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Should Parents Have a Voice in Teacher Evaluation?

@eduleadership

What role should parents play in the evaluation of teachers? This editorial from the Athens Banner-Herald argues that parents should have a substantial voice in teacher evaluations:

Any meaningful assessment of schools and teachers must include massive and sustained input from parents.

Parents are uniquely qualified to serve as arbiters of accountability and funding issues. Even the most nominally involved parents can talk about the condition of their children's schools, and about what they hear from their children about whether their teachers are engaged and, in turn, engaging students in learning.

Several commenters, however, take issue with the claim that parents know what's going on in the classroom. For example, one commenter writes

it sounds great to say that parents should have input, but the vast majority of parents don't necessarily have a grip on what their kids should be doing at any given point. As an example, I have a niece and nephew. Their mother sends them to school with packed lunches which include Coca-Cola and chips, and once told me "she hoped the school could straighten my nephew out." That's a prime example of someone who doesn't know enough to give an informed opinion. Her primary concern seems to be whether my nephew gets to be on the first squad of the golf team, not whether he's mastering Algebra.

I will agree that giving a survey to parents would not be a good way to get valid assessments of teachers' performance. Teachers who serve students with involved, informed parents will get informed feedback, while teachers who work with more struggling students will get less (and less useful) feedback.

If anything, parent input can provide insight into how happy the involved, informed parents are, but it provides very little information about how well a teacher is serving all students. That's not to say it isn't useful—indeed, parent input is very useful to teachers in reflecting on their own practice and to principals in learning what parents appreciate and value—but it certainly can't be converted into the kind of scorecard that lawmakers seem to want.

If parent input is made into a rigid, high-stakes evaluation tool, it will suffer from the distortions of Campbell's Law—in other words, it will become an end in itself and will distort the teaching and learning process. We know it's impossible to get feedback from all parents, and we don't want to incentivize teachers to cater exclusively to the parents who will give feedback. Parents can always complain to the principal, and principals can place this information in context by listening to other parents, spending time in the classroom, and otherwise triangulating with other data sources.

I'm all for collecting more data to help principals make informed professional judgments about teacher performance, but I have yet to see a formula that can replace this judgment. If we can get useful information from parents, let's use it, but let's make sure that it's filtered through the informed perspective of the principal, not translated via formula into a quantitative rating of teacher effectiveness.

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