The following italicized section is an editorial from this morning’s New York Times.
November 11, 2011
Tennessee’s Push to Transform Schools
Tennessee has a long way to go in improving its schools, but it has made significant headway in turning itself into a laboratory for education reform. It was one of the first states to test a rigorous teacher evaluation system, which was put in place this school year. Yet even before the results are in, political forces are now talking about delaying the use of these evaluations. State lawmakers and education officials must resist any backsliding.
Tennessee’s need to do better was underscored when the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the nation’s report card, ranked the state near the bottom in fourth-grade math performance, just ahead of Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi. These dismal results — slightly worse than those reported in 2009 — were made public earlier this month during legislative hearings on the evaluation system.
The Tennessee Education Association has criticized aspects of the system, citing what it describes as poorly trained evaluators and a confusing scoring rubric, and wants it postponed until it is essentially perfect. Some lawmakers are suggesting that evaluations performed this year not be used in personnel decisions. Such a delay would destroy momentum and could weaken reform.
Tennessee and Delaware were the only states to win generous grants in the first round under the Obama administration’s Race to the Top education initiative. It won partly because it had approved comprehensive reforms, which jettisoned a system that evaluated tenured teachers only twice every 10 years. The new approach requires that every teacher be observed several times a year.
Teacher evaluations now have three components: 50 percent from classroom observation data, 35 percent from student growth on test scores and 15 percent from student achievement measures that are locally selected. The teachers are rated on a five-point scale, from “significantly below expectations” to “significantly above expectations.” School districts are not required to fire anyone based on the ratings, but the state now requires teachers to work for five years, instead of three, before they are eligible for tenure. Those who want tenure have to earn high ratings for two years.
At the legislative hearing, superintendents and other school leaders praised the new system, saying that it had forced principals to spend more time in classrooms and required them to offer more help to novice teachers.
The president of the teachers’ union, however, pointed out that some evaluators failed to give teachers the feedback they need to improve. And she raised concerns about the fairness of the state’s decision to use schoolwide achievement measures to evaluate the more than 50 percent of teachers who work in grades or subject areas where standardized tests are not given. Better measures are under development but are not available.
As with any new reform, adjustments will be necessary. For example, principals should have the option of evaluating high-performing teachers less frequently than novices or low performers. And state officials must continue to review the question of how much standardized test data should count in teacher evaluations. Tennessee will need to address these issues fairly if the system is to win wide support among teachers and school administrators. But, even with shortcomings, the new approach to teacher evaluation is a vast improvement over the one it replaced.
Herein the Obama administration’s union busting extortion scheme Race to the Top in action. By turning the state into a “laboratory for education reform” ( am I the only one who find such language chilling ? ) it has paralyzed Tennessee’s school system and demoralized the state’s entire teaching profession.
Sound familiar ?
It has made both teaching and administering onerous if not out right impossible. It is based on wholly unproven assumptions — assumptions provided, once again, by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation which is now the de facto Department of Education and chief policy maker in our great democracy — that may cost good teachers their livelihoods and children any chance of a real education. Moreover, it could pervert education for decades to come, reducing it even further into a corporate sponsored test taking disgrace that you can be sure no child of the editorial staff of the New York Time or the Obama administration will be sullied with.
No matter to wise men of the “liberal” New York Times and their allies in the corporate education heist. Tennessee must continue to implement this disastrous scheme to keep up the momentum. Momentum, after all, is more important than accuracy, truth, fairness and even sanity. Ram it home. We’ll work out the details later. Sure, people will get hurt and further debased and children will be robbed of anything vaguely resembling a meaningful education – but we must begin somewhere. Besides, the plan that preceded it was bad too, maybe even worse. The essential thing is not to think and examine but to just keep pushing forward. We must resist the “political forces” who advocate “backsliding.”
Herein the level of idiocy, recklessness and callous indifference to reality that has pervaded corporate education reform from day one. All in the name of putting kids first, of course. Herein the level of craven surrender to corporate dictates that has characterized the Obama administration from day one. RTTT is a boon to test makers like no other. Herein the logical results of Race to the Top, a plan designed to undermine the very thing it is claiming to improve and so antithetical to public education it should appall all, being excused by the non educator editorial staff who run the New York Times: the same folk, mind you, who thought it a splendid idea to let Mike Bloomberg undermine the will of millions and purchase himself a third term at City Hall and thus allow him to do all he can do to privatize the NYC public school system. Rest assured, Mike is not letting them down.
Herein the corporate media cheerleading the furthering of the corporate state, democracy and the will of the people be damned.
Long live Occupy Wall Street and the spirit that brought it to life across the states and the globe. Let it occupy every office and editorial board and class room across these starved and suffering United States until the corporate state is exposed as the degrading, inhuman, mindless totalitarian monster that it is and can only be and locked in the dust bin of history where it belongs.