First let me say that I am an avid supporter. I remember when you visited my high school government class at Westerville South in the early 1980s during a run for Congress. I have attended speeches, rallies, and book signings through the years. I say those things to show that I am a long time follower of politics, of you, and one who pays attention to the issues. But one of the things that I most admire about you is that, even if I disagreed with you on everything and never voted for you, I know that you would still listen to me as a fellow Ohioan and fellow American.
I am concerned with your stance on holding teachers accountable for students' test scores to the extent that teachers would lose their jobs. With the myriad of reasons for achievement and with children having differing abilities, making a high-stakes connection between students' outcomes and a teacher's career seems like firing the grocery clerk for selling me hot dogs and HoHos everyday--blaming the clerk for my obesity.
As a product of Westerville's excellent public schools, and with friends and family still working and living in the district, I would agree that schools need to show some accountability for student outcomes. But, as a former teacher and parent, I have experienced the social ills that impact education of a child far more than the textbook, the teacher, or the technology available. If children are torn from their neighborhood and bused across town so that society feels better about racial and socioeconomic balance, we need to study the impact of long bus rides and parents who cannot get to their child's building for a meeting or a conference. If parents cannot read or do not value a library, are we to hold teachers accountable that a child cannot read? Learning to read proficiently requires time, access to books, modeling by parents, and practice. How can we hold a teacher accountable for parental deficits in these areas? How many years do we need to teach 5th grade math? If we teach fractions in 5th grade, why do we continue to teach that same concept for years? Students graduate high school, go to college, and for thousands of dollars per class, we find that we have to teach them fractions again. But this time, a student attends Columbus State, and we pay an instructor, we subsidize the building, we give out financial aid (along with food stamps, WIC, daycare, housing allowances, and large tax refunds for nonwork) to just teach fractions again for the ninth or tenth year. At what point does the burden of learning shift to the student? We have safety-netted some people to the extent that it's a nightmare for all taxpayers.
We expect teachers today to solve societal problems, to act as social workers, to work long hours with meetings and answering emails, to intervene in fights and bullying, to monitor vegetables at lunch time, and then we want to say to these hard-working teachers, you are not good enough. I know several teachers who work with special populations-- students with deficits, disabilities, or impairments. What of these teachers in particular? They awake each morning and deal with the tough cases that would make most adults run for the exit sign. What becomes of their job when test scores are the singular measure of their success?
If the National Department of Education policymakers want to use a value-added model in education, they need to first study how it is implemented in an actual workplace. An analogy can be drawn with other professions. Should attorneys should not be allowed to practice law if they lose a case. Sometimes a case is lost because a client is guilty. Sometimes the loss can be attributed to the judge, the jury, a procedural error, or even a false witness. Should doctors be fired when a patient dies? When a patient arrives in the emergency room and is unconscious from years of untreated diabetes, do we hold that physician accountable for the death of the patient? Just as we would not consider disbarring an attorney for losing a case or firing a doctor for losing a patient, we should not fire teachers based on poor test scores as a result of factors that are out of their total control. Effective teachers are only one component of student success. Engaged students, stable and supportive families, innate intelligence, and even a hearty breakfast are all contributing factors to student success as well. Government leaders, policymakers, and the public should leave value-added assessment models in the business sector and look for another method of evaluating teacher effectiveness in our nation’s classrooms.
Let's fix the unconstitutional school funding formula. Let's build our public schools to be a self-sufficient from federal tax dollars with strings attached as possible. Federal mandates and the money that follows are contributors to the problem, not solutions. Let's teach a concept only a set umber of years beyond where it is introduced. If it is not learned, then intervention, tutoring, and other services will unburden a teacher from a classroom of 30 students, half of which may be three grades or more behind. Separate students by ability and/or deficit to meet their needs rather than mainstream to meet society's need to feel good about ourselves. Let's shore up the admissions for colleges. There should be a lower-cost option for a student to learn what they didn't learn aside from spending such high cost college dollars.
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