Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Million-Dollar Baby

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Million-Dollar Baby

Article excerpt

A human resources director once told me that he left the classroom in favor of the personnel side because, if you want to make a difference in education, you have to pay attention to who gets hired. "Every hire is a million-dollar decision," he said.

I don't know about you, but when I spend $1 million on anything, I want to know that I'm getting my money's worth. Maximizing that $1 million investment requires that you regularly evaluate whether that initial decision is delivering the goods.

Evaluating teachers is one of the most significant pieces of work done by principals and other leaders in a district--but it's work that's been given short shrift for too long. Unfortunately, educators must bear the bulk of the blame for allowing such a lousy system of evaluation to exist as long as it has. If the profession wants the respect it demands, then teachers must take the lead in doing everything necessary to ensure high-quality teaching. That includes demanding effective evaluations for themselves.

Evaluation seems an oddly unnecessary contrivance when teachers have lifetime tenure. Or perhaps more to the point, why would anyone feel the need for evaluation--am I good, am I bad, could I do better?--when all the players know the challenges of removing a poorly performing teacher? Teachers are concerned that changes in evaluation could change the existing system of tenure. The evaluation debate provides an opening for the field to move away from a system of lifetime tenure in favor of contracts with time-limited job security. I fully expect that the current conversation about evaluation will eventually lead us to that point, and educators would be smart to get out ahead of this effort. In this system, teachers would receive a contract for a limited period of time, say three or five years, until they once again received a favorable evaluation and met other requirements imposed by states or districts. That's a system that the profession can defend and it would ultimately alleviate some of the public griping about the unique privileges that teachers enjoy.

But no high-stakes evaluation system should rely exclusively on a single measure--whether that's a principal's observation or student test results. The mantra of multiple measures, multiple times, over multiple years simply makes sense. Those multiple measures ought to include observations by trained evaluators (perhaps including peers), self-assessments by the teacher, student and parent surveys--and student test results. …

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