You don’t need an education degree to know that the better a teacher, the better the classroom results. And you don’t need to be an avid observer of modern educational controversies to know that the ongoing push for broader “teacher evaluation” is generating resistance from many of those who would be judged — and possibly fired — on that basis.
The issue has become an intensifying source of debate across the nation — including here in our community.
State Education Superintendent Mick Zais regularly talks about the need for good teachers, and is a consistent advocate for improving how they are evaluated so that they can be identified and rewarded. His views have drawn considerable criticism.
Yes, most teachers are understandably wary of being held accountable — in terms of pay and maybe even their jobs — for underachieving students who refuse to even try to learn.
Yet there remains a pressing need for determining which teachers are — and aren’t — doing a good job under the circumstances they face.
Hence, the search for more accurate ways to measure teacher performance.
And according to this week’s release of a three-year, $45 million research project by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the best means of evaluating teachers is a “three-pronged system” focusing on: student test scores, classroom observations from multiple reviewers and, yes, student surveys rating the folks assigned to teach them.
Perhaps those criteria sound too elementary.
However, Thomas J. Kane, the Harvard professor who led the “Measures of Effective Teaching Project,” told The Washington Post: “We identified groups of teachers who caused students to learn more.”
The study is based on comprehensive tracking of 3,000 teachers over a wide range of cities (including Charlotte, Dallas, Denver, Memphis, New York, Pittsburgh and Tampa). To prevent unfairly penalizing teachers who face severe cultural challenges in low-performing schools where parental involvement in education is lacking, the study utilized a ranking system with “value-added modeling.”
Tuesday’s Post, citing the study’s findings, reported: “The teachers who seemed to be effective were, in fact, able to repeat those successes with different students in different years, the researchers found. Their students not only scored well on standardized exams but also were able to handle more complicated tests of their conceptual math knowledge and reading and writing abilities.”
The study also concluded that classroom observations were most effective when conducted by several people — for instance, a principal, a peer and an outside expert.
Of course, implementing such an extensive evaluation process would be a costly endeavor. But so is maintaining the status quo that leaves far too many U.S. public schools in the “failing” category — and deprives far too many young Americans of the chance for a quality education.
To solve that problem, good teachers should get recognized — and rewarded. Not-good-enough teachers should get better at their jobs or get out of the education business.
And educators who persist in opposing effective evaluation of teachers should get real about the obvious need for it.
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