99% satisfactory = ‘widget effect’

Nearly everyone who works in Washington state’s schools is rated satisfactory, reports Education Sector’s new Chart You Can Trust. Only 0.92 percent of teachers, 1.42 percent of principals, 1.02 percent of superintendents, and 2.1 percent of school support staff such as janitors and librarians were rated unsatisfactory, writes Chad Aldeman.

The vast majority of schools failed to identify a single low-performing teacher, and 239 out of 261 districts did not identify a single low-performing principal.

Ed Sector calls it the New Widget Effect. That is, all school staff are rated the same, just like interchangeable widgets. There are no low performers and no high performers.

Even in states that have revamped teacher evaluations, nearly all teachers are rated satisfactory or better, reports the New York Times. 

What percentage of school staffers “should” be unsatisfactory? That’s up to local communities to decide, writes Aldeman.

If student performance was low and flat in certain schools, especially compared to similar students in other schools, that community might want to hold more adults accountable. If students at a particular school achieve at high levels and show strong growth, that school probably doesn’t have the same urgency around identifying poor performers.

Stories from School, a blog for board-certified teachers, posted critiques of Aldeman’s paper by Maren Johnson and Tom White. Here’s Aldeman’s response.

Don’t be stupid about implementing teacher evaluations, advises Bill Gates in the Washington Post. (I’m summarizing, but that’s the gist of it.)

Move teacher evaluation outside the school entirely, with standardized tests administered by an independent agency.” writes Edward Glaeser, a Harvard economics professor. “This would be supplemented by classroom assessments based on unobtrusive videotaping, also judged by outsiders, including teachers’ representatives.”

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  1. “Move teacher evaluation outside the school entirely, with standardized tests administered by an independent agency.” writes Edward Glaeser, a Harvard economics professor.

    And this would, ab best, assess teacher knowledge, and the adherence to the educational fad de jour. And, create a new bureaucracy, or at least another parasite industry, while accomplishing little.

    I remember a number of teachers that were full of knowledge but had no clue as to how to teach.

    Anything other than assessing actual results is just another tax-spending boondoggle.

  2. That’s a neat explanation, and certainly there’s no effort to differentiate among professionals on the basis of skill, still, I don’t have much faith in it.

    A better explanation is that there’s no incentive to be honest so why not rate everyone according to Lake Woebegone standards, i.e. everyone’s above average?

    Now, if teachers knew that the lousy teachers dragged down the earnings of all teachers why there’d be some incentive to want to can the duds. But there isn’t so the ratings are worthless.

  3. Mike in Texas says:

    The simplest explanation is the easiest: there aren’t that many unsatisfactory teachers. After all a “reformers” dream evaluation system was put into place in New York and got the same results.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      What do you think is the percentage of other employees in other professions that would/should rate as unsatisfactory? Accountants, programmers, construction workers, bank tellers, professional athletes, police officers?

    • Isn’t that what I just wrote?

      Oh yeah, it is with the rub being that there’s no “unsatisfactory” when the people doing the determining don’t see incompetence as an important factor in determining whether someone’s a satisfactory performer.

      By the way Mike, have you arranged for me to do a week of teaching yet? Or are you going to pull a “Randi Weingarten” to my “John Stossel”?

      • Mike in Texas says:

        Not a problem Allen. I don’t see my principal objecting after the 24th when the state mandated testing is over. How much money do you want to spend on a hotel room?

        • I don’t really care what you do or don’t see. Get it done and call my bluff.

          • Mike in Texas says:

            Sure give me a date you’d like to come. As I have stated before, anytime after April 24th I’m sure I’d have no problems getting it approved.

          • Just get it done and stop tap-dancing. Call my bluff.

  4. Kirk Parker says:

    Mike in Texas, you’re right! Unlike any other field of human endeavor, where the high performers vastly outperform the low ones*, in education Everyone Is Equally Competent! Duh!

    *Take my own field for an example: in software development the outstanding ones can be easily 10x as productive as the poor ones. In fact, some of the really bad ones are actually a net loss to their employer, the worst of the worst causing actual damage that they will have to pay other competent employees to undo. Now, that could never happen in education, though I do seem to remember an odd teacher or two…

    • Mike in Texas says:

      Are you comparing software development to teaching? They are 2 different things entirely. If you get computer equipment that doesn’t work correctly you can have it replaced. Unless you work in a charter school that can’t be done with kids.

      • So Mike, do you think the public education system will collapse with a thunderous crash like the Soviet Union did or will the process be more drawn out?

        I admit I’m uncertain which way things will go.

        On the one hand I don’t think we’re far from the point where the inherent waste, stupidity and cruelty of the public education system become generally-acknowledged articles of faith. That would lead, I’d like to think, to a thunderous crash.

        On the other hand there are fifty states in which this socialist monstrosity would have to be widely-rejected and in a number of those states the teacher’s unions and other interest groups retain the political power to stymie the will of the people. At least for a while.

        But I think we can both agree that the days of the public education system are coming to a close.

        By way of explanation, the reason I changed the subject in this thread is to highlight the fact that you changed the subject being unwilling to deal with the question Mr. Parker posed.

        • Mike in Texas says:

          Perhaps you could be so kind as to point out where he actually asked a question?

          Also, I’m still waiting for you to supply the date you would like to come see things for yourself.

          • In his original post oh achingly clever one.

            He asked what percentage of teachers are any good and what percentage aren’t. See?

            You of course don’t want to dwell on the subject so tried to divert it to a discussion of the comparative aspects of software development and teaching. The clear implication being that while programmers may be good or bad such crude distinctions don’t apply such elevate individuals as yourself. Teachers are all above average in the world according to Mike.

            As for the challenge you’re now trying to run away from, name a date and I’ll be there.

            Now call my bluff.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        I’m not comparing jobs.


        I’m trying to calibrate where *you* draw the line at unsatisfactory performance. More specifically, I’m trying to figure out if you think 99% of all folks do their jobs satisfactorily or if you think teachers (on average) do their jobs better (or worse) than other employees.

        • Mike in Texas says:


          In the school I’m currently in there is not a teacher I would not let teach my own child.

          In 20 years I’ve seen admin have to remove teachers, one who routinely cursed around her 4th graders and one who was constantly screaming at her 1st graders and telling them they were stupid. In each case it wasn’t that hard IF admin is willing to do their job.

          So to answer your question, I do believe there are schools where not only would 99% be an accurate figure but so would 100%.

          Comparing teachers to “average” is foolish on your part since every teacher in a public school has a college degree, by definition that excuses them from being average.

          • I also have trouble finding these millions of mythical people that are highly qualified wonderful teachers who can’t get a job. Who do they think is going to replace the fired teachers who are rated unsatisfactory?

          • Mark Roulo says:

            I get that you are think that teachers as a group are mostly performing satisfactorily. I’m trying to get a handle on how you would evaluate everyone else.


            If you don’t want to venture a guess for a broad spectrum of other occupations, how about just college educated folks. What percentage of college educated employees do you think perform their jobs satisfactorily?

  5. Miller Smith says:

    Teachers should be evaluated on the value added to the children who are present and cooperative. Teachers at my school are using state law and system policy to fail for the year any student with 10 or more unexcused absences for the year and the same number of excused absences with missing work. This gets the truant students off of our data set for evaluations.

    Out of 192 students I have failed 72 for the year as of the end of 3rd quarter. They are overwhelmingly very low performers which makes my present stats look very good indeed. I’m going to look good at the end of the year with the same actual results as the years before the implementation of the value added evaluation system.

    The new system makes teachers who know how to dump low performers look great. I think I like thos new paradigm..

  6. My father worked as an administrator in the San Antonio Independent School District back in the 1970s. He tried for over a decade to have a shop teacher dismissed who was found (on many separate occasions) to be running an unsafe shop (ie, not enforcing safety protocols around power tools). The union stymied him the whole way.

    Eventually, the guy retired on full pension and was no longer a danger to students. I guess the school system HAD to consider him “satisfactory” or else admit he was dangerous…

  7. Mike in Texas says:

    Here is his exact post:

    Mike in Texas, you’re right! Unlike any other field of human endeavor, where the high performers vastly outperform the low ones*, in education Everyone Is Equally Competent! Duh!

    *Take my own field for an example: in software development the outstanding ones can be easily 10x as productive as the poor ones. In fact, some of the really bad ones are actually a net loss to their employer, the worst of the worst causing actual damage that they will have to pay other competent employees to undo. Now, that could never happen in education, though I do seem to remember an odd teacher or two…

    There is not a single question mark in there.

    BTW, I keep telling you to give me the dates you’d like to come and I’ll set it up. If anyone is dancing around it its you.

    C’mon Allen, give me the dates.

    • [blockquote]There is not a single question mark in there.[/blockquote]
      And yet you were so unwilling to engage on the subject that you promptly changed the subject to one more to your liking. Don’t worry though, Mark managed to squeeze the truth, well, your truth, out of you; teachers area a special breed, far above such mundane vocations as programming and deserving of a special, non-judgmental judgment and certainly not the judgment of the non-teacher hoi polloi.

      As for the other, you might want to try the truth if only for the novelty of the sensation and admit that your challenge was nothing but a bluff and it’s been called. Yours and Randi Weingarten’s.

  8. Mike in Texas says:

    When you discuss teachers there is a point in time you have to look at. Research has shown two things about the 5 year mark for teachers. #1 is that half of new teachers will quit by the 5 year mark and #2 the research shows teachers generally need 5 years to really begin to understand the job.

    If 50% quit by the year 5 then every teacher with more than 5 years experience is above average.

    • Mark Roulo says:

      Thank you!

    • Maybe they’re above average in their ability to not care whether they do a good job or not.

      • Mike in Texas says:

        Wow, you really bowled me over with that argument!


        • Mike in Texas says:

          BTW, I’m STILL waiting for you to give me the dates. So once again, for the 8th or 9th time, give me the dates.

          • And for the eighth or ninth time, any date you arrange is fine.

            Hey Mike, who are you trying to kid? You were never serious about making any arrangements just as Randi Weingarten wasn’t. It was just a talking point, a bluff and the bluff’s been called.

            By the way Mike, did you read about Washington’s Blaine amendment being squashed like a bug? Looks like another state falls to the baleful effect of vouchers.

            And obviously, I did bowl you over with that argument or you’d have had a come-back. Your one word retort’s appropriate to a thirteen year-old girl, not an adult and ostensible professional.

  9. Mike in Texas says:

    So you’re free to travel to Texas anytime, since you refuse to give me a date?

    • Asked and answered. More then once.

      Look Mike, who are you trying to kid? You, I and anyone who frequents this blog already knows you have no intention of doing much of anything even if you could secure the necessary permissions. Which we both know you couldn’t.

      Your silly bluff has been called but, having acquired the habits of thought of children, you refuse to come to terms with the fact that your bluff has been called preferring instead to repeatedly re-ask the already-answered question. Just as a child in a similar situation might.

      So have the last word on the subject.

      By the way, no comment on the fall of Washington’s Blaine amendment? Pretty big loss, showing the way as the decision does for other states to gut their Blaine amendments.

      • Mike in Texas says:

        Allen, the only person bluffing here is you. I have REPEATEDLY asked when you would like to come, you have not offered me a date or a duration, which you KNOW will be necessary for me to secure permission.

        I do see my principal, or as you called her a martinette despite knowing absolutely nothing about, not having a problem with you coming to observe.

        As for the Blaine Amendment, Texas (the home of high stakes testing) has passed an amendment in the State House banning the use of public money for vouchers and religiou schools, so all you’re jabbering about it only goes to prove the people of Washington haven’t wised up yet.

        So I’m going to offer you a choice. Would you like to come the Week of April 29th, when we will be doing something special in Science that is not part of a regular routine, or would you prefer to visit the week after, which I believe is May 6th?

  10. Miller Smith says:

    This is why I don’t talk to Allen anymore. Just ignore Allen. Then Allen will go away, a week will pass, and the new sock puppet will show up…ignore that one as well.

    I will never get back the 2 minutes i just wasted on Allen.

    • See Mike? Miller’s got me all figured out. Now, don’t you feel silly?

      And as for Texas’ enactment of a modern day Blaine amendment, let me know when you can unionize.