McCain on Evaluating Teachers

John McCain has always been an advocate for what students truly need to have access to versus being tied to what the system promotes. When it isn’t working for kids, it isn’t working. But also, there is a big difference between McCain and Obama on how we evaluate what is working. Obama wants to maintain a system of negotiated agreements as to what a principal can review, and his plans do NOT require an assessment of student’s achievement in order to evaluate the competence of a teacher.We have to base our decisions about hiring, firing, placement of teachers…everything that happens in a school, on the performance of teachers and their ability to advance learning. As we know, two years with a bad teacher can depress students’ scores for years to come.

Guestblogger Virginia Walden Ford, Education Policy Adviser, McCain08

18 Replies to “McCain on Evaluating Teachers”

  1. OK, you’ve told us what Obama wants in accountability (well, your version of it) but nothing on what McCain wants. Since you figured it was a good idea to point out what Biden had to say about choice 11 years ago, lets see what McCain was saying back during his campaign 2000 (a mere eight years). Let’s check out how he was promoting his education record: he was “Fighting to prevent federal funds from being used to develop or implement national education tests and standards – standards which only result in new bureaucracies…” Fighting national tests and standards? Hmm, sounds like he wasn’t going to be a big fan of NCLB.

    And yes, I used the wayback machine:

  2. Virginia is right on target. Dems — Obama, Clinton, Kennedy — are hypocrits when it comes to school vouchers. They send their kids to private schools, but condemn low-income students to crappy, unsafe schools. What’s wrong with giving low-income parents the same choices as Ted Kennedy had for his kids, Bill and Hillary made for Chelsea when they moved to DC, and Obama has made for his daughters when they moved into a $1 million mansion? When the Clintons moved to DC, they sent Chelsea to a very expensive private school in the rich part of DC. If they believed in public schools, why didn’t they send Chelsea to a public school in Anacostia?

  3. Um Brian, this post wasn’t even about vouchers. I think if you’re going to spend time pushing GOP talking-points, you could at least post them in the right discussion.

  4. Virginia,

    Enough with the teacher bashing. It is the quality of *teaching* that matters in the classroom, not some innate quality of the teacher. Schools do *nothing* to support the development of quality teaching. (Forcing teachers to sit through mundane, boring and irrelevant “teacher development” does not qualify!)

    Implict in your argument is that teachers know how to teach, they are just lazy. Not so.

    Teaching is a cultural tradition. And our teaching traditions do not for the most part encourage quality learning. Changing our teaching traditions requires consistent encouragement and a system where teachers can evaluate their own and other teachers work. (Check out the Lesson Study done by Japanese teachers if you are looking for an example of quality teaching support.)

    Additionally, where are we going to get all those “good teachers” to replace all our “bad teachers”?

    If you truly want to develop a quality educational system, our school system(s) need/s to support and encourage the development of quality teaching, the development of better curricula and make sure that the assessments that we are giving our children are aligned with what our goals are and classroom instruction.

    Instead of accountablity, why are you not talking about responsibility.

    Who is responsible for ensuring that every one of our students receives a great education?

    Who is responsible for developing quality curricula? (Publishers for the most part are maximizing the likely-hood of adoption and not developing clear, well written materials.)

    Who is responsible for ensuring that the teaching is consistent with a quality education?

    Who is responsible for ensuring that the tests capture the intent of a quality education and not just focus on those very few skills that make up most standardized tests?

    So far, no one.

    Without some system of responsiblity, your “accountablity” measures will fail to improve our students’ learning. And isn’t that what educational reform is all about: Ensuring that our students receive a quality education? Or is it about punishing teachers for “failing”?

    Instead of these half-baked ideas regarding “good” or “bad” teachers, why doesn’t the McCain campaign endorse reforms that might actually improve our schools?

    1) Quality teaching,
    2) Quality curricula and
    3) Exams/tests that capture the intent of the curricula and the long term goals of education

    Most importantly,

    4) A system of checks and balances so that the tests do not become the entire system of accountability. We do not need the tail (tests) wagging the dog(a quality education).

    I realize that the feds have somewhat a limited role in education, but true leadership regarding what steps are essential for improving education would go a long way towards enabling states to change their schools to enable our students to learn well.

  5. Virginia,
    I am on board with including student achievement in the evaluation of teachers, however we have to careful how that achievement is weighed against other factors.

    I hope that McCain is not in favor of student achievement as the ONLY factor in evaluation. A weighted approach to evaluation should be used with the inclusion of peer evaluation, active use of professional development activities, teaching high risk students, etc. Using one measure to judge teachers is just as harmful as our current system of using one measure to judge schools.

    Additionally if we are going use to student achievement as an indicator for teacher evaluation then it is time to get serious about creating the next generation of assessments that actually help teachers in the classroom. Receiving test scores two to three months after your students have left the classroom is not useful for teachers and principals. What is McCain’s plan to promote innovative measures to assessment design. How can we reward states that are willing to take the lead on these initiatives as opposed to holding them to the one size fits all model that we are have in NCLB.


  6. Virginia, it’s about teaching. It’s not about the degree a teacher has attained, or length of service, etc. There are better ways to teach kids. I study teaching and I have evidence that some teaching works better than other teaching.

    Compare to medicine: a highly-skilled physician treating the sickest patients might have a higher mortality rate as opposed to a mediocre physician treating the healthiest patients. Medical practice is more than mortality rates. It is about the quality of practice.

    How should we measure the quality of teaching? Good question. But note that school choice by itself does not magically make teachers teach better. Nor does increasing funding or changing test score demands. We need to find ways to require better teaching practice.

  7. What you know isn’t so. Sanders’ assumption that teachers effects are eternal, so that two years of bad teachers can depress scores for years to come is not true, according to value-added analyses that examine the assumption. Only about one-quarter of the previously estimated teacher effects persist, so it would take eight straight years of bad teachers to have the effects you are assuming. Because we only test in grades 3 to 10, there is actually no way to prove that even eight straight years of bad teaching has persisting effects, so these effects are both exaggerated and unknowable.

  8. JennyD,

    Nicely said.

    If we paid doctors based on their patient outcomes, who would ever want to treat terminal patients?

    Are we holding doctors “accountable” for the fact that too many patients die from cancer or heart attacks?

    Why are we holding teachers solely “accountable” for student learning, when publishers, test makers, standards developers, state educational agencies, federal mandates, etc… also greatly affect student learning?

  9. Ms. Ward: As a former teacher (and current attorney), I taught for several years, in different schools, public and private. In some settings, I was a great teacher. In other settings, I was not.

    As a teacher, my strengths were enthusiasm, intelligence, and content knowledge. My weaknesses were lesson planning (since I rarely taught the same subject twice), and classroom management. Depending on my placement, I was either a great, inspirational teacher, or an out-of-control ineffective teacher. It wasn’t me that changed – it was my environment.

    Some teachers have great motivational skills, some have great classroom management skills, some have very strong content knowledge, some have mixtures of all the above.

    My gripe with any teacher evaluation system is that it rarely takes into account the teacher’s placement and surroundings. I would have a difficult time labeling a teacher as a “failure” based on one classroom, in one school.

  10. I also wanted to comment on Erin Johnson’s post, above. She noted that a school can do a lot to support a teacher (or not). I agree – part of my success or failure in the classroom depended on the support I received (or did not receive) from the administration.

    Again, I think placing all blame for students’ success or failure on the teacher is simplistic, given the complex array of factors that influence a student or teacher’s effectiveness.

  11. Erin, there is a difference, though, in saying that a doctor who has been doctoring for more years is better than a doctor who has been doing it for fewer years. Length of service does not equal quality of practice.

    Also, if a doctor treated terminally ill patients and they all died quickly and in pain, we could safely say that the doctor was not engaging in high quality medical practice. If all of a cardiologist’s patients suffered multiple heart attacks, we might consider that the doctor was delivering high quality medical practice.

    I am also disturbed by doctors who blame others for their own failure to practice high quality medicine.

    So I cannot agree with you entirely.

    There are aspects of teaching that can be improved. The actual work of teaching students in classrooms is not an art or craft, but is professional practice that requires continual reflection and study. Polocymakers need to begin to design policies that actually improve what goes on in classrooms, rather than simply increasing funds for education or tinkering with cut scores.

  12. Teaching underprivileged kids is like treating terminal cancer patients??? Talk about “death at an early age.” I’m glad we have such dedicated educators out there already prepared to resign their students to failure… who don’t believe in their own capacity to teach and don’t believe in their students’ abilities to learn.

    Frankly though, I think there are already enough disincentives for teachers to teach in struggling schools. Blaming test-based accountability for pushing teachers out of these schools seems like beating a dead horse. What are the solutions for getting great teachers into these schools? And can — or should — we assess whether the students they teach are making academic progress? … Or succumbing to their cancers?

    (And seriously, if we’re going to stick with medical metaphors, why can’t we start start pushing teachers in impoverished schools to think of themselves as skilled surgeons who excel in challenging situations? Those who aren’t up to that level of challenge can stick to the suburbs. Why the morbidity and defeatism?)

  13. Jenny D, Of course teaching could be improved (and greatly at that).

    But insisting that teachers are to be punished when they “fail” does little to communicate *how* to encourage/develop better teaching.

    Internationally, those school systems that enable quality learning have tremendous support mechanisms for teachers to learn from each other and develop new/better ways of connecting children with subject material. We have no support mechanisms in our schools whatsoever. (Most “teacher development” does not qualify as useful for improving one’s own practice.)

    Improving classroom instruction needs a policy shift so that schools are invested in continual improvement of those 3 critical aspects of learning: teaching, curricula and assessments. The international evidence is clear, without all improvements in all 3, all ed reforms will fail to improve student learning.

  14. Erin, that does make sense. Every time I see a policy that tinkers at the outskirts of education–like choice or blanket funding shifts or something–I cringe. I want to see a policy that somehow energizes exactly the type of instructional improvement you talk about.

    So how do we get these guest bloggers to start focusing on that?

  15. chitown, I think using the medical metaphor is the direction folks were talking about (and not taking it to then extreme that you did in your first ‘graph). And yes, that means treating teachers like the skilled professionals they are – but also means addressing teacher preparation, and carrying the metaphor further, that would include university based teacher preparation, as well as extended (2-3 year) residency (induction) programs post-certification (an idea that actually made it into the recently passed HEA).

    So, thanks for closing the loop on that!

  16. JennyD, I cringe too when I see these policy inititives that pretend to address education but really have no impact on improving schooling.

    To improve instruction, we would need to shift the way we talk about ed reform from “accountability” to “responsiblity”. That is: who is responsible for ensuring that each and every child receives a quality education?

    If we insist that it is the individual teacher who is solely responsible then we need to give all teachers the freedom to teach as they see fit. We don’t. The feds have mandates. The states develop the tests and have other mandates. The district officials have mandates and contraints. And yet each of those bodies (district, state and fed) are not held accountable at all for the silly/nonproductive mandates that they impose upon the classroom. So given all the compliance issues that teachers face, where will they find the time to improve their teaching? How will they improve their teaching? How do they even know what good teaching is?

    In quality successful school systems around the world, the reponsibility for ensuring that each and every child is not on the backs of the teachers alone. Those systems have checks and balances to ensure that the curricula works well, teachers have time/support for developing their craft and all the assessments are aligned with classroom instruction as well as their long term goals. The responsiblity is held at the national, regional or local level, but is never solely on the backs of the teacher.

    To answer you last question: how do we get these guest bloggers to focus on real reforms that might actually improve our children’s education? Not easy. Presidential candidates are looking to get elected, not lead. Why would they ever go out on a limb and offer any real suggestions that might offend or bother voters?

    But to move away from the status quo, real leadership is required. And so far, neither candidate has shown any leadership in suggesting real reforms that actually have some hope in improving education.

  17. chitown –
    I think you missed the entire point of the medical metaphor. I didn’t think JennyD was comparing the students to terminal cancer patients because she thought they were hopeless cases. To me it seemed she was saying it is impossible to judge any profession’s success or failure by one blanket standard. If doctor’s were only judged by mortality rates as teachers are judged by the successes or failures of students on standardized tests, it would give the impression that every doctor that worked with a lot of “at risk” patients was a bad doctor because their mortality rates would be much higher than those doctors who worked with patients who were very healthy.

    It wouldn’t matter if the first doctor made huge leaps with their patients, he or she could have even miraculously helped many patients survive when no one else thought it could happen and it would not matter. If we only judged a doctor by their mortality rates those triumphs wouldn’t matter because it would still seem that doctor was a failure.

    We have to think of where we are starting from with children. Each of these children can make huge leaps each year and all of them are capable of great things, but looking at one score at the end of the year and using it to judge teachers and the students themselves is about as logical as the doctor scenario.

    Teachers who choose to work at a struggling school do so because they want to help make a difference. We know going in that ,oftentimes, our students will be years behind, that we will have little to no parent support, that sometimes our children will come to school without the basic necessities (food, shelter, clothing, love). Teachers work with at risk students because they want to not because they get paid more or can’t get a job at a “good” school.

    Most teachers I know work their butts off and so do most students. Students might make 2 years of progress, but still might be failing according to the standards of NCLB. And as a teacher, I think it is unfair to judge the students or the teachers in this way. I think it discourages great teachers from working in schools that are “struggling.”

    If we really want to make sure students are learning what they should and that teachers are teaching the way they should, students’ end of year achievement levels should be judged against where they started at the beginning of the year (not from one year to another).

    Less time and money should be spend on testing and “holding teachers accountable” and should be spent on lowering class sizes, starting early education programs for at risk children, providing mentors and tutors for students in need and enrichment for others.

    Our focus should be on giving students the skills they need to be successful adults and future leaders of the world. We should be worried about making good students and good people, not good test takers. Our time and efforts should go toward providing authentic and engaging learning experiences. That gets really hard to do when the government and many non-teachers don’t see all the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. All they see are test scores and rankings. What a shame.

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