To the Editor:
Your article “Grade Inflation Seen in Evaluations of Teachers, Regardless of System” (June 10, 2009) is a balanced presentation of conflicting concepts related to teacher assessment.
Why don’t evaluation systems work? To start, many use the same process both to dismiss and to improve teachers. That should not be done, but many do it anyway.
Moreover, most evaluation processes fail to improve teaching in the same way that teaching fails to improve student learning. Those being “improved” are not actively engaged in their own betterment. Threats, rewards, and incentives say two things: either that one is too lazy to do what’s good, or that one doesn’t know what’s good. But professionals who resist a new idea aren’t necessarily lazy. Whipping them into conformity may correct their behavior, but at a cost. On the other hand, if teachers truly don’t know what’s good, then all the incentives (and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men) won’t make them better.
A paralyzed man once called upon a famous healer to carry him to a pool reputed to have healing powers. Before helping him, however, the healer asked, “Do you want to get well?” Likewise, before evaluators can improve teachers, they must ask a similar question: “Do you want to become a good or a great teacher?” Evaluators can’t drive skill-paralyzed educators with whips or lure them with rewards into the healing pool and expect them to come out walking. First, teachers must want to walk.
Districts might fare better by confronting teachers with the right question. They might help more by looking at the research and by showing teachers what works. Simply demanding that Humpty Dumpty climb over the wall, or else, isn’t good enough.
With a fraction of the money currently squandered on standardized testing, this nation could hire effective teachers as full-time mentors at all levels and in all public schools. That would produce far more improvement in teaching and learning than will ever come from a pay-for-performance plan.
A version of this article appeared in the June 17, 2009 edition of Education Week as Hire Full-Time Mentors, In Lieu of Merit Pay