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“Performance vs. Popularity”

October 14, 2010
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This short piece comes from a friend and Colorado teacher Veronica. She asks a great question about the role of popularity in evaluations– for too long, favoritism has influenced the kinds of ratings teachers get. Others have been dismissed despite having high ratings. And as Dr. Bruce Baker points out, value-added assessment offers a rather golden opportunity for sneaky school leaders to stack the deck against teachers they’d like to get rid of. I think one way to blunt the influence of popularity over performance would be to require several different people to be part of the evaluation process (peer teachers, an administrator, a trained outside observer, students, and parents). What do you think? How can we improve this situation?

Performance vs. Popularity

The age-old issue of popularity – we see it in high school, middle school and even elementary school.  It is not the “smart” kids, but the popular kids everyone wants to be around.  Well, there is no place in public education for popularity races.  Sadly, however, we are seeing just this across too many low performing school systems.  An example of this is in the Denver Public School system. Nearly 180 teachers were dismissed at the end of the 2009-10 school year, and the board and current superintendent were not interested in the performance of their students. Performing teachers are being dismissed at an alarming rate using an outdated law that promotes popularity not performance.  This should make the public, parents and stakeholders in the DPS school district angry. However, no one is willing to take on the bureaucracy and the courts to change this law.  When powerful people, such as Bill Gates, announce that they are putting millions of dollars behind finding out what makes a “good teacher,” this factor cannot be ignored.

Veronica Kenny, M.A.Ed

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 14, 2010 6:29 pm

    Popularity vs. Performance is a shaky dichotomy.

    Popularity is in the eye of the beholder. Actually there is a place for popularity contests in public education. Teachers are elected and appointed to all kinds of different things, but we like to think this is on the basis of merit rather than on the basis of personal favoritism.

    In those appointments and elections the “performance parameters” of the task are fairly-well defined. Not so with teacher performance. That was true in the era of the one room schoolhouse, but those days are long gone. Teachers are important elements of a larger, very loosely coupled, complex system.

    It’s just not true that “the teacher is the most important variable in education.” Bill Gates, Arne Duncan and the other principals in the Federal-Corporate “partnership” are a far more important variable. But these people are altogether unaccountable and are not being “evaluated” by anyone. The Reformers do perform some self-congratulatory evaluations of each other as evidenced by Superintendent Rhee, whose only accomplishment was bringing down the Mayor who was propping her up.

    Gates wouldn’t think for a Redmond minute of investing a dime to find out what makes a “good Microsoft employee.” The job responsibilities in any organization outside of schooling are differentiated. To contend that any teacher who has been certified to teach is “unqualified” should not be a rap against any teacher. The Partnership should be bashing the incompetent teacher training institutions and accreditation agencies.

    The first large scale educational research study, conducted in the 1950’s by David Ryans was the Teacher Characteristics Study,/i>. Other studies have been done in the interim. We know what makes teachers tick, why they stay and why they leave. The Partnership is clueless about this, so they want to reinvent the wheel, making it square to fit their ideological template this time around..

    The combination of economic condition and Information Technology will, in the near future, force dramatic modification of both school finance and job differentiation. Meanwhile, there are inequities within and across, schools, districts and states.

    The Federal-Corporate Partnership might well invest a few million on self evaluation, before wasting billions on bootless “reforms.”

  2. Frederika permalink
    October 15, 2010 8:11 pm

    Yes, widening the field of evaluators and observers is a wise idea. Additionally, both observers and evaluators need to be throughly trained to identify what they think they see–there needs to be inter-rater reliability. All observers need to be trained to know what they see and what it means and they all need to see it in pretty much the same way to make evaluations valid and reliable. It is a scientific approach that cuts down on subjectivity and manipulation.

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