Please Define Effective Teacher

by Jason Fertig

Last week, George Will’s Washington Post op-ed focused on John Kline, the Chair of the Education and Workforce Committee, and his efforts to rethink No Child Left Behind. Will is articulate as usual, but for one particular cited quote of Mr. Kline, I have to raise my hand for clarification:

Kline promises that the current system for measuring “adequate yearly progress” “will not exist when we are done.” And he says “we have to get rid of this ‘highly qualified teacher’ thing” in NCLB. He thinks “qualified” is shorthand for teachers processed by the normal credentialing apparatus of education schools and departments. The stress, Kline says, should be on “highly effective teachers.” He favors more charter schools — public schools operating outside union restrictions. He notes that when unions say these schools are “unfair” because “they work under different rules,” he tersely responds: “Precisely.”

This notion of needing “highly effective teachers” is as much of a platitude as saying “taxing the rich” will solve all of our budget problems. Who is a highly effective teacher? Any attempt to substantially base the definition of effectiveness on some form of assessment (whether it is called No Child Left Behind or not) is going to lead to gaming the system to inflate that assessment.

Valid teacher evaluations should involve quantitative and qualitative feedback. Determining real effectiveness must reconcile any assessment scores with teacher pedagogy and individual student characteristics.     

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