What evaluation of NFL referees and teachers have in common

The “real” NFL officials are back, but that doesn’t mean that all will be well.  One of the key areas of contention in the dispute was evaluation of the referees’ work. Sound familiar? It has a certain parallel to the Chicago teachers’ strike in September.

As a society, we love to measure just about anything, whether it lends itself to quantification or not.  A clear example would be the yearly rankings of U.S. universities and colleges by the magazine U.S. News & World Report.  Is Harvard really better than Yale?  Is it better than your local community college?

It all depends on what your criteria are and to whom you are applying it.  For many students, the local community college is a far better fit than Harvard.  But for U.S. News & World Report to acknowledge this fact would undermine what they are doing in their best-selling issue of the year.

Every play in a football game is full of actions that require subjective evaluation by officials, or at least assessment that is tainted with uncertainty.  Did that offensive lineman really grab the defensive tackle by the jersey?  Did the defensive back hold the wide receiver five or six yards downfield from the line of scrimmage?  When the quarterback released the ball, was he throwing a pass or fumbling the ball?

All of these are variables subject to interpretation.  There will be many occasions when the best of referees will make “damned if you do; damned if you don’t” rulings.

The same is true for teachers.  However, most officials who “run” schools be it from the federal government or the local school board and administrators are fixated on assessing teachers based on the scores of their students on standardized tests.  As Chicago teachers said, the performance of their students is affected by numerous variables other than the quality of their teaching.  This includes the socio-economic background of the students, the crime rate where the students live, the nutritional value of the food they eat, the violence in the home and any other number of factors.

Recently Rebecca Mieliwocki, America’s most recent “teacher of the year” (that too, a rather subjective designation) was interviewed by Ray Suarez on the PBS NewHour.  She teaches English to 7th graders in Burbank, CA.

At the very least, we can say that she is an experienced and well-versed teacher.  The video of the interview clearly shows that she cares about students and is highly invested in her work.  Consider her words about the value of standardized testing:

SUAREZ:  If I looked at the results of standardized tests from your students, would I find something measurable in numbers about what you’re doing in the classroom?

MIELIWOCKI: Well, you know what, the numbers tell a picture; the numbers tell a story, but just part of the story like the beginning or just the middle or just the end.  It definitely does not tell you the whole of what great teachers do with kids.  It would be like going to the doctor and having your temperature taken and the temperature telling us everything we need to know about you.  It doesn’t.  It gives us one number on one day and it tells you something about your health and wellness at one moment, but it’s not really that useful a piece of information taken in isolation.

Watch 2012 Teacher of the Year on What Helps Students Succeed on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.


It’s good that the best of the best NFL referees are back on the job.  It’s also good to know that our classroom have teachers as good a Rebecca Mieliwocki.  But regardless of how good they are, they’re not perfect.  Let’s praise them for what they do well, but also be willing to cut them slack when everything does not go as planned.