The Mystery of Good Teaching

Monique has already mentioned the headline revelation of an article reporting statements of the states’ two teacher union heads before the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council (that they’ve recognized the advantage of regionalization to them), but I’d like to highlight an unrelated statement from Rhode Island Federation of Teachers President Marcia Reback:

“[Education] Commissioner [Deborah] Gist said it earlier,” Reback said. “You know good teaching when you see it. You can’t test it.”

The only way such a statement can be otherwise than total bunk is if we restrict the meaning of “test” to a written document that seeks to quantify without the need for human judgment. Even then, I’d dispute the conclusion, but at least it would be a real matter of debate. Many grades throughout my schooling were based on “tests” that involved a panel reviewing, for example, my piano playing. Many steps and sidelines in my adult employment have been related to managers’ judgment of my work. One can test teachers by the success of their students and their contribution to schools, generally.
Of course, such a test has too many variables for some distant test author to incorporate. It is not, however, beyond the capacity of parents and principals, which is why public education is suffering for lack of two qualities:

  • Parents’ ability to easily move their children from one school to another, with an actual consequence to the losing school when the move is made.
  • Principals’ ability to manage their teachers as employees rapidly and easily enough to correct problems before they become institutionalized, which also has the effect of reducing the degree to which we can hold those principals accountable for institutional failure.
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