Monday, June 11, 2012

Teacher Evaluations: We Need Trust, Not Just Tools

Some interesting lessons about how effective CMOs evaluate teachers and help them improve:

…But no matter how well we design the tools, they won't be effective as long as schools are so deeply steeped in traditions of isolation and mistrust.

I spend a lot of time studying charter management organizations (CMOs), which are often obsessive about ongoing evaluation and improvement. But as an upcoming report from my CRPE colleague Michael DeArmond shows, the evaluation tools that CMOs use are not especially sophisticated. In fact, in effective charter schools, annual or twice-annual evaluations play a far less important role than ongoing feedback and coaching. Test scores often have a place in CMO evaluations, but so do many other factors. CMOs tend to base bonuses and career advancement on a definition of high performance that includes principal judgment but is not necessarily hard-wired to test-score gains.

What effective CMOs do rely on heavily is trust, relationships, and clear communication. In well-run charters, there is a common belief about teaching and learning, and teachers are hired and retained based on whether they share that belief. Teachers know they are getting ongoing feedback and no surprises. They know that the principal doing their observations and evaluations is a master teacher operating on the same definition of good instruction as they are. They know that every other teacher in the building is a potential collaborator. In other words, they trust their coworkers and operate in a culture of common understanding and mutual respect. Evaluation is understood to be more about organizational improvement than about passing judgment on an individual. In fact, some CMOs have tried and dumped merit pay because they felt it disrupted this collaborative culture.

…Still, teachers unions are often obstructionist and disingenuous when they say they won't support new evaluation systems because they don't trust principals to administer them fairly. They also assert that the problem is not poor evaluation systems, but instead the unwillingness of principals to address poor performance. Yes, principals and central office staff are reluctant to act on incompetent teachers, but that is largely because of aggressive, antagonistic union tactics and a deep-seated mistrust that certainly flows both ways. Principals often balk at firing bad teachers because of the massive time commitment involved, fear of being grieved (or worse, sued) if they don't adhere strictly to contract procedures, and the great likelihood that for all their effort, the teacher in question will find a loophole that extends the process another year or more.


Teacher Evaluations: We Need Trust, Not Just Tools

By Robin Lake on April 19, 2012 7:51 AM

Note: Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) at the University of Washington, is guest-posting this week.

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