Marc Bernstein was a New York state superintendent of schools for two decades. His op-ed Where All the Teachers Are Above Average in the Wall Street Journal this week offered a chilling indictment for one of country’s largest school system.
According to Bernstein, New York State has released its teacher evaluations that ranked 95% of its teachers as “highly effective” or “effective”. Of the remaining, 4% were considered “developing”, with only 1% listed as “ineffective” for the 2012 school year. These percentages are incredible given that over half of New York State’s students in grades 4 through 8 were not proficient in reading or math skills in statewide tests.
How does this huge disconnect between the way New York teachers are graded and the outcomes with students? According to Bernstein, this comes from New York’s poorly formed laws and a school culture that obviates honest teacher evaluations. For example, 60% of teacher evaluation in New York State is subjective, based on classroom observations that must be first agreed upon at the local level with teachers’ unions. 20% of the evaluation should be more objective measurements of math and reading skills, however they too must be agreed upon between local school systems and their teachers’ unions. Adding insult to injury, New York’s largest school system, New York City, was not included in the evaluations because it’s union would not agree to language in their contract concerning the reporting of evaluation data.
Like teachers, school administrators are eligible for lifelong tenure in New York prior to three years of experience. This tenure protects unproductive teachers and administrators and Bernstein suggests removing it for administrators and having tenure review for teachers. Both suggestions are no-brainers, but have little chance of being implemented given the political power of teachers unions.
Our children and greater society will continue to suffer until real competition is injected into America’s public education systems. The sad irony is that the most efficient school systems are located in the larger cities that include a disproportionate amount of minorities and disadvantaged children. The poor education they receive is the largest impediment for these children to succeed in American society.