Local Schools and Teacher Evaluation
With the focus on school improvement, teachers and administrators have a rare opportunity to work together to improve instruction using common language and common understandings regarding what constitutes a good lesson. As a practitioner, here’s what I think would improve teacher evaluation:
A state mandate: A mandate means it has to be done, so there’s no point in whining about it. It’s simply good practice.
A reasonable timeline: States like Ohio, New Jersey, and Florida are guaranteed to have difficulty in implementing new protocols in the short timeframe they've chosen. It is hard to understand why, when teacher evaluation is so important,taking the time to do it right takes a backseat to doing it quickly.
Technical assistance: Teachers and administrators have a terrific opportunity to work together and learn together about the art and craft of teaching. If they can agree on a common vocabulary and on characteristics of a good lesson, the entire operation is elevated. Teachers know what to expect when the principal comes into the classroom and principals know what is expected of them.
This is where technical assistance from the state education department or state boards of education or consultants comes in. These are the folks who can provide information, programs, prototypes, and research for local schools so they all don’t have to do it alone.
Funding: Did I mention that the mandate should be funded? Because learning the new protocols will take time, and time is money. Teachers will need to be paid to work outside the regular school day, or substitutes will need to be paid if teachers are taken out of the classroom to work during the regular day. Schools also need money for materials (like books by Danielson, Marzano, and Reeves) and for training. Not everyone has an improvement grants or RttT funding.
A simplified, timely way to remove ineffectual teachers: Once protocols are agreed to and put in place, it shouldn’t take years to remove an ineffective teacher and it shouldn’t cost thousands and thousands in lawyers’ fees and salary paid to the teacher while he or she is sitting at home waiting for the hearing.
No value added at this time: Value added is proving to be a can of worms. While I agree that students’ test scores should be a part of teacher evaluation, no one yet has a firm understanding of how the metrics would work. Researchers are calling for longitudinal data and caution about the margins of error. Then there are those who want to somehow quantify demographic characteristics, an idea that, I think, has dangerous implications for education.
Professional educators rarely take the principle of Occam’s Razor to heart: the simplest solution is often the best solution. When I compared all the second grade teachers’ test scores, for example, it wasn’t hard to tell which teachers over a 3-year period had generally excellent results and which had generally poor results. I know that isn’t technical enough to satisfy critics, but it certainly provided a basis for discussion.
For many schools putting in place teacher evaluation protocols that everyone understands and accepts will be a rigorous task even without value added. Why not get the first part right and then add test scores when we have a better handle on what they mean?
We have an opportunity to work together to improve instruction. The opportunity will be lost by ignoring local input and efforts and instead relying on a top-down, one size fits all approach.