A School’s Best Teachers Are Easily Identified

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To the Editor:

In response to "Teacher Pay for Performance: Another Fad or a Sound and Lasting Policy?" (Commentary, April 5, 2006):

As a member of my local high school’s evaluation committee, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to create and measure improvement in schools. What amazes me is how good people are at identifying the best teachers and the best teaching approaches. But they don’t seem to be able to reduce evaluation to a formula. Most people would much prefer to stay out of the messy world of evaluating performance and let a machine tell them the answer.

When I spend time with students, I find that they have no trouble pinpointing who the most effective teachers are. They also can explain why these teachers are good. Parents are much the same, and their list of the best teachers usually matches the students’ list. My local school’s faculty and staff, in private conversations, also have formed a list of the best that, remarkably, is nearly identical as well.

The fact is that we’re really good at identifying good teachers. But we don’t know how to write an algorithm that would let us make the whole evaluation process “objective” to the point that no one could argue with its fairness.

We shouldn’t wait for the perfect, unbiased, computerized, sanitized, peer-reviewed scheme to come along before giving credit (and incentives) to those we already recognize as our best. No incentive program will be perfect. But saying no to incentive pay because it may be imperfect is unfair to our best teachers.

Paul Mullen
Waukesha, Wis.

Vol. 25, Issue 33, Page 41

Published in Print: April 26, 2006, as A School’s Best Teachers Are Easily Identified

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