Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Who Should Evaluate Teachers?

A lot of ideas that make sense on paper (especially regarding teacher pay and teacher training) rest on being able to accurately (and fairly) evaluate teachers. This leads to two major questions: who should evaluate teachers and how should they do it?

The how is a more complicated question than I care to address right now, but I've frequently thought about the who last couple years, particularly given the problems I noticed with evaluations while I was teaching. The issue also came up in my last class -- where it was essentially batted around by a lot of former teachers. Based on previous thoughts, current practice, and recent discussion, these seem to be the options:

-An Administrative Supervisor (e.g. Principal or Asst. Principal)
-A Non-Administrative Supervisor (e.g. Dept. Chair)
-Other Teachers
-An Outside Expert (like in Martinique)
-A Mentor or Coach
-Some combination of the above

If you're a teacher (especially if there's a lot riding on the evaluation), you want to be evaluated by somebody who:

1.) Is an expert
2.) Knows you/your teaching well
3.) You can trust to be fair and impartial

The problem is that none of the options (save possibly the last one) meet all three of these criteria.

Administrative supervisors might meet all or none of these criteria depending on the situation. For example: a former English teacher who becomes a principal would not likely be an expert in teaching physics (and vice-versa). Whether your principal knows you well or is trustworthy depends on the circumstances.

I don't think there are many non-administrative supervisors. How many department chairs really count as supervisors? I'm sure exceptions exist, but the question then becomes what responsibilities these people have other than evaluating and if any of these are conflicts of interest.

I'm also not sure that I've ever heard of teachers bearing responsibility for evaluating other teachers (other than faculty making tenure decisions). I think there's some merit to this idea, but the largest problem is that it could negatively affect teacher communities, or at least make them artificial (e.g. people only say good things about themselves).

The outside expert could be both knowledgeable and impartial, but how well will they actually know the teacher?

The mentor or coach may best know your abilities, can they really be an effective source of guidance if they're also in charge of evaluating somebody (e.g. why would somebody come to them with their problems?).

Do we pick what we think is the best of these options, come up with something else, or combine these? Why not have an evaluation committee made up of some people from all walks of life? Imagine a committee made up of some teachers, administrators, and experts who were in charge of evaluating a number of teachers. Would this work? Would this be too cumbersome? Would it be worth it?


RDT said...

At the university where I work, there are a number of steps involved in giving "merit" raises. There's a schedule of salary steps, your department meets and takes a vote of how many steps you should move -- there's a typical rate of one step every 2-3 years, but some people get moved faster, and some people get stuck. Their vote is a recommendation to the administration, and is also reviewed by a campus-wide faculty committee, which also makes a recommendation.

I think most people view it as a basically fair system, and there are ways to have the decisions reviewed further if you think it hasn't been fair (particularly in the cumulative sense).

But there are a number of difficulties in seeing it as a model for K-12. For one, it is incredibly consuming of time and effort; in addition, it probably only works as well as it does because faculty are primarily evaluation their colleagues' research, not their teaching. If everyone needed to observe each other's classes, rather than read each other's papers, I think the system would probably founder.

This brings up an even more basic difficultly in evaluating teachers: I don't think there's a real consensus on what indicates good teaching. Test scores are much talked about, but even in the "value added" sense it would be hard to say there is consensus about their validity. Our university's main criteria is student evaluations, but clearly those can be problematic, and certainly would be controversial (to put it mildly) in the K-12 sphere.

A workable K-12 model would probably have to involve some kind of committee evaluation -- I think relying on a single evaluator is likely to be seen as to open to favoritism and lack of uniformity But even more, it would need to be based on some agreed upon evaluation criteria, and I've seen very little discussion of anything except test scores, even though presumably the current evaluations done by principals are based on a lot more than that.

Corey Bunje Bower said...

Yeah, I find it interesting that faculty are so involved in evaluating their peers in a college/university but not in a K-12 school. Of course, it's arguably much more difficult to evaluate a K-12 teacher (like I said, I'm not getting into the how right now).