Shameful and Degrading Evaluations of Teachers by Politicians

Photo by Suleiman on flickr

Teacher bashing has become a contact sport that is played out by many U.S. Governors.  The rules of the game are staked against teachers by using measures that have not been substantiated scientifically.  For many governors, and mayors it is fair play to release the names of every teacher in the city, and their Value-added score determined by analyzing student achievement test scores.  None of the data that has been published has been scientifically validated, and in fact, the data that is provided is uneven, and unreliable from one year to the next.

Steven Sellers Lapham, in a letter to the editor, wrote this on teacher evaluations:

…evaluating teachers on the basis on student test score data has been exposed as a fraud. The final nail in the coffin appeared in the March 2012 issue of the education journal Kappan. In the article “Evaluating Teacher Evaluation,” Sanford professor of education Linda Darling-Hammond and her colleagues echo the 2009 findings of the National Research Council.

Darling-Hammond writes in her research article:

However, current research suggests that VAM ratings are not sufficiently reliable or valid to support high-stakes, individual-level decisions about teachers.

Mr. Lapham adds that student test scores should not be used as a basis for evaluating teachers. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation just released a report on the best ways to evaluate teachers. It does not even mention such an absurd idea , much less recommend it.

With this in mind, I am going to put into perspective the reform initiative that many governors, mayors, politicians, and for-profit groups and foundation are pushing on us.  First, I’ll identify the three parts or legs of the reform, accountability, deregulation of schooling, the erosion of teacher education.

Then I’ll report a few stories from several states that will give you a feel for the extent of how teachers are coming under fire, and being held hostage by unscientific methods of evaluation.

Three Legs of Reform

Leg 1. The first leg of reform is steeped in accountability, of not only teachers and administrators, but the students themselves.  Accountability testing is now in place throughout public education in the form of high-stakes achievement tests.

The fundamental reason for the increased attacks on teachers is that education reformers believe that student achievement gains can be traced to the quality of the teacher, and that what the teacher contributes to student gains (or loses) can be measured.

The reformers believe that parents and other citizens should be privy to this data, and indeed in several cities, newspapers have published data bases revealing teacher VAM scores by name.

The reformers believe that all students can increase their achievement scores if they have the right teachers, regardless of where they live.  This is one of the three-legs that reformers believe will turn the education of American students around.

Leg 2. The second leg is the deregulation of public education through the creation of charters, and the use of vouchers.  As I have written, charter schools do not produce the achievement test gains that supporters claim, and the charter school movement has increased the segregation of black and Hispanic students, such that most of these students attend schools with nearly 100% either black or Hispanic students.

Leg 3. The third leg is the breakdown and deregulation of teacher education by claiming that alternative pathways into the profession is the way to go.  Research shows that inexperienced, and especially un-certified teachers can not provide the quality education that more experienced, and well schooled teacher deliver.

Note: The rationale for the 3 legs is based on Failure of U.S. Public Secondary Schools in Mathematics, Michael Marder, Associate Dean for Science and Mathematics Education and Professor Physics at the University of Texas.

State by State Reports

Much of the information that follows I mined from  I recommend the site as a source of current news about education.

New York.  For example, New York City Major Bloomberg has said that he would oppose any attempt to restrict parents’ right to know teacher evaluation scores.  Critics of the public display of evaluation scores point out that the data published is not valid, and parents would draw the wrong conclusions about their children’s teachers.

Ohio.  The Ohio governor wants teachers in the bottom 10% of schools to re-take the state licensing exam.  According to the Governor, this will hold these teachers more accountable by giving schools the ability to fire teachers based on test results.  Sounds like double jeapody.

Connecticut.  The governor of Connecticut believes his educational reform agenda should link evaluation and teacher salaries to standardized tests.  This is his way of rewarding quality teaching, and increase the overall quality of students’ education.  Again, here is a governor willing to ignore research on the use of standardized achievement as a way to assess teacher effectiveness.

Georgia. Georgia was one of the Race to the Top winners, and also has been approved for NCLB Waivers (ESEA Flexibility Request).  In their proposal to the RTTT, they lay out how the 3-legged approach to education reform will be implemented.  Testing, alternative pathways to teaching, teacher evaluation are on display in the RTTT proposal, and the Georgia NCLB Waivers.  Sticking to the “raising the bar” on achievement, Georgia has informed teachers that they will “grow” student achievement by 9 points in third and fifth grade and 11 points in eighth grade science.

Along with raising achievement, the state will close the gap between white and black students.  Great teachers and leaders is another initiative, and here the state is developing evaluation tools to measure teacher progress.  When you read the report, several hundred pages long, you wonder if these administrators have any sense of what a teacher’s work day looks like.

In the details of the  NCLB Waivers teachers and administrators will be subjected  to intense evaluation based unsubstantiated measures. With the Waivers, all school districts will be responsible to implementing the conditions of three principles.  One of these is the development and adoption of guidelines for local teacher and principal evaluation. Another is the adoption of college-and career-ready standards.

The proposals are full of all of shibboleths of current reform such as high quality standards, common standards, data systems, teacher evaluation and student test scores.  When you read this proposal, you wonder if any of these people have a clue about effective learning and teaching.

North Carolina. In a Race to the Top pilot program, $600,000 is being spent to enable students to rate teachers.  Based on work at Harvard, 30-question and 90-question survey will be used for K-12 students.  Although no decision has been made whether student evaluations will be part of overall teacher evaluation, don’t hold your breath.

New York.  Governor Cuomo, after getting the state to agree to VAM based teacher evaluation system, now is pushing an online initiative that involve parents and advocates “to make sure it (teacher evaluation) gets implemented in our schools.”  The initiative NY Students First is another website that puts the blame on education failures on shoulders of teachers. Using heavy handed tactics, schools only have one year to get geared up to implement the teacher evaluation system, or else—-risk forfeiting increases in education aid.

Colorado.  The Governor of Colorado (John Hickenlooper) signed a bill into law that changes the way teachers and principles are evaluated.  The law requires that 50% of teacher evaluation be based on student achievement tests. Like New York, Colorado has a website, Educator Effectiveness: A Colorado Priority, devoted to teacher evaluation.

According to the Senate Bill 10-191, all licensed personal will be evaluated annually, with 50% of the evaluation being based on student growth.

Timeline for Conducting Annual Evaluation, extracted from Colorado DOE site, March 19, 2012.

Do you have any stories to add about teacher evaluation in your state? What is the current status of teacher evaluation?

About Jack Hassard

Jack Hassard is a writer, a former high school teacher, and Professor Emeritus of Science Education, Georgia State University.