Evaluating and Retaining Effective Teachers

Speaking of white papers, here’s a new one from the Education Trust, entitled “Fair to Everyone: Building the Balanced Teacher Evaluations that Educators and Students Deserve.” Written by Sarah Almay, it is itself fair and balanced, informed by both a growing consensus that our current method for evaluating teachers is sloppy and inaccurate, and also that teachers are rightfully concerned that an overemphasis on raw student growth penalizes competent teachers.

It’s clear that America is moving towards value-added teacher evaluations, i.e., measuring a teacher’s impact on students by tracking student growth and weighting the formula for variables like poverty, learning differences, English language proficiency, parental support.

In fact, based on Almay’s research, teachers themselves support this direction. Only 42% of teachers believe that “current evaluation allows accurate assessment of performance.”Only 43% agree that "the current system helps teachers improve." 59% of teachers say that their district "is not doing enough to "identify, promote, and retain the best teachers," and 72% of teachers believe that “how much your students are learning compared to students in other schools is a good indication of success as a teacher.”

Of course, the devil’s in the details. Check out both NJEA’s concerns here, and NJ Spotlight’s interview with Charlotte Danielson, the eponymous creator of a widely-used teacher evaluation system (and one of the four systems currently piloted by the NJ DOE). Remember, a great deal of the kerfuffle over our Race To The Top application had to do with a heavy reliance on student test scores to assess teacher effectiveness (50% in the version actually submitted to the U.S. DOE), which won the rancor of teachers state-wide, or at their representatives.

But something must be done. 50% is too high. Is 40%, combined with rigorous professional development and support once pedagogical deficits appear? Do I hear 35%?

Just about everyone concurs that the current system for evaluating teachers is broken. Do we have the will to fix it? From Almay's paper:

What began as an effort to treat everyone in the system as equals has calcified into a system that is anything but fair to teachers. Teachers who are committed to their students’ achievement are forced to make up the ground students didn’t cover with previous teachers who are less committed – for the same amount of pay and little recognition. Teachers who want to get better and to develop their professional craft are provided little personalized guidance.

And these evaluation systems, developed decades ago to ensure that teachers are treated like professionals, have accomplished exactly the opposite. Not only is this unfair to teachers – it is profoundly unfair to students. Our failure to distinguish among teachers allows us to avoid confronting the fundamental fallacy of suggesting that one teacher is as good as the next. This particularly shortchanges the low-income students and students of color who, year after year, are saddled with less qualified and effective teachers.

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