Many posters to this blog resent the growing influence of Bill Gates on U.S. education policy, but I think a lot of them will agree with a New York Times op-ed Gates wrote deploring the release of teacher effectiveness ratings in New York on Friday.
Georgia is moving to teacher effectiveness ratings as part of its Race-to-the-Top-driven overhaul of how it evaluates educators. A new teacher evaluation system — in which student scores will be considered for those content areas where testing exists — is being piloted now in the 26 participating districts. Whether those ratings will eventually be released to the public is uncertain at this point and may fall to the Legislature to decide. Or, as in New York, it may be a court that rules the ratings must be released.
(The Times had a good second-day follow to its news account of Friday’s release of teacher ratings in New York City. The story spotlighted some of the teachers who received the very top ratings. You can read that piece here.)
Value-added ratings are one important piece of a complete personnel system. But student test scores alone aren’t a sensitive enough measure to gauge effective teaching, nor are they diagnostic enough to identify areas of improvement. Teaching is multifaceted, complex work. A reliable evaluation system must incorporate other measures of effectiveness, like students’ feedback about their teachers and classroom observations by highly trained peer evaluators and principals.
Putting sophisticated personnel systems in place is going to take a serious commitment. Those who believe we can do it on the cheap — by doing things like making individual teachers’ performance reports public — are underestimating the level of resources needed to spur real improvement.
At Microsoft, we created a rigorous personnel system, but we would never have thought about using employee evaluations to embarrass people, much less publish them in a newspaper. A good personnel system encourages employees and managers to work together to set clear, achievable goals. Annual reviews are a diagnostic tool to help employees reflect on their performance, get honest feedback and create a plan for improvement. Many other businesses and public sector employers embrace this approach, and that’s where the focus should be in education: school leaders and teachers working together to get better.
Developing a systematic way to help teachers get better is the most powerful idea in education today. The surest way to weaken it is to twist it into a capricious exercise in public shaming. Let’s focus on creating a personnel system that truly helps teachers improve.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog