You may have seen this article on teacher evaluation “Curious Grade for Teachers: Nearly All Pass” by Jenny Anderson. It was published online in the March 30th addition of the NY Times and was reprinted locally in the March 31st addition of the Columbus Dispatch.
If you have been a regular reader of this blog you realize that a significant portion of my time this year has been in working to help create a new teacher evaluation system for Worthington teachers as is mandated under Ohio law HB 153. In November of 2012 I wrote “We’re Changing How Teachers are Evaluated” to explain the changes in teacher evaluation in Ohio. Early in March I posted “WoTES” which was intended to explain in detail Worthington’s plan for implementation of the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System. Finally, on March 20th I attempted to explain “Student Learning Objectives” which are a significant factor in how Ohio teachers will be measured in the student growth category.
Thus, with a great deal of time and effort going into teacher evaluation I read the NY Times article with great interest. Current policy initiatives across the United States and certainly in Ohio are geared towards the “consensus opinion that there are far too many under-performing teachers, especially in high poverty schools, and the only way to improve outcomes for students in these schools is to change the way teachers are hired, trained, compensated and fired.” (P. Tough, How Children Succeed, p. 189) The theory is that if every student regardless of their IQ, income level, etc. had a highly effective teacher then the achievement gap would be eliminated. You see this theory in action with the Ohio Teacher Evaluation System and provisions in Ohio’s Third Grade Reading Guarantee around who is able to instruct a student who has been retained.
“Despite this consensus among reformers, the national push on teacher quality has been quite controversial. Teacher unions, especially, fear that it is a not-so-subtle attempt to undermine many of the professional protections that they have fought for over the past several decades. And whatever your opinions on unions, the fact is that the research on teachers remains inconclusive in some important ways. First, we don’t know how to reliably predict who will be a top-tier teacher in any given year: Sometimes teachers who seem to be failures suddenly make great strides with their students. Sometimes brilliant teachers suddenly go downhill.” (P. Tough, How Children Succeed, p. 190)
With that… policy initiatives are moving forward around teacher evaluation that are designed to improve teacher quality. On the surface this is a very good thing. Regardless of your thinking around this theory of change, making improvements in every facet of our organization must be a goal. Making improvements in our largest expenditure, teachers, must be our most critical goal. At the same time, I believe in Worthington we have great teachers. They consistently go above and beyond to make a difference in the lives of their students. Frankly, as I observe their results, and their efforts, I am in awe of them.
When Worthington, and Ohio, implements our new teacher evaluation systems how will our teachers fare? Will most, like in this article, be rated effective or better? Should they be? Will a focus on teacher evaluation improve the results for students? Will the focus narrow the curriculum and cause teachers only to focus on what is measure able directly? Teacher evaluation is a grand policy experiment across this country. Worthington is right in the middle of it.