The Parent Trap
By Jane Weinkrantz
Exactly who should have access to teacher performance ratings is an issue the state is examining after the recent and stunningly awful decision to publish all New York City teachersí scores. Governor Cuomoís opinion, ďI believe that parents have a right to know. I believe teachers have a right to privacy to some extent,Ē invokes a new and heretofore largely absent player from recent discussions about education reform: the parent. Thus far, all the dialogue and legislation about student achievement has revolved pretty much exclusively around the teacher. If a teacherís students are not reaching their allegedly accurate projected academic potential, it must be the teacherís fault. And if it is the teacherís fault, the parent ďhas a right to know.Ē
My question for Governor Cuomo is: once the parent has a right to know, what is it you expect her to do? If I learn that my sonís third grade teacher scored last out of 10 third grade teachers ---and letís remember that even in a school full of high-performing teachers someone is always going to have the lowest score--- what exactly can I do with that information? Should I call the teacher and say, ďI heard youíre not very good. Given your weaknesses, how can we work together to make sure my child learns?
all students canít be placed in classes with the top five teachers. Someone is
going to have to be in Mr. Badratingís class. So, a parent who learns that his
child is assigned to a low-performing teacher is left as impotent as a cat
chasing a laser pointer. What has
sharing the information done but bias the parent against the teacher and weaken
the home-school collaboration? Making parents aware of teacher ratings may be a
bone the Governor is throwing to parents who have not been considered in
As a parent, I find that offensive. My son, Jacob, is about to graduate high school after a very positive academic career in our public schools. His performance in the classes of what I calculate to be nearly 100 teachers from grades K-12 has been consistently good. Even in classes that caused him to struggle, he always succeeded in the end. Though Iím a teacher and feel a certain professional bond with all those who educated him, I refuse to give them all the credit. How can we discount the good nightís sleep I insisted Jacob get every night, the healthy breakfast my husband made him every morning or the quiet study space we provided as contributing factors in his education? Letís not forget the tens of thousands of flashcards we used to quiz him over the years or the multitude of classroom contracts and agenda pages we signed, acknowledging his assignments. Letís not forget back-to-school nights and parent-teacher conferences or the many books he had in his room and the recommendations his aunt, a librarian, offered to keep him reading. Letís not forget the counting, matching and reading software that was on his first computer, a gift from his grandparents, when he was toddler. Letís not forget the hours my husband spent practicing karate with Jacob and teaching him discipline and delayed gratification in the process. Letís not forget all that Oaktag I kept around my house---and still keep unearthing---in case of a last-minute collage assignment. Lastly, letís not forget all the times everyone who cared said ďWeíre so proud of youĒ when Jacob accomplished something and the times we said ďBack to the drawing board!Ē when accomplishment was still to come. Iím not saying we did anything extraordinary. What we did was ordinary; it is what many, many families do and what our current teacher evaluation system fails to recognize--- namely, that parental support is vital to student success.
trend in educational reform is to diminish, if not ignore, all we do to make our
children excited and motivated learners. That family trip you took to
And what if the picture at home isnít so rosy? Letís just say your ex is seriously behind on child support and keeping a roof over your childís head or food in his belly is a challenge. Too bad. What was the test score? Letís say thereís a death in your family right before the ELA. Too bad. What was the test score? Letís imagine that your child has an undiagnosed vision or hearing problem and missed a lot of what was taught in class before getting glasses or a hearing aid. Too bad. What was the test score?
our children are mere indices of teacher performance.
As parents, we are supposed to be delighted by this news, assuming that
making teachers entirely accountable for student progress will lead to better
instruction rather than the narrowing of scope and indifference to individuality
that is certain to hurt our children and limit their sense of inquiry and
imagination. Our efforts to make them the best people they can be are not even
considered in the overhaul our schools are facing. Shouldnít there be
practices in place to support parents such as days off for parent-teacher
conferences, tax breaks for school supplies or workshops for parents who are
struggling? No, our politicians are content to cling to the fiction that all
children arrive at school equally prepared to learn and equally prepared to
perform on tests. As parents, we know differently.
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