And those who can’t teach?

Well, pace Woody Allen, they still teach.

I’m Facebook-friends with my old hometown high school science teacher, Steven Allen (no relation to Woody), who also doubled as a vice-principal at the time. He’s a nice enough guy and have nothing against him personally. But I never thought much of him as a teacher nor as a vice-principal. He always extolled the virtues of David Suzuki and the leftist cause (later he became very active in the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation), and his theories on student discipline were often dubious and occasionally mocked.

It was in no small part due to Mr. Allen that I left home and attended a private Catholic residential school (at considerable cost to my parents), which resulted in a dramatic turnaround in my academic performance and my eventual acceptance to engineering school. So thanks for that, Steve.

A couple of years ago, he sent a friend request, so I accepted. Because I’m friendly. He just posts the typical radical leftist drivel you’d see at any union rally, universities and other conformist progressive camps: “Harper is evil,” “Bush is evil,” “inequality is evil,” etc. Don’t get me wrong — reading this stuff doesn’t really bother me because I like to know how the other half lives and thinks. I just don’t agree with one iota of propaganda he’s pushing, and I tend to leave his commentary be.

Today, Mr. Allen linked to this opinion piece on how Bill Gates and his zeal for standardized testing are destroying education or something.

Mr. Allen posted a quote from the article on his Facebook page and, instead of getting into an argument on his Facebook page, I thought I’d paste the quote here and then rebut below:

Gates seems not to know or care that the leading testing experts in the nation agree that this is a fruitless and wrongheaded way to identify either good teachers or bad teachers.

So how do we identify good teachers or bad teachers? No one seems to know.

Student test scores depend on what students do, what effort they expend, how often they attend school, what support they have at home, and most especially on their socioeconomic status and family income.

Not “most especially” on what they do or how hard they try; it’s about the money, honey.

Test scores may go up or go down, in response to the composition of the class, without regard to teacher quality.

If teacher quality doesn’t matter, then why don’t we outsource public education to Mexican immigrants and save us a few bucks?

Students are not randomly assigned to teachers.

No, just arbitrarily by the year in which they happened to be born.

A teacher of gifted children, whose scores are already sky-high, may see little or no gains.

What about those gifted students who are getting poor marks because of a lousy teacher? And what if sky-high marks are because of a certain teacher?

A teacher of children with disabilities may be thrilled to see students respond to instruction, even if their test scores don’t go up.

Because the primary goal of education is to “thrill” teachers.

A teacher in a poor neighborhood may have high student turnover and poor attendance, and the scores will say nothing about his or her quality.

Coincidentally, Mr. Allen criticized the cancellation of the mandatory long-form census.

But all will get low marks on state evaluation systems and may end up fired.

Because the other primary goal of education is to prevent teachers from getting fired.

Look, I’m no expert. I’ve worked with enough statistics to know that data is useless unless it’s treated carefully. It’s not the quantity or quality of information that’s available but, rather, how it is applied toward a particular end.

If standardized testing were the only method being used to evaluate educational performance then, yes, I’d agree that it wouldn’t be the best tool or even a good one. But I hardly would think that this data would be used in this manner.

If the data found, instead, that there were trends (key performance indicators or KPIs, in corporate lingo) which pointed the way to a possible problem and potential solution, then why not test to certain standards?

Put it this way: teachers already assign midterm and year-end finals, don’t they? Wouldn’t these tests be considered “standardized” if they are exercised annually by the same teacher using the same course material? Even if we recognize that these particular tests would be performed locally, they still would be used on different cohorts which, as Mr. Allen pointed out, may vary based on their composition. So what’s the difference?

The difference is, of course, that standardized tests could actually point out to taxpayers and parents that some teachers aren’t as good as others and, as Mr. Allen put it, we’d consider firing “them all.”

Another consideration is that teachers aren’t compared to their counterparts in comparative schools. Not only does this imply a lack of accountability, but it doesn’t also help the teachers who are struggling in their role, who might need more resources for skills training to do their jobs better or to provide a stronger educational environment.

After all, if an industrial corporation finds a lagging KPI, they don’t just fire the person responsible. They would look at the underlying causes, such as the person’s level of skill, oversight, or resources to do the job. This way, if the problem persists, the accountability would start from the CEO and work its way down to those implementing the program. The whole company would be invested in the solution.

But since teachers are told by their union that they’re somehow special, that these tried-and-tested methods don’t somehow apply to them, our schools aren’t going to get any better and the kids will continue to suffer.

And those shitty teachers will continue to teach until they exercise their defined-benefit pension plans.

  1. #1 by Dad on September 25, 2013 - 12:26 pm

    Well put, Rob.

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