The Free Press, Mankato, MN


April 18, 2014

Our View: Make course evaluations public

Why it matters: As public education becomes a consumer product, consumers should have access to teacher and course evaluations

There’s been a considerable and legitimate debate over the years about whether students at a public university should have access to teacher and course evaluations.

Whenever there is a legitimate debate, it’s hard to be in favor of less information and against more information. Information, after all, is the basis of informed decision-making especially on issues like public education, where more and more taxpayers are demanding results for their money.

So the recent debate about making public evaluations of University of Minnesota courses and, to some extent faculty, is not only legitimate, but should be taken seriously by university faculty and administration.

For years, the university has conducted the evaluations that include evaluations by students who have taken the class. Part of the evaluations — “student release questions” — have been made public at the teacher’s choice for years. The Star Tribune reports about 6 percent of teachers have chosen to make them public.

A proposal before the Faculty Senate calls for automatically releasing “course ratings” from the surveys but not individual teacher evaluations. University leaders say the individual teacher rankings would be confidential under state privacy and personnel laws. Some also argue, individual teacher evaluations might not further educational goals.

Some teachers who were “easy graders” might get popular rankings while those who are more demanding would come out as lower-rated teachers among students.

Still, the questions could be fashioned in a way where students had to be more telling about an educator’s performance. They could be asked how much they learned, or how much time they spent on homework or if the instructor was prepared.

Students say they need the information on courses and teachers to decide which classes they might take. Many are spending thousands of dollars, as are their parents, and feel a need to be able to choose certain “educational products” based on quality.

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