Parents want to know about teachers

Parents have a right to see the data on teachers’ effectiveness, writes Katherine Mangu Ward in Reason. But information doesn’t do much good unless parents have a choice.

In every area except for public schooling and medicine, consumers can research information and make a choice, she writes. If parents could choose their children’s teachers, schools would have to use a lottery or a first-come, first-served system.

“As a parent, I think I have a right to know,” school board member Nury Martinez told the LA times. But the public shouldn’t be able to see a teacher’s entire review, Martinez said.

Giving parents all the information that’s available is a bad idea, the argument goes, in part because they might start trying to make the kind of choices for their kids that they make every day about their lunches, their jobs, or their dry cleaners.

Asked about the release of the Los Angeles teacher data, D.C. Chancellor Michelle Rhee said she’d looked at the data from her children’s school.

“I could see the teacher data. One good, one not so much. I pride myself on not giving my kids preferences. But as a mother i was like whoa! From an administrative point of view, it’s pretty terrifying.”

Dave Leonhardt, the New York Times’ economics columnist, wants to know which teachers (and which doctors and hospitals) are the most successful. But he worries parents will see teacher rankings as gospel truth.

The value-added data probably can identify the best and worst teachers, researchers say, but it may not be very reliable at distinguishing among teachers in the middle of the pack.

Leonhardt likes the suggestion of Ed Sector’s Rob Manwaring, who thinks districts should release value-added scores at every school without tying the individual scores to teachers’ names.

This would avoid humiliating teachers, he writes. It also would let the savvy parents  guess which teacher to request. Of course, it’s impossible to think of a system that doesn’t favor savvy parents and their children.

“No system is perfect,” Leonhardt writes.

If principals and teachers are allowed to grade themselves, as they long have been, our schools are guaranteed to betray many students. If schools instead try to measure the work of teachers, some will inevitably be misjudged. “On whose behalf do you want to make the mistake — the kids or the teachers?” asks Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust. “We’ve always erred on behalf of the adults before.”

You may want to keep that in mind if you ever get a chance to look at a list of teachers and their value-added scores. Some teachers, no doubt, are being done a disservice. Then again, so were a whole lot of students.

Los Angeles Unified school board has told Superintendent Ramon Cortines to negotiate with the teachers’ union to include value-added measures as part of teacher evaluations.

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  1. Michael E. Lopez says:


    Here’s a thought: you let parents choose their teachers and deal with overdemand problems by lottery.

    But you take the number of *requests* by parents as a basis, or as a substantial chunk of the basis, for merit pay.

    In this way, you get true market-driven merit pay in a public school setting; merit is decided on the basis of decisions by interested parties without the need for overcoming the “but how do you fairly and accurately measure something that seems so ineffable” problems that plague other notions for merit pay.

  2. Releasing individual information would just fuel a firestorm of parents demanding that their dear, precious children be assigned to the best performing teacher. Really, what parent is going to pay the same taxes as everyone else and be satisfied with the second-best teacher in the district?

    That being said, schools have the responsibility to take seriously the need to reform or fire low-performing teachers. Much of the demand for individual teacher data is the belief (a valid one I’d say) that administrations aren’t ensuring that teachers are uniformly providing a satisfactory education. Value-added data is beneficial in this regard because it provides more ammunition with which to fight unions during the firing of teachers.

    And more importantly, parents have the responsibility to elect school board members (or other elected positions) that will guide the district to uphold its standards.

    Finally, unions (and lawmakers that support them with legislation) need to recognize that while they are there to ensure fair treatment of teachers, fighting to force the school to retain incompetent teachers weakens their public support.

  3. Finally, unions (and lawmakers that support them with legislation) need to recognize that while they are there to ensure fair treatment of teachers, fighting to force the school to retain incompetent teachers weakens their public support.
    I’m the president of my local. I’ve yet to defend an incompetent teacher in order to “retain them.” I have, however, had to push my district to give due process as defined by our contract. I also have had to push district administrators do their job by making sure that timelines as defined in the contract were followed. Because timelines were missed by the District, a teacher returned to the classroom for this year. The District has known about this teacher prior to my election to this position.

    I have spoken before the school board urging the District to hold our teachers accountable when concerns are expressed in our evaluations.

    I’ve been shocked at the lack of follow through by both site administrators and district administrators. I don’t want to “retain incompetent teachers” and would rather work with the District to try to counsel these people out of teaching.

    I’m not holding my breath that the District will do what it is supposed to do and yet, I’ll be blamed as the leader of this organization for “retaining incompetent teachers.”

  4. Sorry ms_teacher but the cat appears to be quite definitely out of the bag. The district system that you grew up with, are comfortable with and which encompasses the extent of your imagination is coming apart and it’s doing so under the impetus of the constituency created by the rise of charters. And you’ve got to appreciate the irony of that.

    After all, it was the clear choice to grudgingly give in on charters while drawing a hard, inflexible line on vouchers that led to the current situation which is a significant and growing group of parents who see themselves as public school parents but don’t see themselves as subject to the dictates and conveniences of the school district. It’s a group of voters who see themselves as the educational decision-makers and not as the suppliers of the commodity, their kids, that justifies the existence of the public school.

  5. and sorry, Allen, but I’m a parent first and a teacher second. Also, I’ve only been a part of this system as an educator for ten years. I come to education with what I believe is a unique perspective because I’ve worked in the private sector, was a stay at home mom and worked at our state capitol prior to becoming a teacher.

    I was a critic of the system before I became a part of the system. The problem that those on the outside of refuse to acknowledge is that for all the bluster of our state and national organizations, teachers themselves have very little power about what goes on within the system and yet, they are the first to be vilified by people such as yourself.

    I have acknowledged that teachers need to be removed in my school district. I have also given proof that even when the president of a local association can attest that this is not being done and has not been done.

    My sister also homeschools both of her children and I have also explored the option. So, please, don’t try to pigeon hole me. I see the value of the union in protecting teachers from overzealous parents who too many have come to believe that their children should not be held accountable. I also see the value in the union when we have site administrators who will do many underhanded things until they are confronted and will only then engage in conversation.

    Your right – I will never be a supporter of vouchers. I’ve seen the power of corporate America influence too many other sections of United States and continue to be amazed that people buy into the “choice” without fully understanding what the privatization of education really is all about.

  6. Your “unique perspective” doesn’t seem to have given you any reason to question the underlying assumption of the public education system so it may not be quite as unique as you’d obviously like to think it is.

    The problem isn’t that teachers have so little say in the system. That’s a result of the current system and, given the way the system’s been deliberately structured, the only realistic outcome. The state begets the district and the district begets the administration at the bottom of which are the teachers. You tell me what it would take, what would have to change, before the professionals at the bottom of the organizational pyramid have a substantive voice in the running of the organization?

    I agree that it’s counterproductive to have the front-line professionals with so little input to the system if education is what you’re interested in which leads me to the inescapable conclusion that despite so many people’s assumption and despite the name of the institution, the public education system isn’t particularly oriented towards education. If education were the driving force in the education system then it would be all but impossible to ignore teachers but one of *your* complaints is that teachers are ignored. What’s your unique perspective provide as an explanation for that?