Opinion Blog

Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Time Warp on Teacher Evaluation

By Paul Manna — June 25, 2010 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Note: Paul Manna, a professor at William & Mary, is guest-posting this week while Rick Hess is on a consulting project in the Republic of Georgia.

Let me wrap up this week by looking closely at one element of Race to the Top (RTT) that has prompted much discussion: teacher evaluations. Specifically, I’m thinking about part D(2) of the RTT criteria, which focuses on “Improving teacher and principal effectiveness based on performance.” (See p. 59821 in this document or p. 19504 in this one.) The RTT vision is for teachers (let’s leave aside principals for now) to face annual evaluations of their performance with student achievement gains carrying major weight in those judgments.

The majority of the debating points I’ve read on this issue have tended to focus on whether, in principle, teacher evaluation should or should not include a major component focusing on student achievement as measured by state tests. What’s been missing or understated in the discussion, I think, is exactly how either side envisions its preferred evaluation method happening in practice. Again, it’s the theme I’ve been pushing this week: Implementation, implementation, implementation. Specifically, let’s consider a key variable--time--and why it requires serious discussion in the teacher evaluation debate.

While the use of student performance data to evaluate teachers has an intrinsically appealing quality, it is important to remember that in the NCLB era states and their testing contractors have been notoriously bad at producing results in a timely manner. The vast majority of states, for example, have been unable to issue schools’ final adequate yearly progress (AYP) judgments until well into the summer, if not into the following school year. In the future, the ability to turn around test results in a timely manner will be especially crucial if annual employment decisions or teacher salaries and bonuses will be tied to these test results. Having the final numbers from spring testing ready in late August or September, even, simply won’t cut it. Compounding the challenge is that the reporting tasks become still more complicated when teacher evaluations, not just school evaluations, are at stake. Do the math for a minute. It was hard enough for states to compute performance results (i.e., AYP) for the nearly 100,000 schools in the country each year. Add to that the future need to generate results for some relatively large fraction of the nation’s three million teachers and tens of thousands of principals and the data management task becomes truly daunting given the current (and likely near future) state of the art.

The other time element meriting more attention in the debate is simply the amount of time needed to do rigorous evaluations. Presently, teacher evaluation is a pretty anemic process in most districts. Formal evaluations, if occurring at all, typically are cursory exercises that involve principals and teachers having a meeting, jointly completing evaluation forms about the teacher’s performance, and both signing off on the document. Serious classroom observations of teachers or teacher peer review tend to occur about as often as French goals in this year’s World Cup. This is not because teachers and principals are necessarily uninterested in improving their practice. Rather, the structure of their jobs tends to crowd out space for such work. As political scientist James Q. Wilson has explained, immediate circumstances (e.g., principals focusing on school discipline and teachers prepping their lessons and grading papers) tend to take priority over tasks requiring longer-term effort and planning. Like all serious work, meaningful evaluation requires what Max Weber once called the “slow drilling of hard boards.” Cutting corners simply won’t get the job done. (Hat tip to my colleague Simon Stow for reminding me of Weber’s wisdom.)

So in the end here I am left with lingering questions for both sides of the RTT teacher evaluation debate. To those who favor incorporating measures of student achievement gains: Why are you confident, given state track records, that we are anywhere near possessing the data systems required for timely (and obviously accurate) reporting of test results needed for annual teacher evaluations? To those who wish to see a more rigorous and multi-dimensional approach to evaluation that incorporates factors beyond test scores, I wonder: Where do you envision teachers and principals finding the time to perform the tasks that such robust evaluations would require? What current activities do you envision them shedding in order to create space to make the evaluation process a serious part of their work?

In closing, let me thank Rick again for allowing me to share some thoughts with you this week. If you’re interested, please feel free to be in touch (pmanna@wm.edu) or surf to my home page to check out my other work, including an excerpt from my forthcoming book on NCLB’s implementation called Collision Course: Federal Education Policy Meets State and Local Realities. Take care.

--Paul Manna

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up 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.


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.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
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.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

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 Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
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