New performance evaluation systems being adopted in school districts across the country are heralded as long overdue. But there's one aspect that is downplayed by reformers: they give principals a rare opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. Their prey are veteran teachers who are at the top of the salary scale and who are likely to speak out on issues affecting their school because they have tenure. By rating them as ineffective, principals can get rid of them, in the process improving the district's balance sheet and silencing opposition. Reformers will argue that the scenario I outlined is ...


No, the headline above is not a typo. It's recognition of a strategy that all effective teachers engage in, even though they are reluctant to admit it. The controversy arises from a confusion between teaching to the actual items on a test (indefensible) and teaching to the broad body of knowledge and skills that a test's items measure (sound). The villain is the test itself. If it measures only low-level cognitive standards that are instructionally insensitive, then the results will undermine taxpayer confidence in schools and teachers. But if the test assesses high-level instructional objectives that are instructionally sensitive, then ...


Despite sincere efforts to diversify, private schools have been stymied in making minority students feel included. In the 2011-12 school year, for example, 26.6 percent of students in independent schools nationwide were minority, compared with 18.5 percent a decade before. Yet admitting more students from these groups has not necessarily led to their feeling particularly welcome ("Admitted, but Left Out," The New York Times, Oct. 21). The distinction between admittance and inclusion is largely the result of the attitudes and values that advantaged students bring to school. They are often manifested in "polite indifference, silence and segregation." For ...


The Common Core Standards have intensified the debate about the increased role of nonfiction in the K-12 curriculum. As a former English teacher, I'm frankly at a loss to understand the concern. Guidelines recommend that students get about the same exposure to fiction and nonfiction in the lower grades, and more exposure to nonfiction in high school. Let me explain why that makes sense. The argument is that reading great fiction and writing about it are a prerequisite for success in college. I assume that those who make this claim are referring to English classes, which are almost always devoted ...


Repeating something often enough does not make it true. But don't try telling that to corporate executives. The latest example is an attempt by Brad Smith, the executive vice president and general counsel of Microsoft, to convince readers that there are some 3,400 open jobs at Microsoft for engineers, software developers and researchers that can't be filled because schools are not turning out enough workers with the necessary skills ("How to Reduce America's Talent Deficit," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 19). Smith says that other companies face the same problem. As a result, he advocates a national Race to ...


The only conclusion I can draw from the recent decision by a state district court in Texas is that the U.S. Constitution doesn't apply there. I'm referring to a temporary injunction against the Kountze school district prohibiting it from enforcing a ban on Bible-themed banners at school events ("Texas Judge, Siding With Cheerleaders, Allows Bible Verses on Banners at School Games," The New York Times, Oct. 19). In his ruling, the judge sided with the governor and attorney general that the ban violated a state law requiring schools to treat student expression of religion the same way it treated ...


In the face of financial woes not seen since the Great Depression, school districts are resorting to unprecedented practices to stay solvent. I've written before about how some districts allow corporations to place their advertisements on campuses for a fee. The latest move, however, makes such tactics seem insignificant. It involves putting school buildings on the market to raise cash ("School District Bets Future on Real Estate," The New York Times, Sept. 5). Realizing that it had no other viable alternative, Gervais, an Oregon farm community located an hour south of Portland, bit the bullet and put three of five ...


How much weight should be given to student complaints about their teachers? I ask that question because the evaluation of teachers in the years ahead is expected to include input from students in addition to input from principals, peers and parents ("Seeking Aid, School Districts Change Teacher Evaluations," The New York Times, Oct. 16). I welcome the change. But I have reservations about placing inordinate reliance on student comments. Although students spend considerable face time with teachers, that doesn't necessarily mean they are able to judge their teachers fairly. Take the most familiar complaint that a teacher is boring. A ...


When teachers first argued against the use of standardized tests to judge their effectiveness, they were accused of trying to avoid accountability. But their cause has now been picked up by parents, who certainly can't be said to be opposed to accountability when their own children are involved. I have reference to parent activists in New York City, home of the nation's largest school district ("Dear Teacher, Johnny Is Skipping the Test," The New York Times, Oct. 14). A small but growing number of parents are showing their disdain for standardized tests by boycotting both field testing and actual testing. ...


Is there really a teacher shortage in this country? The usual data cited are from the U.S. Department of Education's Digest of Education Statistics. It shows that in 1970 there were 2.06 million public school teachers, or one for every 22.3 students. Today, there are 3.27 million public school teachers, or one for every 15.2 students. At first glance, these numbers seem to indicate that there is no teacher shortage and that class sizes are not too big ("The Imaginary Teacher Shortage," The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 9). But these conclusions are misleading. First, the ...


The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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