WHAT DO the liberal-leaning Los Angeles Times and conservative-leaning New York Post have in common when it comes to kids, teachers and schools? Both have pushed for, and then published, the rankings of teachers in the public schools in their cities based on "value-added" rankings of teachers through standardized-test scores.
I think we should do exactly the same thing with the Philadelphia public schools. We evaluate a student's progress in school through grades and test results. Why the big resistance to evaluating teachers?
As the New York Times reports, the "value-added models use mathematical formulas to predict how a group of students will do on each year's tests based on their scores from the previous year, while accounting for factors that include race, gender, income level and other test results." Teachers are then ranked based on whether they exceed or fall short of expectations.
Arne Duncan, the federal Education secretary, supports the measure and the release of test scores and teacher rankings, and has said, "Silence is not an option." In fact, these evaluation systems are favored by President Obama's Race to the Top initiative. I see no reason that we wouldn't have this system and reporting in Philadelphia.
However, I can already hear the silly objections and postings and op-ed columns formulated to attack this as anti-teacher and to desperately protect the status quo. We hear the same tired response that teaching is the only profession in the world that cannot be effectively and fairly evaluated.
Unfortunately, that is why you have schools in which an all-star teacher is helping children learn and excel; next door, an incompetent teacher is protected by collective bargaining and is allowed to give kids an inferior education. We are told by their union that no difference exists. Tell that to the parents of kids stuck with the inferior teachers.
Does anyone really think that the Philadelphia public schools are working better than those in New York, L.A. or in the other top-20 big cities? Do we really know who the superstar, good, average and bad teachers are?
As the New York Post editorialized after the rating system went public, "Doctors are rated publicly. So are individual schools. Restaurants have to deal with a big fat letter grade on their front doors . . . And if some teachers are put on the spot in comparison with others - well, too damned bad. Teachers are public employees, paid with tax dollars."
By the way, the use of the value-added scoring system and the release of the results have resulted in seeing how well some teachers do in reaching kids in some very tough schools in L.A. and New York. The Los Angeles Times focused on the fact that in looking at the test scores, some teachers got dramatically more positive results than those right next door or on the same floor. The New York Post found that there were great teachers in every corner of the public schools. Please remember that these rankings were based not on having the best kids but on where the teacher took the kids from their starting point.
Baseball has a similar rating system, judging how many victories over a year are produced by, say, Ryan Howard at first base over whomever the Phillies would have as a replacement. The top teachers are the Ryan Howards and they should be recognized and paid for being superior. Why is teaching the one profession in which the idea is that there are not superstars and not minor leaguers, either? Why can't competition be part of the process?
In response to my call for rankings and competition, there are those who say that this will lead to more teacher-and principal-initiated cheating on standardized tests. We already have Philadelphia public schools under suspicion for cheating on the PSSA tests. As a result, in the upcoming tests, teachers will not be allowed to proctor the tests for their own classes and the School Reform Commission has appointed former Temple President David Adamany to be its testing-integrity adviser.
I don't think that teachers would be unfairly pushed by the ranking system and release of the results. If they're cheaters, they will cheat due to their own lack of ethics and morality. There's no room in the teaching profession for dishonest teachers and administrators who believe that cheating is justified. They deserve a permanent detention from the teaching profession.
So, do you join me, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Post, Arne Duncan, the Obama administration and others in saying, "Let's see the results?" I await the debate.