Opinion
Education Opinion

The Problem With Demanding Proof on Teacher Evaluation

By Sara Mead — September 13, 2012 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Looks like it’s gonna be a full week without school for Chicago kids.

I’ve steered clear of saying much on the CTU strike because with so many people commenting and writing about this it gets hard to have anything original to say, but with so many people weighing in it’s inevitable some of them will be saying ridiculous things that deserve calling out. One of the weirder memes I’ve seen going around the last few days is the notion that “the real problem here is that there’s no evidence the teacher evaluations Rahm Emanuel wants to put in place work.”

Let’s think about this for a second. It’s by and large true that there’s no evidence that the evaluation system proposed in Chicago will improve student achievement. But that’s because such evaluation systems have been implemented to date in only a few places, most of them for too little time to see any evidence of their effects. Until very recently, virtually all school districts in the country had very similar teacher evaluation systems that didn’t take student learning (by any measure you like) into account or give teachers much real feedback about performance--and virtually all teachers were rated satisfactory or excellent. Those systems are still in place in most districts and, just for the record, there’s not really any evidence that they improve student achievement either. To say that the Chicago Public Schools shouldn’t try a new approach to teacher evaluation because there’s no evidence it works is basically to say that we should never try anything new in public education--because things that have yet not yet been done by definition can’t prove that they’re effective.

Having spent much of the past year looking at state teacher evaluation legislation, I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a great deal we don’t know about what works and what doesn’t here, and that we really don’t know how a new teacher evaluation system is going to work. Anyone who claims to know for a fact that the new teacher evaluation proposed in Chicago will or won’t improve student learning has a better Magic 8 ball than I do. But we do know that the current system is broken: From 2003-2008 only 1% of Chicago teachers were rated “unsatisfactory” a fact that jives with neither research finding wide variations in teachers’ impact on student learning, nor test data showing that less than 1/3 of Chicago high schoolers passed reading and math assessments in 2008. And the only way that the only way to learn how to do better is by trying new things, carefully monitoring what does and doesn’t work about them, and making improvements and adjustments over time. It’s worth noting that the system on the table in Chicago is designed in part to do exactly that: The percentage of a teacher’s evaluation that is based on student learning indicators would increase gradually over time and after 5 years a committee will make recommendations for the longer-term design of the system, based on lessons learned.

The question on the table here isn’t “do we know the new system will work,” but “is there any reason to believe that some changes might improve upon the system that we currently have?” And the answer is yes.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook 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.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP
Education FDA: ‘Very, Very Hopeful’ COVID Shots Will Be Ready for Younger Kids This Year
Dr. Peter Marks said he is hopeful that COVID-19 vaccinations for 5- to 11-year-olds will be underway by year’s end. Maybe sooner.
4 min read
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021. On Friday, Sept. 10, 2021, Marks urged parents to be patient, saying the agency will rapidly evaluate vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds as soon as it gets the needed data.
Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research in the Food and Drug Administration, testifies during a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions hearing to examine an update from federal officials on efforts to combat COVID-19 on Capitol Hill in Washington on May 11, 2021.
Jim Lo Scalzo/AP