessing students, either).
Furthermore, everybody who has ever taken a test understands that there are numerous factors that can affect how well someone does that have nothing to do with the teacher; kids who go to school hungry or tired or mentally ill or sick or anxious aren’t likely to do well, even if the teacher is to the teaching profession what Einstein was to physics.
Knowing that the Obama administration’s policies support linking teacher pay with test scores, Schechter wondered what Sidwell Friends School, the private Quaker school in Washington where Obama’s two children are enrolled, does regarding teacher pay-for-performance.
Schechter wondered the same about the Arlington County public school system, where Duncan’s children attend school.
This is part of what Schechter wrote to me:
“What did the president and the secretary seek and obtain for their own kids, where the important issue of teacher evaluation was concerned? The answers recently arrived in two e-mails:
“Arlington school district teacher, March 31, 2011: ‘We do not tie teacher evaluations to scores in the Arlington public school system.’
“Sidwell Friends faculty member, April 1, 2011:
“ ‘We don’t tie teacher pay to test scores because we don’t believe them to be a reliable indicator of teacher effectiveness.’ ”