Below is a letter from Chris Stewart who is a parent of two students in the Seattle Public School system and President of the Alternative Schools Coalition.

Dear Board Members,

Re: Contract negotiations:

I am well aware that the well-funded groups the superintendent has in her court have been exhorting parents to come testify at the August 18 meeting.  You will notice me missing in action next Wednesday; rest assured that am just out of town, and I am giving you my three minutes in writing.

As you know, I am an enthusiastic supporter of alternative schools.  I hold the belief that academic growth, for a majority of children flows naturally from student engagement, creativity, responsibility, collaboration, and reflection.  I believe the primary responsibility of teachers is to instill a love of learning in children.  And there is no better way to kill the love of learning, for both teacher and student, than a high-stakes test.

Lest you dismiss me as a wide-eyed idealist, I will present some further arguments.  First of all, SERVE is estimated to cost $3.9M.  What else could $3.9M buy?  It translates into about 78 teacher salaries, easily restoring a half-time counselor and full-time librarian to every elementary and middle school.  If you are serious about closing the achievement gap, I would expect you to be enthusiastic about the possibility of reducing class sizes by one-third in more than a dozen schools with struggling students.

Second, while I could in theory accept test scores as a small part (10% or less) of a teacher’s evaluation, I have always suspected that the other parts of the evaluation, being non-automated and much harder, would not reliably get done.  This is confirmed from experience in Washington DC, as described by Jesse Hagopian in his wonderful editorial (which I encourage you to read in full):

“Under IMPACT, all teachers are supposed to receive five 30-minute classroom observations during the school year that account for 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation, three by a school administrator and two by an outside “master educator” with a background in the instructor’s subject. However, some teachers never received the full five evaluations because some of the master teachers hired to do those jobs quit.”

Furthermore, I would point out that the alleged accumulation of “bad teachers” in Seattle is allegedly the results of years of administrators (principals and their supervisors on up the chain) being unwilling or unable to carry out the existing evaluation process.  Why in the world would anyone think that introducing a much more complicated system such as SERVE (separate matrices for tested/untested/opt-in/opt-out teachers, for example) will be carried out as proposed?  It is abundantly clear that many teachers will be subjected to nearer 100% reliance on test scores when the other stuff doesn’t get done.  We can try test scores someday, but let’s get a handle on authentic evaluation methods first.

Another observation from a Washington Post blogger about DC mentioned by Jesse is also totally relevant to Seattle:

…this is unconscionable for several reasons, not the least of which is that D.C. CAS wasn’t designed to evaluate teachers. That’s a basic violation of testing law. Ask any evaluation expert.”

Sound familiar?  We have it straight from Brad Bernatek’s mouth that the MAP was never intended as a tool for evaluating teachers.  The reformers always say “the best is the enemy of the good” but it is equally true that cutting a corner of this magnitude is likely to make the entire project fail.  Or have unintended consequences.

I will close by quoting Jesse yet again.  I just love this piece.  Did I mention he was a Madison Middle School teacher until he was laid off by the superintendent on a NCLB technicality?  Who did that benefit, I ask you.  Anyway, here is the quote, and he is referring to the act of addressing only teachers, not the root causes of poverty:

[Michelle Rhee] said, “Every child in a District of Columbia public school has a right to a highly effective teacher – in every classroom, of every school, of every neighborhood, of every ward, in this city.”

The truth is, every student deserves much more than that.

Chris Stewart