Analysis: To Help the Kids: Educate the Educators

True-and-false tests and multiple-choice questions don’t get the job done

By Gabe Pressman
|  Wednesday, Jan 11, 2012  |  Updated 6:37 PM EDT
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Governor Andrew Cuomo continues to pressure the State Assembly to enact a new way to evaluate teachers and principals.

At stake are hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds for New York schools.

The governor doesn’t want to lose out on this money. That’s understandable. But what continues to elude me is why there is no input into the process by the people most concerned: parents, students and the teachers who instruct them.

Since Mayor Bloomberg first centralized the school system, the parents and children have been basically left out. Indeed, I remember, in the early days of his administration how the mayor, when he was criticized by parent members of his educational advisory panel, had a simple answer to their grievances. He fired them.

Our new governor has a chance to involve parents and children in finding new ways to evaluate teachers and principals. So far the methods for such a process seem controversial -- and unreliable.

The educational establishment and officials like Cuomo and Bloomberg seem determined to use statistical measures for competence in the school system. I remember, as a kid in the Bronx, discovering that the best teachers were those who made eye to eye contact -- and who believed that the mission of the teacher and her principal was to unlock the potential in each girl or boy. It’s still a good model for testing the students and identifying the best teachers. True-and-false tests and multiple-choice questions don’t get the job done.

 “No one is asking parents what they think," Kim Sweet of Advocates for Children of New York told me. "If they did, the parents would say they cared less about test scores than on the professional development of teachers.”

As for Cuomo, she said: “I don’t think he’s really delved into this issue. He doesn’t want to. He is not asking people down at the individual school level what they need or want. The proper education of teachers is of great importance and I believe parents know this to be true.”

Carol Corbett Burris, principal of South Side High School in New York, called the state’s teacher education plan “nutty.” She says “rating teachers by scores was a political decision made by corporate reformers and policy makers who never took the time to make sure that what they mandated made any sense at all.”

And, in a starkly vivid critique, Ms. Burris declares: “School reform has become the feeding ground for profiteers, consultants and those who have built careers and celebrity out of disparaging teachers and deriding public schools.”

Ms. Burris, whose essay carried the ironic title “Forging Ahead,” was named 2010 New York State Outstanding Educator by the School Administrators Association of New York State.

Even as more than 1,100 New York State principals, have signed a petition opposing state mandates similar to the federal Race to the Top requirements, educators are frustrated, angered and befuddled. They find it hard to accept the crazy standards for excellence for teachers and principals.

It’s time perhaps that a committee of parents should be established to educate the educators -- or at least let them know that they’re watching and are demanding a good deal for their kids.

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