He's Got Your Number
These days, the hottest speaker on the education-policy circuit is a soft- spoken 58-year-old professor of statistics who has spent much of his career crunching numbers for agricultural researchers. "I turned down four speaking requests yesterday," says William Sanders, a professor at the University of Tennessee's school of agriculture and, oddly enough, the man who has created a controversial method of judging the effectiveness of teachers and schools. Last year, Sanders flew more than 30,000 miles on Delta Airlines alone, traveling, as he puts it, "from sea to shining sea" to give his standard hour-and-a-half presentation on the benefits of his evaluation system.
"The message is the same wherever I go and whoever I talk to," says the Tennessee native, a courtly man with gray hair who wears wire-frame glasses and speaks with a lilting Southern drawl. "I'm a spokesman for the data." By that, he means that the art of teaching can be quantified by taking students' test scores, plugging the numbers into a computer, and measuring how those students improve from one academic year to the next. Sanders claims his system is "more fair, more realistic, and more reasonable" than any other method of evaluating schools and teachers.
Not everyone agrees, but that hasn't stopped Sanders' system from gaining acceptance. Tennessee has used it since 1992 as part of a statewide school reform package. Florida is taking a close look at it, as are a number of school districts across the country. Some, like District 60 in Pueblo, Colorado,...
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