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How should we measure teacher effectiveness?

Lively discussions deserve encouragement with a fresh topic like this one. I haven't done that nearly as often as I should. This has been a busy couple of months. Work got in the way of posting as much as I wanted. But I am going to be working from home starting this fall. That will save me at least 90 minutes a day of commuting time, and I hope make me a better blogger.

If you check out my recent column post, "Improving schools by paying teachers to leave," you will find comments flying on how exactly we should measure teacher effectiveness. Some say, as I would, that all we have at the moment is test score improvement, which has its place but is flawed for many reasons, such as the fact that many teachers' kids don't take state tests. What sensible means could we develop to figure out which teachers are in trouble and need help, or career counseling?

I am intrigued by Richard Rothstein's research on the English inspectorate system. I also think we might do better worrying less about individual teacher effectiveness and instead put the onus on each principal to create a team that makes the whole school effective, or the principal gets replaced.

What do you think?

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By Jay Mathews  | May 26, 2010; 1:02 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  emphasize school effectiveness instead, how should we measure teacher effectiveness, personal inspections, test scores  
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Another interesting column Matthews.

Hopefully you'll receive comments from the teachers community.

In addition, they (teachers) also provide insight toward a very important question posted multiple times by axoltl:

"...[W]hat should teachers be responsible for in the classroom, educationally speaking?"

Posted by: TwoSons | May 26, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse apologies for misspelling your name, Mathews.

Posted by: TwoSons | May 26, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Great topic, and you will attract great ideas from thoughtful teachers. But a critical aspect, especially in the District, is time. We can't afford to wait what sounds like a few years to perfect a system. No prior superintendent was intent on measuring performance, and doing so is one of Rhee's accomplishments. Impact was a rolling start, not without flaws. But teachers not infrequently on the usual comment boards appear to reject the idea of being evaluated at all. And many don't like the notion of effectiveness. The time aspect and the need to be measured are threshhold issues.

Posted by: axolotl | May 26, 2010 4:38 PM | Report abuse

"I also think we might do better worrying less about individual teacher effectiveness and instead put the onus on each principal to create a team that makes the whole school effective, or the principal gets replaced. "

No, we should stick to worrying about individual teachers. Only people who trust principals--which means they have a woefully romantic view of them--would suggest that principals be given *more* control. If it were up to me, they'd be given less control--as would teachers.

But nothing happens until we start realizing that in many cases, outcomes will still be lousy.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | May 26, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Any effort to measure teacher effectiveness should include comments by the students. I don't mean give them the final say or anything, but if the majority of the class complains that the teacher doesn't explain the material well, favors the pretty girls in the class, doesn't seem to know the subject, or spends more time telling off-color jokes than teaching, it isn't just a few disgruntled students trying to get even. (When a local coach got arrested for having an affair with a girl on the track team, it turned out the rest of the team had seen improper behavior between the two all season and didn't understand why some adult hadn't mentioned it to the administratiaon or at least warned the coach that it wasn't any secret. An evaluation system might have uncovered improper behavior in the classroom in time to stop the situation.)

Posted by: sideswiththekids | May 26, 2010 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Don't worry, TwoSons. Even the Post misspells it occasionally, when it publishes letters to the editor consigning me to the inner rings of Hades.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | May 26, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

Well, anyone who is a supporter of AP over IB belongs in the inner rings of Hades (or vice versa if you are a fan of AP) :-)

Seriously, I think that if you seriously want to measure teacher effectiveness you would want to focus primarily on the direct things a teacher does (teach to specific students) as well as the additional benefit that the teacher brings to the larger school environment.

A list, off of the top of my head, that I would think should be considered are...

1. Several short evaluations by outside evaluators.
2. Several informal evalutations by administrators in the school.

(Note: These need to be more realistic then IMPACT, which while a good start is unrealistic in what is expected in 30 minutes AND there is way too much room for intepretation)

3. Student input. Seriously, students know a frightening amount about who are and are not the good teachers. You would have to find a way to separate teachers students like vs. those they learn from.
4. Objective measures of professionalism... Does the teacher respond to parents? Does the teacher get to school on time? Does the student engage in professional development and collaboration with their co-workers?
5. What does a teacher do for a school besides his/her direct teaching. Do they run a club, support tutoring after school, etc...
6. Test Scores- I guess I should list these, because it's going to come up. However, without some method of measuring growth by student, rather then generically, it is just a waste of time at best, and discourages the best teachers from teaching the weakest students at worst.

The problem with most of this is money and time. It is expensive to have outside evaluators, and even more expensive to train them. It is difficult for administrators to find time to do observations (several teachers at my school have NOT been observed for 30 minutes and have received evaluations based on a short or flawed observation).

In addition, if you are serious about improving education then all the other stakeholders need to be evaluated as well. (I know that this is about teachers, so I'll leave it at that)

Posted by: Wyrm1 | May 26, 2010 8:07 PM | Report abuse

I like the idea of including student comments in evaluations. Sure, you'll get a few inappropriate or non-sense comments, but the overall student voice tends to come through. Students are the ones that know the realities of the classroom and they will tell you if you ask them. Ask them what they learned, do they feel safe, are they supported, etc. Others will surely balk at letting students have a say. They probably don't treat the students well. Student comments hold more weight with me than test scores.

In high school I blamed my algebra teacher for my poor performance. I am sorry Ms. Noegerath. In retrospect I think that I am the only one that didn't know I was playing the blame game; I actually believed that she should have made a difficult subject easier for me to understand, without having to put fourth effort of my own.

At what point do students become responsible for their lack of effort? A teacher's job is to try to use the tools of the trade to make every effort to ensure student success; sometimes they will fail students. Sometimes the students will fail themselves. Hold teachers accountable for professional responsibilities such as parent contact, punctuality, etc., but I really don't see how you ever reconcile a student's performance with teacher inputs.

We live in a very stratified society. There are some bad teachers, and the system doesn't work for many students. And the educational realities of our times shouldn't be laid at the feet of teachers. Most teachers do the very best they can. It's not fair to just say, "well, it's their job." There's still crime, but for the most part citizens acknowledge that the police do their due diligence and that some crime is always going to exist.

I like the fact that Jay Mathews acknowledges that even the Post makes spelling errors. A good teacher can admit when she's wrong and learn from her students. Jay, you've said otherwise, but I think you would make a good teacher if this journalism thing goes sideways on you. I have spotted typos in the NY Times and most recently in Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. Nothing's perfect.

Posted by: stevendphoto | May 26, 2010 8:34 PM | Report abuse

The student survey should consist of open ended questions. I remember getting multiple choice surveys to evaluate my professors and I would usually not fill them out unless I had really good things or really bad things to say.

Posted by: stevendphoto | May 26, 2010 8:50 PM | Report abuse

Impact is a joke propped up by pseudoscience. And even spellcheck knows that pseudoscience is bunk.

Posted by: stevendphoto | May 26, 2010 9:29 PM | Report abuse

Let me start by saying I'm all for being accountable as a teacher. I'll put what I do for my students and what they learn in a year up against anyone else, anytime. I'm happy to be evaluated.

At some point, however, we have to be willing to consider other factors. You speak highly of the KIPP schools and believe they are doing so much for disadvantaged students. Is it fair to expect teachers who have to give that much of their lives (extended hours, weekends, constant availability by cell phone) to meet the same standards as teachers in middle class schools? Teachers in middle class schools do not, as a general rule, have to do nearly as much to get their students to pass standardized tests. Many of those students will pass regardless of the teaching, simply based on their life experiences.

By ignoring this issue we make teacher effectiveness a joke. If I taught at the school in my neighborhood I would look like a completely different teacher, based on test scores. That makes no sense.

Posted by: Jenny04 | May 26, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

"Many of those students will pass regardless of the teaching, simply based on their life experiences. "

"life experiences" teaches you algebra? Really? Since when?

Get serious.

"5. What does a teacher do for a school besides his/her direct teaching. Do they run a club, support tutoring after school, etc..."

This is one of those things that outsiders don't understand. Extracurriculars is a HUGE part of how principals plan their hirings and firings.

And that's totally bogus. Evaluate a math teacher based on how well he manages the student body officers? Idiotic.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | May 26, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

"Many of those students will pass regardless of the teaching, simply based on their life experiences. "

"life experiences" teaches you algebra? Really? Since when?

Get serious.

"5. What does a teacher do for a school besides his/her direct teaching. Do they run a club, support tutoring after school, etc..."

This is one of those things that outsiders don't understand. Extracurriculars is a HUGE part of how principals plan their hirings and firings.

And that's totally bogus. Evaluate a math teacher based on how well he manages the student body officers? Idiotic.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | May 26, 2010 9:53 PM | Report abuse

Life experiences don't teach you algebra, but they sure can help you be ready to learn it. Did anyone cook with you? Teach you how to halve or double a recipe? Encourage you to figure out the tip at a restaurant, or choose the better deal, the 18 oz. or 24 oz. box of Cheerios?

Posted by: hippiehigh | May 26, 2010 10:13 PM | Report abuse

What is the goal of evaluating the teacher?

To find out who is effective and who isn't at a given moment or with a given group of students?

Or is the goal to make each teacher more effective than they already are?

1. Frequent, informal observations that include talking with students and showing interest in what they are learning. Give the teacher feedback as soon as possible. Notice some effort or special skill that teacher has and comment on it.

2. Get samples of student work. Maybe have the teacher pick (or the evaluator if they have time) a high, middle and low sample at the beginning of the year. Collect samples throughout the year to show how much students have learned.

3. Professional guidelines. Do teachers show up for hall duty on time? Do they respond to parents? etc.

4. Test scores. If you use standardized test scores you will have teachers teaching to the test. If the tests are good and based on the standards they are supposed to be teaching that is fine. But, make sure to have the previous years test scores as a reference. Otherwise, it will be career suicide to work with the kids who need extra help. Be sure to make sure the kids and teachers know that you don't JUST care about tests, you care about the kids. You want them to do well so that they learn, not just so your school looks good.

Some administrators are coming in to some teachers rooms with a "gotcha" attitude. This is why some formal observations take place on the day of a standardized test or the last day of school. With the "gotcha" attitude, I can't learn what to do better, only what NOT to do in front of the evaluator. In fact, I will do nothing interesting that might get the kids excited because I am afraid that the evaluator will see the engaged, excited kids as out of control.

I do agree with Jay that the principal has to be able to guide the school. The principal has a tough job. They should be able to work with many personalities and should have classroom experience and should know the kids. They should not be coming in with the attitude "I'm going to get rid of a lot of these teachers."

Last, pay attention to parents. If they are complaining about a teacher, check out the situation. Is there something going on? But don't listen so much to parents who are mentally ill, they would not be a good source of information. Frequently being in and out of classrooms is the way to know what is going on and the students and teachers will feel that you care.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 26, 2010 10:15 PM | Report abuse

"I also think we might do better worrying less about individual teacher effectiveness and instead put the onus on each principal to create a team that makes the whole school effective, or the principal gets replaced."

This is the "principal as CEO" model that has lots of support from ed reform groupies and is being implemented (badly) in New York City.

One issue with this scheme is how we evaluate whether a school is effective. As is widely recognized, the NCLB school accountability scheme sucks. New York City also made a hatchet job of it. Evaluating complex enterprises like schools is not easy to do accurately or well, but the merit of focussing on the principal is that it's only one person whose performance requires evaluation, not dozens.

Putting the focus on the school also means that we can stop the wasteful testing every kid with the same test every year and move to something like NAEP-style matrix sampling, where each kid does a small piece of a wider and deeper test, with results aggregated to a school average.

Posted by: dz159 | May 26, 2010 10:26 PM | Report abuse

As a teacher myself, I actually agree with the idea of letting the kids have some say in the evaluation process, although it would need to be very carefully done. I think I might also put some weight in the parents' opinions - would you do just kids OR parents, or both? I'm not sure how much that would count for, either. I'd also want to be careful about kids having room to actually explain their answer, rather than just checking pass/fail on a few multiple choice questions.

Of course, you have to be careful that it doesn't become a popularity contest, "She gave me detention; I don't like her. Hey, everyone, let's give her a bad review," but I really think that a very small percentage of kids would ever do that, and would be balanced out by the majority who would be more fair. The key, then, is to look at what the majority are saying, and also to do this maybe twice a year, to give teachers time to improve based on the feedback.

I've often lamented with my husband the sticky situation here: there is no good way to objectively measure or evaluate teachers, and all the subjective ways are... subjective. And in teaching, even the things that SEEM objective (test scores) are really subjective, since they're based on so many factors that the teachers don't control.

I will say, though, that in my experience, the administrators aren't doing their part in evaluations. Non-tenured teachers are required to be observed once a quarter, or four times a year. I was at two different schools during those two years; the first school had, in my opinion, fairly terrible administrators, and I was observed ONCE. The second school had much better admins, but I was still observed ONCE - even though I had brought up my concern that if my paperwork wasn't in order, my certification could be on the line, since these two years were also counting as my "student teaching."

Now, perhaps I'd have been observed more if they had heard of any complaints or problems, but they really guaranteed that I'd have satisfactory evals at the end of the year; since they hadn't actually met the requirements of their job, they couldn't really claim that I hadn't been effective, especially without a paper trail.

Perhaps administrators are over-worked and don't have time to observe everyone by the book, but if they can't keep up with what's required by very simple evaluation standards (satisfactory/unsatisfactory), then how will they ever manage to fairly implement a more complicated system? Basing it all on test scores just seems like a cop-out to me, and frankly, if that's going to impact my salary, then you can bet I only want to teach the best and the brightest - and is that really the direction we want to go in?

Posted by: LadybugLa | May 26, 2010 10:39 PM | Report abuse

We have always had an effective teacher evaluation system in place. In the modern educational marketplace parlance it has always been 'scalable', effective, and cost efficient. The parent community has always 'known' the 'good' and 'bad' teachers. They fight to get their kids in and out of certain classrooms. Principals are responsible to do the necessary 'legwork' to carryout the parents' wishes for their children. It isn't the stuff of expensive bureaucratic empires, consulting fees, and survey design and processing expenses . . . but it works.

Posted by: mrpozzi | May 27, 2010 4:45 AM | Report abuse

At the university level, we've had student evaluations for years. They aren't that useful. Generally, you get such a mix of comments that you wonder if they all took the same course. The research finds that the student ratings are highly correlated with final grade, and also that students evaluate female professors more harshly. One more problem is that since evaluations are mainly done online, most students don't bother to fill them out.

Posted by: bkmny | May 27, 2010 6:29 AM | Report abuse

"5. What does a teacher do for a school besides his/her direct teaching. Do they run a club, support tutoring after school, etc..."

This is one of those things that outsiders don't understand. Extracurriculars is a HUGE part of how principals plan their hirings and firings.

And that's totally bogus. Evaluate a math teacher based on how well he manages the student body officers? Idiotic.

No, it's not idiotic to take into account what the teacher does for the larger school community. I'll admit it shouldn't be the deciding factor but it certainly should have a place.

Which teacher would you rather have? A solid English teacher who arrives at 8 and leaves at 4, or a solid English teacher that arrives at 8, helps out with the student council or debate, or helps organize after school tutoring...

I know my preference is for the one that adds something to the community other then just his or her teaching. To say that this shouldn't be at least a consideration is just silly. One of the biggest issues, at least at the middle and high school levels, is that teachers are seen in a vacuum. A good teacher does more for their school then just teach 5 classes, and I don't think it is wrong to recognize that.

Should a teacher be fired because they aren't involved in after school activities? No, they are doing their job adequately and that is fine. However, I fail to see the issue of acknowledging that teachers who do more are adding to the learning community in more ways then one that does not.

Posted by: Wyrm1 | May 27, 2010 7:03 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, I see no way to objectively evaluate a teacher's effectiveness for one simple reason: what defines an effective teacher? Is it a teacher who has more than a certain percentage of students with passing grades in the course and/or in standardized tests? Is it a teacher who was at least a certain score on student and/or parent evaluations? Is it a teacher who has at least a certain score in an administrator evaluation? Is it a teacher who participates in other school activities in addition to teaching? Until we can establish a set of concise, testable, standards where whether a teacher does or does not meet those standards is based on objective criteria - meaning everybody with the appropriate knowledge base will arrive at the same conclusion vis-a-vis a teacher's effectiveness - then any evaluations will be subjective and prone to bias.

I'm okay with allowing student evaluations to be included in a teacher evaluation - so long as the students' final grades, and the grades of all of their homework checks, are taken into account when determining what weight to give those evaluations. I don't think an evaluation by a student who got a D in the course, and didn't do most of their homework assignments, should be given as much weight as a student who earned an A in the course and always did their homework.

Posted by: SeaTigr | May 27, 2010 9:01 AM | Report abuse

"Which teacher would you rather have? A solid English teacher who arrives at 8 and leaves at 4, or a solid English teacher that arrives at 8, helps out with the student council or debate, or helps organize after school tutoring..."

Me, I couldn't care less if they do those extracurricular activities. Why? Because such activities are OPTIONAL. I had an algebra II teacher who was quite the enthusiastic track coach - but he stank at explaining algebra II. I had a history teacher who didn't supervise any student activities, and after two bachelor's degrees (one of which I was 4 courses shy of double majoring in history), I still regard him as one of the best teachers I ever had.

The real question is how much responsibility for learning are we going to assign to teachers? Teachers can't force kids to pay attention in class (I don't care how gee-whiz your presentation is, the fundamental theorem of calculus and the ideal gas law are not terribly exciting, and most kids' eyes roll to the back of their heads when a teacher starts lecturing on trust busting and monopolies) and can't force them to do their homework. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink.

It's all well and good to say "it's a teacher's job to motivate their students", but such a statement flies in the face of reality: teachers don't have enough time to teach and find a way to motivate each individual student when they've got 30-40+ kids in a class. Such a statement also ignores reality in that students are individual humans and you can't stay motivated for long when the sole source of your motivation is extrinsic.

Posted by: SeaTigr | May 27, 2010 9:22 AM | Report abuse

I don't think we can base our notions of the effectiveness of student surveys by looking at university surveys. Most university courses are impersonal and so are the multiple choice surveys. Secondary classrooms have a lot of interpersonal interaction and students and teachers actually care about each other. Ask students open ended questions. Even students who haven't demonstrated growth on tests have learned something in class. Ask them what they've learned. Even students who don't like the teacher or don't do the work are likely to admit ( in an anonymous survey) that they bear at least some if not most of the burden for their lack of success.

Posted by: stevendphoto | May 27, 2010 9:38 AM | Report abuse

Most university courses are impersonal?? I'm choking on my coffee. I teach at a university and rarely have classes that are bigger than 25 students. My upper division courses are more typically 15 students, and are intensely hands on. We have open ended questions on our student evals in addition to the multiple choice stuff. And still the responses are mainly useless. Mostly, the comments run along the lines of "Teacher can't teach", "I really like this professor", or worse yet, various comments on appearance or that the room is too hot. I suspect that student evaluations are mostly useful for rooting out sheer incompetence - the teacher who is sleeping in class, for example - but little else. Students aren't experts on teaching, so they usually don't know what specifics to look for.

Posted by: bkmny | May 27, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

How about firing a superintendent/chancellor when kids don't make the grade/end-of-year goal? I don't see why all of this boils down to teachers and principals. An emphasis on testing and on scores places an emphasis on memorization (in order to remember the information when the test is administered). As all of us know, the quickest way to forget something is to memorize it. I really don't appreciate this ‘blaming teachers and principals’ approach to public school reform. I don't know if you've read this yet, but it's quite interesting: the overemphasis on end-of-year test scores as a means to evaluate teachers (as commercialized and invalid as standardized tests are—down to the idiots that score them!). How ‘corrupt’ and market-driven can a so-called Democratic agenda get? Feel more than free to chime in!

Posted by: rasheeedj | May 27, 2010 10:17 PM | Report abuse

I too, think students should have a say in the evaluation process.... 10% maybe? The idea being that the more data points that point to the same conclusion the more likely we can be that the conclusion we reach is fair and accurate. As for how the student evaluation is completed, I'm not certain it has to be complicated. In fact, what I really want to know is how many students want to be in that teacher's class. It's an an imperfect but telling data point. If most of the students don't want to be in that class, or would rather be in Ms. X's class, you have all the information you need. The idea of course, is that no one data point could lead to an unsatisfactory evaluation, but that multiple red flags raise the spector that this teacher truly is ineffective.

One method I don't see mentioned so far (sorry, didn't read all the comments), is peer/colleague evaluation. I believe this is the most important yet glaring absence right now in teacher evaluation systems. I'd like to see teachers asked to visit other teachers' classes (in my view, there is no better professional development than this), and for teachers to complete surveys on their collegue's professionalism, effectivess, ect. Again, just another data point. Let's say 20%. Eventually, we add student performance data (using an added value approach) and voila, we've got a pretty accurate idea of what is going on in that teacher's classroom. If we nationalize some core standards and assessments, we can make also make this system reliatively cost effective.

Posted by: Mccrabster | May 28, 2010 6:10 AM | Report abuse

Some students are going to equate a lot of work with "bad" teachers and an easy class, easy grader with "good" work.

Student opinions are valuable.
Student evaluations should be used by teachers to improve their classrooms, but not as something that would prove their effectiveness.

Students cannot know that some teachers teach one section six different times a day and others teach four different sections, thus requiring 4 times the amount of planning. That is an example of the kind of thing that you can't expect students to know about when grading teachers.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 28, 2010 7:42 AM | Report abuse

I honestly don't think that's how students rate teachers. I think most students rate teachers based on their relationship with the teacher- which is worthy of capture and documentation. Again, the idea is if all signs point to x (and this is just one sign) then it's most likely x. So even if a majority of students of students gave a negative mark to a teacher simply becasue they assigned a bucket load of work all year, so long as other data didn't corroborate this negative component of the evaluation, the teacher would still be marked as effective.

Posted by: Mccrabster | May 28, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

The teacher evaluation process in most school systems is a farce. In most cases, the administrators/evaluator is required to give the teacher at least 24 hours notice before the evaluation occurs. The evaluation cycle happens every 3-5 years. If a teacher has that much notice and still can't create and execute an effective lesson, then there are some real problems. Even if the teacher is proven ineffective, administrators have a REALLY hard time actually getting rid of that teacher. They simply figure out a way to move the teacher to another school and then the ineffectiveness becomes someone else's problem.

The ENTIRE process needs to be revamped. There should be a professional organization (much like the American Bar Association for lawyers or the American Medical Association for doctors) that governs licensure for teachers. Once licensed, the evaluation process should be executed by a SEPARATE third party. That would remove at least some of the politics involved in the current evaluation system. Most people on this forum have asked the question: “What makes a good teacher?” In response, people have given a list of characteristics that are difficult if not impossible to quantify and evaluate. However, the same can be said for doctors and lawyers. Both of those professions require a GREAT deal of knowledge and skill. However, beyond the knowledge and skill lies the interpersonal skills that make a “good” doctor or lawyer an exceptional one. Same for teaching…teachers can be experts in their subject but if they do not have the skills to impart that knowledge they will not be effective. Any evaluation process MUST take that into consideration and the evaluations must occur at least 6-10 times a year in order to be a valuable assessment tool.

By the way, at this point, I am sure many of you are guessing that I am somehow “anti-teacher.” I have been an English teacher for 18 years in Montgomery County and absolutely LOVE what I do. I firmly believe that in order for me to be treated as a professional, I should be evaluated like a professional. That is NOT how the evaluation system is currently structured.

Posted by: Psapride | May 28, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Currently, there is no precise way to confirm what knowledge a student has learned from his/her educators or school and what knowledge a student has learned from parents, siblings, tutors, personal determination, or any other external factor. Growth models would be better than current evaluation systems, but they are still inadequate and inaccurate.

We need to make a paradigm shift in the current way we measure the competence of public education and teachers. Public education needs to be measured by its ability to provide every child with a high quality education that is capable of producing high achieving students, who think for themselves and contribute positively to our society. Capable is the key word. Educators and schools can possess all the qualities that are needed to produce high achieving students, but they will never hold the power to completely control their students’ behavior or achievement level. Students decide to what degree they will take advantage of their free public education. Each student will ultimately determine his/her achievement level. Educators have never been given the authority to dictate student achievement levels. That is part of the freedom that our country provides to each child and family.

Posted by: daverussell | May 28, 2010 9:52 AM | Report abuse

daverussell: sounds interesting, but do we detect the foul odor of teachers not being responsible for much or not being measured at all because students "determine" their achievement level?

What, specifically are teachers responsible for under your concept? What measurable outcomes?

Hey, how about giving stanardized tests to Teachers to see what they know, as well?

Posted by: axolotl | May 28, 2010 10:39 AM | Report abuse

And interesting insight from daverussell. Does he mean we may be spinning our wheels focusing too much on achievement benchmarks? My view is that of course teachers do not control the final outcome, but the student is far more likely to reach his or her objectives if the teacher provides the tools to get there than if that is not done.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | May 28, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

I agree that students would rate teachers on their relationship with the teacher. But some teachers have 20 students per classroom and some teachers have 40. Do you think a sixth grader is going to understand that the Health teacher is doing his best with 40 students and cannot possibly match what the English teacher with 22 students is doing? If a student dislikes Math and enjoys English because there are all these personal questions involved isn't that going to effect how he or she ranks a teacher?

I am not against including student evaluations, but am pointing out possible biases students could have that wouldn't have to do with a teacher's "effectiveness".

There is always a push/pull between demanding even more of the students and requiring them to work harder and keeping everybody happy.

Sometimes kids talk about teachers they dislike who are really just tough teachers. Then, later the kids will come back to middle school and say "Thanks". Everybody who had you is having a really easy time in high school.

One school I was at surveyed the honor roll kids every quarter. The idea was that those kids were interested in education and would give a pretty fair evaluation. I am not sure you want to give middle school students the "power" to decide who is going to teach them.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 28, 2010 11:09 AM | Report abuse

I just think there is a conflict of interest. The teacher grades the student. If the teacher gives a low grade then the student and the parents think the teacher is bad. If the teacher gives high grades and less homework, many people are very happy with that teacher.

There are students who say things like you can't call my mom, she will do (threat) to you. They KNOW when the school has no back up plan for disruptive students. So, in those cases also it would not be so great to have kids deciding who is going to get fired.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 28, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Every data point is subject to what methods profs call "measurement error." That's why it's important to gather multiple data points from multiple stakeholders (not just administrators) to corroborate conclusions about teacher effectiveness. 10% is not going to decide whether a teacher is dismissed.

Posted by: Mccrabster | May 28, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

But, having said that, good teachers, whether they have 10 or 50 students in a classroom, have good relationships with their kids (though I admit, not all their kids).

Posted by: Mccrabster | May 28, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse


I get the thing about data points and multiple stakeholders and
yes generally teachers will have good relationships with kids. But if I am in a room with 40 other students, how much attention do I get? Does the teacher have time to talk to each student daily? No. Each class period is 45 minutes long and there is subject matter to teach. It is not the same as in a class with 25 students. The students are going to feel closer to the person they have more contact with. And my point is that there is no way a student is going to say, "Well, he's a great teacher and only calls on me every third day, but I realize he's got 40 kids and he is doing his best." The kids will just think that Teacher B who has 25 kids is nicer, cooler and better.

Posted by: celestun100 | May 28, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the poster who stated that evaluating teacher effectiveness should not take into account whether or not a teacher participates in activities that have no effect on student achievement. In my opinion, most of those sorts of activities, such as sponsoring the Student Government Association, have no impact on the academic performance of students, and sponsoring such activities takes time and energy away from the really important stuff: planning, creating, thinking, and researching one's subject matter. Yet many principals do judge teachers based in part on their involvement in the community, their participation in social and extracurricular events, and so on.

The "good" is the enemy of the "best". Teachers who spend much time on the marginally important stuff must spend less on the really important things.

Posted by: nunovyerbizness1 | May 28, 2010 6:30 PM | Report abuse

daverussell: sounds interesting, but do we detect the foul odor of teachers not being responsible for much or not being measured at all because students "determine" their achievement level?

What, specifically are teachers responsible for under your concept? What measurable outcomes?

Hey, how about giving stanardized tests to Teachers to see what they know, as well?
That's already being done, through the requirement that teachers pass the Praxis exams.

Posted by: nunovyerbizness1 | May 28, 2010 6:52 PM | Report abuse

As a veteran teacher, i believe that effectiveness is difficult to measure. Standardized testing is a very crude tool. There is little evidence that high scores on standardized tests are indicative of real learning or of future educational success.

I don't know what the answer is. I don't think it's as simple as Two Sons or axolotl would like to pretend it is. I do know that skillful teaching is not so easily achieved and that those who believe it is are deluded. Teaching had a long and steep learning curve, and little attention is paid to the need for mentoring, apprenticeship, or much else. Most people, like Two Sons and axolotl, would prefer to take the simplistic route and just pin all the blame on teachers and their unions.

Posted by: nunovyerbizness1 | May 28, 2010 7:59 PM | Report abuse

I would also ask how Two Sons and axolotl would view students who simply refuse to do the work assigned to them? How would you two evaluate the teachers of such students? I wonder how your own supervisors would evaluate you, if your subordinates failed to perform adequately. I think teachers, in many cases, should be viewed as managers are. If your subordinates do not meet the expectations that are set for them, what happens? As a manager, you can fire them. As a teacher, that's not an option. Yet responsibility for learning is a joint venture. Why then is the onus on the teacher alone for student achievement? And what recourse is there when the "employee", or student, refuses or is unable to do the work necessary to achieve the goal?

Posted by: nunovyerbizness1 | May 28, 2010 8:12 PM | Report abuse

Axolotl asks "What, specifically are teachers responsible for under your concept? What measurable outcomes?"

"Schools are expected to feed the hungry, discipline the wayward, identify and encourage the talented, treat everyone alike while not forgetting that everyone is an individual, raise test scores but also feelings of self-worth, ensure winning sports teams without demeaning academics, improve standards but also graduation rates, provide for the different learning styles and capacities of the young while administering common tests, and counter the crass materialism of the larger society while providing the young with the skills and sensibilities to thrive in it as future workers" (William Reese, History, Education, and the Schools, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, p. 159).

Axolotl, Julio Cortazar was a teacher and I don't think that he would approve of you associating yourself with him.

Posted by: stevendphoto | May 29, 2010 2:15 AM | Report abuse

Where do we compromise?
There is a lot of passion on both sides of the aisle (isle ☺).
People are only passionate about things that are very dear to them.
We are not going to agree on most things, but we can agree that we all want what’s best for the education of America’s children otherwise we wouldn’t be putting so much thought and emotion into this debate. These are not your usual, one-off rants in the headline section of the front pages.
We can help each other see things from the other’s point of view.

I can understand that the public would like to measure teacher performance.
It’s just that there’s no authentic way to do it with a multiple-choice test. Collect samples, do interviews and observations; measure performance six ways from Sunday, but make it meaningful and at the end of the day recognize that some students will perform well in spite of their teachers and others will perform poorly despite their teachers’ best efforts. This is a fact and when teachers say it they are ridiculed for making excuses. To add insult to injury, the public wants to strip their benefits and dethrone their union. Unions made America great. See what happens to you if you try to form a union inside a sweatshop that produces goods for one of the U.S.’s multinationals. The market model is not the way to go. The market model doesn’t even work for the market. Everyone’s books are cooked and they still can’t get it right; all they have to do is measure how many widgets were designed, bought, and sold or how many hours they billed or how much they sacrificed for the company. The public believes a lot of fallacies about teacher’s entitlements and benefits. These fallacies have been discounted elsewhere.

So what do reformers want?
Let me see it through your eyes.
Where can we compromise?

Posted by: stevendphoto | May 29, 2010 2:57 AM | Report abuse

Why would it be appropriate to evaluate a teacher on effectiveness?

That's like asking whether Jay Matthews is an effective columnist.
Or whether Shakespeare is an effective playwright.
Or whether Wolfgang Puck is an effective chef.

I attended my son's graduation ceremony this weekend. When I looked into the faces of his teachers, I wasn't the least bit interested in whether they were effective.

I was thinking:

• They are all well-educated and passionate about the subjects they teach
• They care deeply about every single one of their students
• They assign challenging, creative work
• They wrote thoughtful comments and reflections on my son's work
• They introduced classical literature
• They got my son excited about reciting poetry

I might add that these wonderful teachers
• are not evaluated according to standardized tests
• are not under the constant threat of dismissal
• are not motivated by the prospect of a bonus

Were they effective? I don't know. I don't care. It's irrelevant.

What they did was provide the opportunity for every student at that school to become an educated person.

Why are you wasting all this energy debating about whether teachers are effective or not?

Why don't you explore what it is that makes a person educated, and how public schools and public school teachers can provide educational opportunities that are as enriching as the opportunities that were offered to my son at his private school?

None of this effectiveness, data-driven, accountability nonsense is going improve the quality of educational opportunities that we offer in our public schools.

In fact, it has and will continue to degrade the quality of educational opportunities that we offer at our schools.

Why don't you get that? You seem like such a good guy. So earnest.

I urge you to go into schools and see for yourself. We don't need IMPACT, or so-called master educators. We don't need to threaten and manipulate teachers with penalties and rewards. It's pretty obvious who the good ones are.

This is the whole problem. Because we seem unable or unwilling to determine what good teaching is, we've given up completely and decided that we have to determine whether teachers are effective, according to standardized tests, even if the tests are invalid and unreliable.

Do you ever think about the teachers who are providing high-quality educational opportunities in publc schools who are being chewed up and spit out because they are not considered to be effective?

Is purging these teachers from our public schools going to improve educational opportunities for public school students?

Posted by: Nemessis | May 30, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Nemisis.

His comments explain the difficulty in determining "effectiveness."

As an elementary art teacher, I cannot speak for other subject matter teachers, but I do not expect every child to become a Picasso. I don't even care if they take art in middle or high school. But, I interpret my job as an opprtunity to expose them to the arts. To help them develop an appreciation. You can't measure "exposure" or "appreciation." Those qualities that may manifest themselves later in life.

I do want my students (because SOL testing has zapped all their creative problem-solving skills) to think creatively...become resourceful....make connections.

My class, to a non-art teacher, may seem somewhat loud with students up and down out of their seats. To me, that's part of the process...sharing ideas, experimenting with different materials, initiating conversations about life and asking, "How and why did you do that?"

To a math teacher, that may not be appropriate classroom management.

But, too many Principal's do not understand the nuances between teacher's and even with some grouping of kids.

But, standardized tests expects all students to learn the same information at the same rate, and all teacher's to teach the same way. At the same time, we are applauding the efforts of charter schools who are freer to experiment with classroom structure and curriculum... that puzzles me.

So how do you define "effective?" It's probably easier to define what it doesn't mean.....and those things are more quantifiable...therefore, more likely to appear on a list of non-educators. But, it's not who stays late, or who is young, or who graduated from what school, or pitting one teacher against the other, or test scores. Unfortunately, in today's data-driven world, there has to be something to measure. Teaching and learning are more than measuring, they are a team experience that often cannot be quantified.

Posted by: ilcn | May 31, 2010 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Some additional thoughts...

To assume it is only teachers who are ineffective is a false premise at its inception.

Would we blame the loss of a war on "ineffective' soldiers? No...we would start at the top....with the Generals and the strategies THEY are using to move those soldiers into battle.

Again...there are teachers who should not be in the classroom..but for the most part, they are few and far between...probably no more than shouldn't be lawyers or physcicians or in any other profession.

If there is a large teacher population that is "ineffective," then the school district is probaby dysfunctional as well as the community. That's where the systemic changes need to start. Not from the bottom up.

If there is no teacher support from the community or administration and the media continues to fuel the fire, then it should come as no surprise that most college graduates will look elsewhere for employment.

Teachers are not Mother Theresa's...teaching school in America is not and should not be considered an educational Peace Corps. It is a profession consisting of caring people who are educated and knowledgeable and want to pass that knowledge and love for learning to others.

Effectiveness doesn't start in the is a concept that requires the support of all involved in educating children and those who are responsible for sending those educators to stand in front of that class.

Posted by: ilcn | May 31, 2010 12:27 PM | Report abuse

@ilcn and Nemessis
Reading your posts made my day! You are both right on!

Posted by: celestun100 | May 31, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

ilcn--thanks for your comments. I'm so sick and tired of hearing about how teachers are responsible for motivating students.

Yes, it's true that a good teacher inspires and motivates, but people who ramble about teacher responsibility never seem to consider that the student has responsibility to put some effort into learning. Even if the teacher has a less than scintillating presentation, it's still the student's job to pay attention and do the work. Not every teacher is a charismatic genius, but that doesn't mean he or she doesn't have the ability to teach--if the student is willing to try.

Blaming poor academic performance on teachers in general is a lazy, irresponsible cop-out.

Posted by: aed3 | May 31, 2010 8:05 PM | Report abuse

Give Nemessis and ilcn space for a series of columns like Valerie Strauss gives others!!
The public who reads these columns could actually be informed of realities in the classroom!!
I keep reminding everyone that the only experts on education are the teachers, the ones on the front lines. And how many times are they asked to participate in a meaningful and significant way? Certainly not at the Dept. of Education.
You could start this yourself, Jay, and make a HUGE contribution to the dialogue.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | June 1, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

I am a high school Spanish teacher. I would also like to be evaluated on the long-term effects of what I do. I've had a lot of students go to Spain and South America to study or for mission trips, either right after high school, or for their study abroad, who've told me I made all the difference in their having a positive experience. Students visit me from college telling me how well I prepared them for college, for their English classes (I teach grammar), for their Spanish classes. They tell me about friendships with Spanish-speaking students, or working effectively with Spanish-speaking coworkers, because I taught them to speak the language. This is one way I measure my own effectiveness as a teacher--I wish we could include something like this in a "formal" evaluation.

Speaking to the poster who mentioned the AMA and ABA--we teachers have the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. It's a brutal process to become certified, but it guarantees an expert teacher. Unfortunately it also costs a lot of money to go through the process ($2,500 fee, other costs), and the process consumes your life for one to three years (I've known teachers who sent their children to live with Daddy during that year because it's so time-consuming). The NBPTS Standards are a great starting point for developing an evaluation system for teachers.

Meanwhile, evaluations can be helpful, but more important (to me) is the opportunity for all teachers in a department (or small school) to collaborate along the lines of "lesson study"--where teachers work together to develop lessons, evaluate each other giving the lessons, then discuss and refine. IMHO this is the best way to ensure that all students are getting a competent teacher--emphasize collaboration, not evaluation.

Posted by: pattipeg1 | June 2, 2010 8:35 AM | Report abuse

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