Collecting Data Is Not the Answer
Those who create evaluation have fallen into the rationality trap and advocated for a system of measurement of teaching (Sergiovanni & Starratt, 2007), with its charts, data, tools, rubrics, multiple observers, double scoring and other complex methods. But good evaluation is a humanistic process, not a mechanical one. We need collaborative documents that encourage teamwork, sound management principles and shared governance.
Measurement systems have a place in teaching; however, their uses are situational in a given specific context. For example, a particular chemistry experiment can be measured to assess procedures and scaffolding, implementing a lesson structure or a scripted teacher/student exchange, but not to yield a summative performance rating. What we need is an evaluation system that engages teachers' intellect, desire to collaborate and natural motivation to be successful for their students. Such a system could provide the engaging professional experience that the new generation of workers desires.
The Kaneetal. (2014) book Designing Teacher Evaluation Systems: New Guidance from the Measures of Effective Teaching Project is a work focusing on the question "What is effective teaching?" This book is a measurement system for assessing teacher effectiveness shown to be ineffective by the RAND report. The researchers collected troves of data to find no real conclusions for evaluating teachers in a measurement system.
Models exist for the type of system we need. These include the Johns Hopkins Professional Nursing Model, which is a learning structure to help nurses make decisions, collaborate, receive feedback and have influence over patient care. Another useful model is that of professional learning communities (PLC) in education. There are a vast number of PLC tools to help teachers guide themselves to be more effective in PLC processes. These tools are just not being used in our evaluation systems in any meaningful way.
Consult your state's or district's teacher evaluation tool. Read it with a critical eye. What behaviors does it assume or dictate? Most likely, you will be drawn to the conclusion that it assumes teachers—or the principal through "instructional leadership"—are the primary people behind the performance of the teacher. Teacher performance is cast as individualistic, taking place in a vacuum or in isolation. Teachers are singlehandedly responsible for their performance through a set of narrowly defined skills and behaviors in the classroom with their students and no one else. If the teacher would simply check for understanding at the right time, or develop the right classroom management procedures, everything would be fine... or so these tools imply.
Teacher evaluation reform is a failed policy initiative. In the next chapter, we'll turn to the foundation of the whole structure and show how faulty assumptions about how to assess teacher effectiveness have been detrimental to the profession.
Tips and Talking Points
Welcome to the Experience Economy (Pine and Gilmore, 1998) described the changes in our modern economy from commodities and goods to services and later, at a premium, experiences. Education is currently in a labor war. People do not want to enter the education field. One reason that has emerged in research is the high-stakes teacher evaluations. Think of potential teachers as the customer. Students graduating high school and college today simply don't want "a job" or even a career: they want a fulfilling professional experience. What is your experience with teacher evaluation systems? If a professional experience is what you are looking for, teaching is the last thing you want to do for a living. Experiences are memorable and create an emotional connection for those who are engaged. Think about your career: when or what were your most fulfilling moments? They probably involved experiencing the collaborative work that went into solving a problem, establishing a program or securing an accomplishment for your school or class. We can create these experiences in our current system, although it is harder to do so when your pay is tied to a lousy framework, or your perceived professional worth is wrapped up in endless rubrics, calculations and rating scales. This is a barrier we have to remove. If we don't, we won't have any teachers to teach the kids. Schools need systematic methods or operating procedures that create and reinforce a learning culture for the adults. New ways of evaluating can help aid in this endeavor.
Kraft et al. (2018) have reported that young people are not entering the teacher workforce, at least in part because of high-stakes teacher evaluations. Performance-based pay has been shown not to motivate people to enter the teaching field. High school students' interest in the teaching profession is down 3% and enrollment in teacher programs is down significantly, about 35% (Aragon, 2016). By 2025 policy researchers are estimating that the nation will be about 100,000 teachers short of the total needed to fully staff our schools, and this is going to have a disproportionate effect in high-poverty schools (García & Weiss, 2019). Has it gotten so bad that we are now advocating for robots as teachers (Edwards & Cheok, 2018)?