Hess: One Size Doesn’t Fit All with Teacher Evaluations
Rick Hess offers some thoughts on teacher evaluations and the polarization that occurs whenever the topic is discussed:
[O]ur teacher evaluation and pay debates are fought between two bizarre poles. One camp insists that teachers, for some reason that escapes me, can’t possibly be evaluated fairly. Any tough-minded effort to gauge teacher performance or reward more productive or talented teachers is seen as an attack that must be ferociously contested. And those who see the value of paying good employees more than bad ones aren’t content with creating systems that will push schools and districts to figure out how to do this; far too many want to settle for enacting prescriptive policies that gauge teacher performance in terms of reading and math value-added and then adjust pay accordingly.
In other words, this is a false choice. Teachers aren’t some unique class of worker that either simply can’t be evaluated or can all be evaluated the same way. Different methods at different levels in different districts or even the same district can be found (say, whole-school a la Deming in Cranston while Bristol does value-added) The point is that there is no one, single solution, but that doesn’t mean there is absolutely no evaluation solution!
To most folks in health care, high tech, sales, advocacy, or just about any other field you can name, both positions are inane. To them, the complexities of evaluating personnel and crafting sensible pay systems are pretty obvious. That’s why they’ve been tinkering with different ways to gauge and reward employees for more than half a century. Most people recognize that a boss’s judgment is inevitably subjective, but also believe that it has real value–and that a boss who’s responsible for their team will take care to weigh the range of relevant factors. Bottom line: most sectors don’t turn discussions of employee evaluation and pay into moral crusades, they simply tinker with what might make sense. The biggest problem in education is that our current arrangements force us to approach these questions as “policy” questions, with the presumption that a state or district will set rules that apply to every teacher in every school in that geography. In that fashion, by enforcing uniformity, we stifle opportunities for variability or creative problem-solving, and accentuate the temptations to adrenalize these debates.
While many want to make Rhode Island one district–and that is an attractive thought from an administrative cost-savings standpoint–there are also potential benefits to our current “tiny kingdom” setup whereby different methods of evaluation could be tried. That will require some cooperation, though. We’re not there yet.
This has real consequences. As I’ve noted before, clumsily-designed value-added measures risk “stifling the kind of smart use of personnel that reformers are trying to encourage.” But I guess it’s easier, and maybe more fun, to rant against step-and-lane pay and promote grand solutions–or to “defend the profession” against the crazy idea that some people are better at their jobs than others, that we can distinguish among them, and that we should take this into account when setting pay.
It ain’t rocket science.