Marcus Winter at the City Journal has an out-of-the-box suggestion for tracking student performance and evaluating teachers: Compstat for Teachers.
Compstat, if you’re not familiar, changed the way police across the country fought crime:
This revolutionary data system tracked crime precisely, allowing the New York Police Department to focus its efforts on the most troubled neighborhoods—and to hold precinct captains accountable when things went wrong. Good information is a powerful tool not just in policing but in many policy areas.
Winters suggests that parents, school districts, and local governments utilize the equivalent of Compstat by following a student’s test scores over time. This would paint a better picture of students’ progress and what positive or negative impact a teacher may have:
As more and more states began administering their own tests to students, the scores needed to be collected and the data maintained. Some states and districts went the extra mile and created data systems capable of tracking the performance of individual students over time. And the most sophisticated systems also match students’ data to their teachers, enabling researchers—with the aid of powerful statistical tools—to identify the influence that each teacher has on student academic performance. To a layperson, there may be nothing less interesting than volumes of test-score data inside mainframe computers, but these systems have enormous potential to improve the way we evaluate the quality of our teachers.
Not surprisingly, a certain group of individuals oppose the use of such methods:
After all, who’s against having more information?
The teachers’ unions, that’s who. They’re fighting hard against the adoption of these systems precisely because the information they reveal is so useful. The unions insist, against all evidence and logic, that no meaningful variation exists in teacher quality. Further, in a clear case of making the perfect the enemy of the good, they argue that because test scores are a limited measure of student proficiency and statistical models for evaluating teacher quality are imperfect, the information that data-system analyses produce for individual teachers are not ready for prime time.
A Compstat-like program could be a game-changer in the way we evaluate how our students perform in the classroom. Through the power of statistical analysis, we could gain better insight into what factors affect a student’s performance in the classroom. Perhaps that’s the reason why the teachers’ unions are adamantly opposed to this idea. Accountability for those who need it most always comes as a bitter pill.