Jay Mathews at the Washington Post opines that schools should be able to evaluate, reward, promote or dismiss teachers however they want. He notes that most teacher evaluation systems end up giving good evaluations to almost everybody.
--Emily Alpert's Bright and Early
Forget about rating teachers---rate schools instead.
Those unfortunate people in the District may worry about the quality of their teachers, and wait anxiously for the results of the school system’s controversial new evaluation of classroom techniques and test score improvement. But those of us in the Washington area suburbs don’t have to worry because we already know that close to 100 percent of our teachers are entirely satisfactory. How? Our school districts say so.
I asked suburban school officials to share the latest results from their teacher evaluations, which are usually done by principals and subject specialists. Here are the percentages of teachers rated satisfactory, in some cases called meeting or exceeding the standard: Alexandria 99 percent, Calvert 99.8 percent, Charles 98.4 percent, Culpeper 97 percent, Fairfax 99.1 percent, Falls Church 99.55 percent, Loudoun 99 percent, Montgomery 95 percent, Prince George’s 95.56 percent, and Prince William 98.3 percent.
Anne Arundel, Arlington, Fauquier and Howard, and Manassas City say they don’t collect such data. Carroll says it is doing it for the first time and hasn’t finished yet.
Those numbers in the high 90s sound good, but they don’t impress some advocates of better teaching. Near perfect teacher evaluation passing rates are common throughout the country.
One reason why D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee has launched her complex IMPACT evaluation of the District’s teachers is that the research and training organization she founded, the New Teacher Project, is a sworn enemy of those standard evaluation systems. Since teacher ratings in most districts are as discerning as peewee soccer award night, with everyone getting a trophy, why bother?
The standard evaluation system “not only keeps schools from dismissing consistently poor performers, but also prevents them from recognizing excellence among top performers or supporting growth among the broad plurality of hard working teachers who operate in the middle of the performance spectrum,” said a recent New Teacher Project report.
The organization studied 12 districts, including Chicago, Denver, Cincinnati and Little Rock, in four states and found that less than one percent of teachers were rated unsatisfactory. Yet a survey of 15,000 teachers and 1,300 administrators in those districts found that 59 percent of the teachers and 63 percent of the administrators believe their district was not doing enough to identify, compensate, promote and retain the most effective teachers.
School officials in the Washington suburbs say they don’t have that problem. They are helping teachers build their skills, they say, even if that work is not reflected in their evaluation summaries. “Principals and supervisors work hard with teachers to improve instruction,” said Keith Hettel, assistant superintendent, human resources, in Charles County.
“We have made professional development a priority this year,” said Amy Carlini, spokeswoman for the Alexandria schools.
I would reject such talk as mere public relations, except for the undeniable fact that most Washington area districts--when compared to school performance in the rest of the country--are doing a splendid job. We have an advantage because of our relatively high family incomes, which correlate with academic achievement, but the quality of teachers and administrators I have watched in the last decade is usually high and the results good.
So what to we do? I agree that 99.8 percent satisfactory evaluation rates are ridiculous. Stop wasting time and money on them. Instead, emulate those schools--mostly public charters--that choose principals carefully and let them evaluate, reward, promote or dismiss teachers any way that works for them.
Bonuses should go to the whole school to be divvied up, not to individual teachers. And if student achievement isn’t growing at a healthy rate, or if teachers are fleeing in disgust, get rid of that principal and hire a better one. It will reduce paperwork, and free more time for teaching kids.
By Jay Mathews | November 8, 2009