The Widget Effect: Out National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness

Mickey Muldoon

The New Teacher Project
June 2009

This revelatory study, with as much detail, rigor, and thoroughness as one could possibly want, proves what we've long suspected: the formal process of teacher evaluation as it exists today is a sham. While similar results came out recently in a Los Angeles Times investigative story, this study replicated the finding in 4 states (Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, and Ohio) and 12 districts of varying sizes and types. The data, which come from new surveys and compilations of electronic and paper teacher evaluation records, plus 130 interviews with district leaders, unveil a system of perfunctory and meaningless back-patting. It's a system where, even in the lowest-performing districts, all the teachers receive the equivalent of "A"s from their principals; where 92 percent of rookie teachers and 99 percent of tenured teachers rate their own performance as 7 or higher out of 10; and where "evaluations tend to have no consequences, positive or negative." The indictment continues: only 10 percent of failing schools--none at all in Akron--issued even one unsatisfactory rating to a teacher in the last year. The good news is that teachers and administrators seem to understand that the system is broken; for example, Chicago administrators believe that 7.5 percent of tenured teachers should be dismissed for poor performance, though, alas, 0 percent are actually terminated. The authors briefly describe some of the legal and organizational hurdles that block useful evaluation, and suggest that the process be reformed in a way that treats evaluation more like a routine check-up and less like, say, a one-time polio test that everyone passes but nobody really worries about. Prepare to be distressed here.

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