December 18, 2013

Testimony on Teacher Effectiveness

For the Joint Interim Education Committee

As a student, I am honored to literally be sitting at the table with such esteemed education activists addressing an important issue as important as ensuring effective teachers in every Kentucky classroom. But at the same time, I am compelled to disclose that I do not claim to provide THE student perspective on the issue.

If my peers and I have learned anything over the past year through our involvement with the Student Voice Team, it is that THE student perspective does not exist. Taken as a general demographic, students are at least AS diverse as adults. And that makes sense really. I mean, if there was only one adult perspective, the special session to figure out redistricting earlier this year would have gone over a lot smoother.

The Team on Teacher Effectiveness Report gives significant credit to the role student feedback plays in the teacher evaluation process. Drawing from sources like the Gates Foundation's recent Measuring Effective Teaching (MET) study which argues that “student surveys produce more consistent results than classroom observations or achievement gain measures” the Prichard Committee Teacher Team report strongly endorses what it calls “giving voice to the intended beneficiaries.”

The Kentucky Department of Education has already made huge strides in this area. Last year, Kentucky piloted the student voice survey to collect feedback about teacher effectiveness from students across the state. Now, plans are in place for all Kentucky students in grades 3-12 to take an online survey allowing them to weigh in on teaching practices, learning conditions and their own engagement in the classroom.

And isn't this just as it should be? Doesn't it make intuitive sense that the most successful students are those who feel some measure of ownership in their education?

As we reach out to students across the state through social media, Skype and intimate roundtable discussions, we are finding that many Kentucky students want to be a part of improving the classroom experience. And we are finding that if we choose to listen to these young people, they can profoundly enrich the feedback loop—especially when it comes to supporting the teaching experience.

Lexington senior Ben Swanson shared insight about the teachers whom he credits most with his academic success. “My best teachers have a mix of two attributes: dedication and competence," he told us. "Teachers who've impacted me the most care about their subjects and their students and willingly dedicate immense time and effort—far beyond that commensurate with their salaries—to students. But that dedication must be matched with competence to translate into good teaching. Teachers must be organized, clear, and realistic, and that requires a high degree of competence.”

Boyle County senior Bryce Marshall shared the attributes of his single most effective teacher with great precision: “My calculus teacher is probably my most inspiring teacher," he said. "He's been through life; his wife divorced him, he gave up a lucrative position as a civil engineer to become an underpaid teacher and he devotes all his spare time to his children. Before his class, math was an area that I would avoid. I would schedule the bare minimum classes and not enjoy any of the learning that occurred in them. How does he do this? you might ask. Every day, we have a goal that we have to achieve. We have to push through our notes and discussion to reach a certain section of our textbook, but along the way, he ensures that there are personal stories that create a bond experienced not by an educator but by a teacher who truly cares about the minds that he is shaping.”

We have collected—and are continuing to gather—many more such voices from throughout the state. And though I can't share all of them with you today, I can share two distinct themes that are beginning to emerge:

  1. Teachers effect the lives of their students in a plethora of ways in and beyond the classroom itself—and many students want to and do acknowledge that contribution

  2. Students are capable of providing constructive, substantive feedback to classroom teachers in real time to help improve both the learning and the teaching experience.

The Team on Teacher Effectiveness Report hinges on the assumption that great teachers can change the world. I hope my presence on the Prichard Committee and at the table today—along with some of my student colleagues in the audience—illustrate the potential that young people have to contribute to this dialogue. Many of us want to be more than just beneficiaries of successful educators; we also aspire to be partners in ensuring that all Kentucky students have the benefit of effective, amazing—teachers.

This testimony was written by the Student Voice Team and delivered by Andrew Brennen. The testimony was given in conjunction with testimony from Stu Silberman, the Executive Director of the Prichard Committee.

Andrew Brennen

Andrew Brennen

Andrew is a Senior Advisor and co-founder of KSVT. He is a former member and was previously the Student Director. Andrew graduated from Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in 2014 and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2019. He is a student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.