Recruitment & Retention Opinion

Welcome to On Performance

By Justin Baeder — December 03, 2010 3 min read
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Welcome to On Performance. The purpose of this blog is to discuss issues of performance in public education, from teacher evaluation to principal accountability to the changing shape of compensation and the education labor market.

This is an unparalleled time in public education—never has the focus on educator performance been more sustained or intense.

In the 1980s, A Nation at Risk sparked national concern over the quality of our nation’s public schools. However, the focus at that time was on national competitiveness and policy, not on the performance of individual educators.

Today, the calls for reform are equally loud, but the focus is increasingly on individual teachers and principals, who are increasingly judged by test scores. We’ve been through the era of accountability, and I believe we’re now entering the age of performance.

Part of this shift is due to the availability of better tools for evaluating teacher, principal, and school effectiveness—if we can measure results, why wouldn’t we therefore judge educators by the results they obtain with students? Performance matters for students—both for their success in subsequent schooling and their success in life.

A difficulty remains, though, in measuring performance meaningfully and rigorously. The fact that you can measure something doesn’t mean the measurement is valid, meaningful, or smart. We can measure the wrong things, measure the right things poorly, or measure the right things well and still create perverse incentives.

The education profession is changing due to outside pressures as well as the realities of the 21st century global economy. People are no longer expected to stay in one career for their entire working lives. Pension funds are under great stress. Healthcare is increasingly unaffordable. And unions are under fire from all sides in a society that is experiencing the worst economic downturn in decades.

Proposals for overhauling teacher evaluation and measuring teachers’ impact on student learning are in the news daily, yet educators—especially teachers and principals—have rarely had a voice in these discussions. Billionaires, economists, ex-superintendents, and politicians currently control much of the debate on educator performance, and I’m convinced that educators need to take a more vocal and active role in helping the public understand the dimensions of performance in our profession, and in leading the discussion about how to improve public education.

I’m convinced that dramatic improvement is possible in the public education sector, but I don’t think it happens the way that policymakers and the public often assume. All over the country, individual teachers, schools, and districts are showing that they can meet the challenge of helping all students learn at increasingly high levels. But this is difficult work, and it does not lend itself to easy replication or formulaic solutions. On this blog, I hope to provide nuanced insights into the nature of improvement, drawing on my perspective as an educator and my reading of the research and national debate on educator performance.

My name is Justin Baeder, and I’m a public school principal in the Seattle area. I’m also a doctoral student in Educational Leadership & Policy Studies at the University of Washington, where I study principal performance and productivity. My interest in educator performance stems from my daily experience as a principal, and from my desire to be effective and ensure that those I supervise are effective. I’ve been a contributor to the LeaderTalk blog here at EdWeek, and I also blog at Eduleadership.org, where I share strategies on productivity for principals. You can follow me on Twitter at @eduleadership.

Thanks for joining me. You can subscribe to the RSS feed for this blog here, subscribe to email updates here, or check back regularly for new posts. I look forward to dialoging with you about the important issues facing the education profession.

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The opinions expressed in On Performance 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.