EDITORIAL: HOW TO HELP OUR TEACHERS

Coeur d’Alene Press editorial:  Tom Luna stepped in it again.

At least, that’s what some critics claim after Idaho’s superintendent of schools called anew for stronger teacher evaluations and rewards before the dirt on education reform’s grave had properly hardened.

Respectfully, we disagree. Idahoans enthusiastically bent the three prongs of the state’s ed reform fork, but even the propositions’ most ardent antagonists agree there’s room to do things better.

The quality of instruction – teachers – is as good a starting point as any, if for no other reason than teachers are the single most important factor in the delivery of quality education.

Luna might be freshly vilified for suggesting that teacher performance should take center stage in the coming legislative session, but we think there’s no better time to seriously talk about this than right now. Every minute wasted is cheating kids out of the education they deserve and depriving families and society in general of the benefits.

Before the tired cries resume – you know, evaluations are unfair because they only assess students’ ability to take tests, and rewards are unfair because they don’t accurately measure student progress – we recommend anyone interested in this issue read an article by Amanda Ripley published in The Atlantic.

Ripley’s story, “Why Kids Should Grade Teachers,” paints a fascinating picture of the reliability of a survey being used in a growing number of school districts. As the headline suggests, the survey is a tool for students to evaluate their teachers, and as the story explains, its effectiveness is due largely to the questions it asks.

What’s astonishing is the accuracy of the survey – created a decade ago by Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson – in evaluating the impact of teachers compared to any other measure. What’s also amazing is that the survey results are consistent with students as young as 5 years old.

Of course, there’s already resistance to the survey from select quarters, but there’s enough empirical evidence of its effectiveness to warrant serious investigation by Idaho legislators and education officials. By a large majority, Idahoans believe there’s more to judging teachers than their students’ standardized test scores. This might be one valuable option.

For teacher vacancies, consider what Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy does. In addition to administrative assessments, Charter adds an important step in the hiring process that includes evaluations by students of prospective teachers. Here’s how Principal Dan Nicklay explains it:

We have all finalists teach a sample lesson in front of real students. Our thought is that many people can interview really well, and have really good subject-matter knowledge, but might not connect with kids. My personal view is that between knowledge and “connection,” the latter is far more important – at least up through middle school. If you can have both, you’ve got a winner.

Ferguson’s survey with Charter’s evaluation could be a winner for Idaho.

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