A Curious New York Times Article on Teacher Evaluations

by ANN ROBERTSON and BILL LEUMER

A recent New York Times article, “Curious Grade For Teachers: Nearly All Pass,” finds incredulous the idea that, “In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or highly effective in the most recent evaluations.” The author goes on to cite similar percentages in other states and concludes: “The teachers might be rated all above average, like students in Lake Wobegon, for the same reason that the older evaluation methods were considered lacking.” In other words, the teachers score well because the measuring standard is flawed. And this conclusion is reinforced by the observation that teachers’ high marks were achieved “even when students were falling behind.”

Unfortunately, newspaper journalists are apparently not held to any standards at all because the article omits all the crucial information that situates these statistics in a meaningful context.

Teachers typically must have a college degree and between one and two years, if not more, additional college course work to obtain a teaching credential, not to mention hours spent in classrooms where they can practice teaching and receive mentoring from experienced teachers. Is it really surprising that after such intense training almost all teachers achieve competency?

Imagine a course in basic welding where students attend class for several months. At the end of the course students are required to take a test. Would it be surprising that 98 percent of those who completed the course passed the test? If fewer passed, one might reasonably raise questions about the quality of the welding course.

More importantly, there is no mention in The New York Times article of the authoritative study on student performance conducted in the 1960s, as reported by New York Times columnist, Joe Nocera in an April 25, 2011 article (“The Limits of School Reform”): “Going back to the famous Coleman report in the 1960s, social scientists have contended – and unquestionably proved – that students’ socioeconomic backgrounds vastly outweigh what goes on in the school as factors in determining how much they learn.”

Similarly, the article fails to note the growing poverty among children in the U.S. Currently more than one in five children live in poverty. Between 2009 and 2010, child poverty grew by more than a million. Given the debilitating impact of poverty on child development, there can be little wonder that more students are “falling behind,” despite teachers’ valiant efforts. And when the poverty statistics are coupled with the dramatic decline in government funding of public education, one can only marvel that our public schools succeed at all.

The current corporate narrative that has pervaded the mindset of politicians and the mainstream media inverts logic. Student failure is not a result of poverty or underfunded schools. The blame lies entirely with the teachers and the unions that defend them – a classic example of blaming the victim. Of course, politicians find it much more convenient to blame teachers and their unions for student failure rather than address the real causes of student failure since the politicians themselves are at fault. They have chosen to cut the social safety net and funding for schools so that the rich can continue to enjoy their ludicrously low tax rates and huge tax loopholes.

As inequality in wealth grows, inequality in power grows proportionately. The corporations and the rich want to eviscerate the teacher unions, impose market relations on public education, and open the door to private, profit-making alternatives. As corporations funnel more money into lobbying and campaign contributions, politicians have become cheerleaders for the corporate agenda. By underfunding schools and allowing poverty to grow, they are causing the kind of failure that can be used as an excuse to open the doors to private profiteers.

What is really curious is why The New York Times author was so quick to uncritically adopt the corporate perspective and jump on the bandwagon of attacking the teachers. Perhaps he was one of the few students who failed his critical thinking course.

Ann Robertson is a Lecturer at San Francisco State University and a member of the California Faculty Association.

Bill Leumer is a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 853 (ret.). Both are writers for Workers Action and may be reached at sanfrancisco@workerscompass.org.

 

Ann Robertson is a Lecturer in the Philosophy Department at San Francisco State University and a member of the California Faculty Association. Bill Leumer is a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 853 (ret.). Both are writers for Workers Action and may be reached at sanfrancisco@workerscompass.org

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Geoffrey McDonald
Obama’s Overtime Tweak: What is the Fair Price of a Missed Life?
Brian Cloughley
Hypocrisy, Obama-Style
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
A Day of Tears: Report from the “sHell No!” Action in Portland
Tom Clifford
Guns of August: the Gulf War Revisited
Renee Lovelace
I Dream of Ghana
Colin Todhunter
GMOs: Where Does Science Begin and Lobbying End?
Ben Debney
Modern Newspeak Dictionary, pt. II
Christopher Brauchli
Guns Don’t Kill People, Immigrants Do and Other Congressional Words of Wisdom
S. Mubashir Noor
India’s UNSC Endgame
Ellen Taylor
The Voyage of the Golden Rule
Norman Ball
Ten Questions for Lee Drutman: Author of “The Business of America is Lobbying”
Franklin Lamb
Return to Ma’loula, Syria
Masturah Alatas
Six Critics in Search of an Author
Mark Hand
Cinéma Engagé: Filmmaker Chronicles Texas Fracking Wars
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Patrick Hiller
The Icebreaker and #ShellNo: How Activists Determine the Course
Charles Larson
Tango Bends Its Gender: Carolina De Robertis’s “The Gods of Tango”