Outside Evaluators


I was planning on writing up all the exciting CS Education work I got to be involved in these past two days but I saw a post on one of the CS discussion forums that got me riled.

There's a teacher (name withheld to protect the innocent) who wants to create an advanced course for his students but his administration is requesting an outside measure of accountability. This sounds reasonable on the surface but I found it really insulting.

As teachers we're hired as the professional - the specialists with the responsibility to teach our students. Parents leave their children with us all day every day with the understanding that we'll do our best to do right by our charges.

Yet here we are being told "you can't be trusted to design a course for you students and assess them. You need an outsider for that." Now, I'm not advocating that teachers operate without supervision - it is indeed part of a school's administration's job to evaluate, support, and improve its faculty. What I am saying is that teachers should be trusted to teach and to assess.

Actually, we still do trust teachers in some areas. How many English classes are free not only of standardized tests but tests altogether. My kids were in band and chorus. The assessments were all performance based and all designed and administered by their teachers. Same with many art classes. It's funny how students in instrumental music and hands on art classes learn to love and appreciate the arts. At the same time, at least at Stuy, students who instead went through the paper and test based art and music appreciation classes left, let us say, less enthusiastic about the subject matter.

Even in more test based subjects - precalc is a great example here we trust the teachers to assess. There's no precalc regents or AP exam - everything's designed, implemented, and assessed in house.

Just because CS is the new kid on the block doesn't mean that CS classes all need some external evaluator. If you don't trust your teachers to assess you shouldn't teach them to teach.

Now, this is not to say that there aren't time for external assessments or engaging outside parties to help us design, deliver, and assess educational experiences. High School CS teachers can use higher Ed CS people and tech industry players to great effect but it's the teacher that should drive these relationships and partnerships.

The bottom line question is "do you trust your teachers or not." If you do, you should empower them and support them to do their thing. It's like a former teacher of mine always said: "to solve the education problem, hire great teachers and get the F out of the way!" On the other hand, if you don't trust your teachers, something's fundamentally wrong in your school.