Miss Bennett in the Bay

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jul 23 2009

The Widget Effect

How do you know if your child is being educated by an excellent teacher? A mediocre one? A poor one?

According to a new study by The New Teacher Project, the only reliable way to tell is by word of mouth from other parents.

But wait, you say. Teachers are evaluated by their administrators, right? Well, yes, but those ratings are pretty much useless, according to this study. In districts where teachers can be rated either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory”, a whopping 99% of teachers are rated satisfactory. In districts where teachers can receive a broader range of ratings, 94% of teachers are rated in the top two categories with only 1% being rated unsatisfactory.

These results highlight the uselessness of teacher rating systems, and bemoan the fact that not only are we unable to determine who the great teachers are, we are also unable to determine who the poor teachers are.

That part is the scariest of all to me, and I think it underscores a greater problem in education. There are a wide range of teachers in every school. Teachers know which of their colleagues are effective and which ones are not. I’d like to think that some administrators would admit who their weakest teachers are. And yet, these teachers continue to receive tenure and satisfactory ratings. This is doing our nation’s children a great disservice.

The authors of the article put forth several ideas to counteract this problem. They advocate for an overhaul of the teacher evaluation system by putting in place a comprehensive set of standards for teachers, and then evaluating teachers on these standards. Then, based on evaluations, administrators should determine the professional development needs of their teachers and provide them with support. (Wow, what a concept!) Exceptional teachers should be rewarded while exceptionally poor teachers should be given an opportunity to improve. If they do not, they should be removed from the classroom.

I think all of these sound like great ideas. My experience with teacher evaluations gave me the distinct impression that they are a big joke. After one 30-minute observation in November, my entire worth as a teacher for that year was summed up in 2 sentences. What if I had a particularly great lesson that day, or a particularly poor one? How does 30 minutes even give you a sliver of an idea of what I’m like as a professional? Apparently, this type of evaluation practice is commonplace all over the country.

This is actually one of the reasons I decided to move to a charter school. At my new school, I will be evaluated on a weekly basis. The point of this is not to highlight my failures but instead to help me develop as a professional. This is what I want. I’m tired of people telling me how great I’m doing when the reality is that I’m still a young teacher and there is always room for improvement. I applaud The New Teacher Project for this study. Maybe at least some districts (the ones in the study perhaps?) will take their suggestions to heart and work for real change. One can always hope.

One Response

  1. You are right, whether a new teacher, or one like me, returning for year 21, we an all use some help. I’m always on the lookout for a better way of doing something. I wish you well as you start that month of planning. And, thank you for adding me to your blog roll. I take that as a huge compliment.

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"All that is gold does not glitter, not all who wander are lost." -J. R. R. Tolkien

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