RE:  Testing Students to Grade Teachers Commentary by Linda Darling-Hammond

While Linda and I agree often, on this issue we do not.  In her commentary she compares the U.S. student assessment system — one most recently amended under NCLB — to that of Korea and Finland.  Recent data from academic research (e.g. Hanushek) and information posted in more popular journals (e.g. The New York Times) that U.S. students rank in the mid-20’s with regard to achievement in English, mathematics and science.  We also know that America spends more on public education than most post-industrial nations.  I think most educators, policy makers, and researchers agree that public education in the U.S. must improve.
As of late teachers and their unions have come under fire from various constituencies due to the lack of or limited student performance growth as measured on state assessments.  Dr. Darling-Hammond’s comparison of the frequency of American K-12 testing to that of Korea and Finland misses a key factor regarding why we assess students in the U.S.  Similar to most countries with government-run, public education systems, we administer tests to assess student performance and growth to determine what/how to re-teach/remediate and/or enrich curriculum content.  However, in the U.S. we ALSO test students to assess teacher performance.  Why?  Because unlike Korea and Finland where the most highly educated citizens become teachers, we in the U.S. have difficulty attracting those who attend our top colleges and grad schools into the profession.

Let’s be clear, I am not bashing the great numbers of highly qualified, highly educated, high performing, nurturing, dedicated, and committed teachers who work tirelessly in our school systems day after day.  They are to be commended (and should be paid more) for their efforts.  But if we’re going to draw international comparisons, let’s also illuminate those factors that significantly impact student performance.  Whereas other countries improve school leader and teacher performance by improving the quality of the pool, in the U.S. we have concentrated most of our efforts in developing our existing talent.  Might I suggest that as we see a significant number of our baby-boom public educators retire during the next decade, we take this opportunity to amend 1) current recruitment and selection practices in pre-service training to reflect that which is consistent with other professions (e.g. law, medical, and business schools); 2) current educator recruitment, selection and placement practices to reflect that which is consistent with other professions (e.g. corporate talent acquisition, U.S. military, and professional athletes); 3) educator pay structures (e.g. salary scales, tenure, etc.) to reflect those in high performing industry spaces, and 4) career ladders within the profession so that most talented educators experience longer tenures in our schools.  Let’s face it, our country’s best and brightest want to be recognized and paid well for hard work (and rightly so), receive compensation consistent with their performance (not based on an arbitrary scale), understand professional integrity and accountability, and want to contribute to decision-making in our schools.

Why should it be any other way?  Just my two cents!

Leslie Talbot
Founder & Principal
Talbot Consulting


2 Responses to “RE: Testing Students to Grade Teachers Commentary by Linda Darling-Hammond”

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