One thing I don't like about making the point that teachers are not the largest factor in student achievement is that it sounds like I'm saying good teaching isn't important. It is, but we have to be honest about what's going on in schools today. The kids who fall behind either have home environments that keep them from reaching their potential, or they have personal characteristics that require that they learn at their own pace and in their own way. Teaching matters, but not nearly as much as these other factors.
I can't find the video, but I recall Chris Christie saying at one point that it's easy to know who the good and the bad teachers are at a school: just ask around, and the parents will tell you. Well, if you're sending your kid to a great school, and she gets the worst teacher at that school, chances are it's probably still a good teacher. Mozart's worst symphony is still a Mozart symphony.
Besides, my experiences as both a parent and a teacher have led me to believe that parent reviews are often the worst guides to who can teach and who can't. One of my younger son's teachers, who was vilified left and right by a few noisy parents, turned out to be one of the best and most-beloved he ever had. In that case, the "reviews" told me a lot more about the parents than this teacher.
Which is another part of this: teachers influence different kids in different ways. Sometimes, a teacher gets a class that just isn't the right fit; it happens more often than you would think. And the peer effects are hard to separate from the teacher: if you get the wrong combination of boys and girls in a second grade class, watch out. Even the best teacher can't completely make up for these arbitrary factors. But there's no room for this in the world of the corporate "reformer."
I can hear them right now saying, "You're just making excuses!" Well, even if I am, so what? I'm dealing with reality, not some fantasy of what they think schools are. If the corporate "reformers" would stop wagging their fingers at us and started listening, maybe they'd learn something.
Which gets us back, once again, to the NJ Educator Effectiveness Task Force. There is one - ONE! - currently practicing teacher on the panel (not even an NJEA member). Taking the place of teachers who should be representing the profession are folks like Derrell Bradford, who has absolutely no business whatsoever even being near this project; and Raphael Fajardo, who is currently in the middle of an investigation into corruption and cronyism while he was president of the Elizabeth School Board.
Contrast this with Jerry Brown, who decided to clean up the mess the Guvernator left in California at the Commission on Teacher Credentialing by appointing - wait, is this right!? - teachers!
But that is not going to happen around here in Jersey anytime soon. The corporate "reformers" have a vested interest in distorting the facts about teachers and teacher evaluations. If there were a lot of teachers on the Task Force and someone tried pull that "only 17 teachers fired in NJ" garbage, the teachers would never let them get away with it.
So we are stuck with a panel tasked to develop evaluations for teachers without meaningful teacher representation. Do you think doctors would ever stand for a panel of non-doctors telling them how they should be regulated from now on? Or lawyers? Accountants? Architects? Pilots?
It's insulting. It's also exactly the sort of crap that is destroying this profession, which will be the Christie legacy in years to come.
OK, tomorrow, we look at tenure, seniority, and my personal favorite: merit pay. Ready, Merit Pay Fairy?
You betcha! I just put new batteries in da wand!