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New York Times Easter Puzzle: Too Many Effective Teachers

The New York Times has a front-page story on teacher evaluation, and the connundrum faced by reformers who came up with misguided attempts to use test scores and cut scores and all manner of quantification and formulation in their efforts to find the “bad teachers.” But now, it turns out their systems aren’t working as intended.

A couple of quick reactions here. First, as Randi Weingarten suggests in the story itself, perhaps there aren’t as many underperforming teachers as the reformers think. Still, based on anecdotal evidence from colleagues around the country, I think teachers should admit the percentage of teachers who need an exit plan is higher than 1-2%.

There’s also a quote from a principal who says she could identify a certain number of teachers on her staff who were ineffective, and yet the test score formulation had them coming out of the process labeled “effective.” A lesson for reformers there perhaps? The problems with test scores cut both ways. If you want to empower administrators, don’t tie their hands this way. I’m in favor of empowering administrators to do a better job of evaluation. Make sure they have the time, training, and resources to offer so that they can do a better evaluation of every teacher. We also need to empower teachers in this process. Evaluation should be a dialogue about practice and continual improvement, rather than a process understood as it still is in this Times article – as minimal quality control with no apparent value to anyone. Teachers should be full partners in the design and implementation of good teacher evaluation systems.

Bottom line, here’s another “we told you so” moment for teachers and education reform. We told you to avoid using tests. We told you that engaging with teachers would be better than dictating the terms of evaluation. Give it a try.

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David B. Cohen

David B. Cohen is the Associate Director of Accomplished California Teachers (ACT). His main responsibilities are in communications and membership, and he works t...