There is a cartoon gag that shows a character at a leaky dam, plugging the leak with his finger. A new leak then forms, so he plugs it with another finger. The process continues until the character is out of ways to plug the leaks, at which point the dam bursts. This crumbling dam reminds me of our nation’s education system and the Looney Tunes trying to fix it. The idea of holding teachers “accountable” for student performance, mostly based on standardized test scores, is simply the latest finger in the leak. But, as in the cartoon, this will not fix the dam.
In trying to patch up the education system, the designers of the teacher accountability plan didn’t consider that there are a great many variables that determine student performance, and many of them are out of the teacher’s control. Students vary in health, self-motivation, parental involvement, academic talent, and socio-economic status. Teachers should motivate and teach to a high standard, but it is simply unfair to judge the performance of an affluent, self-motivated student with good nutrition and involved parents with the same measuring stick as a poor, malnourished student living in a dangerous neighborhood with a single parent who works three jobs. The problem is bigger than the classroom.
This plan will put teachers at so-called “problem” schools at an immediate and unfair disadvantage, rewarding them for their work at a challenging school with lower pay and fear of termination. The teacher accountability plan does not take into account what happens outside the classroom. The truth is that the leaks in the dam that is the education system are symptoms of instability in the entire structure. Plugging the leak of poor student performance by placing all the blame on teachers will only lead to a hemorrhage of qualified teachers. Intensive rebuilding is what is called for, not pointing fingers.