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Talk of Teacher Evaluation


Dan Willingham offers an interesting conceptual analysis on how to improve teacher evaluation here. Essentially, he says that the diagnostic can go both ways, either by over- or under-identifying which teachers aren't performing up to snuff. Finding the appropriate balance is tricky, and the unions need to advance this conversation, he writes, but that's hard for them to do because of their role as teachers' protectors.

The inimitable Andy Rotherham's take on it is here. Unions, he writes, "don’t want to use data to evaluate teachers and they don’t want to use managerial discretion. I guess that leaves the Magic 8-Ball?"

In seriousness, I myself mused about this subjective/objective dichotomy not too long ago here, and these issues of accuracy are worth exploring. First, for the grand majority of our teachers, evaluations have to serve as a road map toward improvement. Too often they don't. And secondly, no one wants a system to misidentify or penalize effective teachers. But neither should kids have to bear the brunt of ineffective teachers.


Indeed. Teachers have experienced lots of unfair and biased evaluations by administrators – leaving their union leaders skeptical. Incompetent teachers often remain in the classroom because those who evaluate them are far less competent than they are. At the same time too many incompetent teachers remain in teaching — to the dire detriment of the students they serve. This is unacceptable.

Dan Willingham offers a powerful image - in his recent blog post – with a bumper sticker displaying the need to “honor teachers.” Perhaps if we start there we can make more progress on evaluating teachers more effectively. Our public schools have many terrific teachers – most of whom have little opportunity to lead reforms — including the tough-minded review of their peers.

I suspect that all the care and consideration should go into the evaluation of teachers as goes into the evaluation of students. And it probably does. But we don't do a particularly good job of evaluating students, either. Oh--we have numbers, neatly recorded in grade books, to back up every letter grade that is given out. We might even have something that approximates a review and appeal process. But the essence of what goes into those five letters is basically up to each teacher. Districts may go so far as to specify a common grading system (90%=A, etc). But what is tested, and how and what "counts" is the realm of each teacher to decide. In the end we can likely conclude that a student who receives A's repeatedly is doing better than a student who receives F's repeatedly--with the majority falling somewhere in between--but that's about as sensitive as our readings get. We have kids who pass the course but fail the state test and vice versa.

The teachers who have cut their teeth on this kind of evaluation system become administrators--with the added responsibility of "evaluating" their former peers. Some want to prove their allegiance through a reluctance to take evaluation very seriously. Everyone who shows up gets an A. Others may see it as a necessary precursor to "cleaning house" of teachers that they "know" aren't performing--or who don't reliably show up.

In the best of situations, employee evaluation is a serious task. In schools we do not have the best of situations. Administrators may lack specific content knowledge of the topics that teachers in their charge teach--but they are also likely to lack an experience of being meaningfully supervised and evaluated, and little to no coursework in management theory, or the role, or effective means of, evaluation.

Effective evalution should blend both subjective and objective information from quality sources. But more importantly, it should be a part of an ongoing system oriented towards improvement, at both the individual and systemic level.

"all the care and consideration should go into the evaluation of teachers as goes into the evaluation of students"

You are absolutely right. Teachers are responding in a predictable way when they are subjected to the same disrespect as students have had to endure.

The scientific term for this dynamic is "the doo doo rolls downhill."

I think it is great that the Obama Administration plans to hold back federal funding unless schools either scrap programs and build new ones or train teachers.

Let's hope that the new programs go in the right direction. Unfortunately, right now, the state's rights argument under the US Constitution allows those in state government to take the wrong approaches in education to the detriment of both students and teachers.

In the end, school districts are forced to discharge excellent math teachers because they are uncertified in favor of certified candidates who may or may not be able to teach. Some of the uncertified, yet competent teachers have taught successfully for decades.

For instance, as an uncertified teacher applicant, you can offer a state 99.9% of what they ask for but they will stubbornly demand the remaining 0.1% be done else they will disqualify you. That makes no sense to me.

Why should states throw out competent teachers who almost meet their criteria and go without a teacher just to be technically correct? It seems to me that the application of common sense would be more productive and preserve "value-added" instruction.

States follow the direction or advice of university scholars. Where is the scholarship in blocking intelligent people from educating our nation simply because of statistical perfection?


It would seem to me that rather than tossing all of those really excellent but uncertified teachers we keep hearing about the schools would be doing everything that they can to get them certified (or highly qualified, actually). I have certainly seen some not so excellent, uncertified (in the content area in which they were teaching) teachers become "highly qualified."

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