Teaching Profession Opinion

Breaking the Vicious Cycle of Meaningless Evaluations

By Justin Baeder — December 31, 2010 1 min read
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In this editorial, Collin Hitt of the Illinois Policy Institute argues that strong teacher tenure protections create a vicious cycle in teacher evaluation:

In a nutshell: Today, teacher evaluations are not used to inform personnel decisions. Therefore, on balance, they are not conducted with earnest (sic). Therefore, they lack accurate information. Therefore, as poor meters of quality, they have no business being used to inform school-level policy. Therefore, they cannot be used to inform personnel decisions.

In other words, principals are smart enough to know that the evaluation process itself is an ineffective way to get rid of a bad teacher. So what do practical-minded principals do? The editorial quotes Dr. Timothy Knowles of the University of Chicago:

In interviews with 40 principals, 37 admitted to using some type of harassing supervision—cajoling, pressuring or threatening—to get teachers to leave in order to circumvent the byzantine removal process mandated by the union contract... This pathological status quo feeds upon itself: The more difficult it is for principals to address underperformance, the more likely they are to use informal methods to do so. This fuels labor's argument that management is capricious, strengthening their case for increased employment protection.

It’s understandable why principals do this, but as Knowles points out, this undermines their credibility as evaluators. If we want our judgments as professionals to be taken seriously, we must craft them with great seriousness. It seems to me that there is only one way out of this cycle: principals must take the lead in conducting meaningful evaluations, even if it takes a few years for policymakers to create a stronger link between evaluations and dismissal.

Imagine how powerful it would be if lawmakers could see how difficult it is to dismiss an unsatisfactory teacher. If Chicago Public Schools principals turned in five hundred or a thousand unsatisfactory ratings next year instead of just a handful, what kind of attention would that garner? Imagine if lawmakers could see the litigation costs districts face in dismissal proceedings—would they not immediately intervene? Right now, though, all they see is a giant stack of “satisfactory” ratings, with no way to tell which teachers deserve them and which don’t. As a result, efforts to reform teacher evaluation (such as using formulas that incorporate student test scores) seem increasingly to be designed to work around principals rather than through them.

This is our work as principals, and we need to take it seriously in order to break the cycle of meaningless, useful evaluations.

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