Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Governor Cuomo, Pedagogical Expert?

Well, happy New Year, in which we learn, on the second day of this New Year, that the new(ish) boss is the same as not only the old boss, but all of the bosses. You see, Governor Cuomo now fancies himself an expert on--wait for it!--not only pedagogy, but the "student perspective" on pedagogy, whatever that means.

Look, I get that the Governor is disappointed about the loss of funding, but the proposed evaluation system is terrible. Well, not terrible in and of itself--it's fine as a starting point, fine to have a list on which a principal could indicate a couple of concrete strategies for a struggling teacher to try--but terrible as a formal evaluation tool by which an otherwise great teacher might miss a bullet point here or there and somehow be rated "ineffective." The UFT was right to stick to its guns on not using it as a formal evaluation tool, especially in the absence of a new contract.

The Gates Foundation offers one tool for measuring student perspective on pedagogy, the "seven C"s survey (you can find it starting on p. 12 of this report from the MET Project, and yes, I know many of us are not fans of Gates and his education work, but I think the survey has a lot of good points). But it's one tool, one measure, and, at the end of the day, I think what all of us worry about (with good reason) is that a checklist comes along and, BOOM, that's the checklist that's going to change the world! close the achievement gap! achieve peace between the warring nations! etc. etc., and if we don't follow it letter-by-letter, we're bad teachers.

Which brings me back to Gov. Cuomo and his "student perspective" on pedagogy, which, given how the education reform alliances seem to be going, makes me think that he has read the same Gates Foundation report I have. I've often said in this space that the students are the ones to whom I am ultimately accountable. But I'm not blind to the fact that student evaluation of teachers could seriously backfire. Children and teenagers are incredibly vulnerable to peer pressure; there would need to be some strong countermeasures to avoid the influence of such pressure in teacher evaluations. Outliers would need to be taken into consideration; for example, if even one student (harboring an irrational grudge, say) rated a teacher negatively on a statement like "I like how my teacher treats me when I ask for help," what would happen to that teacher?

None of this is to say that I don't believe the teacher evaluation system needs to be fixed, or that I don't believe I should be observed or held accountable in my classroom. I am proud of the job I do and I have no problem with anyone wanting to see, hear, peruse, etc. what I do with my students. But I am wary of a "magic checklist" solution proposed by a politician. And I'm skeptical that the money we lost would have changed much for the children the mayor and the governor claim to love so much. Something tells me they weren't planning on spending it to re-hire our beloved school aide. It probably would have ended up in the Australian economy.
blog comments powered by Disqus