In a recent post, I discussed the questionable value of student survey data to inform teacher evaluation models. Not only is there little research support for such surveys, but the very framing of the idea often reflects faulty reasoning.
A quote from a recent Educators 4 Excellence white paper helps to illustrate the point:
For a system that aims to serve students, young people’s interests are far too often pushed aside. Students’ voices should be at the forefront of the education debate today, especially when it comes to determining the effectiveness of their teacher.
This sounds noble… but seriously, why should students’ opinions be “at the forefront of the education debate”? Are students’ needs better served when we ask students what they need directly? Research on this is explicit: no, not really.
In addition, the assertion that students’ judgments should be paramount makes the implicit assumption that those who care most about a topic are most correct in their opinions about it. Since when did caring the most or being the most directly affected – the case with children and the education system – become a viable substitute for factual knowledge and rational decision-making?
In the case of parents’ discipline policies, children are also the most directly affected – does this mean that they are also the best judge of what’s best for them? In the case of the healthcare system, patients are the most directly affected and certainly care the most deeply about their own outcomes – so, should patients’ opinions of their doctors be “at the forefront” of today’s health policy debate? The logic seems weak to me.
According to author and philosopher Jamie Whyte “it seems you can’t argue with the morally sincere” – see here. But research tells us that, if we really care to incorporate children’s opinions in teacher evaluation, the surveys they take must be made and used in a manner that circumvents the biases they will inevitably, unintentionally, and unconsciously display when assessing their teachers.
And, if we really care about children and the quality of their education, we should not let sincere concern become a license for irrationality. Rationality and evidence, however imperfect, are the tools that, as Whyte explains, give our beliefs “the greatest chance of being true.”
- Esther Quintero