Teacher effectiveness “is the key school-based variable we can control,” writes Michael Jonas in Commonwealth Magazine, “but almost none of the structures that have evolved over decades to govern how we hire, evaluate, pay, or assign teachers to classrooms are designed to operate with that in mind.”
We base hiring decisions on certification credentials that don’t seem to correlate highly with teacher quality. Most teachers receive only cursory performance evaluations, with virtually every teacher graded highly. We use a one-size-for-all salary structure, in which the only factors used in raises are a teacher’s higher education credentials and number of years in the system, neither of which is strongly linked to teacher effectiveness. And we often let seniority, rather than merit, drive decisions about where a teacher is placed.
Rating teachers on how much their students improve on standardized tests is tricky, Jonas concedes. But ignoring student performance perpetuates the status quo. We can get better at evaluating teachers based on effectiveness, he writes.
One area of research Harvard’s Tom Kane is now pursuing is to see how consistently classroom-based observations and other types of evaluations line up with the results of value-added assessments of a teacher’s effectiveness. The more they do correspond, he says, the greater the confidence we can have that teachers who rate highly in these non-quantitative assessments are also succeeding in promoting growth in student achievement.
The Gates Foundation will spend $500 million over five years to “research and implement strategies to identify effective teachers and increase their numbers in schools.” Kane will oversee the research. The foundation also will fund school districts that redesign teacher evaluation, pay and retention.