MARCH 23, 2012 12:18AM

Post teacher ratings online -- why not?

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Parents and communities are pushing to put teacher ratings online, for the world to see. Whether as public shaming or public praise, there must be some meaning behind the numbers, advocates say, and the public is entitled. I say sure, post the numbers. But once having started to tell the truth, let's keep on going.

If we are going to post teacher performance ratings, let's talk about what makes those numbers work. Because teachers are not cooking uniformly precut fries in uniformly heated oil. Each different student in each different classroom in each different school poses a different challenge; and if we fail to account for these tremedous differences in teacher experiences, then the performance numbers are largely meaningless.

Here are the numbers that really matter. Are there 24 students in the class, or 42? Are there more of fewer desks than students? Are there enough textbooks, and are they mutilated beyond recognition? How many students are in desperate need of remediation when they show up, and how many will get access to the precious resources that could help them?  How many will transfer in or out during any given week, month, semester, year? How many of those students have a mom who drinks or a dad who deals or a cousin in jail or a grandma who is raising them along with 4 cousins in a two-room house? How many well-healed stay-at-home mommies in minivans show up to read with the students and deliver home-made goodies? Does the PTO budget number is the tens of dollars or tens of thousands?

And some more numbers. How many minutes/hours/days elapse before a printer runs out of ink/ a computer goes on the fritz/ a smartboard stops showing any color but pink and someone actually takes care of it? How many times does the one available copy machine choke on its own ink and cover everything in a sticky sludge before the teacher can print one class-set of tests? How many times will a helper bearing forms to be signed immediately interrupt any given period?

And beyond the numbers. Is the teacher required to march her students to the bathroom twice a day like a jailer, or can they be trusted to go on their own? Do the students get enough sleep/ good food/ positive attention at home? If a parent knows the kid has homework, will the parent help or hinder? And if a student behaves in a manner that the rule book and the teacher and the rules of common sense define as reprehensible, can the teacher count on the administration for support, or will the student be back after 2 hours of detention, unremediated and pissed, to wreak further havoc with impunity? And how hard is that kid's life to begin with that it triggers the bad attitude, and what can the teacher do?

 Granted, some teachers transcend all that. And they deserve applause and awards, and salaries we hand out only to really skinny people who look great in a gown, not dowdy middle-aged people waking up at 5 am to make sure that the smart board got fixed and there is no line for the copier. But transcending should not be a job description. And so I say post the teacher ratings, and look at them and be amazed, and then call your local school, find out the truth, and do something about it. 

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