The day after Chicago public school teachers returned their classrooms, a group of educators and researchers from around the country convened in a sunny conference room in Washington D.C. to ponder the very questions that had so recently vexed the Windy City. Where are we as a nation with teacher evaluations? Are we evaluating the right things? What role should student data play in professional development? What about employment decisions?
"I think the issue of teacher effectiveness will be here to stay," said Joanne Weiss, chief of staff to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, at a seminar on teacher evaluations sponsored by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The Obama administration has deliberately incorporated teacher evaluations into a full range of federal incentives, including No Child Left Behind waivers and Race to the Top competitive grants. They want to start the conversation about what the teacher talent base looks like and how we measure it. The answers are unclear.
"It is a scary time, a lot of unknowns," Weiss of said of Chicago strike, which hinged in part on a new evaluation system for teachers. But the idea of making a professional judgment about whether someone is effective is not new. "This is what human resources looks like," she said. The difficulty comes in creating a process that measures effectiveness accurately but also takes into account the intangibles of good teaching.
Teachers want to be treated as professionals. They don't shy away from evaluations--in fact they embrace them--as long as they know that the people observing and judging them truly understand what is going on in their classrooms. That's the point of this video developed by Teach Plus and Carnegie, using interviews from Teach Plus policy fellows who have worked under new evaluation systems in the Washington D.C. and Memphis, Tenn.
Policymakers are only just beginning figure out the nuances of how to go about making real judgments about teachers and schools. The discomfort shouldn't stop the progress. "When in fog, walk forward," Weiss said.
What do we know now about teacher evaluations? What questions remain unanswered? Where should researchers and teacher-evaluation designers focus their attention? What should educators do with imperfect measurements? How much variation can be tolerated before the broader system loses credibility? Where does professional judgment come into play? How much trust needs to be built with teachers first?