Evaluating Teachers


Will writes from Washington, D.C. (well, Arlington, Virginia). You can reach him at willblogcorrespondence at gmail dot com.

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8 Responses

  1. Kyle says:

    Yeah, Weingarten started back-pedalling on teacher evaluations and merit pay not too long after she became head of the AFT.

    It’s one of those things that’s more “wait and see” than “ooh, I’m excited!” There’s every reason in the world to believe that the moves were politically necessary to prevent the unions’ position from alienating Democratic politicians over merit pay, particularly when it’s one of the President’s pet reforms.

    Because it was politically expedient, I question if this is just the education version of the AMA/Drug companies, signing on to reform with the goal of making it as painless as possible.

    As for the substance of the article, it’s clear I’m rather hard on the status quo, but I’ve always found the argument, “teacher’s don’t have complete control so we shouldn’t use any metrics to evaluate them” to be weak sauce. Just because it’s not easy doesn’t mean it’s impossible.Report

  2. Katherine says:

    Interesting study – particularly the fact that an M.Ed didn’t give teachers better performance but a Masters’ degree in the topic they were teaching did. It makes sense that people with a high level of perseverance would be more likely to do well as teachers in difficult schools, and that people with relatively good and stable lives outside the job would be better equipped to throw everything they’ve got into it.

    I believe in evaluating teachers, but standardized tests are limited in their utility. They can identify which teachers aren’t succeeding in teaching their students, but given the “teaching to the test” problem I doubt they’re particularly valuable in separating the exceptional teachers from the average ones. It is more useful, as the article noted, to evaluate the relative performance of teachers in the same school rather than between different schools, given differing conditions. Other things also need to be taken into consideration, like teachers being repeatedly given more challenging students because they’re better teachers, which would skew the scores. But there should be ways to make performance evaluation work, and I appreciate studies like this one applying the scientific method to it.Report

    • Kyle in reply to Katherine says:

      The thing that always gets me (and here your statements were measured) about the standardized tests-cum-teaching to the test is a problem line of argument is how superficial it can be.

      For one, very, very good standardized tests are actually really good assessment tools. The problem is they’re expensive, time consuming, and the testing industry has scalability issues, given the pool of qualified persons and difficulty of test design.

      As for teaching to the test, that’s only a negative in certain contexts. If one is teaching to a reading test, you can’t exactly teach to the test without teaching reading. Quite a few Advanced Placement courses teach to the test, but again, that’s often not at the expense of learning the subject. Instead, it’s often to better enable students to succeed under the conditions of the test.

      Which is only to say that cheap, below average standardized tests and teaching only what is measured at the expense of critical topics is certainly a bad thing. (This is what I presume you to be saying) However, in other contexts – especially when what is on the test is what is critical, it in fact shows a harmony between curriculum and evaluation that supports learning, rather than detracting from it.Report

      • JosephFM in reply to Kyle says:

        This is certainly true. The problem here in Florida is that the FCAT was, at least at the time it was instituted (and, full disclosure, I was a member of the first class to have it be a high school graduation requirement) generally a pretty bad standardized test. And worse, the results and implementation were politicised by the Bush/Crist/Brogan administration and misused for several years.

        From what I hear, most of this has been adjusted in the last couple of years such that Florida schools are actually getting better, but it wasn’t worth going through that and all the fallout from it to get here IMO.Report

  3. Scott says:

    God forbid any of the teacher unions loosen their stranglehold.Report

  4. Roque Nuevo says:

    What predicts success in the classroom, according to the Atlantic?
    1. A history of perseverance.
    2. General happiness with life.
    3. A past history of success.
    4. Knowledge

    Nobody needed a fancy study to tell them any of this. It’s just common sense. But there is a potential revolt embedded in point four: “A master’s degree in education seems to have no impact on classroom effectiveness.”

    This is not anything one needs a fancy study to find out either. Some wise man once said, “If you can’t do, teach. And if you can’t teach, teach teachers.” Just ask the millions of teachers who have suffered through an MA in Education. Most will dismiss their edu courses a gobblygook-filled tedium but they “persevered” because the degree will improve their salaries and secure their jobs. It’s called “extrinsic motivation” in the Edu racket and when students display it, it’s deplored. Today, the edu racket is selecting teachers based on extrinsic motivation and weeding out teachers with an abiding “intrinsic” interest in their subjects.

    If this insight is ever accepted, then maybe teachers will get MAs in their field of interest instead of in education and then students’ performance will improve. But the education racket itself is standing in the way: those in it to teach teachers make the rules; they have a vested interest in their own academic departments; therefore, teachers won’t be getting a break anytime soon.Report

    • Kyle in reply to Roque Nuevo says:

      I’m not sure the subject-based graduate degrees were causal in the way you suggest. I took from it two things, that the expanded subject familiarity was a plus and that the qualities that went into securing the degrees were qualities that – in turn – made better teachers.

      Incidentally, this is one of the flawed assumptions of NCLB that I hope is reformed. A Masters degree – or for that matter an undergraduate degree – in mathematics requires a level of math far removed from anything useful in K-12 classrooms. (e.g. I doubt an understanding of number theory or fractal geometry makes one a better teacher of pre-algebra)Report

  5. Roque Nuevo says:

    “I’m not sure the subject-based graduate degrees were causal in the way you suggest. I took from it two things, that the expanded subject familiarity was a plus and that the qualities that went into securing the degrees were qualities that – in turn – made better teachers.”

    Agreed. Nobody “needs” advanced math to fulfill the objectives of K-12 math—if that’s what you mean by “teaching.” But if “teaching” means that, plus the ability to motivate students to learn by themselves, then you do “need” it because such a depth of knowledge will be obvious to students. This will give them confidence in the authority of their teacher and will make him or her more of a role model than a simple instructor. This is the ineffable quality that great teachers have. They need so-called intrinsic motivation, which an advanced degree in math reflects perfectly. What possible “use” could such knowledge have in the world, anyway? The “use” is the so-called intrinsic motivation to improve and to know more that it shows.

    What explains the lack of “impact” of an MA in edu? Maybe that this reflects qualities unrelated to teaching at all, like motivation for more money and prestige, i.e., “extrinsic” motivation? Aside from the edu racket, out in the “real world,” an edu degree plus five bucks or so will get you a cup of coffee from any employer, who would prefer a candidate with an advanced degree in math for the critical thinking skills it takes, over one with an advanced degree in edu because this shows just the opposite: no curiosity (or “intrinsic motivation”), no initiative, and training in reciting herd-mentality conventional wisdom.

    This is one reason why it’s hopeless: the edu racket controls teacher hiring and promotion based on proficiency in its own gobbledygook MA courses. They won’t shoot themselves in the knees. They’ll continue to confuse teachers and by extension students and by extension society at large with their useless verbiage.Report