Friday, September 25, 2015

Kansas Solves Teacher Eval Riddle

Governor Sam Brownback wants to pay teachers strictly based on merit, and some legislators think that's a darn fine idea.

For instance, here's a member of the special committee to find a new finance formula for schools

“I say the highest paid individual in your school should be your best teacher, period, and I believe that,” said Rep. Ron Highland, a Republican from Wamego

Of course, lots of folks find that idea appealing, but the problem remains-- how exactly does one determine who that best teacher is? What are the qualities that are most valued in a teacher, and how does one measure those qualities or outcomes or what-have-you? Well, Rep. Highland has that puzzle solved as well.

“I can walk into any school and talk to the janitor and I can tell you who the best teacher is in every school. They all know, so telling me you can’t figure that out, I don’t buy that argument,” said Highland.

So there you have it. Just ask the janitor.

Highland may have a point. I'll bet if I ask a janitor in a school building who the best teacher is, he can give me an answer.

In fact, if I ask two janitors-- or two janitors, a cafeteria lady, the floating specialist, the principal, a couple of parents, and the guy who lives next door to the school, they can all tell me who the best teacher is, they can all tell me.

They just won't tell me the same thing.

Identifying excellent teachers is not a problem. It has never been a problem. The problem has been, and remains, that every person has a different idea about what "excellent teacher" means. Despite repeated insistence by public ed critics and the secretary of education that schools are packed with terrible, awful, no good teachers, I'm betting that it's very hard to find a classroom teacher that doesn't have at least one fan.

You know the old saying-- a person with one watch always knows what time it is, but a person with two watches is never sure.

I'll give Highland this much-- his Ask a Janitor evaluation method couldn't work any worse than the various VAM models in use around the country (assuming the school still has a janitor).


  1. Unfortunately, the school doesn't have a janitor anymore. His job has been outsourced to a temp agency

  2. Art teachers won't stand a chance with the messes their kiddos create! Janitors don't like sweeping up glitter and small bits of paper. The tidy test preppy teacher might get their vote as best teacher.

  3. Art teachers won't stand a chance with the messes their kiddos create! Janitors don't like sweeping up glitter and small bits of paper. The tidy test preppy teacher might get their vote as best teacher.

  4. The best teacher (assuming we could really root him/her out) wouldn't want to be paid more than his/her peers of similar experience and education. Precisely because s/he's a good teacher, s/he understands the detrimental effects of competition engendered by "merit pay".

  5. A merit pay system would produce a teacher-eat-teacher environment while undermining the collaboration that really helps to improve the quality of instruction building wide. These politicians are basing there "common sense" hunches on business models that don't belong anywhere near a classroom. The perfect storm of arrogance and ignorance is producing some absolutely horrendous policy ideas. These education thought leaders that never taught a day in their lives should just go away.

    1. Your comment sort of presupposes that merit pay works in the business world. It really doesn't even work there, as substantial research has shown. That's reason enough not to import this toxic "common sense" into education.

    2. Agreed. merit pay is however, inherent in sales, but other areas of business I would agree that monetary incentives can sound good on paper but generally don't work well with people. And when failed CEOs like Carly are given multi-million dollar golden parachutes, the whole merit pay concept becomes farcical.

  6. This is really funny until it actually happens. One of the best science teachers I've ever known taught in the room next door until he was non-renewed, mainly because the janitors didn't like the clutter of constant long-range biology and geology projects going on everywhere in his room.

  7. @ Dave. Wow. That sucks!

    I have taught art and regular classroom. I tell the students to clean up well because "It's not fair to the janitor to have to do more work." Sometimes a student has argued, "It's his job." I respond "You have to do homework tonight. Should I assign you more work? After all, it's your job to do homework." That has always ended the argument. Nonetheless, sometimes there is glitter everywhere such that my husband claims he saw the setting sunlight glinting off me in the car as I turned onto our street. So I wouldn't want to have "too much glitter mess" show up on my evaluation. So, yeah, sucks.

    @ everyone about merit pay:

    Merit pay works in sales because management can point to an exact cash figure each salesperson has brought in to the company. It's not based on how well the people who bought products did in their businesses, nor on management's opinion of how well each salesman pitches the product. Did that person sell the product? How much?

    It has no application in the classroom. The tests are not comparable to an exact dollar figure.

    Teachers should get together and practice putting the air-ball "Aaaaair-baaaaall" tune to "Crabs in a Bucket" until it's commonly expected that, every time someone starts in with the "teacher-merit pay" argument, someone in the audience will just sing "CraaaabsinaBucket" and cause snickering. Who knows? They may stop with that nonsense after being snickered at enough.

  8. It might help a teacher, especially in Kansas, to remember that the proper title is, in most cases, "custodian," and not "janitor." Make sure your students know that, too, and they understand the difference.

  9. @ Andrew: Yeah. At one school where I work, the two people are called “Maintenance” and “Facilities Management”, and at the other school where I work, they aren't even mentioned in the staff pages. I suspect they come out from an agency. Yeah. Good Point, I suppose. Call them what they are called on the staff pages.

  10. Actually, at the high school where I taught there were more than 100 teachers and probably less than a dozen day and night janitors and most of the janitors worked at night after school ended as they cleaned classrooms so the only teachers they came in contact with were the ones who worked late in to the night like I did when I taught the journalism class for seven years and would be there sometime from 6 AM to 10 PM when the night janitor for the building my classroom was in would drop by to tell us we had to leave because the alarms were being turned on---that's about the only time I ever talked to one of the janitors, and he probably would have voted for me because the journalism kids left him snacks because of the messes they made that he cleaned up. The rest of the time, the few who worked days were usually moving around on electric carts to pick up trash or clean a mess somewhere on campus. Teachers in class teaching seldom if ever saw a janitor in their classroom.

    Pardon my language, but Rep. Highland is a total fucking moron and he is proof that any fool can get elected to office of that fool is backed by another fool who has billions of dollars.