Thursday, January 10, 2013

Talking about teacher evaluation: An introduction

What comes to mind when you hear the phrase ‘teacher evaluation’? Value-added modeling? The Charlotte Danielson Framework for Teaching? Chicago Public School teachers on strike?  Pay-for-performance? Without a doubt, teacher evaluation is a contentious issue in public education today. The Huffington Post argued that teacher evaluation was a root cause of the Chicago Public School teachers’ strike. Esteemed scholars, including, Diane Ravitch and Bruce Baker vocalize strong opinions about the ways teacher evaluation should and should not be conducted and used. President Obama touted the political rhetoric of teacher evaluation in his 2012 State of the Union Address claiming that schools need flexibility to implement evaluation systems that “reward the best [teachers]” and “replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.” Let’s face it – the issue of teacher evaluation is not going anywhere anytime soon, and at the heart of it all are three fundamental questions:

1) Why do we evaluate teachers?
2) How do we evaluate teachers?
3) What purposes do these evaluations serve?

Let’s look at an example. Newark, NJ has a 62% graduation rate and over 90% of its graduates requiring remedial English and math upon entering college.  Yet, under the current teacher evaluation system, 95% of its teachers are rated as “effective.” Something is not right here. One problem might be the way the teachers are being evaluated. Another problem might be the ways in which the other factors (like school conditions, home life, and community) that affect a child’s behavior and performance at school are taken into account in teacher evaluation. Yet, another issue might be that Newark’s current evaluation system does not inform teacher professional development. Simply put, teacher evaluation should help teachers improve their teaching; yet, many times the methods by which we evaluate teachers do not provide information that teachers can use to improve practice. 

Drawing on recent attention in politics, research, and the media and examining some high profile examples including Newark, New York City, and Chicago, I plan to deliver a series of blogs over the next few months that discuss the quarrelsome and interdependent issues underlying the necessity of identifying “effective teachers.”  First, I will examine the question of why evaluate teachers, drawing on the political rhetoric around teaching, public rights to accountability, and the assumptions of teacher efficacy. Following, the merits and controversy of teacher evaluation methods will be examined including value-added modeling, observations, checklists, peer evaluation, and others. At the conclusion of the series, the uses of teacher evaluation will be discussed, touching on issues of merit pay, tenure, and teacher professional development.  

Along the way, I welcome your questions, comments, critiques, and stories of your own. What is your take on the fundamental issues underlying teacher evaluation? How can teacher evaluation serve the needs of both teachers and students? What matters and what doesn’t? Please join this conversation with me! 

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