Thursday, November 19, 2015

Pursuit of Better Classroom Data: Is It Improvement of Teaching or of Classroom Surveillance?

Perhaps there's a truth here about accountability and testing that we have ignored: the use of standardized testing, value-added models, and growth models in teacher evaluations is all about subjecting the classroom to techniques of surveillance. To put it bluntly, they are spy tactics. Their purpose is to peer into the classroom to see if teachers are teaching the "prescribed" curriculum, and to see if teachers are adhering to the "rules of best practice" as they teach. These surveillance techniques are based on a fundamental mistrust of teachers' professional judgment regarding how they should be teaching and how their students perform.

The current efforts to perfect the evaluation of teachers aren't really just about improving teacher effectiveness: they are about sharpening the gaze into the classroom. They are about making the classroom more visible to those higher up the administrative chain. They are about finding the means to "objectively" determine whether teachers are teaching in the manner prescribed by "best practices" and whether they are teaching only the content that can be subjected to testing.

What testing and accountability experts have discovered though, is that tests are imperfect. The image they project of the teachers' performance is at best blurred and opaque. Even with new-fangled "value-added models," seeing teachers' effectiveness is foggy and unreliable. Now, they are seeking other ways to increase classroom surveillance. They are seeking other "spies" which might provide them with a clearer gaze of what's happening in the classroom. What are those new techniques for gazing into classrooms? They are called "student surveys."

Interestingly, student surveys turn students into 25 or 30 pairs of eyes that can report back to administration regarding whether classrooms are conducted in the manner dictated by the laws of "best practices." The student survey becomes another instrument with which the administration and government can sharpen its gaze into the classroom to make sure teachers' conduct adheres to "best practices." Underlying the use of student surveys is the assumption as well that if teachers know that 25 or 30 pairs of eyes are watching that might potentially report deviance back to the administration, those teachers will engage in the expected teaching behaviors. Thus, the control of the classroom becomes more complete.

We need to perhaps realize that the push to ever better classroom data is maybe more about control and transformation of the teaching and the teaching profession into a non-profession where teachers are simply "technicians of learning" whose professional judgment means nothing. The next generation of teachers will not need to exercise professional judgment: they will only need to conduct their classes in the prescribed manner by the "sciences of teaching." The question then becomes, "Are we really producing the kinds of students that our world needs?" Students newly manufactured and stamped with the US Department of Education's approval as being "Globally competent."

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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