Editor's note: How are America's teachers being evaluated and compensated?  EthnoBlogger Erik Fowle examines President Obama's recently unveiled Race To The Top initiative and its implications for America's persistent education gap.  Erik is a 2009 graduate of Colgate University, and a NAM intern who comments regularly on education issues.

President Obama--or, as I prefer, dude--you can’t just reward teacher performances with cash incentives. Test scores shouldn’t have the power to represent teacher and student growth. Don’t get me wrong, I like you Obama. I voted for you. I support you. But some of these initiatives you’ve introduced for education reform just don’t make sense.

You know, on whitehouse.gov’s education section, it says “Teachers are the single most important resource to a child’s learning.” That’s not true. Outside of the classroom, students rely on parents for help with homework assignments. Additionally, academic performance is frequently rooted in our parents’ educational background and how much they push us in school.

It’s also widely believed that student performance is a reflection primarily of student socioeconomic background.

So what happens to students with parents who aren’t involved with their education, perhaps because they lack the proper language skills or level of education? Students who don’t receive strong academic support at home inherently become set back in the classroom.

As a result, it’s unfair to assess teachers by standardized test scores. Whether or not a teacher is perceived as “good” or “bad,” some students will continually struggle in the classroom.

Your Race to the Top initiative, part of the Recovery Act aimed at education reform, stipulates that states receive funding based on four target areas. Two of the areas, from www.ed.gov are: “implementing standards and assessments,” and, “improving collection and use of data.” Because, “one of the most effective ways to accurately assess teacher quality is to measure the growth in achievement of a teacher's students.”

What if we measured your congressmen in the same manner? Say we assign constituents in every district across the country a standardized test about each districts’ current issues. What would happen, sir, if the quality of our representatives was, well, represented solely by test scores? What if states could only receive federal funding if their congressmen measured up to a predetermined benchmark?

I think districts with historically poorer and less-educated populations would consistently score worse on their tests. Even if the representatives of some of those districts were doing fabulous jobs.
Earlier this spring, I observed ESL (English as Second Language) and lower level English classes at my old high school for my TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) certification. The assignment in one of the classes was to pick and research (via internet) a topic and write a five paragraph essay.

“How are the students doing?” The teacher asked me.

“Fine,” I said, “but they’re just rewording information they found on Wikipedia.”

“We just want students to learn how to research and organize information on their own. The whole writing aspect is a different story.” She replied.

Forget standardized tests, these kids, who were sophomores, juniors and seniors, struggled to formulate cohesive paragraphs. Across the campus, in other English classrooms, students in the same grades read Faulkner and would be castigated for Wikipedia-reworded plagiarism.

It’s important to note the demographic differences between both classrooms. The Faulkner-reading classroom was composed, almost entirely, of white, wealthy students with college-educated parents. The ESL classroom was filled with students of varied ethnic backgrounds, hailing from less privileged and less-educated households.

To prove my point on the issue of measuring teacher performance with students’ scores, I’ve designed a little experiment. Assign a teacher to teach a classroom of ESL students for one year and a classroom of Faulkner-reading students the following year. It won’t be a surprise when the test scores differ drastically.

Now, what would happen to the teacher if his performance was judged solely off the first year of teaching ESL students? Would the teacher still be around to teach the Faulkner-readers the following year?

Let’s use those scores to judge our teachers. So we’ll give bonuses to the teachers teaching in wealthy, well-funded school districts. And what happens to teachers in poorly performing schools? Teachers, who, on a daily basis, must fight for their students’ respect and attention. Will they get fired because of poor student performance?

We should give funding to states with the poorest-performing school districts. I agree with that. But there should be nothing in this legislation about individual teachers.

Mr. Obama, you must find another way to evaluate our teachers. Because student test scores aren’t the answer. We need the tests because they are the only way to realistically and quantitatively set goals. But they can’t be the sole method of teacher evaluation. We need more.

In college, at the end of every semester, we completed brief written evaluations about our professors. We should institute similar evaluations. These evaluations should include two types of questions. Questions evaluating teacher performance and questions asking students how much time they spend on schoolwork with their parents. We can correlate student test scores with more subjective teacher evaluations to figure out which school districts really need the most help.

Otherwise, sir, especially with the economy the way it is, our teachers will only teach to test specifications. And you don’t need to know how to fill in a bubble to realize our education is about a lot more than that.