Jay Mathews has a new post up about measuring teacher effectiveness. I read it last night and I can't stop feeling frustrated. Oddly enough, not that much by Jay as by some of the comments.
I think teacher effectiveness is invalid term. Or at least the idea of measuring it is invalid. Teachers don't control too many of the factors that effect their effectiveness.
I teach first grade. I teach children to read. When we assess their reading ability they need to be able to decode words fairly fluently and to have understood what they read. So far, so good.
However, if kids have no background knowledge of topics or ideas then it is unlikely they can read the words and understand them. If you have never heard a word it's hard to read. Imagine trying to read a text on computer languages, literary theory, atomic particles, or some other topic completely foreign to you. You will struggle with the words and certainly the understanding.
That's true for so many of our children because they haven't had the exposure to the things we expect them to read about. I'm not suggesting they have limited knowledge, because that is not even remotely true. They know a lot. It's just that the things they know are not in the books we expect them to read. Their experiences to do not match up with middle class society's experiences.
If no one has talked to kids about using money to pay for things, the plants they see around them, the stars in the sky, voting for president, measuring to cook, and on and on and on then these kids come to school less prepared. My daughters have a ton of these experiences. It doesn't make me a better parent than my students' parents. But it does mean that my daughters have a leg up. And so do most middle class kids.
I don't think I've voiced this very well here. I needed to get it off my chest. However, it is something I will keep thinking about and working on to better understand the complexities and, hopefully, to think about what we could be doing to improve the situation for these students.