Monday, August 30, 2010


BY Arne Duncan | Op-Ed in the New York Daily News

  • Duncan is U.S. Secretary of Education. This Op-Ed was condensed and excerpted from remarks delivered this week in Little Rock, Ark.

smf: When a statement by a public official begins “Everyone agrees…” it’s time for a show of hands. It’s like “Once upon a time” or “Based on a true story”. -- suspend your disbelief:   balderdash follows!

Sunday, August 29th 2010, 4:00 AM - Everyone agrees that our teacher evaluation system is broken. In many districts, 99% of teachers are rated satisfactory and most evaluations ignore the most important measure of a teacher's success - which is how much their students have learned.

That's a tragedy. Teachers want - and need - this information.

Teachers also worry that their job security and salaries will be tied to the results of a bubble test that is largely disconnected from the material they are teaching. No one thinks test scores should be the only factor in teacher evaluations, and no one wants to evaluate teachers based on a single test on a single day.

But looking at student progress over time, in combination with other factors like peer review and principal observation, can lead to a culture shift in our schools where we finally take good teaching as seriously as the profession deserves.

This is a complicated and emotional issue for teachers, and it just got more emotional in the past 10 days with a series of articles on teacher quality published by the Los Angeles Times.

Essentially, the Times took seven years of student test data and developed what is called a "value-added" analysis to show which third- through fifth-grade teachers are making the biggest gains. The results are about to be posted on the newspaper's website in a searchable database by teacher name - taking transparency to a whole new level.

Needless to say, concerns are running very high in Los Angeles - not only among teachers themselves but also among a wide spectrum of administrators, academics and reformers who question the validity of the scores and the value of the entire exercise.

Still others worry about parents with a limited understanding of what this information really means jockeying to place their children with the highest-ranking teachers.

I am a strong advocate for transparency. If it were up to me and the law allowed it, I would put out student attendance data and hold parents accountable. And while we're at it, let's put out funding and facilities data and hold school boards and politicians accountable.

Let's put out data on dropouts, college enrollment, college completion and every other kind of data that can help us highlight our remarkable success and help us better understand why too many of our children are unprepared.

The truth can be hard to swallow but it can only make us better, stronger and smarter.

There are real issues and competing priorities and values that we must work through together - balancing transparency, privacy, fairness and respect for teachers.

I appreciate how painful this may be for these L.A. teachers, and I also appreciate the fact that even the best data systems won't tell the whole story.

What is especially interesting about the L.A. Times series is the reaction of some of the teachers quoted in it - and one particular quote haunts me. According to the newspaper, one of L.A.'s most effective teachers is Nancy Polacheck, a fourth-grade teacher with 38 years of experience. She said something that was utterly heartbreaking.

"In the past, if I were recognized, I would become an outcast," she told the Times. "They'd say, 'She's trying to show off.'"

That shame of success has pervaded America's educational culture for far too long. We must stop highlighting only ballplayers and rock stars and start highlighting teachers who are our true heroes and role models.

Every state and district should be collecting and sharing information about teacher effectiveness with teachers and - in the context of other important measures - with parents. Teachers want the information. They want the feedback. And they want to get better.

Local school districts must decide in collaboration with their teachers how to share this information - how to put it in context. But we cannot shrink from the truth.

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