To the Editor:
Finally, after all the rhetoric about teacher evaluations being linked with students’ test scores, a sober voice is heard (“Tying Teacher Evaluation to Student Achievement,” Commentary, April 7, 2010). Susan H. Fuhrman’s mention of controlling for the differences among students and the family situations they are coming from—factors beyond a teacher’s or a school’s control—provides readers with a piece of the discussion that seems to have been overlooked until now.
As Ms. Fuhrman notes, using the value-added approach would allow teachers to worry less about how their students’ home situations will affect their own evaluations, and concentrate more on overcoming such factors to help students learn and grow.
I teach at a private high school that enrolls the students public schools, and parents, are not able to serve well (or, in some cases, to deal with at all). Because we are a boarding school, we have an advantage over traditional public schools in that we control what goes on in the students’ lives 24 hours a day. This also means that, as a teacher, I have a long reach in making sure that academics are not overlooked in the many other activities students take part in during weekends and evenings.
The kind of personal and academic turnarounds that private schools like ours can accomplish, even with the most-challenging of students, is just not going to happen in the public schools. When school is out, unmotivated students (and there are more of them all the time) are free to do what they want—and it’s often the unhealthy options available to them that they prefer.
In the end, something must be done to straighten out the home lives of problem students and counter the ways in which our culture and society aid and abet young people’s worst instincts. But how many parents and government officials ever visit public schools to see what’s happening? Worse yet, how many care?
A version of this article appeared in the May 12, 2010 edition of Education Week as ‘Value Added’ Measures for Teachers’ Impact