Wednesday, February 09, 2011

"Without Silver Bullets"

Folks invested in education reform love telling us that better evaluations of student achievement and getting rid of lousy teachers will make the system better. Well, duh. My problem lies in their methods of evaluation. If your strategy is based on higher student achievement and better teachers, you'd better have a good way to figure out how to measure it.

Right now, all those methods of evaluation seem to consider only test scores. There is no component for taking resources allocated to a school into account (which would require evaluating School Boards or governing entity policies). Nor is there a component for taking school administration into account, other than "your teachers have lousy test scores."

For years, I've heard catch phrases about "high expectations" and "no excuses" and other elements of corporate speak that are trotted out to shine up the old methods: we're testing the students, looking at the scores in a vacuum, and making decisions based on that. The methods are important because they decide which teachers get "merit pay" and which teachers get "fired;" but I've rarely seen anyone unpack the methods of evaluations thoroughly.

I've never seen anyone talk about how truly difficult it is to evaluate a teacher's job performance.

Until I read this article, which looks at teacher evaluation methods exhaustively and realistically.

Organizational reform is usually difficult because there is no one, simple root cause, other than at the level of gauzy abstraction. We are faced with a bowl of spaghetti of seemingly inextricably interlinked problems. Improving schools is difficult, long-term scut work. Market pressures are, in my view, essential. But, as I’ve tried to argue elsewhere at length, I doubt that simply “voucherizing” schools is a realistic strategy.

More serious measurement of teacher performance, very likely including relative improvement on standardized tests, will almost certainly be part of what an improved school system would look like. But any employees, teachers included, will face imperfect evaluation systems, and will have to have some measure of trust in this system and its application. The evaluation system will have some direct linkage to the strategy of the school, and this will have to be at least a decent strategy that has a real shot at improve learning. The evaluation system will have to have teeth, and this means realistic processes that link comp (and probably more important, promotions and outplacement) to performance.

In other words, better measurements of teacher value-added are useful on the margin, but teacher evaluation as a program to improve school performance will likely only work in the context of much better school organization and management.

I added some emphasis there. It is a long article, but well worth the read. HT: The Daily Dish.


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