Tuesday, March 6, 2012

5 Myths about Teacher Accountability

In her post titled The Teacher Accountability Debate, Diane Ravitch takes on five myths about education policy and teacher accountability.


First is the assumption that there is a long line of people eager to replace those teachers who were fired. It seems equally reasonable to assume that test-based accountability will reduce the status of teaching and diminish teacher professionalism. Teachers will be testing technicians, honing their skills by teaching students to pass a test, rather than teaching students to think for themselves and ask questions.


Second is the assumption that these policies will make teaching more attractive to ambitious young people. But as public derision and scorn are directed towards teachers, they become the public scapegoats (like Leon Goldstein in 1984), the ones we can all blame for whatever is wrong. Why would anyone with ambition and brains enter a job with so little social prestige, a very difficult job with few perks, where only a small number can expect to win the big bonuses for higher scores?


Third is the assumption that the tests are scientific instruments that measure what matters most in education. Very few testing experts would agree. They would be quick to point out not only that standardized tests are subject to statistical error, but should be used for the purpose for which they were designed. A test of fifth grade reading measures student performance, not teacher performance. What is more, standardized tests are designed and normed so that there is always a bottom 50 percent.


Fourth is the assumption that teachers alone can right the ills of a deeply unequal society. This is simply ludicrous. It is obvious why this narrative appeals to those who are tax-averse, to those who see personal advantage in blaming teachers for our increasingly unequal society.


Fifth is the assumption that raising test scores is the same as improving education. By now, everyone should realize that scores can be raised by intensive test preparation, by cheating, by excluding or avoiding low-performing students and by other clever strategies for gaming the system. Once upon a time, educators frowned upon test prep, realizing that it led to short-term gains but sacrificed larger goals, such as critical thinking, creativity, originality, and conceptual understanding. But today, after a decade of No Child Left Behind, the nation spends billions of dollars on testing and test prep activities and considers it a good investment of money and time.

1 comment:

  1. I share some of the same sentiment and concern. If we want to attract anything close to the best and the brightest we need to stop scapegoating teachers for societal ills. Yes, we need to step up to the challenges of teaching for the 21st century but we cannot overcome the realities of 21st century children on our own.


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