Ed Focus Initiative

Race to the Top!

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Race To The Top’s call for measuring teacher effectiveness has specific stressors for administrators who are charged with determining how strong a teacher is.  Many local teacher unions as well as administrators are worried about this very important component of the process.  Indeed, there are huge challenges ahead for the teacher evaluation component, based on what is going on in schools today. The authors outline seven major challenges in measuring teacher effectiveness, but none is more critical than their Challenge 3:  Quality of Evaluators.  — by Circe Stumbo and Peter McWalters. “Measuring Effectiveness:  What Will It Take?” Educational Leadership. January, 2011, Vol. 68 No.4; pages 10-15.  

globeThe whole notion of how we measure effectiveness of teachers has long been my passion in education!  If we can’t measure what is happening in classrooms and help teachers improve, then students are the long-term losers in the educational process, and ultimately the entire structure of America is challenged.  The published research on the damage done by just one poor teacher on a group of students is astounding.  But even more astounding is that the evaluation of teachers — the process supposedly set up to correct poor teaching — has been so badly compromised that it actually protects and perpetuates some of the weakest teachers.   As I read this Ed Leadership article on the challenges to measuring teacher effectiveness, Challenge 3:  Quality of Evaluators, jumped out as the one most critical piece.  Having an untrained evaluator can actually do more harm because of what an individual may perceive as sound practice!

As reported by Stumbo and McWalters (and verified by EdFOCUS consultants working in hundreds of school districts in several states), teachers do not routinely and consistently receive quality evaluations.  An alarming majority of teachers tell us that the use of “best practices” techniques, standards-based curriculum, and valid formative assessments are entirely “their” responsibility.  Indeed, they claim their principals wouldn’t recognize the presence — nor could they identify the absence — of such practices in the classrooms when they observe.  In our experience, a great many principals display an amazing ineptness in analyzing quality teaching when we discuss instructional practices and student performance. Recently in one urban district, principals openly admitted that they were not trained to be instructional leaders, that they had no idea how to perform authentic classroom observations, and that they could not analyze teacher behaviors as effective or ineffective.  They indicated that they had been hired to “hold the roof on” and take care of discipline, and if the district expected them to be instructional leaders and be in classrooms and help teachers improve, they would have to be trained.  Fortunately, they were willing to be trained — a refreshing change from many districts whose principals are reluctant to admit any such need.    

While a few states are providing training for evaluators, many others are struggling with what effective teacher evaluation might be.  Many teacher unions have refused to “sign off” for Race To The Top proposals because of the teacher evaluation component and the connection between teacher quality and student performance.  Is it a legitimate worry that untrained principals would be unfair to them?  Or, is it an admission that with training, principals will become competent in analyzing classroom instruction, connecting teacher behaviors to student performance?  If the latter, perhaps they fear that, with the proper training, principals can finally fulfill their leadership role in instruction by being able to analyze teaching in terms of what impact certain teaching behaviors have on students. There are tremendous teaching episodes that need to be recognized and replicated, but there are those that need to be adjusted and refined to be more effective, and in some cases dismissed from the teaching profession.  But knowing the difference is what has teachers concerned based on their past experience.