Absurdity averted

Absurdity averted

July 18th, 2012 in Opinion Free Press

Whew, that was close!

Georgia has decided that it will not, after all, inject the input of students - including even very young ones - into its formal evaluations of teachers in public schools.

And that's a good thing.

There is admittedly not a lot of agreement on how best to assess the effectiveness of teachers. Some want schools to rely largely on the concrete performance data provided by students' success or failure on standardized tests. Others suggest that standardized tests don't capture fully what a teacher may be accomplishing, and they insist on "broader measures."

But where there should be agreement across the political spectrum is that the often all-too-flighty opinions of elementary, middle and high school students themselves should not form any significant part of the official evaluation of teachers.

That is not to say that students are unintelligent or malicious, much less that every criticism or praise of a teacher by a student is invalid.

But wisdom still comes with experience, and experience still comes with time. And students simply lack the maturity to judge dispassionately whether their teachers are doing a good job.

Look back on your own academic career, no matter how long or short it may have been. Were there not some nice, chummy teachers you liked but from whom, on reflection, you may not have learned a lot? Would you not, at that time, have been likely to give such a teacher unjustifiably glowing marks on an evaluation?

Conversely, would you not have been apt to write a harsh evaluation of a teacher who was more interested in setting high academic standards than in being buddy-buddy with students?

Those sorts of concerns - as well as the fear of lawsuits - apparently prompted John Barge, Georgia schools superintendent, to send the federal government a letter stating that student input will not become part of teacher evaluations. It will be used for informational purposes only.

That could put at risk $33 million of the $400 million Georgia snagged from the federal Race to the Top program, because its initial plans for teacher evaluations were part of why it got the money.

Set aside for now the insanity of states having to beg for federal handouts of tax dollars that came from residents of the states to fund something - education - that is constitutionally a duty of the states and the people, not Washington.

Even allowing for such a nonsensical arrangement, it tells us something troubling about the federal government that it would want students to have a formal say in whether a teacher is performing her duties competently. There are much fairer, more objective ways to approach that question.

Georgia is right to change course, and the possibility of a $33 million federal funding cut is a small price to pay for keeping potentially mind-boggling pettiness out of teacher evaluations.