Teachers have come out looking pretty good—too good—in evaluations conducted by states across the country. According to the NYT, the new evaluations, instituted by education reformers to “weed out weak performers”, haven’t uncovered very many weeds:
In Florida, 97 percent of teachers were deemed effective or highly effective in the most recent evaluations. In Tennessee, 98 percent of teachers were judged to be “at expectations.”In Michigan, 98 percent of teachers were rated effective or better.
Yet somehow, only 78.2 percent of American students graduated high school in 2010. Sixty-seven percent of all fourth graders could not read at grade level in 2009. And only 32 percent of eighth graders and 38 percent of twelfth graders were reading at or above grade level that same year. If all the teachers are above average, are students the problem? The NYT cites recent reports on ADHD:
Nearly one in five high school age boys in the United States and 11 percent of school-age children over all have received a medical diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to new data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention….Fifteen percent of school-age boys have received an A.D.H.D. diagnosis, the [new CDC] data showed; the rate for girls was 7 percent. Diagnoses among those of high-school age — 14 to 17 — were particularly high, 10 percent for girls and 19 percent for boys. About one in 10 high-school boys currently takes A.D.H.D. medication, the data showed.
There are two separate problems here, both of which cripple the American public school system.First, evaluations can’t be useful or accurate if they show that teachers are performing “exceptionally well” while students across the country are failing. In Atlanta, New York, and elsewhere, teachers and administrators have been caught gaming the system in order to boost their own performance scores. Full-scale cheating may still be relatively rare, but the discrepancy between the students’ middling results and their teachers’ high marks suggests that the teaching standards may be the problem.Second, a system where students sit at desks for 13 straight years, moving in lockstep from one grade to the next, doesn’t suit everyone. When a student doesn’t fit in, he shouldn’t just be drugged into docility. We ought to be developing alternative methods of education rather than relying on chemical tools to force students to conform.