Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Worthwhile Teacher Evaluations
This week the Chicago public school teachers have been on strike, keeping all Chicago public school children out of their schools. There are a number of factors for the teachers deciding to strike and one main concern relates to “Onerous” evaluations. According to the September 12 Businessweek, “Illinois law requires student test scores to be a factor in new teacher evaluation systems by 2016. Chicago is getting a jump by introducing new evaluations in 300 schools this fall, the Associated Press reports.”
The article goes on to say,
Aren’t Chicago teachers already evaluated? Technically, yes. But as of 2007, 99.7 percent of them received a satisfactory to distinguished rating, according to the AP. Evaluations so gentle do nothing to protect students from sub-par instructors.  New research funded by the U.S. Department of Education, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and others shows that teacher evaluation can improve learning when it is done intelligently. That means supplementing test scores with seasoned judgment from independent evaluators and providing teachers with detailed, personalized feedback that they can use to do their jobs better.
I was struck by the statement as a revelatory piece of research as this has always seemed to be common sense.  To suggest that a teacher, in one year, is going to dramatically increase the test scores of her students without regard to innate student ability, intelligence, background or parental support is questionable, at best.  (That it took research by the Gates Foundation to discover this, was also surprising.) 
Teaching is, inherently, about people and not numbers.  Any true evaluation process has to involve meaningful observations and interactions and a spirit of continuous improvement, for the betterment of students.  Any evaluation needs to have a competent administrator (ideally, one with significant teaching experience) who has built the trust of his team of teachers to the point that he can share positive observations, but more importantly, areas of needed growth and improvement, and do so in a thoughtful, professional way.
At Harding we have administrators visiting classrooms every day.  When a new teacher is hired, regardless of background, they are assigned a mentor for the year and start the year with a New Faculty Orientation.  They are formally evaluated that first year, and then follow a set schedule of evaluations for the years that follow.  The evaluation includes goal-setting, classroom observations by a key administrator and student feedback where appropriate.  The evaluation includes all pertinent aspects of their position, including coaching and extracurriculars.  Parent communication, organization, participation in school life and all of the tangential pieces that make for a good teacher and colleague are included. 
In the end, the process is as important as the final report that is written by the administrator.  Spending time focused on improvement and engaging in meaningful conversations with a mentor and administrator, all working toward the same goal – the success of our students – makes for a positive experience, and a great school.