(Ryan Hamilton) – Hypocrisy is usually a big betrayal of a person’s argument. If someone tells you not to do something and go ahead and do it themselves, you won’t be very likely to give them credence when they tell you not to do it.
There is no bigger hypocrite in the United States today than the amalgamation of teachers’ unions, which organize together and spend an incredible amount of money to get you to believe a few things about education reform. OpenSecrets.com lists them as the number six contributor to politicians over the last 20 years, nearly all of it to Democrats.
One of the most important things they want you to believe is that any metric used to grade the performance of a teacher is anathema to meaningful reform. They usually advance a few arguments: first, that principals and other grading administrators will politicize the metric and target least favored teachers as acts of retribution or malice. Second, they say that such a rubric is nearly impossible to design.
Do we measure teacher performance by student performance?
Surely that doesn’t seem fair – but the end result of that conversation is that there is no good set of standards against which to measure teacher performance, and there aren’t likely to be in the future.
If you haven’t tasted the bitter irony here, it is that in every public school in the country, teachers regularly devise their own methods of grading the performance of children and proceed to grade them.
Is the student a poor tester? He’ll get bad grades. Perhaps one student is more spatially inclined and the other learns better by reading – you can guess which one will receive the higher grade in the standard public school classroom. Is that fair? No.
But do teachers and administrators alike participate in this ordinal ranking that does not and likely could not possibly capture the full measure of ability, skill, and intelligence? Absolutely. Routinely. In fact, if a teacher didn’t grade a student, it might be one of the few causes that a school district can use to terminate them.
More to the point, their union has decided that they can grade legislators as well. The Nevada State Education Association, the union that represents public school teachers in Nevada, recently released a report on the 2011 session of the Nevada Legislature where they – you guessed it – went name by name and assigned a letter grade on the basis of how a particular legislator performed relative to the agenda set out by the NSEA.
If individual teachers can grade students – and their union can get together and devise standards to measure legislator performance – how can it be that the expertise doesn’t exist on Earth to devise a more or less fair set of criteria by which to judge the way our teachers perform?
We have sent a man to the moon and can exactly replicate the smallest, most essential proteins necessary for life. We can fly past the speed of sound and split atoms. Yet, amidst this wealth of information, they allege that our brightest academics cannot create a way to see whether or not individual teachers are effective in the classroom. That argument just doesn’t hold water.
Who devises these methods? The one that is used by the Los Angeles Times in the rankings they publicly release every year has been designed by… teachers. University professors, academics and other learned professionals involved with education all contribute to the process by which they decide if teachers are positively influencing student performance.
And that is likely who would design any meaningful system adopted by school districts for the purposes of measuring teacher performance.
Even without a set standard, I know that teachers in the Nevada aren’t doing a fantastic job. This is for a variety of reasons – from issues as important as a lack of parental involvement to issues as banal as funding. Nevada’s graduation rate is 47.3 percent. That, as every teacher I had from middle school onward taught me, is failing work.
If public education were a course and states were students graded on a curve, Nevada would anchor the dumb end in absolute dead last.
This is a crisis. In a state that desperately needs economic diversity, our education system is tying us down and failing every citizen who pays taxes to the government under the agreement that they’ll graduate smarter kids. To say nothing of those who do graduate – more than half of the kids Nevadans pay to educate don’t even earn a diploma.
In addition to the poor performance of our schools being an issue that violates the contract each Nevadan has with his state government, it is also a civil rights emergency of the first order. Who are the kids who are feeling so desperate they drop out? They are poor kids, kids of color and LGBT kids who are bullied out of school because the people we elect and the administrators they hire don’t care about education and don’t respect teachers enough to hold them accountable.
We can do better.
We must do better.
There have been many visions in the recent past of a future Las Vegas – most of them as a desert wasteland in a post-apocalyptic world.
If half of the teenagers who should be getting a degree continue to drop out, that’ll likely be the truth. It won’t take an invasion, bombs, Yucca Mountain or a drought. Our poor economy will collapse under the enormous weight of an uneducated, functionally illiterate population.
The action we need to take is expansive and some of it will need to be radical – we must gain the courage to push away the lobbyists and our politicians must ignore the siren call of NSEA money.
They can start by implementing performance evaluations so we at least know where to look for problems. And we can justify it with one of the earliest lessons taught to me by my second grade teacher and applying it to our teaching professionals in Clark County: actions speak louder than words.
(Ryan Hamilton is a native Nevadan and a graduate of the Catholic University of America. He is pursuing a Master’s degree at the Hank Greenspun School of Journalism & Media Studies. He can be found on Twitter @ryanmfhamilton.)
This article first appeared in The Rebel Yell, online at http://unlvrebelyell.com/2011/09/15/grading-our-educators/. – Ed.