Don Quixote?

The Indy Star printed my recent letter to the editor today.  You can view it at http://blogs.indystar.com/letters/2012/10/20/an-imperfect-method-for-evaluating-teachers/

Or, you can read it here:

I am writing out of concern over the new evaluation systems being put into place in our school system, and all over the state. Among teachers like me there is a lot of misunderstanding about why these changes are being made. Exactly what changes are required by new state laws? Is the RISE rubric necessary? Why?

I was honored to have Tony Bennett visit my band class last year. Indeed, I have been a supporter of his, especially on the issue of teacher certification; the reforms he advocated are sensible and helpful. However, he has not made a convincing argument explaining how this new evaluation system would improve the quality of education. Instead, my fellow teachers and I are being required to devote a great deal of time and energy to paperwork in preparation for evaluations, as are our administrators. That time would be better spent preparing lessons or running our school. Furthermore, our school system already had a rigorous evaluation system in place. Surely, the new student achievement requirements could have been incorporated into our current system to achieve the desired outcomes and satisfy the legal requirements.

Of more basic concern is the philosophy behind the new law mandating that teachers’ pay be determined by student accomplishment. Because teachers have no control over students’ lives outside of school, we cannot expect teachers to ensure success even if students make no effort to succeed in school. To define the quality of a teacher based largely on student outcomes is to deny the responsibility of the student or the student’s family in the process.

I am convinced that most educational problems can best be solved at the local level. Therefore, most control should be at the local level.

Also, while our schools can always do better, the pendulum of public opinion has swung decidedly against teachers without any regard for the responsibility of students and parents. If we want to see real change, we must stop blaming schools and teachers as the sole source of our educational problems when in truth our schools reflect society as much as they mold it.

————

When I showed this letter to a colleague last week, she called me Don Quixote and said I am tilting at windmills.  I believe she was saying that I am fighting a hopeless battle.  But out of curiosity, I looked up the reference:  it actually means “attacking imaginary enemies.”  (Tilting means jousting, by the way, and Don Quixote thought the windmills were giants.)

Well, wait a minute…  While the battle may be futile, are the enemies imaginary?  My goal is to point out that efforts to improve our educational system will be unsuccessful until our society holds parents and students as accountable as teachers and schools.  If there is a hopeless battle being waged, it is by those who seek reform without including parents and students in the equation.

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