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Parents See Ups, Downs of Teacher Ratings

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Chicago is hammering out a new way to evaluate its teachers. Every school district is required to do so by Illinoislaw. Chicago is going a step further, however. The district wants to let parents know how well each of its nearly 22,000 teachers performs. WBEZ finds parents to ponder the plan.

Ron Huberman isn’t just the CEO of Chicago Public Schools. He also has a one-year-old son. And as he told the City Club earlier this month, when he sends him to school in a few years, he’s going to have one big concern:

HUBERMAN: If I look at the neighborhood school that’s right around the corner from my house in Chicago, I can tell you—the first thing that crosses my mind, and what crosses parents’ minds across the city when they send a kid to our school—am I getting a good teacher?

RISTE: When we have a good teacher, they’re like nice and…

Leah Riste is a sixth grader at that school right around the corner from Huberman’s house, McPherson Elementary in Ravenswood. It’s mostly Latino, mostly low-income.

RISTE: When we have a good teacher they actually teach us and stuff, but the other teacher, she just kept yelling at us. And we didn’t really learn anything or anything.

Measuring how much kids learn is at the crux of a nationwide push to change how teachers are evaluated.

It’s also controversial. The Los Angeles Times published individual teacher ratings recently--they were based on the progress kids showed on state tests—and they sparked a boycott and protests.

In Chicago, Huberman wants to release similar information.

Parent Greta Madigan says that will be helpful, but only to a point.

MADIGAN: You can’t necessarily go in and say, ‘I want that teacher, I want that teacher.’ So in certain ways, if people are telling you that, you might think somebody else is a bad teacher.

Identifying “bad” teachers may be part of the idea, actually. Right now, 87 percent of CPS teachers get a rating of “superior” or “excellent” from their principals.

The district believes basing part of a teacher’s evaluation on student test scores will help identify teachers who need to get better…and others who need to go.

Madigan wonders if a “good” teacher is necessarily good for all kids. She has two at McPherson.

MADIGAN: They both have different learning styles. Ms. Warnicki was a kindergarten teacher that my son had—and she was perfect for him. And Ms. Czaja, was the one my daughter had, a little more soft-spoken, was perfect for her.

Madigan says she wouldn’t think of comparing those two teachers based on how far they took her children academically, because her daughter has a learning disability that was only discovered later.

Teachers and statisticians say judging teachers based on kids’ test scores is complicated and not always reliable.

If teacher ratings had been out there, parent Hernan Luza would have used them to figure out if McPherson was the school for his daughter.

LUZA: Being able to know what result they have in the past—I think it’s very important. If I go get a job, they want to look at my resume—see what I’m good at and what I’m not. It just makes sense that we do the same with teachers or doctors.

But Luza says the ratings Huberman releases should include more than test scores.

LUZA: Actually in the review they would need to put a part: how the kids feel, or how the [parents] feel, how they view their teachers . That’s important.

Sixth grader Adam Vcherashansky LOVES his teacher.

ADAM: She goes a lot of places like around the world. And she brings pictures and stuff to show us back.

Clearly that’s valuable—but will it show up on Adam’s test scores? Does the fact that Adam loves his teacher affect how much he learns?

Parent Misti Peppler lives near McPherson, but she doesn’t send her children there. Instead, they go to a magnet school, as do lots of other middle-class kids in this neighborhood.

If the district does publish teacher ratings, maybe that would change too.

Teacher quality matters so much, researchers have found kids are better off at a “bad” school with a good teacher than they are at a good school with a bad teacher.

PEPPLER: I have had the experience of having a teacher I wasn’t satisfied with… I can tell that teacher didn’t know my child very well, didn’t know the abilities of my child…

CHILD: Me?

PEPPLER: No… I’m not talking about you. I’m not talking about anybody right now specific.

Chicagoans could be talking about specific teachers soon. The district says it’s eager to get teacher information to parents.

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