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A Follow Up Letter to Arne Duncan

October 30, 2011

A while ago I had written on this blog about teacher evaluations based on the excellent Linda Darling-Hammond (who should be our Education Secretary) and her research.  In my mind it just doesn’t make sense to tie a teacher’s evaluation to their students’ test scores.  I think this way not because I am a teacher, I think this way because it is common sense, and it is backed up by research that a teacher IS JUST ONE PART of a complicated puzzle with regard to how a student does in school.

There are so many variables that are happening in students’ lives that we, as teachers, have no control over.  We cannot fix their home lives, we cannot provide students with a nice and quiet environment to study, we cannot get students’ parents off of drugs or help them climb out of the devastating poverty that so many face.

We can motivate our students, we can teach them to the best of our ability, but there are simply too many factors that are out of our control with regard to how a student performs on any number of standardized tests.

Today, I would like everyone to read this incredible letter to Arne Duncan.  This letter is a follow up from a telephone conversation between Mr. Duncan and a lady named Carol Burris who is the Principal of South Side High School in New York.  Mr. Duncan called Mrs. Burris because of an open letter that she had written to him in the Washington Post of which a snippet is immediately below:

[T]he punitive evaluation policies that New York state has adopted (and that many other states have adopted) due to the Race to the Top competition are … a dangerous gamble that might score political points but … will hinder what you and I and so many others want — better schools for our kids. We already know from research that reforms based on high-stakes testing do not improve long-term learning.

After this letter, Mr. Duncan called Mrs. Burris, they chatted, and he asked for her suggestions.  What follows is the letter that she sent back to Mr. Duncan, it was written with the help of Kevin G. Welner from the University of Colorado at Boulder.  I hope everyone takes a few minutes to read this embedded letter (below).  I further hope that Mr. Duncan listens to what the authors of this letter have to say, but I have my doubts that he will.

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