Posted by: cornvillenutmeg | July 9, 2012

All You Need to Know about Evaluation

The seventh grade teacher I have mentioned before, Mr. Friedman, also provided me with the definition of hyperbole that guides me:  exaggeration in the service of truth.  So let me say that in what follows, I make use of hyperbole.


     The paradox that colors the notion of evaluating teachers is that in the world of public education, none of the constituencies directly involved are much interested in doing anything about evaluating teachers. 

     Teachers don’t really care about being evaluated.  One is either a good teacher, a mediocre teacher, or a bad teacher.  The good ones are pretty good to start with, and then they get better and better.  Why?  What they care about is doing good which is to say teaching well;  and that results in innovation, self-improvement, self-reflection, work days that stretch well beyond contracted time, and an all but masochistic tendency to keep trying in the face of resolute indifference on the part of students, parents, and administrators alike.

     The mediocre teachers are of two sorts:  the first don’t know they are mediocre;  they think they do a good job, and no one will ever convince them otherwise.  The second do know how ordinary they are but are nevertheless satisfied. 

     The news about bad teachers is even worse.  Happily, we can count on there being a handful who are soon so dissatisfied with their teaching lives that they move on to something else;  unhappily, that handful is a small one.  Another but considerable handful hang in just long enough to move into administration, where their bad ideas about teaching translate in no time at all into bad ideas about administration.  Sad to say, they do not experience dissatisfaction so tend to stay on and on and on, staining the lives of students and teachers alike.  The rest of the bad teachers do things like involve themselves in committee work.  They have the time to do that because they are not spending very much time on their teaching work, so to speak.  Union activity is also a place to look for bad teachers (which is not, I hasten to add, that teachers who are involved with their unions are all bad;  some are good, some more are mediocre, but they all misguidedly accept the mendacity that education unions have more than only the tiniest bit to do with teaching.  The bad ones who go the union route are looking for ways to distract from their badness.  The rest get very, very good at keeping a low profile, putting in 35 + years, and retiring at 70% or more of their top salary.

     Tax payers care about evaluating teachers, mainly from the perspective of at least wanting the steady increase in the taxes they pay into education to be well spent.  Interestingly though, tax payers in any given school district think that the teachers whose salaries they pay are delivering good value.  Here I do not exaggerate.  Let me quote briefly from Education Next, “The Public Weighs in on School Reform (W. Howell, M. West, P. Peterson), Fall, 2011:  “No less than 46% …give their community schools an A of B,…”  whereas nationally, that percentage is only 22%.  So while the grass may always be greener on the other side of the hill, the public school your kid goes to is way better than the ones your local taxes don’t contribute to.

     Students evaluate their teachers constantly, but the evaluations are utterly predictable and by and large worthless.  Good students – that would be the smallest group – value good teachers.  Average students value teachers who require minimal effort and reward that effort with good grades.  Bad students don’t like any teachers at all, but will tolerate those who demand the least of them.  So, just by the way, if you were thinking that evaluating teachers based on their students’ grades might be the way to go, forget it.  Go to a system at all like that, and you will end up with an honor roll that graphs like the trajectory of a space launch.

     If not grades, then how about standardized test scores?  Almost every state has its own program of testing, especially with the advent of No Child Left Behind (or, as my brother prefers to think of it, No Child Left Standing).  So there are those tests and surely a majority of high school students take the SAT or ACT.  How about evaluating teachers based on the scores from those tests?  What do you think about that, hmm?

     No, really, what do you think of that?



  1. Do you think a teacher can be ‘evaluated’ in any measurement kind of way? It seems to me that the best teachers are the ones who either instill a love of and excitement for learning, or instill a sense of persistence to achieve a goal. I’m not sure how that can be measured, but each of us can evaluate the teachers in our own lives who did those things for us. Do we need teacher evaluations? Whom do they serve? What interesting ideas you raise!

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