A recent article by The New York Times calls into consideration the insights of public-schoolchildren into the effectiveness of their teachers. Citing an initiative sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the article discusses the recent practice of surveying these schoolchildren on matters like teacher productivity, attention to mistake-correction, and focus on student-preparation for standardized tests. The survey-questionnaires, developed by Harvard‘s Ronald Ferguson, Ph. D., are then meant to provide bases of correlation with another measure of teacher effectiveness: added value, in terms of change in students’ scores on tests over each year. In this way, the researchers aim toward using the correlate information that students provide, to not only identify the most effective teachers working but likely also to set the stage for high added values wherever possible. As Dr. Ferguson states, “‘Kids know effective teaching when they experience it. [...] As a nation, we’ve wasted what students know about their own classroom experiences instead of using that knowledge to inform school[-]reform efforts.’”
Educational initiatives like this one are particularly to interesting to us at Veritas, because we ourselves are continuously paying attention to the dynamics and the results of our tutor-student interactions via similar surveys of experience. Like Dr. Ferguson, we explore these features of the teacher-student relationship in order to consistently identify and improve great teaching. Yet, unlike Dr. Ferguson, we corroborate the surveying practice with additional, less subjective measures of pedagogical effectiveness.
While attending to students’ knowledge via surveys is important and may cleanly generally promote successes in teaching and education, it seems necessary that advocates of the developing policy also consider the limitations of the surveying methodology and the reciprocal nature of the class-based educative process. Teachers may undeservedly become discredited on the basis of the collected opinions of at most 60 children, who may poorly appreciate their actually valiant efforts, while other teachers may equally undeservedly become credited on parallel bases. Surveying people of any age may be easily confounded by the conscious intentions of the people surveyed, themselves subconsciously influenced by social factors like peer-pressure and observational bias (e. g., the teacher’s presence during survey-completion) as easily as circumstantial factors like incidental context (e. g., the middle of an unusually chaotic day). Moreover, especially in such a large survey, how could one separate out the intentional effects of the teacher from the cooperative effects of his/her students? How would the surveyors know that the value added, attributed to the teacher, would not be more accurately attributed to the diligence and cooperative attention of the students themselves; in other words, how could we know whether a teacher ranked highly for maintenance of classroom order, one of the correlate features of a teacher adding value, might be – not a successful order-maintainer himself/herself – rather a middling maintainer happening to be graced by students whose order is easy to maintain, and vice-versa?
Granted the economically precedent limitations of the survey-study in question, the efforts of these educational scientists are majorly valuable. Yet, the ideal accuracies would, no doubt, derive from getting into the classrooms and actually witnessing the dynamics taking place there on a teacher-by-teacher, class-by-class basis. Aspiring toward these ideal ourselves, we at Veritas constantly appreciate and move toward ways in which to best assess and promote the quality of our tutors. We recognize the difficulties inherent in any attempt to do so, and work to refine our processes drawing on multiple methods (including direct observation, surveys, tutor-coaching, and staff-training sessions). We are committed to delivering the best tailored approaches to education, tailored approaches that mass-surveys and classrooms unfortunately are insufficiently equipped at this time to make or to measure.