Education Opinion

How to Evaluate Teachers Fairly

By Walt Gardner — December 16, 2016 1 min read
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Although there’s almost unanimous agreement that the most important in-school factor in student learning is the quality of the teacher, the debate is over what evidence to use. I still believe that multiple observations by certified experts are the fairest way (“Teacher observations have been a waste of time and money,” Brookings Institution, Dec. 8).

Notice that I said by “certified experts.” Classroom observations are almost always by administrators who have never taught the subject. Yet their assessments are considered the coin of the realm. I fail to understand how anyone who has not taught, say, Spanish can know if what is being taught is accurate. For example, does the administrator know the proper use of the subjunctive, which is so common in Spanish?

What typically happens is that observers have a checklist placing heavy emphasis on classroom management and student engagement. These are most certainly important. But what about the lesson’s content? Doesn’t that matter? Consider what is known as the “Dr. Fox effect.” Several years ago, an actor was coached to give a meaningless lecture on mathematical game theory as it relates to physical education. Because it was delivered with humor and enthusiasm, it fooled three separate audiences of professional and graduate students who gave the “teacher” an overwhelmingly positive evaluation.

My point is that if these observers were so easily misled, what about students in K-12? They lack the knowledge and sophistication (“Most Students Don’t Know When News Is Fake, Stanford Study Finds,” The Wall Street Journal, Nov. 21). As a result, certification in the subject being observed should be mandatory. Otherwise, it makes a mockery of the entire process.

The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.