Evaluation and Power

Evaluations– assessment in general– is a thorny issue for teachers and for teachers’ unions. It starts with the traditional union resistance to the merit raise. Unions, not too surprisingly, prefer to negotiate pay for all of their members at once, rather than for individual members. Perhaps most importantly, education is best served by a workforce of well paid-teachers. Too often, too, merit systems are used by administrators to reward what they consider good behavior.

Good behavior, for example, might include anti-union teachers, or teachers that support policies that favor the administration. So unions generally advocate avoiding the entire mess by letting the rising tide raise all boats. That’s only the start of the problems associated with evaluation, though. It’s also a question of power; not simply who has the final say on evaluations, but also which tools are used in the evaluation. Administrations tend to want full control over the entire process.

Unions and teachers resist this, for obvious reasons. If the administration controls evaluations, or controls the methods of evaluations, teachers can be written right out of the proses. It’s not just undemocratic, it’s arguable the least effective way to assess teaching. Teachers are the better judge of fairness, and more likely to take into account the conditions and limitations of their jobs. That’s true of all workers. Democracy– bottom up governance- works best, generally speaking.

All of this has left unions open to all sorts of absurd charges and, often, to a public perception that unions reward bad teachers or resist the idea of improving education. It’s fascinating, then, and probably good news, to hear that the American Federation of Teachers is resisting the weight of all of this history and trying to come up with a ‘union-made’ evaluation plan (“Union Chief Seeks to Overhaul Teacher Evaluation“). We all have a dog in this fight, to use the cliche.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Post Navigation