The Grumpy Giraffe

Critiques on social and education issues

Taking the human component out of teaching

Education is a bizarre arch-nemesis. Politicians like to pan-handle voters with serenades of education reforms claimed to be revolutionary. Parents claim that education is the most important, but constantly criticize the profession of teaching, especially when teachers get their collective bargaining rights stripped away from them. Is education a friend or foe? No one is sure.

From what I gather, education today is that rich kid you don’t really like at school, but you try to befriend him anyway because he gets you into the best clubs in town.

After decades of angry parents and agonized teachers, the Gates Foundation believes they have found the key ingredients to making a great teacher.

To summarize, the Foundation combined test scores, student survey evaluations, value-added stat measures, and peer and principal evaluations to form an overall score for said teacher.

In Layman’s terms from Reddit (but cleaned for vulgarity):

  • Teach to the test.
  • Appease your administrator.
  • Appease your students.

Washington Post does not elaborate (if mention at all) the methodology behind the research. This project took 3 years and spent $45 million. This money could have been put to better use.

The intentions were good, but these “results” were unenlightening at best.

True teaching is not about scores. Before I have pragmatists burn down my door, I want to clarify that I do believe we need to find a reasonable negotiation between teaching from the heart and teaching to a curriculum.

There is no doubt that there are key elements that make a good teacher, but the idea that test scores can measure the human profession of teaching is beyond insulting to the entire profession. Educators in the field, student teachers included, know that teaching is much more profound and complex than a number on a sheet.

Teachers are in loco parentis, that is, acting as a parent to the child during school hours. Being a parent is not about the score. Parenting is about understanding that the child has complex emotional events in his or her life, and helping them through their troubles. Similarly, teaching is about caring about the child and listening to their problems as well. Many teachers know more about the child than the parent does, not only due to the long school day, but also because teachers are trained to talk with children and to create a nurturing environment for learning to occur.

This article does not even mention the cognitive differences of the students, nor any part of the methodology. Which schools were chosen, and how? What standards did they use to increase the level of difficulty in the “more complicated tests of their conceptual math knowledge and reading and writing abilities”? Which students were tested? Special ed, IEP, mainstream, gifted? What were the SES of these students, their families, the teachers, and the community?

What type of tests did they use? What do they look like?

There are so many variables that were not mentioned at all.

The study does not discuss equitable teaching practices either, since they are not quantifiable. Is it good teaching when a teacher marks differently a child’s poetry assignment isn’t a poem, but is a run-on sentence describing the night before when his parents were fighting over a lost job? What happens when a child comes in hungry, and does an assignment incorrectly? What would the “good teacher” do, according to the test scores?

Test scores are not everything.

It truly is frightening that the Gates Foundation, founded by two very intelligent people with such rich cultural capital, have used a strictly quantitative method to “judge” good teachers. Teaching deals with complex emotional issues that are very real for children and youth. It is beyond teaching what the World War I was, or the parts of an onion cell.

There does need to be some type of evaluation for teachers, but a strictly quantitative method is certainly not the answer. Teaching is a job that is highly qualitative: it requires knowing the subjects personally to be able to make an equitable judgement.

To assume that the elements of a good teacher can be quantified into test scores (of all things!) demonstrates a shamefully shallow understanding of the profession. This study did not bring in any new knowledge. Rather, due to the strong cultural capital of the Gates Foundation, the cult-like religion of test-worshippers only gains more support, and is strongly reinforced in mainstream culture. North America is already saturated in the belief of test scores.

This is highly insulting to the profession, and a true embarrassment to the Gates Foundation.

This is one step back for humankind.


13 comments on “Taking the human component out of teaching

  1. Thanks for posting stories like these to keep up awareness.

  2. Criminal Lawyer In Houston
    January 29, 2013

    Outstanding. Certainly.

  3. Pingback: Mass Observation Project – Summer 2012 Directive | Day in the life of a Busy Gal…

  4. Wonderful. I agree.

  5. OneWeekToCrazy
    January 19, 2013

    As pre-professional working on my Master’s in Education, I really really appreciate thepieces you write here. I find the second and third of the points most interesting (appease administrators and appease students). Education and knowledge is not about appeasing anyone. It’s about pushing the envelope and taking students to that level of discomfort in their cognitive thinking that will help them become brilliant future citizens/parents/employees/friends.

    I adore your perspective and your blog as a whole!

    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      January 19, 2013

      The zone of proximal development? :) I like testing the limits too. If students get too comfy, they aren’t really learning.

  6. RightFromYaad
    January 18, 2013

    Reblogged this on RightFromYaad and commented:
    Because something has a name of authority stamped on it, doesn’t mean we can’t question the findings. One may come to the same conclusions, draw different inferences or develop a new set of question, perhaps of even more depth. This article does all that and more in analyzing a Report on Teaching in America sponsored by the Gates Foundation

  7. Samantha
    January 17, 2013

    First of all, I am very happy I found your blog. I’m finding myself agreeing with and enjoying your posts.

    Secondly, test scores is one of the most annoying things to me. It should be an assessment of how the student is doing, rather than how well the teacher is teaching. There are definitely bad teachers out there, but a lot of times the reason a child is not learning is so much more complex than bad grades, or laziness, or forgetfulness. How does one determine whether a kid is doing badly in class because they are struggling or because they’re bored? You are absolutely right, teaching cannot be quantified, and the list of items that supposed made up “good teaching” are the things I hated most in teaching style throughout school. I don’t want you to teach me only what’s on the test. I want you to answer my questions and divulge the knowledge you have to offer even if it’s not required. My best teachers were always ones people thought were “mean” or “hard” or disliked greatly. They weren’t actually any of these things, they just cared about their students and weren’t going to let them slip by unnoticed.

    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      January 17, 2013

      Thank you so much! There’s also a big possibility that the student could have negligence or abuse issues at home, and indicators of this can look like boredom or rebellion at school.

      Because of how famous the Gates Foundation is, I suppose it will only be more difficult to deconstruct the glorification of testing.

  8. jcmarckx2009
    January 17, 2013

    Triple Like!!!

  9. sweetohio16
    January 17, 2013

    Love this. My dream job is to become a high school teacher, and it has been since I was 6. But growing up in this education system and seeing how much red tape teachers are forced to go through, I have had to change my plans. It makes me terribly sad to imagine a world solely based on test scores, lacking real passion for the content or the students’ success beyond As and Bs.

    • The Grumpy Giraffe
      January 17, 2013

      I wanted to become a teacher since I was 6 as well, and am currently in my final year in the Concurrent Education program. Canada’s a bit different, especially Ontario, so I’m not too upset over the system here. However, I decide to go down this path because I wanted to make a difference to the educational system that I didn’t really like, and I saw a lot of room for improvement.

      Don’t give up your dream!

      • raimyd
        January 18, 2013

        I too dream about teaching some day, our educational system needs to evolve! We should start embracing values that build not only intellect, but also a sound mental and spiritual foundation that will enable the student to become adults who are economically independent, who contribute to society and who service humanity.

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This entry was posted on January 17, 2013 by in education, politics, school, society, teaching and tagged , , , , , , .


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