Rush to Judgment: Teacher Evaluation in Public Education

Thomas Toch and Robert Rothman
Education Sector
January 2008

Education Sector's latest report recommends several ways for school districts and states to improve how they evaluate teachers. The suggestions are based on "comprehensive evaluation systems" that involve a much deeper examination of teachers' instructional practices than traditional reviews by principals. In setting up their case for these comprehensive models, the authors provide a tremendously helpful overview of several new and innovative approaches to teacher evaluation, including the well-known Teacher Advancement Program (TAP). They also do a fine job of dissecting these programs in the context of school-system politics and show how districts and states can secure the buy-in of teachers and their union leaders. Interested readers will find much value in these sections. But they should be skeptical of the report's conclusions. The evaluation models that the authors consider worth emulating emphasize instructional practice, with little regard for outcomes. They are big fans, for instance, of Charlotte Danielson's Framework for Teaching, on which TAP is based, and which focuses on Planning and Preparation, The Classroom Environment, Instruction, and Professional Responsibilities--not one measure of what students actually learn. The authors recognize the incompleteness of their approach, but defend it by arguing that standardized test scores provide an unfair measure of learning and that proper teacher ratings generally align with student achievement anyway, so why measure outcomes? Both arguments rest on the too-common assumption that teachers should be given the benefit of every last itty-bitty doubt when it comes to holding them accountable for student achievement. But, trite as the question is, what ever happened to treating students fairly? Why isn't "are students learning?" the first among several questions we ask when it comes to evaluating teachers? Read the report here.