Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Knowing Good from Bad

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Knowing Good from Bad

Article excerpt

Becky Smith remains the worst teacher I have ever personally observed. Even with me sitting in her 4th-grade classroom, she yelled, she screamed at students. She taught from her desk. She left her desk only to walk students down the hall for a les-son with another teacher. She threatened her students. If they didn't behave, for example, she'd make them study more science. What a great message. I couldn't count the number of times that she basically told students that she didn't expect them to behave or learn. During lunch, she blistered my ears with what you could expect from "those children" and "those parents."

I visited Smith's classroom because her school was the literal bottom-of-the-barrel school in Michigan in elementary reading, math, and science. After spending a day there, figuring out why wasn't very difficult.

When the Detroit Free Press published my story about her classroom, Smith (a pseudonym) was identified by name. She was furious. She called me. Her mother called me. Her school district called. They called my editors. They wrote letters to the editor. They threatened legal action.

But, when Smith called me, she said two important things: One, I had correctly reported exactly what I had observed. She literally didn't quibble with a word I had written. But, she assured me that she knew she was a fine teacher because she got excellent evaluations every year from her principal. If she was really such a bad teacher, why did she get such good evaluations every year from her principal?

This might have puzzled me had I not spent the previous year working on a series about Michigan's teacher tenure system. So, I already knew the evaluations used by most school districts were largely a joke because I had read hundreds of them. I had seen the sloppy way that principals "evaluated" teachers, even when they were confronting a teacher they deemed incompetent. No wonder they had so much trouble firing a teacher!

Advocating for reform

In this issue, Linda Dar-ling-Hammond and her colleagues shine a light on some of the many challenges involved in evaluating teachers, especially using value-added models. …

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