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Thompson: Micromanaging Other Peoples' Classrooms

Educator Jessica Waters, in “Results Matter More than Practice,” replied to my Education Post contribution,  “A Teacher Proposes a Different Framework for Accountability,” with the claim that teachers should be evaluated by student “outputs.” She made no effort to address the most likely scenario where the use of test scores for teacher evaluation prompts even more destructive teach-to-the-test rote instruction and further increases the exodus of teaching talent from schools where it is harder to raise test scores. 

In a longer piece (that I still hope the Education Post will publish), I argue that the willingness of supporters of high stakes testing to ignore a large body of social science has especially damaged poor children of color. This post will address Waters' stubborn demand that all states and schools comply with the same one-size-fits-all federal mandates for using tests to punish students and teachers.

Waters cites positive experiences with an elementary school with an eight to one student teacher ratio, and which seems to have far more resources than any schools I know. It is only 83% low-income.  Less than 10% of my district's elementary schools and none of our neighborhood secondary schools have such low numbers of poor students.

Also, Water's state of Rhode Island spends nearly $15,000 per student. She should accept the burden of proof before insisting that my state, which spends nearly $7,000 per student less than that, must divert our scarce financial and human resources from science-based pre-kindergarten investments, for instance, to high stakes testing.  

I had argued that data-driven accountability makes "the juking of the stats the #1 priority." But, "federal and state governments should encourage collaboration and experimentation in data-informed accountability. It could borrow from data-driven crime fighting to use metrics to identify 'hot spots' of schools, systems, or other areas that need additional patrols, or other forms of oversight."

Waters ignored my critique of data-driven oversight and said that her state already uses data to pinpoint areas that need further oversight. If that is the case, congratulations are in order for her state, but that reinforces my point. Waters should walk awhile in the shoes of educators who face different and, almost certainly, far greater problems before micromanaging the rest of us.


Waters is also adamant that teachers must be must be evaluated on test score growth. Even though the implementation of these unproven systems would cost up to 2% of an entire education budget, she seems to remain steadfast in imposing that dubious unfunded mandate on every school in every state. Oklahoma, like most states, was coerced into adopting value added evaluations in order to compete for the RttT and to earn an NCLB Waiver. It also has a 1,500 teacher shortage.

I have yet to meet an Oklahoma educator who claims that the solution to our empty classrooms is punishing individuals who fail to meet growth targets that are biased against highest-poverty schools.

Waters closes with the curious claim that using test scores to punish must be a component of honest relationships between teachers and their leaders. She also seems to be arguing that leadership in schools can be a substitute for funding of necessary school services.

If Waters and other reformers from Rhode Island and elsewhere want to form a Political Leadership for America (PLA), to come on down and persuade our legislature to dramatically increase funding for schools and other essential social services, they certainly would be welcome. It would be especially great if they worked with teachers unions, not against us, in the fight for justice and equity. I would be satisfied, however, if they would simply stop mandating our use of their favored test, sort, and punish approach to schooling.-JT(@drjohnthompson)       


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