In many cities, there is concern about new teacher evaluation systems, but a pilot project shows that teachers also perceive potential benefits of evaluation. Teachers in these sites report that the goal of improving the quality of evaluations is a good one and that new evaluations are aimed at improving instruction, determining areas for professional development, and identifying teachers who need additional support.
Leaders acknowledge that the new styles of evaluation take more time than traditional evaluations, but they also say they believe students will ultimately benefit from the greater investment in new evaluations.
These are just some of the takeaways from an initial look at work being done in a teacher-effectiveness reform sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. A team from the RAND Corporation and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is studying the implementation of the reform, its effect on student outcomes, and its spread to other sites. In the initial year, the evaluation focused on how participants understood and responded to the reforms.
Kappan readers know that proposals for change in teacher evaluation are receiving widespread attention. States and districts are adopting new standardized evaluation systems that combine evidence of student performance, direct measures of teaching, input from students and other relevant information. In addition, states and districts are adopting new approaches to the management of teachers that base decisions about tenure, compensation, placement, support, and career pathways on the results of teacher evaluations.
These remain contentious reforms. Advocates argue that teachers are the most important school input, so school systems must get better at assessing teacher effectiveness. While proponents differ in detail in the way they define teacher effectiveness, they generally emphasize the degree to which teachers promote students' academic growth, encourage students' social, artistic, and physical development, and support the organization and functioning of the school. According to proponents, measures of effectiveness can be used to tailor supports to the specific needs of each teacher, place the most effective teachers with students who have the greatest needs, reward and retain the best teachers, and eliminate those who remain ineffective. On the other hand, critics counter that performance-based bonuses and similar management techniques are not appropriate in education and that measures of value-added that are part of many measures of effectiveness are statistically complex, too narrowly based on standardized tests, and do not fully account for student backgrounds that are outside teachers' control.
Drawing on data from four sites that have been implementing new approaches to teacher evaluation for two years, we provide some early evidence about implementation.
In June 2009, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced the Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative to support districts and charter management organizations to "implement bold reform plans over the next several years to better recruit, retain, and reward effective teachers and ensure that the highest-need students are taught by the most effective teachers." The initiative's long-term goal is to dramatically increase college readiness and college attendance for all students, particularly those from groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in higher education. At the core of the initiative is developing rich measures of teacher effectiveness and using them to manage teacher human capital more effectively.
The theory behind the initiative is that a valid measure of teacher effectiveness can be used to manage a site's teaching staff effectively to promote student achievement (Figure 1). The teacher effectiveness measures are made up of direct measures of teaching that include classroom observations using locally adopted rubrics, value-added estimates based on student growth, and other information, such as student and parent surveys of learning conditions or survey measures of teacher knowledge. …