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Imposing a Scarlet Letter on

America’s Teachers 



The mayor of the city with the nation’s biggest public school system, Michael R. Bloomberg, determined that the public has a right to know the performance rating of his city’s nearly 18,000 teachers. Gov. Andrew Cuomo agreed with that position, and The New York Times obliged by publishing the names of the teachers and their schools and their rankings based on their students’ gains on state standardized tests in math and English.

A year earlier, the Los Angeles Times published rankings of 6,000 teachers of 3rd through 5th grade in the Los Angeles Unified School District that it compiled from seven years of math and English test scores.

Is the publication of individual teacher performance ratings intended to shame marginal teachers into higher levels of productivity — or will such ill-conceived acts carry unintended consequences that run counter to the very purpose of personnel evaluation?

Bill Gates apparently believes the latter, writing this in an op-ed column in The New York Times: “We would never have thought about using employee evaluations to embarrass people, much less publish them in a newspaper.”

A Confidential Relationship
As a superintendent who served in Virginia and New Jersey schools over 39 years, I strongly oppose the publication of teacher evaluation ratings from a philosophical perspective. If the true nature of evaluation in K-12 education is to assist a teacher to improve performance and demonstrate an ability to enhance learning among students, then a confidential relationship between classroom teacher and professional evaluator is essential to the validity of the evaluation process.

Within a school district, the collaborative relationship of the parties engaged in the evaluation process must be preserved to establish trust. All parties must respect the process of evaluation and commit to honest discussion of an individual’s strengths and weaknesses. Trust serves as the basis for a constructive dialogue about circumstances surrounding the act of teaching.

In a cooperative process, an honest discussion concerning evaluation is not a threat but an opportunity for discussion and action leading to continuous growth and improvement. This intimate dialogue is the key to a collaborative relationship where both parties seek solutions to complex problems.

Compounding teacher evaluation is the overreliance on simplistic and outdated observation protocols for evaluation ratings. For example, a single classroom visit by an administrator or use of standardized test scores serves only as a snapshot of performance. Rather, what’s needed is an entire motion picture to gauge overall effectiveness.

Creating Doubts
A national commitment to build more comprehensive and complete evaluation processes is under way, though yet to evolve. To expose performance ratings of teachers to the general public given the lack of valid and reliable evaluation tools creates even more doubt about the worth of public education in American society, not to mention how these publicity acts contribute to low morale of teachers and potential damage to the profession as a whole.

Politicians and would-be education reformers have it all wrong. Let’s not contribute to the harangue about shortcomings in teacher performance but instead give our classroom professionals a chance to improve by maintaining a confidential relationship in the evaluation process. And let’s work collaboratively to shape new evaluation practices that provide more reliable results in the first place.

Charles Maranzano is superintendent of Hopatcong Borough Public Schools in Hopatcong, N.J. He maintains a blog, “Educational Leadership in Public Education”
http://charlesmaranzano.blogspot.com), from which this column is adapted. E-mail: cmaranzano@hopatcongschools.org


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