As regular readers know, I’ve been very outspoken in my support and use of student evaluations of teachers as formative assessments and outspoken in my criticism of efforts by the Gates Foundation to incorporate them in formal summative evaluations of teachers (you can see many of my posts on this topic at The Best Posts On Students Evaluating Classes (And Teachers) ).
Today in The Atlantic, Amanda Ripley wrote a feature titled Why Kids Should Grade Teachers, which parrots the typical school reformer line.
Also today, Felix Salmon at Reuters wrote a devastating critique of her article and the whole idea in What education reformers did with student surveys.
It’s clearly a candidate for best educational policy post of the year. Here are some excerpts, but the whole piece is a “must-read”:
….along comes the Gates Foundation with a 36-question survey, severely chopped from a much longer one developed by Ronald Ferguson. Since there are 36 questions, the survey essentially measures teachers along 36 different axes, all of which are aligned with each other to differing degrees. In and of itself, that’s more useful than just measuring test scores, which are much less teacher-specific and which only provide one axis of educational quality.
But then what do the reformers do? They regress the survey answers against test scores, look at which survey questions align most closely with that test-score axis, and declare that those axes — the ones which test scores, by definition, are already measuring — must be the “most important”. Did you think that caring about kids was of paramount importance? Silly you! It turns out that caring about kids isn’t as correlated with test-score results as, say, whether the class learns to correct its mistakes. And therefore, we shouldn’t be worrying as much about whether teachers care about their kids; we should be worrying more about other things, instead. That’s what the test-score regressions tell us, so it must be true!…..
No! Stop! Do none of these people get it? What everybody wants, here, is better teachers. These surveys could be instrumental in helping to improve teaching. Teachers would be able to see where they score well and where they score badly, and ask themselves how to improve their scores in areas where they are weak. Principals could see which teachers were good on which axes, and set classes up so that students ended up with a balanced range of teachers. And generally, everybody could treat this data as an interesting and very rich way of improving educational outcomes.
Instead, reformers are rushing to use this data as a quantitative performance-review tool, something which can get you a raise or which can even get you fired. And by so doing, they’re turning it from something potentially extremely useful, into a bone of contention between teachers and managers, and a metric to be gamed and maximized.