Anyone who follows education in America even at a distance probably knows that there has been a strong push in recent years to evaluate teachers and hold them more accountable. And this is, theoretically at least, a good thing. I don't personally know any teachers who don't think they should be evaluated. The concerns are in the details.
This will be the first in a series of posts about the hurdles to meaningful and fair teacher evaluation.
The first question that must be answered is: What is an effective teacher? I''ve written on this before, but judging a teacher is not like judging a salesman, chef, lawyer, or doctor. Consider the following teachers and tell me, if you had to fire one (or rate them "Effective" or "Ineffective"), which one would it be?
Mrs. K has been around for ever. She's tough, demanding, and blunt. Her kids will learn the standards, come hell or high water. Every year, her data show that she succeeds in this. Her students score very well on tests. But they don't like going to school and being treated like soldiers. And parents are often rubbed wrong by Mrs. K. They complain about her to the principal, and the principal sympathizes, because Mrs. K. challenges her at every meeting and in general is a pain in the butt.
Mrs. D. has great relationships with kids. They truly love coming to school. They are taught to care about each other and parents are delighted because their kids love school, even those kids who hadn't before. Mrs. D. is patient and she helps kids solve their own problems. Mrs. D gets along with other teachers and is very supportive of her principal. She volunteers time after school to start a journalism club because she's passionate about it. Unfortunately, Mrs. D's kids haven't scored too well on the state test the last three years. Of course, she tends to get kids with behavior problems because she's so good with them.
If forced to choose, your answer would probably depend on who you are. As a parent, I'd want my kid in Mrs. D.'s class. As a principal, your choice would be tougher. If your own job depended on how well students in your schol did on the state test, then you'd keep Mrs. K. If there was no such incentive, you'd keep Mrs. D., just so you didn't have to put up with all the hassles Mrs. K. brings. For most students, the choice is simple. The superintendent would likly keep Mrs. K because the Board would be impressed by her students' data and Board members spend more time looking at data then they do looking in classrooms.
And there's nothing to say that Mrs. K is doing a better job. Because if her students get turned off by school and in subsequent years struggle without her iron grip, she may have done them a disservice. Conversely, Mrs. D.'s students, while they didn't learn as much that particular year, might see school as a fun place, and the skills they learned in her class might translate to greater success in the future.
I think the above illustrates why evaulating a teacher is almost impossible. (With the obvious exception of teachers who don't give a crap and are just collecting a paycheck--they're easy to judge.) Because until we can agree on what consititutes a "good" teacher, how in the world can we ever judge them?