Newsday on Long Island ran an article about the exorbitant cost of new teacher evaluation programs mandated by the state to comply with its Race to theTop grant.

The editorial board of the newspaper opined in favor of the unproven, heavy-handed plans to judge teachers and principals by student scores.

The superintendent of the Southold, Long Island, schools wrote a wise response to the editorial:

What is the true cost of the new teacher and principal evaluation systems?

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”
-Albert Einstein

When we look at the cost of principal and teacher evaluation (Newsday Editorial, Teacher evaluations usually not ‘unfunded’ 11/27/12) there is a temptation to look at the numbers and come to the conclusion that the benefits of a new system are worth it, except for the complaints coming from educators. Beyond the dollars and cents lurks a far greater cost for something that is bereft with many untested variables. The public at-large rightfully demands a sound return for their investment in taxpayer dollars—whether local property taxes, or precious resources at the state level. Dig just beneath the surface of the new evaluation system and discover the true hidden costs.

Both large and small school districts face the same dilemma regarding the effective design of their respective educational systems. This is true whether we look at establishing a vigorous curriculum, defining the proper role and use of educational technology, determining how we should preserve school infrastructure, as well as what are effective means to monitor and evaluate all facets of the educational enterprise? Examine any public or private initiative or undertaking and you will find both effective and efficient ways to measure what works; you will also find cumbersome, over-intrusive, and costly designs for such systems of measurement.

The presumption that what works in one sector applies equally to others using the same or similar metrics which renders a determination of where quality lives may in fact be shortsighted at the very least, and detrimental to an organization’s mission at worst. The educational establishment is not, and should not be, exempt from scrutiny, or effective means to evaluate results. The current system, well underway, is not such an effective or efficient means to conduct such an evaluation.

The personal and professional opinions of citizens, policymakers, legislators, and practitioners run the gamut when it comes to a prescription for what ails the educational system. Look in one school and you find a drop out rate that should alarm everyone for what it portends in the way of the true cost to society in the years ahead (reliance on social service support, possible incarceration, let alone the human travesty of lives that go unfulfilled). Look elsewhere and you may see aspiring artists, musicians, and the like being nurtured in their respective school community. The aspiration for career and college readiness is not, and will not be, enhanced with an agenda that over tests and under engages students. Measuring the outcomes under a single banner that accounts for all variables would be difficult at best.

The true cost comes not in what we gain from this new system but what we lose with its narrow focus of effectiveness despite an expansive investment of time and energy to render judgments on what that effectiveness may look like. This time is equatable to dollars, but worse, it drains resources from the true mission of public education—to imbue a clear and compelling sense of purpose for the ideals of our American democracy, our entrepreneurial spirit, and a commitment to preserve our past and find our future. This prescription for measurement would leave the most ambitious and innovative private company ill equipped to compete with a more nimble and creative enterprise that does not find itself in a misguided mode of compliance.

Rather than champion the broad brush approach that is presently being administered throughout every schoolhouse in the state, the editors of Newsday would be well served to critically examine the net effects of this rush to judgment by looking at examples the world over that produce excellent results in school. Countries like Finland and Canada do not use a similar means of evaluation to arrive at an unequivocal definition of success. In fact in some cases you need look no further than right here on Long Island.

David Gamberg
Southold School District