Liz Bowie’s recent reporting on Maryland’s teacher evaluation system (Where ineffective teachers are found, November 2, 2014) raises many questions. Bowie’s investigative report contains several quotes from Sandi Jacobs, the vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. The NCTQ is a Washington think tank with a clear political agenda that is anti-teacher and highly critical of teacher education programs across the United States. Their advisory committee includes Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee, two former school system czars who share a dislike for teachers, principals, and their unions.
Jacobs questions the expertise of school leaders by suggesting that they are unwilling to have “difficult conversations” with ineffective teachers. She implies that school leaders have not been trained to assess teachers and are not asked to be instructional leaders. Bowie’s report ends by stating that economists believe that the percentage of ineffective teachers should be somewhere between 15–20 percent.
Liz Bowie’s article leaves the reader believing that Maryland’s teacher rating system is insufficient and that there are many ineffective teachers out there who are being rated higher than they deserve. The article also suggests that Maryland principals are to blame. While few educators or administrators believe that the current teacher evaluation system is perfect, many believe in the need for accountability. Teachers and principals understand the focus on student performance and its connection to evaluation.
Several states have struggled to develop fair, value-added measures to quantify a profession that is part art and part science. Maryland will continue to refine its teacher evaluation model and its school districts will adjust accordingly. Hopefully, Maryland’s education system will never be run by economists. I would be uneasy working in a state or school district that considers 15-20 percent an acceptable number for ineffective teachers.
Economists and meteorologists have similar records of success when it comes to forecasting. School leaders cannot afford to use guesswork when developing highly effective teachers. They do not think about percentages, they think about people. Great principals support and develop great teachers. They also spend time counseling ineffective teachers out of the profession. That alone accounts for the low percentage of ineffective teachers in the profession.
What percentage of ineffective teachers is acceptable? The answer has to be zero. Try the same question with other professions. Air traffic controllers? Physicians? News reporters? Politicians? Police officers? Rather than questioning whether three percent is too low, we should be working to make sure that no ineffective teacher ever stands in front of our children.
An edited version of this post appeared in the Baltimore Sun’s Readers Respond section on November 5, 2014, all rights reserved.