To the Editor:
As a veteran California teacher, I salute the state for its database “fire wall” that protects dedicated teachers from the arbitrary nature of federal Race to the Top eligibility guidelines (“California ‘Fire Wall’ Becomes Hot Issue,” Aug. 12, 2009). Did President Barack Obama or U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan ever teach in an urban public school?
I spent my career teaching math in Los Angeles secondary schools—half in a selective private school, half in the Los Angeles Unified School District. I was the same teacher in both, making my best effort with every student, but not always achieving the same results. By which would I be judged?
Public schools are enriched by the socioeconomic and ethnic diversity of their students. The public magnet school where I taught (grades 7-12) drew students from elementary schools throughout Los Angeles—students bringing varied learning experiences, backgrounds, abilities, and attitudes.
To meet their individual needs, we offered honors and Advanced Placement classes, regular and remedial classes—especially in math and language arts. Among my six classes of 35 to 40 students in a typical year, I taught basic math for struggling students, regular prealgebra and Algebra 1, and honors algebra. By which students’ performance on standardized tests would I be evaluated—or compensated—under this new, data-driven plan?
Our Algebra 1 students took the Golden State exam in algebra each year. There was no penalty for poor scores, but plenty of recognition for success. Those who applied themselves to the coursework did very well. But how responsible for students’ abilities and attitudes are their teachers? When some of the brightest kids refuse to focus, are teachers at fault?
I would respectfully ask President Obama and Secretary Duncan: If teachers are punished when students do poorly on standardized tests, who will want to teach?
Betty Raskoff Kazmin
A version of this article appeared in the September 02, 2009 edition of Education Week as Protecting Good Teachers From Arbitrary Guidelines