I was born in Chicago, Illinois into a family proud of its lineage of generations of teachers.
My Great Aunt Adele and my Great Aunt Lillie were teachers in the Chicago Public School system and active members of the Chicago Teachers Union. In fact, among the pictures and memorabilia passed onto me is a letter dated January 27, 1942 from the Chicago Teachers Union Election Tellers thanking my Great Aunt Adele for her “two years of loyal and efficient service” as a union delegate. Both of my great aunts held PhD’s and were members of the Phi Beta Kappa Association of the Chicago Area, achievements that are commonly considered to demonstrate that one is highly educated, intelligent and hard-working.
My Great Aunt Lillie’s obituary described her as “one of the builders of this world’ whose “aim in life was the maintenance of democracy for greater and greater numbers and especially the extension of educational opportunities to the under-privileged”. I greatly admired Adele and Lillie Hedeen for their many academic accomplishments and for the dedication to investing in our nation’s future which was the cornerstone of their careers.
Today Chicago Public School teachers are front page news, striking to protest a plan that will base at least 25%, possibly as much as 40%, of a teacher’s annual evaluation on student standardized test scores, and objecting to a longer school day without any increase in salary.
Both the focus on student standardized test scores in the evaluation process and a longer school day are popular in our national discussion of school reform. Both ideas have merit.
One idea, a longer school day, has been proven to increase the likelihood of student success; one idea, tying teacher evaluations to standardized test scores, has not. Not only has the validity of basing a large portion of teacher evaluations on standardized test scores not been proven, but the value of standardized tests has not been unilaterally proven, especially as an indicator of student success in the future, let alone student success in any one academic year.
Legislatures across the country have been debating the especially hot topic of teacher evaluations and teacher contracts. Make no mistake, the two are inextricably woven together. Many pieces of legislation regulating and changing current teacher contracts and evaluation processes were introduced this year in the Virginia General Assembly. The most common teacher contract proposal was that all teachers should have annual contracts which end on June 15; but school years frequently do not end by June 15.
The nonrenewal of an annual contract would not be considered ‘dismissal’ of a teacher, and therefore, no appeal or grievance procedure would be available. What is wrong with this picture? How many professionals in our society would agree to a contract for one year which may or may not be renewed at the end of the year and the holder of the contract would be told either, “Don’t come back” or “See you next year” as she or he walked out the door for summer vacation. Oh, and by the way – no appeal. I don’t believe that this would have satisfied my great aunts in 1942 and I know it would not satisfy the professional teachers in my family now in 2012.
Of course, teacher evaluations should include the success or failure of their students as an important factor. The problems lie in the details. Basing 25% to 40% of a teacher’s annual evaluation on standardized test scores assumes that the annual test scores would be available to the principal and the teacher well before June 15 – and that is simply not the case. It also assumes that the standardized tests used would be the same year to year (otherwise, we are comparing apples to tomatoes) – and that is simply not the case either.
What is predictable, though, is that these same proposals will be introduced again in the upcoming session of the General Assembly. What is not predictable is that the practical implementation details will be any more well-thought-out than they were last year. My great aunts would have expected the teachers organizations/unions to be at the table when these proposals were being drafted, and not left with protest after-the-fact as their only input. We all – legislators, parents, teachers, administrators – share the same goal: a solid investment in our children and in the future of our Commonwealth. Collaboration should be the way we accomplish that end.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at [email protected].