Rewarding Zenaida Tan

The idea has gotten out there that proponents of measuring and rewarding high-quality teaching are somehow engaged in “teacher-bashing.” I think that’s one part bad faith on the part of our antagonists, one part misunderstanding on the part of people who don’t follow the issue closely, and at least one part our own fault for focusing too much on the negative. So I think it’s great that as part of its big data dump on teacher quality in the LA Unified School District, the LA Times took the time to write a profile of one of the city’s most effective teachers, third grade English teacher Zenaida Tan. Her students show much bigger gains in both reading and math competency over the course of the year than do the average teacher’s students.

The LAT notes that the current system doesn’t allow Tan to be recognized as the brilliant teacher she is:

By the LAUSD’s measure, Tam simply “meets standard performance,” as virtually all district teachers do — evaluators’ only other option is “below standard performance.” On a recent evaluation, her principal, Oliver Ramirez, checked off all the appropriate boxes, Tan said — then noted that she had been late to pick up her students from recess three times.

“I threw it away because I got upset,” Tan said. “Why don’t you focus on my teaching?! Why don’t you focus on where my students are?”

As Kevin Carey says if you care about recognizing the contributions teachers make to society, you should be supporting the development and deployment of measures of quality. Excellent teachers deserve to be paid enough money to keep them teaching, and they deserve acknowledgment for the crucial role they play in shaping the nation’s future for the better. But it’s impossible for them to get the acknowledgment they deserve if we assess them only on crude measures like “does she have a master’s degree?” and “did she show up on time for recess?” The main point of school is to teach kids stuff, so we need to measure what kids are learning.