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Should Students Be Able to Grade Their Teachers?

A new policy in Memphis will take student reports into consideration when evaluating a teacher. But can kids recognize a good one?

My first year teaching in Compton, California, I asked some of my students who they thought was the meanest teacher in the school. The consensus was unanimous: "Ms. Wysinger is SO mean! She makes you do all your homework. If you don't, you miss your recess. And she's always giving quizzes. And you can't talk in her class." After a few minutes of venting, the students conceded, "Yeah, I guess she's cool sometimes." I spent lots of time in Ms. Wysinger's room learning from her because indeed, she was serious about teaching—and her students' grades and test scores were correspondingly phenomenal. So when I recently read about a new teacher evaluation plan approved for the Memphis Public Schools where student opinions will now count for five percent, I couldn't help but wonder how students would mark the no-nonsense teachers like her.

Student opinions are important, of course. An effective teacher is going to regularly take the pulse of her classroom to make sure all kids feel comfortable asking questions, feel like they're part of a classroom community, and feel respected and valued. But, when it comes to formal evaluation, it seems a little odd to give a children the responsibility of evaluating a teacher when they might not actually have the skill or the maturity to recognize a good one.

Keith Williams, the president of the Memphis Teachers Association, told the local paper, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, that he wonders, "How well can a first- or second-grader do on this? Will it be favoritism? Will it be based on popularity or will it be some objective data?" It's a good question, and it certainly seems that some students might take advantage of the fact that they have the power to affect whether their teacher has a job. Can't you just hear an angry student telling her teacher, "I'm going to give you bad marks on your evaluation!"?

It would be better to have a principal observe the interactions between teachers and students, and poll parents about their children's experiences. However, Memphis says they can't include parent opinions because they don't have accurate contact information for most of them. Really? Maybe instead of asking students to grade their teachers, getting on top of connecting parents to the classroom would be a better use of time and resources.

Of course, I asked my fourth-grade son what he thinks of this and he disagrees with me. He believes that students would be fair and would be able to help get "the bad or mean teachers" out of the classroom. I can't help but wonder if he'd consider Ms. Wysinger one of the mean teachers and give her low marks, thus helping usher an incredibly effective educator out the door.

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