Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

Columns

May 1, 2014

MARK HEINIG: Step back to step forward with school reforms

Adults must retake control of classes from our students

Many K-12 educators expected the news that Indiana teachers received better evaluations than Indiana schools did. Apparently Hoosier legislators did not. They claim the teacher evaluations were too high and ought to correlate more closely with the school ratings. That claim doesn’t make sense.

Teacher evaluation is supposed to be a continuing process to help an individual teacher do a better job in days yet to come. Standardized tests assess how much students have learned in days over and done. Although they both play important roles in education, they are not directly comparable.

If a school gets a low rating while its teachers get high ones, the problems of weaker teachers may have improved or vanished before the formal evaluation. It is also possible weaker teachers have been replaced by then. I could usually identify those teachers early in the school year. Most principals can. Formal evaluations occur much later. If students are suffering because of a poor teacher, why wait until the year is almost over to correct the problem? After the correction, school’s teacher evaluation data will improve.

Guess what! The teacher isn’t the only person in the classroom. The students are there, too. If they don’t do their part, it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, for the teacher to do his part well. Teachers feel powerless and frustrated. They try to teach all students, those who want to learn and those who misbehave, but they get very little help from administrators and parents.

All over Indiana, schools have become places where the students are in control — not the teachers, not the principal, not the district superintendent, not the school board members, and not even the parents.

We do need school reform, but achieving it may involve moving in an unexpected direction. We often think of reforms as changes that lead us forward to a new and better world. However, reforms can also lead us backward to an older yet better world. To achieve lasting improvement, we must first revisit those former days. Each school must review its past practices to determine what succeeded and what failed. Then the school can move forward with reforms that address local needs.

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