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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Teaching, Time, and Twitter

My latest post takes its inspiration from the recent news of New York City's Department of Education release of teacher ratings, about 18,000 total.  The reverberations from this past Friday's discharge of this information has sent shockwaves across the education community.  These Teacher Data Reports (TDR) covered three school years ending in 2010 and were intended to show how much value individual teachers add.  This was measured  by determining how much their students’ test scores exceeded or fell short of expectations based on demographics and prior performance. 

These "value added assessments" are being used in increasing numbers in teacher evaluation but they are an imprecise science.  The New York Times reports that "the the margin of error is so wide that the average confidence interval around each rating spanned 35 percentiles in math and 53 in English."  Also in some instances, some teachers were judged on as few as 10 students. The article has a quote from the city's number 2 education official, Shael Polakow-Suransky who commented "The purpose of these reports is not to look at any individual score in isolation, ever."  However, I believe that's what will happen with the distribution of these reports.  Parents will now have some form of evaluation for the teachers of their children regardless of the flaws inherent in such a  large scale effort as rating teachers over three years.  I won't review the entire article but if it interest you please follow the link below.

Times report on Teacher Ratings

It's clear to me that this news serves some political agenda.  Mayor Bloomberg has put forth many education "reforms" during his tenure as Mayor.  From Mayoral control of schools to Cathy Black.  Now Governor Cuomo seeks to have some form of evaluation of teachers statewide put in place.  Is there a "one size fits all solution" to this madness.  Sadly, there is not.  Just as there is no one way to teach a child, there is no fair way to evaluate the hard work, effort, sacrafice and intrinsic value of a teacher. 

I became a teacher after working for several years as a cog for a cold corporation.  I sought this path because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children who will be inheirting the mess we've made of our world.  However, it seems my timing is not the greatest.  Since I began my studies towards my Master's Degree and graduation, encompassing the years 2006-2010, we have experienced one of the worst economic implosions since the Great Depression.  At the same time, corporate reformers have set their sights on the public funding of education.  As Willy Sutton said about banks, the same is true of education.  To paraphrase Sutton, the corporate reformers go where the money is and it is there in public education.  Also the emphasis on standardized testing is just plain idiotic.  Our future leaders needs to learn critical thinking skills, to problem solve, collaborate, and be creative.  How do you learn these skills?  Not from a standardized test.

To be sure the effect on me has been one of  limited opportunities for me to enter a field I know I can make a difference.  Could it be due to lack of teacher turnover as teachers nearing retirement hang on a year or two more?  Have cutbacks in school districts due to shrinking school budgets impacted my chances of being hired as a teacher?  Sure there is always a cause and effect and as I reflected earlier my timing has never been great.  Thank you economy and real estate bubble.

Where do we go from here?  Well I believe the solution is quite clear and it's harnessing the power of social media via Twitter.  The dissemination of information and exchange of ideas via social media was instrumental in  toppling despots in the Middle East during the Arab Spring last year.  Now it can be employed to organize and rebut the corporate reformers and politicos who seek to turn education into a passionless, clinical, numbers first kids second enterprise.

Since I began using Twitter and through last year, I have followed many caring, knowledgeable educators and individuals from other fields.  I have also been fortunate to have several of them follow me as well.  First, thank you for all that you do and for the perspectives you share.  The professional development I have found via Twitter has been wonderful.  The following individuals, in my opinion, should be followed on Twitter for their knowledgeable views on education:

DianeRavitch - @DianeRavitch - Noted education historian, ed policy analyst, and Former Assistant Secretary of Education.

leoniehaimson - @leoniehaimson - Parent Advocate Ex Director of Class Size Matters.


I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.

John Steinbeck


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