CA State Board of Ed Chair and New Schools CEO Ted Mitchell weighs-in on the data issue and Race to the Top in the LAT.

And he asks:

Should the professional evaluation of a teacher be based, at least in part, on measurements of how much students are learning?

Whoa, whoa…whoa…that’s crazy talk!

3 Replies to “Outcome?”

  1. Of course a teacher should be evaluated on the basis of student learning, but we are asking the wrong question. The questions we should be asking are these: Why do principals in almost every state give cursory evaluations of their teachers? Why do many, if not most, just “pop in” now and then and give almost all teachers “outstanding” on formal evaluations? Why do they grant tenure to almost everyone, especially in urban schools? Why is it that they rarely look at student work or assessments? I’ll try to answer these questions.

    First of all, it is not that difficult to evaluate a teacher. As President Obama wrote in his book “The Audacity of Hope,” most teachers can tell you instantly who the really good teachers are at their school and who the really bad ones are. I certainly always knew. Of course, teachers were not granted the right to evaluate their peers, so they are not asked. This is the job of the school administrators.

    To properly evaluate a teacher on the basis of student learning, the administrator would need to know how much the children in “Miss Jones’s” class are learning, and therein lies the problem. She would have to visit Miss Jones’ room in the fall, evaluate each student, and then do the same thing throughout the year. Or, she could ask support personnel to help her give periodic tests and collect the data. Either way, this task would require more personnel in most schools.

    For a multitude of reasons, the average school principal is not able to do this job. As Roland Barth of Harvard once said, being a school principal is like being inside of a clothes dryer. These people are very busy throughout the day dealing with discipline problems, disgruntled parents, meetings and so forth. Evaluation of children and teachers often doesn’t get done.

    Of course, there are exceptions. Some very talented principals have managed to be thorough with teacher evaluations. Before granting tenure, they make certain the teacher is getting good results with her students. If they see that children are not learning, they confer with the teacher and make suggestions. If the teacher doesn’t improve, these capable principals start the documentation process so the tenured teacher can be dismissed according to law (“due process”). This usually takes about 90 days, but can vary. In my old district, the courts often reversed the principal’s recommendation to dismiss a teacher because the administrator didn’t have time to follow procedure or to document. Many “reformers” want the principal to be able to say “You’re fired” without documentation, but that is never going to happen unless the teacher has committed a crime. Nor should it.

    Another impediment to evaluation that is rarely mentioned is supply and demand of teachers. Until this recession, teachers for low-performing urban districts were VERY difficult to hire and retain. Some very poor districts in my state had to scour the country, and when that didn’t work, had to recruit from abroad. Although no one ever admitted to it, the main goal of a principal was to “keep my teachers happy so they will stay.” Yes, retention of teachers, and not student achievement, was often the primary goal in many schools.

    Teachers are opposed to being evaluated on the basis of a single test for reasons which should be obvious to the educated person. However they have always expected to be evaluated on the basis of student learning, even though it has rarely occurred. (I mean, doesn’t this come under the heading of common sense?) Is this anyone’s fault or is it related to economics? Teachers’ unions have no legal authority to evaluate teachers so it is not their job; nor is it the job of teachers. Evaluation is the prerogative of the school administrator.

    So if citizens want teachers to be more thoroughly evaluated than they are at present, they would have to come up with a plan to get this job done. Most people agree that a single test will not do it. Likewise most people agree that the evaluation needs to consist of many criteria. This can consist of tests designed to measure learning, peer review, portfolios, visits by veteran teachers and administrators and visits by state inspectors. Retired principals and teachers could also help.

    In some public and charter schools, teachers are being evaluated on the basis of a single test given in May. This is the kind of “evaluation” that teachers will not, and should not, stand for. Even if it’s forced upon teachers, it will never stand up in court because almost all experts agree that these tests are not designed to measure the yearly progress of everyone in a teacher’s class. Also, using one test would force even more teachers to seek jobs in affluent suburbs.

    If we want to evaluate teachers more effectively than we’re doing now, we’re going to have to have a system in place to accomplish this task. A single test will not do it.

  2. We seem to be obsessed with some sort of formal evaluation of teachers (I suppose so that we can get rid of “bad” ones). I’m not sure that this is particularly helpful to anyone. A few visits by a principal or a discussion with their students can tell you a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of a teacher. Are they boring? Are students interested when they are teaching? Do they have trouble controlling a class? Do they know what they are teaching? Do they yell? Do they return graded work promptly? I could go on, but you get the idea. Heck, I bet most teachers could self-diagnose their weaknesses.

    EVERY teacher has at least one thing that they could improve upon. Let’s focus on that! It’s kind of an IEP for a teacher (but please, it could be a sentence or two instead of 20 pages, and it doesn’t have to be formal.) Any worker who takes pride in their job WANTS to improve, we just have to help them realize what needs improvement and give them tools and examples so that they can learn.

    This takes leadership. Principals need to be freed from meetings and have more time to manage and support their teachers. We need MORE administrators, but in the schools, not back at the district offices. It’s up to the administration to set the tone and example for the school. Where they lead, teachers will follow.

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