Driving Away the Best Teachers by Francesca Burns

Driving Away the Best Teachers by Francesca Burns

NY Times

Francesca Burns has taught at middle schools and elementary schools in New York City since 1989. She currently teaches literacy to third- and fourth-grade students.

Testing already overtested children to collect some “hard” data to evaluate their teachers is yet another abominable idea that American politicians have picked out of the sky. While it has about as much chance as a passing cloud of improving teacher quality, it’s quite likely to worsen instruction for children and drive our best teachers out of the field.

High-performing nations -- like Finland, Japan and Singapore -- have more cultural differences than commonalities. When you consider those commonalities you have to wonder: Is the United States still located on planet Earth? In the nations that rank highest on the Programme for International Student Assessment, teachers are: respected professionals; trusted by school administrators; given the autonomy to make curricular decisions; planning and assessing in blocks of time built into their weekly school schedule; and encouraged, supported and expected to collaborate to improve instruction.

Who’s getting paid to design these assessments and the materials districts, educators and parents will scramble to purchase to help children prepare for them?

This testing-students-to-grade-teachers initiative is not coming out of what people who actually work with children in schools know. It is not even research-based: reasonably intelligent outsiders to the field could still steer us in a sensible direction. Instead, the plans are based on politics and soundbites, corporate sleight of hand (who’s getting paid to design this flotilla of assessments and the materials districts, educators and parents will scramble to purchase to help children prepare for them?) and high talk. In short: nothing.

If the purpose of evaluating teachers was to help improve instruction, we wouldn’t be testing children overtime and further narrowing curriculum to figure it out. We would be developing tools to measure the quality of the instruction teachers provide every day, and we would focus on only those qualities of sound teaching that are critical to student learning.

Optimal windows for reaching developmental milestones in reading, writing, math and science open and shut for children over time. By teaching to tests — which, let’s be honest is bound to happen; indeed it’s becoming our mandate — we are squandering opportunities for learning, and burdening our teachers with pointless tasks that highlight the latest educational “snake oil.” The disturbing result: our kids are saddled with learning gaps and deficiencies directly caused by their schooling.

If my child were sick, and the pediatrician looked at only one symptom and made a diagnosis, I wouldn’t trust that evaluation and I wouldn’t stand for such cut-rate treatment either. If a reporter interviewed one witness in a news story, he’d be fired. Why do we want a narrow, inaccurate, partial and costly evaluation of teachers through additional student testing? It flies in the face of the best that our “Common Core Standards” promises and demonizes teachers, chaining them to a myopic view of their job: pushing students to constantly meet meaningless short-term goals.

How long can our best teachers hang on in this plunge to the bottom? Sadly, I think we’ll find out sooner than we’d like.



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