Bobby Cunningham: Teacher Evaluation based on Student and Parent Feedback

The final assignment for SOC419 is an essay detailing a reform measure that could be taken to respond to the crisis in American education. The following is a student recommendation for public education policy. 

The current state of education in the United States is simply not acceptable. The facts are there, and we’re falling behind. The opening episode of HBO’s new show Newsroom hits upon the reality of the US rankings in comparison to the rest of the world. We’re nowhere close to number one. The scene ends echoing the sentiment, “but we can be.” Throughout the semester, we’ve talked about a myriad of things that are working, aren’t working, and must be changed. This obsession with being number one- this obsession over numbers and better standardized test scores- shrouds the path to a greater education, which will along with many other reforms eventually correct those rankings. I believe that it is wrong to attack the issue from an “increase the standards and scores” method. I don’t plan on offering on overhaul of the system or a surefire way towards the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s a long tunnel. My policy recommendation is based upon my high school education and Barbara Madeloni’s lecture. Teachers are evaluated by several different categories, each carrying different weight.  I want to reform and make a larger part of this evaluation process the category of student and parent feedback.

I attended St. Albans School in Washington, DC. I fully believe that my classmates and I were offered the best education, regardless of whether we always took full advantage of it. It would be pretty hard to convince my friends and me otherwise. It wasn’t that we were given the best books, the best facilities, the hardest tests, the most innovative research, or the answers to life that made the education wonderful. The teachers made it so. Teachers that made such an impact on our lives that we felt obliged and excited to read and complete all the assignments, ask questions in class, and defend till the end our points of discussion. These teachers taught more than simply facts, answers, and what or what not to do. They instilled a desire to question and never be satiated. They taught skills that will forever remain with us. They gave me more than I could have imagined upon entering the school in Form I, 7th grade, and I still keep in contact with many of them. Parent and student feedback always came into play, and I think that held those teachers more accountable and urged them to be the best that they can be. There is no reason why teachers across the country can’t or shouldn’t be urged to perform their best as well. A big issue in the US system of education is not only too large an amount of poor teachers, but also an ineffective way of evaluating teachers leading to under performance. Based upon my own experience, student and parent feedback should have a much larger role in evaluating a teacher.

These teachers taught in the way that Barbara Madeloni envisioned the role and purpose of education. She takes a more theoretical and abstract approach to teaching, one that emphasizes the teachings of Freire, the development of critical thinking, constant questioning, and knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Citing Giroux, she agrees in the poor state of education in this country as  “a repressive site of containment, a site devoid of poetry, critical learning and soaring acts of curiosity and imagination. (Henry Giroux, 2011).” While he exaggerates, he echoes the sentiment about the degradation of education. She also avidly opposed the corporatization of testing and the overwhelming reliance on test scores, other factors in the downfall. In Connecticut, 45% of teacher evaluation comes from “student growth.” Standardized test scores and in-year test scores make up this category, an issue hampering education and, in effect, the rankings. As poor teachers and ineffective evaluations plague our system, this is not the way to get the job done. When coupled with the fact that student feedback comprises 5% of the evaluations, it isn’t hard to see why we’ve fallen behind as a nation. As a nation, we need to reform the aim of education. It is overwhelming scores and numbers based, and we are continuing to slip. Paul Taubman offers an interesting alternative: “What if the aim of education is not learning? What if there is no aim to education except for the brief coming together of teachers and students to question, explore, study, compose, create and experience a kind of life that most will rarely experience again in our market-driven world (Peter Taubman, 2009)?” He stresses a point that has time and again emerged in our discussions: facts and answers are short term, yet skills, thinking, and questioning last a lifetime. Taubman and Madeloni are in line with my high school teachers. In raising the bar for student and parent feedback, the teacher evaluations will more accurately show the worth of individual teachers, and those teachers will be spurred to greater work. This will hopefully improve the quality of teachers, ultimately leading to a better educational system in the future.

Student and parent feedback currently account for 15% of teacher evaluations, where standardized tests and numerical achievement account for 45%. Learning and knowledge growth occurs in the classroom and at home through teacher-student interactions and parent-child interactions. It is up to the teachers (and parents) to push children, urge them to question and explore. If feedback carries more weight, teachers can do this. As something that Madeloni, Taubman, and I deem the most important part of education and learning, it should account for far more than 1/3 of testing scores, something that we as a class have in part blamed for the downfall of US education. My policy recommendation would call for a decrease in “student growth” accompanied by an increase parent, peer, and student feedback. This I believe will lead to a better quality of education, which will in turn improve rankings on the global scale.


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