As bosses, we demand competence, effort and excellence from our employees. As employees, we thrive under a system that clearly spells out expectations, evaluates our performance fairly, and rewards achievement. Simple enough. So why is this so difficult to implement in our schools? Why are teacher evaluations such a thorny issue? What’s the solution? And why should we care?
In the coming months, Funderstanding will seek to unravel the tangled rubber band ball that is the Teacher Evaluation Issue. We’ll reach out to teachers, administrators, professional groups, economist-types, and big-picture thinkers who are applying research and resources to tackle this messy project. It is our hope that by taking the time to learn, analyze and come to terms with the problem, Funderstanding can also be a part of the solution.
As with any macro-level idea, it’s important that we first identify the problem and define the terms. We can begin by agreeing that evaluating teaching performance is necessary in order to
1. Identify and reward excellence, and conversely
2. Identify and remediate mediocrity and inadequacy, in an effort to
3. Ensure student achievement
Now that we have established the rationale for a teacher evaluation program, we can itemize the problems inherent in such an effort. The first and seemingly overwhelming hurdle is to ask: how do we define excellence in teaching? For that matter, how do we define any level of achievement at all within the profession? Without distinct standards for inadequate, adequate and excellent teaching, the endeavor to measure achievement is moot. In the course of our exploration of best practices in teacher evaluation, we’ll seek to nail down definitions.
Once we’ve established concrete standards for achievement, the next stage of the climb presents itself: how do we measure performance? In an effort to be as objective as possible, some advocate for quantitative evaluations which would look at student standardized test scores, hours spent in professional development, or other measurable data. Qualitative measurements such as peer evaluations and lesson plan portfolios are also on the table. There’s no shortage of expert opinions on this particular spoke of the wheel. Academics, economists, testing gurus, politicians and even sabermetricians are all weighing in. We’ll seek out their wisdom, and then question whose ox is being gored in each conceivable solution.
Assuming we have gotten traction in both definition and measurement, the next level on the climb are twin peaks: how do we use the information collected, and how do we implement the system? All the data in the world piled into an insurmountable mountain won’t do any good unless we know how to process it. And even after we’ve arrived at the right algorithm for our data, we still have to design a structure within which we can implement teacher evaluation fairly, universally, cost- and time-effectively. Again, in the area of implementation, various constituencies have their own ideas on how a teacher evaluation system should be administered, and who should hold the reins. We’ll hear from unions, administrators, private industry, elected officials and think tanks, and sort through their collective thoughts on the topic to find common ground and practical solutions.