Finding A Better Way To Evaluate Teacher Effectiveness

blackboardThe New York Times has a good piece today on the challenges facing Education Secretary Arne Duncan as he goes about trying to reform our busted education system. As Chicago schools chief, Duncan’s claim to fame was closing down ineffective schools and reconstituting them as smaller institutions under new management. Duncan is evidently set to “persuade scores of local districts” around the country to do the same.

Of course, this approach causes some problems, namely with the teachers that are dismissed when a school shuts down. One of the goals of a school closure is to provide an opportunity to rehire effective teachers while letting the ineffective ones go, but this is much easier said than done. For instance:

The Chicago contract gives tenured teachers in schools shut down for low performance 10 months to be rehired by their reconstituted school’s new leader or by another Chicago principal, after which they lose their job. About 8 in 10 find jobs at other Chicago schools…Contracts in many other cities give teachers who lose positions more extensive rights, which could make school makeovers harder, experts said.

And it’s not only difficult to get rid of ineffective teachers, but as new report from The New Teacher Project shows, its difficult to even come to a determination regarding which teachers are effective, because of shoddy evaluation systems in most schools:

In districts that use binary evaluation ratings (generally “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory”), more than 99 percent of teachers receive the satisfactory rating. Districts that use a broader range of rating options do little better; in these districts, 94 percent of teachers receive one of the top two ratings and less than 1 percent are rated unsatisfactory.

As Andrew Rotherham at Eduwonk put it, “despite all the rhetoric about how important teachers are and despite the importance of people in a labor-intensive field like education, the lack of systematic attention to teacher effectiveness in education is shocking.” Indeed, there is a great deal of evidence that, of all the factors in the education system, “teachers have the greatest impact on student achievement.” Yet, when it comes to evaluation, most school systems just say that everyone is fine, which means that great teachers aren’t identified and emulated, while bad teachers aren’t forced to change their ways.

In a report examining policies to ensure that all students have access to effective teachers, CAP’s Robin Chait pointed to the Teacher Advancement Program — under which trained evaluators visit a teacher’s classroom four to six times a year — as a good model to use, adding that “evaluation information should then be used to inform a variety of policies related to teachers, such as compensation, retention and tenure.” In any case, Duncan’s plans won’t do much good if schools are closed and reopened without any way of knowing that the teachers are better.