I advertised that I would follow up with explaining why observing K-12 teachers, rather than using standardized testing to evaluate education practice, would be a hard sell.

At least, I will try to explain.

Teachers are defensive.  It may be hard for people who have not taught to understand how vulnerable teachers are.  And I don’t mean vulnerable to school boards and administrators.  You are putting yourself on the line every day in front of a classroom.

In my first year, I was called out on absolutely everything: my knowledge of my subject, my dating status, my clothes, my hair, my politics, my religion, my discipline decisions, the arrangement of the furniture in my room, the temperature in my room.  In your first year, you have to expect to make stupid mistakes constantly.  I performed as expected.  To absorb, judge, and respond or deflect all this feedback from students is one of the greatest challenges of learning to teach.  The last thing teachers want to hear is that some outside adult will walk in and judge them further.  It would be a hard thing for teachers to get used to.

On the other hand, I believe that any taxpayer should have the right to observe my classroom.  They are the ones paying my salary.  We need privacy and safety to have delicate conversations and share ideas, but we have to balance that with a dedication to transparency that should be the standard for democratic institutions.

Observing teachers takes time.  More time than giving tests. More time and more money.  We have a whole industry of test writing now.  It would be such a shame to disrupt their carefully constructed state pigeonhole of funding!  (It’s always been a source of annoyance to me how loosey-goosey our state test creation is.  The College Board tweaks the SAT over decades, while our schools live and die according to brand-new tests written by people who are hardly experts in the field of test writing.)

Observing teachers results in muddier numbers than testing students.  I suspect that after the recent trend toward hard numbers in education, things will swing back to an appetite for more anecdotal and qualitative research data.  The state can only change their tests and their goals so many times before we realize that “hard numbers” are just as slippery as everything else in the real world.  I know that as a parent, or as a coworker, I’d rather see your observation notes and scores in interacting with kids than the standardized test scores your students received.

(I should add that unions would probably have a rough time with this idea, but I haven”t have the choice to join a union, as a public charter school teacher, so that’s really outside my frame of reference.)

Lastly, the conflict of interest.  The fox guarding the henhouse.  In my experience, gathering research requires a careful balance between objectivity and intuition.  It would be difficult to set up a system in which teachers can be observed by people they consider neither friend nor foe.  But no more difficult than trying to write test questions that capture learning and lead to a black and white choice of A,B, C, or D.  That’s the theory that truly confounds me.

Standardized testing teaches us mainly that students from families with enough money do well in school, while students from families without enough money do poorly.  This is not news.  And it’s an outrageous waste of money to continue to “discover” this year after year.  I hope that we can learn something more helpful about our teachers, our students,  and our schools.  Observing classrooms could give us a better picture of what is being done, and what needs to be done.

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