New York City found out on February 28 that an elementary school teacher I know well rates a “34 (7-73) 32 (5-84)” in Reading and a “63 (41-82) 77 (42-91)” in Math.
A few months ago, teachers had received from their school summary documents that looked like this:
What is an individual teacher to do about any of this? What, on a day to day basis should a teacher do to “improve” on a 34 and maintain a 77?
These numbers are somewhat related to the wonderful awful formula:
What are the values of these variables for any particular teacher? Which of these variables are under an individual’s control? On what day of the year?
I venture that neither common sense, habituation into any cultural world, guesswork, or any other process proceeding from the individual teacher as teacher or person, is likely to help in answering these questions. I suspect that a whole new class of professional consultants is now being inducted into fuller and fuller participation in new polities in all sorts of institutions. They will be sold as the interpreters of the ratings. They will also be people with children and mortgages who will have ever more interest in keeping the formula opaque. They will be joined by the psycho/socio-metricians tinkering with the formula to “improve” it so that they can report to the New York Post that “the complaints of the teachers have been addressed,” various software engineers, etc. And the web keeping everybody in place will get tighter and more difficult to escape.
The question we need to raise is, of course, whether teachers should have to ask questions about manipulating variables on a formula. The formula may be wonderful as a research tool, but it is awful as a method for hiding political decisions and making it appear that these decisions are removed from precisely political activity at all levels of schooling. As a political tool it may be intended to take the place of a terminating Skynet where evaluation, like the response to some foreign threat. Evaluation, it appears, is taken out of the political realm of principals meeting teachers in a school, and into the realm of automatized mechanisms noone quite understand but are un-impeachable, as well as altogether unaccountable. That people will be hurt people is their problem will the newly powerful say: “good” teachers (the top 50%? 75%? 25%?) “have nothing to fear” and “bad” teachers should fear dismissal (unless the whole exercise is pointless).
Whether any of this will do anything to improve education in any of its senses in the question may be a question one asks at one’s peril.