School Performance and Evaluative Procedures:
An Analysis of Current Problems in Secondary Education


Gil Matamoros
8th Grade Teacher, Kearney Middle School, Adams County, Colorado

aving been asked to pen a few thoughts on education, I pondered 
the material upon which to expound.  Numerous issues abound when 
discussing education.  Among them are current ones like school/teacher 
evaluation and the implications of such a procedure.  Other issues 
that one may hear of in the hallways involve parental roles in education, funding, 
increasing students reading and writing abilities or simply finding new and/or 
creative ways to increase student learning.  Other topics could include staff 
development, the shortage of substitute teachers and how to correct this shortage, 
recruitment of future teachers -- the list can go and on and on.  So where do I 
begin?

Why not the issue of school and teacher evaluation systems?  The issues of 
evaluation and accountability systems are not new.  Most organizations have 
used, and continue to use, some form of employee and/or organizational and 
accountability evaluation systems.  They do this to determine the overall 
success and progress being made by both the organization and individuals who 
comprise the organization.  These systems are used to correct organizational 
inefficiencies, to set in motion ways to improve individual performance and 
to reward individuals who have assisted the organization to achieve or exceed 
its stated goals and objectives.  Evaluative mechanisms also measure the 
degree of success between similar organizations within society as a whole.  
Plus, they are used by individuals and institutions outside of the 
organization as the basis for investing in these organizations.

But to an individual school, such a system (as enacted by the Colorado State 
Legislature and signed into law by the governor) appears to be fraught with 
ill will and bias toward schools that are considered to be "the cream" of the 
Colorado educational system.  It essentially places a large number of schools 
and the individuals who comprise these schools at a distinct disadvantage by 
stating that they are inferior and thus the need to "fix" them arises, almost 
artificially.  Furthermore, this legislation or "school fix" does nothing to 
address the impact it has on the community that supports, and is supported 
by, the school.  Nor does it address the impact it will have on students who 
attend these schools and live within these communities.

Let us look at the basis or premise for an evaluation and accountability 
system of our schools.  It is based on certain real or perceived "facts" or 
factors.  Among these are low test scores on state standardized tests, high 
student drop out rates, suspension and expulsion rates, and other factors.  
In addition, the state indicated that they have a responsibility to account 
for (and to the public) the state's public educational system to meet the 
demands of society.  The state believes that it must answer the question, "Is 
the present educational system able to produce tomorrow's society members 
with the educational tools required of the society they are stepping into?"  
To answer this question there has to be some type of evaluation and 
accountability system in place.

Part of the answer to the question asked above lies in the interpretation of 
data used by the state.  This interpretation has created an illusion (or at 
least the impression) that our educational system is in grave trouble.  The 
state claims that the present system is fraught with flaws and these flaws 
can only be corrected through legislation.  Legislators point the finger at 
individual schools and basically announce, "You need to be fixed."  Through 
this declaration the state has placed the blame for these inefficiencies on 
one particular segment of a layered educational system.

The most visible group of individuals upon whom blame can be cast is the 
teaching and administrative staff at each school.  It is upon these shoulders 
that (according to the state) blame must rest, and therefore, they bear 
responsibility for "fixing" this problem.  There is no separation or 
distinction made between teacher, administrator, or school; they are viewed 
as equally responsible.  The state's mandate is simple in its approach: 
improve or lose funding!  By losing funding, public schools become charter 
schools.  As charter schools, the state then assumes responsibility for 
campus administration.  The impression here is that charter schools will (by 
their very nature) turn failures into successes.

So what is considered to be a "poor" performing school?  The state of 
Colorado has devised a complicated formula that will measure the degree of 
success and, based on this success, issue a letter grade.  The letter grade 
(performance rating) will inform the local community (as well as the 
residents of the state) the degree of success each school has achieved during 
the previous school year.  This performance rating applies to the entire 
school, and does not take into account individual successes.  In addition it 
becomes the basis for future school assessments.

However, this evaluation and accounting system appears to focus its energy in 
a negative way.  It establishes no positive rewards beyond the possibility 
for teachers and administrators to keep their job or for the school to remain 
as it is.  There is no other incentive beyond these two most fundamental 
forms of motivation.  Perhaps the ultimate goal of the state is to convert 
the public educational system into one vast charter school system, managed by 
the state.  If this is the intent, then the first step toward achieving this 
goal has already been put into place.  So why go through this experience?

Let us suppose that the state's primary objective is to create one vast 
charter school system.  But the reality is that this is actually an interim 
objective.  The real and primary objective is to privatize the educational 
system.  It is possible that the state believes that privatization would meet 
its fiduciary responsibilities to the citizens of the state.  The goal is to 
provide a superior product at a minimal cost to the taxpayers, which cannot 
be accomplished within the existing educational system.

The trend to privatize public institutions is not new.  The state has 
successfully privatized some of its correctional facilities, so why not the 
school system?  Potential privatization has some advantages in that there 
would be a removal of the various taxing agencies called school districts; 
funds would be collected by the state and possibly share them equally across 
the state; and all individuals working with in a school would then be 
employees of the firm and their status as public employees would be 
eliminated.  This process would give teeth to the "employment at will" 
philosophy of the state, and thus make it easier to terminate individuals.  
Wages would be controlled by the firm as well as other benefits and 
entitlements currently managed by individual school districts.  This system 
would set and establish wages as well as benefits across the state, and in 
doing so eliminate the competitive wage system that currently exists.  A 
teacher or administrator's salary might be the same regardless of physical 
location.

Now let us consider the realities.  First, privatization is not a cure-all 
for what ails the educational system.  Second, charter schools are not the 
answer either.  If the state is serious about "fixing" the educational 
system, then it must consider re-vamping the entire system from the bottom 
up.  Current legislation does nothing more then place a band-aid on a 
festering wound.  What is required is the identification of realistic and 
obtainable educational goals and objectives.  The state can then construct 
the structure that will support and allow these goals and objectives to be 
met.  If this means doing away with individual school districts, then so be 
it.  If this means that the state manages the distribution of funds, then so 
be it.  Regardless of what structure is developed, the state has the 
responsibility to ensure its success by whatever methods are fair and 
equitable.  I am of the opinion that radical surgery is required at this time 
and that whatever the outcome, the state has a responsibility to do what is 
best for the citizens and future leaders of this state.