The Personal Story

Washington Post, April 13, 2011

Anyone who is a parent knows how determined, even desperate, we can be to do the best by our children, particularly in the areas of health care or education. We want them to have every opportunity to grow into healthy, happy, and thoughtful people. We hope and pray for their success.

Indeed, the Boston Globe recently ran a series spotlighting the enormous anxiety experienced by Boston parents as they awaited news of their young children’s school placements.

President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan are also parents who naturally want the best for their four kids, and so they enrolled them in Sidwell Friends, a private school in Washington, D.C., and in the Arlington, Va., public schools, respectively.

Do these excellent schools evaluate or pay teachers on the basis of student standardized test scores? This question is important because the issue of  “Pay for Performance” models of teacher evaluation now dominates the intense debate over education reform. Nationally, Secretary Duncan has voiced his support for performance-based merit pay. In Massachusetts, the State Board of Education is going to hold its April public hearing on whether teacher evaluation should be tied to student test scores, and, if so, to what extent.

I wanted to find out how Sidwell Friends and the Arlington Public Schools approached the pay-for-performance issue. What did the President and the Secretary seek and obtain for their own kids, where the important issue of teacher evaluation was concerned.

The answers just arrived in two emails:

• “We do not tie teacher evaluations to scores in the Arlington public school system.” 
            (Arlington school district teacher, March 31, 2011)

• “We don't tie teacher pay to test scores because we don't believe them to be a reliable indicator of teacher effectiveness.”
            (Sidwell Friends faculty member, April 1, 2011)


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