Analysis: Shaming Teachers Is Not Good Educational Policy

Unreliable teacher performance data should not be used to shame educators

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    The floodgates have been opened. The city's education department has released the test scores for  thousands of teachers. The scores, to no one’s surprise, have turned out to be good, bad and indifferent. And the teachers union -- and many of its members -- are in an uproar.

              It’s no wonder. Newspapers have published the names of the bad teachers as well as those rated good or average. And, significantly, the margin of error on these tests is extremely high. So, if the margin of error is so high, how trustworthy are the scores?  That consideration does not matter for some of the city's newspapers.
           
    The New York Post showed a photo of a teacher at a Queens school with the headline: “The Worst Teacher in the City.” Other newspapers have published teachers’ names too.   A parent leader, Leonie Haimson, of Class Size Matters, is indignant. She told me that publishing the names of teachers considered badly performing is “abominable, indefensible.”  She adds: “it may be grounds for a lawsuit.”      
      
    ”What teacher in her right mind,” Haimson asked me, “would want to go to work for the city?”
      
    “Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Klein, Bill Gates and [U.S.  Education Secretary] Arne Duncan have campaigned to destroy teacher tenure. It’s part of a war. And the war means shaming teachers who have, in the opinion of the educators, failed,” she said. 

    Haimson says that 35 percent is the margin of error grade in math, 53 percent in reading.

    “You have to be crazy to want a teaching job with those figures,”  Haimson said.
        
    Shaming does not exist on this scale in any other profession. In the days leading up to the release of the teacher data, according to The New York Times, “many critics worried about the shame and humiliation low-scoring teachers would be subjected to, especially given the ratings’ wide margins of error. But the ratings also shined a spotlight on the educators who, at least by this measure, were best able to help their students post gains on the state’s standardized tests.”
          
    One of the teachers focused on by the Times as having top marks in the ratings is Alison Epstein of Chelsea Prep.  She told the Times she focuses on the needs of each student and doesn’t teach to the test.  She doesn’t believe in the ratings system in which she did so well. “Unfortunately,” Ms.Epstein added, “the schools have become incredibly data-driven.”   
         
    And this is one of the champion teachers!
         
    There’s much talk about the horrors of bad teachers, little talk about the glories of the teaching profession. If the profession were judged by the inspiration the government gives good teachers, we would all be happier.
          
    The teachers union and the educational bureaucrats are at war. If shaming of teachers is the best way to ensure good education, then the government is at fault. Teaching is a vocation and a profession.

    To treat teachers as very low on the professional scale is to destroy their morale and hurt the children. It would be good if we could learn that lesson and stop the war.