Why New York City fails on teacher evaluations

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The student, all of 12 or 13 years old, slammed my already broken left hand against the cinder-block wall. Pain shot down my plastered skin. The boy then ran out of the suspension room, pursuing another student with whom he had gotten into a fistfight.

I called over the intercom to the main office. I couldn’t chase the students. I had a room full of their peers, all hyped up by the fight, to look after. The principal caught the boys, fighting, and they were suspended from school.

It was the spring of 1991. While waiting to enter the Peace Corps, I took a job as the in-school suspension-room teacher at a Nassau County middle school that will go unnamed. It was the most trying six months of my life. The experience taught me more about our education system than I had learned at Teachers College, Columbia University’s graduate school of education, the year before.

That experience is, in large part, the reason I oppose New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s proposal to lay off teachers based not on seniority, as is now the case, but on their performance in the classroom.

The city has developed a complex algorithm called the “value-added evaluation model” to determine a teacher’s worth. It looks at the test scores of teachers’ students in a given year and spits out expected average scores for the students the following year. If teachers fail to meet their expectations, they receive failing grades.

If a teacher is in his or her first three years in the classroom, he or she will likely not receive tenure, even if the majority of that teacher’s students pass their state-mandated tests.

The New York Times’s Michael Winerip recently wrote an On Education column about Stacey Isaacson, a 33-year-old New York City teacher with two Ivy League degrees who puts in 12-hour days to ensure that her students succeed.

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