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Get the Feds Out of Teacher Evaluations

We have miles of gridlock to go before the much-needed re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) finds a clear road to adoption, but there is movement. The United States House of Representatives was first with its version of a new bill, one that has lots of flaws but includes a glimmer of hope. One House amendment indicates that at least some policymakers have finally realized that the federal government has no business telling local employers how to evaluate their employees.

Representatives Steve Scalise (R-LA) and Rob Bishop (R-UT) successfully amended H.R. 5, the Student Success Act, to assure that there would be no federal mandate for states to conduct teacher evaluations. As strong advocates of local control of schools, they recognize how ridiculous it is for the federal government to insert itself into a fundamentally local decision. Congressman Bishop is a former history teacher so he can speak from experience about how wrong federal involvement in teacher evaluation is.

Since the moment the federal government got involved in teacher evaluations, the result has been a mess. The old joke about an education bureaucrat unable to organize a two-car funeral procession is an apt description of what is occurring. Teachers are being substantially evaluated on student test scores even though most subjects identified in the current ESEA rightly have no requirement for standardized testing. Teachers are being evaluated on tests scores of students they have never taught. Teachers are teaching to the tests, and curriculum is being narrowed.

Teachers should be evaluated on their practice, not their students' test scores. Teachers can and should assume full responsibility for their practice. Test scores are the responsibility of students, first, and their parents. Those scores are also the responsibility of politicians who provide (or not) resources to schools, set policies that help or hinder, and fund programs that can add to or help eliminate poverty in their communities. If a teacher is demonstrating good practice in instruction, inspiration, and inclusion, then that teacher has made a contribution to student achievement. It is fine for principals and other evaluators to use low student test scores as a reason for giving more attention to and evaluation of a teacher's practice. It is malpractice on the part of those evaluators to look only at a test score.

All teachers, administrators, parents, and elected school officials should unite behind this simple but powerful amendment to get the federal government out of local school district business. As this piece of legislation travels to the United States Senate, currently working on its own version, let's make sure our U.S. Senators know we want the language of the Scalise-Bishop amendment to be part of the final version of the new ESEA re-authorization.

Let's keep working for a great teacher in every classroom, a teacher who is judged on practice.

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