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Doom, gloom and 'value-added' ratings at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools 

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools recently released a new ratings system that evaluates teacher effectiveness. According to Ann Doss Helms of The Charlotte Observer, "About 40 percent of CMS instructors — those who teach classes with state exams — have been rated using a new 'value-added' formula. It's designed to tease out the part of each child's academic progress that's caused by the teacher."

This latest ratings system has been added to the growing list of controversial measures that CMS is implementing in an effort to improve the school system, but many say is an effort to get rid of more teachers. An elderly neighbor stopped me on the street the other day and as we chatted, she spoke of how CMS is "destroying" its teachers by "scaring them half-to-death." While in CVS, I overheard a woman who appeared to be in her 30s, saying that CMS is getting rid of teachers so that they can give their jobs to a bunch of Teach for America teachers, many of whom, she lamented, were there to get out of paying student loans, not make a difference in classrooms.

As an educator who has recently been going through a tenure review, I understand the precariousness of the evaluation process. What you think should matter as an educator–pedagogical approach, student performance and outcomes, can be seen as "less important" than other factors like scholarly publication records. "Value-added" factors that can enhance the classroom experience, like being able to offer students real-world information about industries in which they want to work, matter less.

While I am not a public school teacher, I understand the stress of being evaluated, even when the criteria are "clearly" defined and communicated. What you value relative to those evaluating you can be two completely different things.

I may value having a real and meaningful connection with my students, but my department chair may value high performance on final exams more. When I was a college student, I thought it was silly to have to read 500 pages a week per class. While I attempted to read most of it and retain some of it, I spent a lot of time skimming. Therefore, my approach in the classroom is to assign enough reading that a student can reasonably digest, so that he or she is actually learning the materials as opposed to making their way through them.

I was once told that I needed to assign more reading for a specific class, to up the rigor of one of my courses. I complied and then I found out that students were not reading at all because they were overwhelmed and stressed out about the amount of reading. So, I cut back a bit, but not to where I originally was, and I found a happy medium — where administrators and students are satisfied and the student outcomes are good.

CMS is trying something new, and new can be scary, especially when it is tied to pay and employment. This is the system's attempt to bring its method of evaluation in line with public school systems throughout the country. I understand trying something new. It is important to try new things, but it is equally as important not to hold teachers hostage while doing it. That is what Superintendent Peter Gorman and other administrators need to consider. Teachers have been under attack (some rightfully so and others not so much) for the better part of the decade. There's a reason why the adage "don't throw the baby out with the bathwater" exists — you have to make sure that you identify and retain the most precious part of the analogy. Quite frankly, without good teachers, there is no education system.

What is worrisome to me is the doom and gloom attitude that has taken over talk of CMS. When I moved here 10 years ago, CMS was a bright spot. It had problems, but people were excited about solving them. Since then, under Gorman, that hope has diminished and become fear. Fear is never a good thing. Fear will drive away good teachers (who need more resources and a little support to become great teachers), when so much emphasis is placed on what they are not doing as opposed to what they are doing. The "value-added" formula is supposed to address this very factor, but it appears that it is just one more way to get rid of teachers.

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