What defines an effective teacher or principal?

The administration wants states to define “effective teachers” and “effective principals” based on student progress, classroom observations and other measures. National Journal’s Education Experts tackle the question: What defines effective educators?

Defining is easy, but measuring is hard, writes Checker Finn.

An effective teacher is one whose pupils learn what they should while under his/her tutelage. An effective principal is one whose school attains state standards, pupils learn what they should, etc.

. . . The hard part is developing and fairly applying a reliable set of metrics by which to gauge success, hence effectiveness. All sorts of experiments and pilot programs are under way along these lines (e.g. the Gates Foundation’s “deep dive” districts) and America needs plenty more such.  . . . American education has finally accepted the key reality that what matters about a school (or a teacher) is not the intentions, resources, efforts or activities that go in but, rather, the learning that comes out.

Measuring effectiveness is doable, adds Ariela Rozman of The New Teacher Project. No one measure can do the job, but we can combine test scores, teacher-generated assessments and classroom observations to “paint a clear picture of how successfully each teacher is helping students make academic progress and master material.”

The tools to measure student growth that we have right now may not be perfect, but they’re very good. The only way they’ll improve is if we actually start using and perfecting them, instead of throwing our hands up and walking away from the challenge.

Teachers need feedback to grow as professionals, Rozman writes.

About Joanne


  1. Whenever I read something on this topic I feel compelled to point people to what Superintendent Mike Miles has done in Harrison District 2 (in Colorado Springs).

  2. tim-10-ber says:

    Darren — thanks for the link. Wow!

  3. What SHOULD be happening with these evaluation instruments is to start actually use them as a way of providing feedback to the teacher, not as a way of punitively sorting for termination, or selectively rewarding teachers with cash.

    BTW, any instruments of evaluation have to be differentiated by grade level (elementary, middle, high) and subject area. There are substantial differences in how they will teach.

  4. When are we going to have the conversation about “What defines an effective student or parent?”?

  5. Roger Sweeny says:

    When are we going to have the conversation about “What defines an effective student or parent?”?

    Never, because of the way we in education market ourselves.

    We do not say, “We offer the opportunity for anyone who wants to get an education.”

    Instead we say, “We can give an education to anyone. It doesn’t matter how uninterested or unprepared the student is. We can provide an education because we are professionals.”

    It is a lie and we are now getting called on it.

  6. When I read anything on this topic, I want to remind people that the first thing any responsible person does is create processes that facilitate effectiveness and THEN measure it.

    Ed reform goes about it backward. This is indicative of institutional pathology.

    Conversations that begin with discussing “What an effective teacher looks like” are starting from a dysfunctional place. To a great extent, we know what the problems are and refuse to implement remediation because it is cheaper to measure than implement. Accountability will root out a small number of people at great expense. But remediation will improve a vast number of people using the same dollars.

    Is that difficult to understand?

  7. Bob and Linda, go look at what Miles is doing in Colorado.


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