Rhonda J. Summey, Ed.D.
The strike is over and the battle is done in Chicago. The children will be in school back to the business of learning. But make no mistake—the war is far from over. On the battlefield of public education, the perpetual question has again resurfaced. How should teachers be held accountable for student learning? It had been 25 years since the last Chicago teacher strike and then the sticking point was salaries, but in this age of joblessness it was not salaries – it was teacher evaluation.
This year would have been the first year that Chicago Public Schools instituted a new evaluation system that utilized student test scores for 25 percent of a teacher’s performance rating. In opposition, the Chicago teacher’s Union believes that the evaluation of teachers should not be based on student test results to that extent, and they believe the true purpose of this current evaluation system is to rid the system of teachers. Indeed, if the evaluation process is implemented as it is written, it translates into 6,000 teachers who will be fired over the next two years. Proponents of the new evaluation system offer what is to them a simple question without considering the issues that are obvious to Chicago’s educators. Why shouldn’t it be used?
If you are a school bus driver, and you go to every stop, but never pick up any of the students waiting for the bus, is that driver doing the job? No. The same should be said for teachers. If a teacher transmits information to students, but students are not “getting it” in a way that can be measured, then the obvious conclusion is that the teacher is not doing his job. However, unlike the bus driver, with teachers, we cannot say with absolute certainty that the teacher has not been teaching, which is the real challenge. If students aren’t able to demonstrate proficiency in a way that is measurable then how do we know that they are learning? At best the teacher is teaching and not meeting the needs of all students and at worst, the teacher isn’t teaching that well because there is limited accountability and few consequences for teachers even if the students aren’t performing well.
This issue is not just in Chicago. Enter the federal government flying its bright red banners—No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Though there are other factors to contend with in educating students, such as poverty, learning disabilities, and social or emotional readiness, teachers must still be held accountable for student learning. As difficult as teaching can be, teachers should not be able to simply throw up their hands because not all students arrive at the classroom door ready to learn. When teacher candidates complete a teacher preparation program, they are not certified to teach only those students they deem ideal. Teachers are charged with the task of teaching everyone, and there can be no exceptions to this mandate if our system of education is to have any credibility.
So here we are again—another distraction in the mission of educating this nation’s children. The battle rages on and the questions still go unanswered. Once we have all agreed that educating children is the only true consideration, we will realize there are no sides, no battle that must be fought, and only one point to be addressed. How best can we serve children?
Rhonda J. Summey, Ed.D. is an educator in the Prince Georges County School system. She holds education degrees from Northwestern University, Harvard University and George Washington University.