Teacher Accountability

Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce wants teachers to be held accountable for the quality of education their students get. He wants a joint House-Senate Task force to look at ways to link teacher pay with classroom results. It’s not a new idea. Teacher accountability has been a political buzz-phrase for years.

We have yet to meet someone who demands a poorer level of education. The goal of finding a way that guarantees all education is better for all children is a constant one for politicians and educators as well. History shows the goal is elusive but always worth the chase.

One of these days somebody will find a way to link objective factors (salary) with subjective factors (teacher competence). It’s an elusive match.

Our state assessment program tries to provide some objective statistics on student achievement each year and are part of the certification program for our public schools. Teachers and administrators have to find a way to meet average yearly progress goals and gauge competency in this or that subject. Competence (subjective) is measured by test score numbers (objective).

Let’s see a show of hands (an objective measure). How many of you think your level of learning exceeded the numbers on your test scores (a subjective evaluation)?
I had my hand up.

How many of you today have a great respect for at least one teacher in at least one class where you did not get a good grade?
My hand is still up.

How many of you think you are pretty successful although your grade point average at times–maybe all the time–made your parents wonder if you were going to make it?
My hand is up. And waving.

My University of Missouri grade point when I graduated is eight-tenths of a point under what is required for ADMISSION to the journalism school today. I hope it’s not boasting to think that a statistic is now a determination of the quality of education. I am glad the compensation of my journalism school teachers was not based on the statistical results in my grade point.

Pearce’s task force has the same formidable job ahead of it that other task forces, study groups, and commissions have had. A does not necessarily equal B (I didn’t burn the house down in my high school math classes, by the way, although my math teacher for three years was the state teacher of the year). A teacher’s passion for educating children and a teacher’s love of teaching are often not reflected by statistics.

President Bush got a 71 and a 73 in political science and government classes at Yale, and often spoke with some pride about how an average student can become President of the United States. A website (edu in review) says John McCain has made no secret of being ranked 894th out of the 899 graduates of the Naval Academy on commencement day.

There are a lot of us like them, aren’t there?

Let’s also admit that we all had some teachers that were pretty bad (a subjective evaluation) and we wish all of our teachers had been as good as the ones we recall most fondly (a subjective evaluation).

Pearce’s task force is faced with finding an objective way to measure the quality of human beings–teachers—and it’s going to look at the reactions to those human beings by other human beings (the students) and somehow find some kind of objective way to link quality of teaching (subjective) with outcomes.

In a world of subjectivity, will this task force be the first group to create The Great Objectivity Gauge?

It’s a story we’ll be following if the task force comes together

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