Tuesday, August 17, 2010


from national public radio/American Public Media’s Business News Program: Marketplace


broadcast 17 August 2010

Kai Ryssdal: Education Secretary Arne Duncan has waded into a controversy that's brewing out here in Los Angeles. This week, the Los Angeles Times published a story about the effectiveness of public school teachers here. It singled out a couple whose students have been falling behind. The paper eventually plans to publish a database that rates thousands of teachers, by name, according to how well they improve student test scores.

From the Marketplace Education Desk at WYPR in Baltimore, Md. Amy Scott reports.

Amy Scott: Helene Solomon teaches fifth grade at Bright Elementary in Los Angeles. She says it's been a tough year.

Helene Solomon: We've spent a year with pink slips flying all over the place, not knowing who was going to be teaching here next year, and all of us taking a pay cut.

And now this: Later this month, the LA Times will publish what amounts to performance reviews on more than 6,000 elementary teachers. They'll be ranked based on whether they improve student test scores in math and reading. Solomon hasn't seen her score, but she expects she'll fall somewhere in the middle. And she doesn't think that's fair.

Solomon: My educational program is so much more than just the test. I'm not teaching to the test. So I'm giving the children all these variety of experiences that never get tested.

Solomon says many factors affect how well her students do on tests -- parent participation, whether they have computers at home.

Diane Ravitch: This has the odor about it of naming and shaming.

Diane Ravitch was assistant education secretary under the first President Bush. She wrote the "Death and Life of the Great American School System." Ravitch says labeling the best and worst teachers could make a mess for schools.

Ravitch: It's going to create dissension on school staffs. It's going to have parents say, "I want my kid in the class of those who are in the top 10 percent," and I don't know how you squeeze 100 percent of the kids into the classes of 10 percent of the teachers.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the LA Times he thinks this information can help schools identify successful teachers and reward them.

Kate Walsh is president of the National Council on Teacher Quality.

Kate Walsh: The system we have now in place is patently unfair to teachers, because good teachers get paid the same as the worst teachers in the school. And there is nothing more demoralizing than having that happen.

Except maybe having your performance ranked in the local paper. Walsh says test scores shouldn't be the only measure of a teacher's value.

I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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