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Too much emphasis put on evaluating teachers’ performance

TimesLedger Newspapers

In 2001, Mayor Michael Bloomberg made it known he was going to take steps to abolish the city Board of Education and take it over himself and run it with the assistance of an appointed city schools chancellor.

At the time, it seemed the new mayor had enough to do in running the city without adding on public school education to his workload, considering that he himself had no background or credentials in public education.

The concept of a board of education is traditional in the United States, with almost every state, city and town having one. Bloomberg, however, thought he could do a better job. The fact is that, based on statistical data, there are shortfalls in student performance with the city education system.

Bloomberg was not going to take the responsibility for an ineffective education system, so the easiest way out was to blame teachers. To emphasize that, he constantly called for more teacher evaluations. In addition, he has called out for shutting eight Queens high schools, thereby replacing teachers with new instructors. Will this really improve education, especially if the new instructors have little experience?

It is difficult at best to implement an equal evaluation system for teachers, given the difference in the type of students they are getting today. A significant number of students from the poorer sections of the city are from dysfunctional families and live in crime-ridden environments. Some cannot speak English well, which detracts from their learning ability.

When these types of students are compared with middle-class students from a stable social environment, there will usually be a wide difference in learning capacity regardless of how teachers perform.

As previously said, academic education is not for everyone. Vocational trades being taught by our public schools, as they were in the 1950s and ’60s, would be a more practical way of dealing with the situation. If the city would try to give this educational opportunity to high school and possibly middle school students, it could go a long way toward improving city educational standards.

According to the new evaluation system, 31 percent of a teacher’s rating is based on observations by school administrators and 40 percent on state tests given to students. It would seem an instructor who received a good rating by observation would also see his or her students do well on state tests.

If a teacher, however, received a good observation grade and his or her students still did poorly on the state tests, what then? How is an overall evaluation to be given under these circumstances? Too much emphasis is being given to teacher evaluations and not to other factors.

Regarding one important aspect of this situation is the crime problem in city schools. To cite some data at John Bowne High School in Flushing in 2009, out of a student body of about 3,000 students, 509 serious infractions occurred. At JHS 162, in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn in 2009, there were 369 serious disruptions during that school year.

In the school year 2005-06, figures from the state Department of Education indicate the following pertaining to crimes in city schools: assaults with physical injury, 5,084; sexual offenses, 948; robbery, 267; arson, 210.

With a situation like this, how is a teacher expected to teach effectively or a student expected to learn. There are more school safety officers on duty in city schools than there are guidance counselors. At various high schools around the city, we see police cars parked near schools.

Years ago, during the middle of the 20th century, these environments would have been almost unthinkable. A teacher’s job today is more difficult than it ever was. Before the focus is put on teacher evaluations, other factors should be considered.

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