Monday, January 12, 2015

Schneider on Evaluation

Regular readers here know that I'm a huge fan of Mercedes Schneider, whose attention to detail, relentless research skills, and sharply analytical mind are an inspiration. Also, she once called me the Erma Bombeck of education bloggers, so I kind of love her for that, too.

I read her blog regularly and repeatedly, and while all of it is indispensible, a recent post of hers about Doug Harris and the promotion of VAM contains these pure gold paragraphs about teacher evaluation. I'm copying them out here mostly so that I can find them whenever I want to, but you should read them and take them to heart, to.

Point systems for “grading” the teacher-student (and school-teacher-student) dynamic will always fall short because the complex nature of that dynamic defies quantifying. If test-loving reformers insist upon imposing high-stakes quantification onto schools and teachers, it will backfire, a system begging to be corrupted by those fighting to survive it.

It is not that I cannot be evaluated as a teacher. It’s just that such evaluation is rooted a complex subjectivity that is best understood by those who are familiar with my reality. This should be true of the administrators at one’s school, and I am fortunate to state that it is true in my case.

There are no numbers that sufficiently capture my work with my students. I know this. Yes, I am caught in a system that wants to impose a numeric values on my teaching. My “value” to my students cannot be quantified, nor can my school’s value to my students, no matter what the Harrises of this world might suggest in commissioned reports.


  1. Didn't you just love the episodes of Star Trek, the Next Generation when Data was given "life" lessons about human intuition, emotion and the importance of perception/understanding beyond numerical facts? Those are the heart warming episodes where you don't mind being gently reminded about the beauty of subtlety and nuances in humanity, and in life in general.
    Not so heartwarming is the hard cold fact that this binary method (my metaphorical term for computer based) of evaluation necessitates the elimination of all traces of nuance and subtlety in learning/teaching. There are attempts, I am sure, for tests to try to "read between the lines" of a story to determine if students have understood implications. This is not the same thing. The lack of appreciation for nuances and subtlety is becoming the trademark of American culture. Snarkiness, post-modern ironic juxtapositions and cynicism are not signals of cultivated intelligence.
    And as music teachers will tell you, as long as people are conscious of being evaluated, the whole process they are in is no longer pure. Their thinking and behaving takes on a new layer. Mostly that layer involves stress.
    Since the government operates solely on reports and statistics, it will never stop collecting data. The government has an insatiable appetite for statistics. Who can curb that appetite?
    Perhaps a Star Trek-a-thon for Arne and Company could open the door to some new thinking. Spock and Data are enduring characters for a reason: they maintain their pure logic which seeks no ill (Arne thinks he is serving the public's best interest) but in the end, battles are fought and won only with the support of these two characters. Their supposed strength is always a limitation.

  2. It might also help Arne to read The Little Prince by Antoine St. Exupery. One of the main themes is that too many adults are obsessed by numbers and that numbers are not important at all in understanding people and what's truly important in life. (Even though it's much better, as always with works of art, if you can read it in the original language, in this case French. The English translation isn't too bad, though translations can never give quite the same feeling as reading something in the original language, even if your knowledge of the language is imperfect. Anyway, I taught it for years and every year the students and I would find new meanings and significance. I'm convinced that everything worth knowing about life and society is in this book.) : ) One more reason for teaching the Humanities.