Michael Winerip’s Tennessee waltz: Twice a week, New York Times readers have a chance to learn something in their newspaper!
This opportunity knocks on Mondays and Fridays, when Paul Krugman’s columns appear. On a weekly basis, Michael Winerip tends to provide a third chance.
Winerip’s “ON EDUCATION” reports appear on Mondays. And good grief! Today, in a sadly informative piece, he lets us see how teacher evaluation is proceeding in Tennessee’s public schools.
Winerip mentions several possible problems with the state’s current procedures. But this is where today’s report had the analysts gnashing their teeth, rending their garments and in some cases tearing their hair:
WINERIP (11/7/11): Because there are no student test scores with which to evaluate over half of Tennessee’s teachers—kindergarten to third-grade teachers; art, music and vocational teachers—the state has created a bewildering set of assessment rules. Math specialists can be evaluated by their school’s English scores, music teachers by the school’s writing scores.Say what? Math specialists can be evaluated by their school’s English scores? The problem arise for teachers of subjects for which the state doesn’t have statewide tests. For example, Tennessee’s schools employ music teachers—but there is no state test for music. How can teachers like this be “evaluated?” Go ahead—read for yourself:
WINERIP: To solve that, the state is requiring teachers without test results to be evaluated based on the scores of teachers at their school with test results. So Emily Mitchell, a first-grade teacher at David Youree Elementary, will be evaluated using the school’s fifth-grade writing scores.Can this possibly be true? We can’t be fully certain. That said, Winerip is a good reporter; he doesn’t normally publish hoaxes or previews of Onion reports. Still and all, we’ll disagree with his last point. Nonsense like this could never be hilarious, given what it suggests about the overall judgment of the people who are running Tennessee’s various educational programs.
“How stupid is that?” said Michelle Pheneger, who teaches ACT math prep at Blackman High and is also being evaluated in part based on writing scores. “My job can be at risk, and I’m not even being evaluated by my own work.”
For 15 percent of their testing evaluation, teachers without scores are permitted to choose which subject test they want to be judged on. Few pick something related to their expertise; instead, they try to anticipate the subject that their school is likely to score well on in the state exams next spring.
Several teachers without scores at Oakland Middle School conferred. “The P. E. teacher got information that the writing score was the best to pick,” said Jeff Jennings, the art teacher. “He informed the home ec teacher, who passed it on to me, and I told the career development teacher.”
It’s a bit like Vegas, and if you pick the wrong academic subject, you lose and get a bad evaluation. While this may have nothing to do with academic performance, it does measure a teacher’s ability to play the odds.
This would all be hilarious, except these evaluations can cost people their jobs.
Even if this procedure couldn’t cost people their jobs, it would still be wasting large amounts of time and effort. It would be still undermining the morale of people like Pheneger—people who can somehow see that this practice is “stupid.”
We’ll suggest that you read the whole report, and that you look for Winerip each Monday. We’ll also mention one last point concerning a brush with greatness.
Winerip reports that Tennessee’s education commissioner, Kevin Huffman, has “asked the State Board of Education for modifications to the evaluation rules that are intended to reduce the amount of time principals must spend on them.” He quotes Huffman saying that the state “will listen and respond to feedback from educators on this evaluation model.”
Huffman is new to his post; his hiring was announced in February. The more ridiculous policies here may not be his creation or fault. (Once again, we’re assuming that Winerip’s piece isn’t a hoax.)
That said, we thought you might want to know that Huffman is Michelle Rhee’s former husband and her longtime partner in “education reform.” Is Huffman responsible for this nonsense? Or is he cleaning it up?
Assuming this whole report isn’t a hoax, inquiring minds may be curious.