My Letter to the TIMES, September 29, 2013

“Principal and Teacher, A Complex Duet” is a confused and confusing account of one of the central pillars of corporate school reform: teacher evaluation.
Brent Staples’ easy dismissal of the substantive objections by teachers to the Chicago plan, and the superficial conclusion that “the new system will succeed or fail depending on how well they accommodate basic feelings like anxiety,” misses the point entirely.
The Chicago system leans heavily on student standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, an approach that makes sense only if those scores are a reasonable measure of actual learning, and only if there is a direct causal relationship between teacher action and student response on a test. Neither is true.
I spoke recently with leaders at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools—where the children of the president, the secretary of education, and the last two mayors of Chicago attended school—and asked how much weight they placed on student test scores in evaluating their teachers. Their response: “What do test scores have to do with good teaching?” They explained that creating a culture of great teaching is a painstaking process based on encouragement not threats, inspiration not punishment, support, mutual respect, collaboration and teamwork.
Good enough for those at the most elite schools, good enough for the children, parents, and teachers of Chicago and the nation.

William Ayers


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