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Posted: Thursday, November 29, 2012 11:42 pm | Updated: 12:07 pm, Mon Jan 21, 2013.

Letter to the editor

Nov. 29, 2012

To the editor:

The report about Gov. Sean Parnell seeking to base 50 percent of Alaska’s teachers’ evaluations on the performance of students demonstrates how out of touch he is with the realities of public education.

As with any profession, there are poor quality teachers, and it is important that we have tools to weed out those who can’t perform adequately. However, weighting evaluations so heavily on student achievement leaves teachers professionally liable for the one aspect of each child’s education that they cannot control: parental involvement.

It is a simple fact that if children’s parents do not stress the value of education and involve themselves in their schooling by staying abreast of what their kids are learning, enforcing the completion of all schoolwork and ensuring that their children are at school every day — properly fed, well behaved and ready to learn — those children will have far less likelihood of success than classmates who are required by their parents to perform well.

No teacher can be expected to successfully compete against parents who never ask if their children’s homework is done and don’t keep track of their grades, much less parents who are perennially absent or, worse yet, abusive. Kids growing up under such circumstances can be found throughout Alaska, and to hold their teachers singularly responsible for their poor academic performance is to completely ignore the true cause of their problems.

From its inception, this has been the fatal flaw of the No Child Left Behind Act, which is ultimately driving the governor’s efforts in this area. Schools with large numbers of children whose parents require academic excellence enjoy high scores on mandatory tests, while those situated in neighborhoods where education isn’t as deeply valued are labeled “failed.”

There is a limit to how far teachers can go in overcoming parental indifference. Because the NCLB overlooks this shortcoming, it is doomed to nonfulfillment, and efforts at complying with it only distract from making viable improvements in public education.

We cannot require parental evaluations in a free society. Passing parental failures off on teachers, however, won’t compensate for this.

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