LAST week, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled that teachers’ individual performance assessments could be made public. I have no opinion on the ruling as a matter of law, but as a harbinger of education policy in the United States, it is a big mistake.
I am a strong proponent of measuring teachers’ effectiveness, and my foundation works with many schools to help make sure that such evaluations improve the overall quality of teaching. But publicly ranking teachers by name will not help them get better at their jobs or improve student learning. On the contrary, it will make it a lot harder to implement teacher evaluation systems that work.
In most public schools today, teachers are simply rated “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory,” and evaluations consist of having the principal observe a class for a few minutes a couple of times each year. Because we are just beginning to understand what makes a teacher effective, the vast majority of teachers are rated “satisfactory.” Few get specific feedback or training to help them improve.
Many districts and states are trying to move toward better personnel systems for evaluation and improvement. Unfortunately, some education advocates in New York, Los Angeles and other cities are claiming that a good personnel system can be based on ranking teachers according to their “value-added rating” — a measurement of their impact on students’ test scores — and publicizing the names and rankings online and in the media. But shaming poorly performing teachers doesn’t fix the problem because it doesn’t give them specific feedback.
Value-added ratings are one important piece of a complete personnel system. But student test scores alone aren’t a sensitive enough measure to gauge effective teaching, nor are they diagnostic enough to identify areas of improvement. Teaching is multifaceted, complex work. A reliable evaluation system must incorporate other measures of effectiveness, like students’ feedback about their teachers and classroom observations by highly trained peer evaluators and principals.
Putting sophisticated personnel systems in place is going to take a serious commitment. Those who believe we can do it on the cheap — by doing things like making individual teachers’ performance reports public — are underestimating the level of resources needed to spur real improvement.
We could not agree more with Mr. Gates. Shame has never been an effective teaching instrument, with students and certainly not with teachers.
This is a complicated business, evaluating teachers. And those who do it, have one of the most serious and pressing responsibilities in North American society.
First, it is not, and must not become a political act. And teachers' federations (that's what we call them in Canada) have to open the process, participate in the process, provide the best research and the best possible evaluators, along with the board supervisors, the parents' feedback and the students feedback including improvement in that regard.
- Students who did not "like" the subject at the beginning of the term, and grew to like it "a lot" have much to thank the teacher for, as do the parents of that student. Students, who did not read, for example, at the beginning of term, and are now reading, can point to the influence of that teacher.
- Students who had no idea of their potential, and their life work, at the beginning of term, and have begun to draw pictures of that goal by the end of term, have some teacher to thank.
- Students who were failing and doing little or no homework at the beginning of term and are now passing and spending a regular time at homework, have some teacher to thank for the change.
- Students who were hanging around "the wrong gang" at the beginning of term, and have chosen different and more supportive and disciplined friends, have some teacher to thank.
- Students who had no interest in extra-curricular activities at the beginning of term, and are now committed to the goals of some organization, sports group, fund-raising proposal, etc. have a teacher to thank.
- Students who refused to take leadership roles in school activities at the beginning of term, and find themselves accepting responsibility for such roles, even if they are small and insignificant, have a teacher to thank.
- Students whose performance on tests, assignments, projects and examinations were less than satisfactory at the beginning of term, and watch their performance improve by the end of term, have a teacher to thank.
And anything that supports and enhances the teachers appreciation of their influence, will necessarily, generate enhanced culture and performance expectations among all members of the school community.
And if teachers are not fully and publicly committed to a curriculum, within and without the classroom, they should be encouraged to find different work.