If It’s for the Kids, Why Not Ask Their Opinions?

When discussing education reform, it’s common to hear proclamations like, “We’ve got to do it for the students!”

To that end, many of the proposed education reforms center on the teacher, as a consensus is (finally) beginning to take hold that teacher effectiveness is paramount to student success. Ideas for reform include better training and education of teachers and rewarding teachers for the quality of their teaching, as opposed to the amount of time they spend at the front of the classroom.

All of the offered solutions and ideas go back to the sentiment that the whole point of education reform is to give students a better education and better chance in life. But if that’s truly the case, shouldn’t we be asking for their opinions?

An article in the New York Times reported that students actually have a pretty good handle on when they’re in the presence of an effective teacher. Results released from a report funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation show that students who learn the most during the year (as measured by standardized test results) described their teachers as ones who were able to focus their instruction, keep their classrooms under control and help students understand their mistakes.

The report is part of a much larger research project, which also ranks teachers using a method called value-added modeling. The method uses standardized test scores to calculate how much each teacher helped the students learn. Researchers are now using other methods – like student surveys – to corroborate those value-added scores. It seems the results show a correlation between what the students report and what the scores show.

The Times went on to report that out of thousands of students who filled out confidential questionnaires, classrooms where the majority of students said they agreed with the statements, “our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time,” and “in this class, we learn to correct our mistakes,” more often were taught by teachers with high value-added scores.

While college students all across America are asked to evaluate their courses and professors on an annual or semi-annual basis, it’s rare that schools do the same with their K-12 students – leaving teacher evaluations up to pre-arranged classroom observations by the principal or other school administrator.

Students – the ones that are meant to get the greatest benefit from education reform – therefore aren’t given the opportunity to confidentially share their experiences and opinions about the teachers they rely on for their future success.

Maybe it’s time that the adults stop proclaiming and start listening to what the students actually have to say.