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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.

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When it comes to school reform, there are plenty of outspoken advocates. And amongst the loudest voices is Geoffrey Canada, whose Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ) is held up by many around the world as a stellar example of how to transform public education.

No matter whether you agree with his methods or if you're skeptical of the HCZ's results, he is always good for a provocative soundbite about the present and the future of education.

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