Evaluation of Teachers and Educators

Evaluation of Teachers and Educators

How to evaluate in education is complex. That’s because of the many variables. Student evaluation is a major task of school teachers. Teacher evaluation is, or should be, a major task of those who supervise teaching. Using tests that measure student learning as the primary measure of a teacher’s teaching accomplishments is in some senses analogous to holding physicians primarily responsible for the recovery of their patients. No one would do that unless there was evidence of neglect or malpractice. Still, many so-called leaders in our public schools continue to expect all the “student-patients” in a class to “learn-recover” regardless of the many other variables that affect the process.

A few questions we should address are on the relevance of the analogy. How are teachers like physicians and other health care providers? Then, how are student like patients? And where do supervisors come into this? An analogy is apt only where the comparison of dissimilar things finds the similarities instructive and there are no contradictions

The similarities are appropriate; progress is expected in both situations, and the results of the “teaching-treatment” is usually evident in agreed-upon measurements. But there is a major contradiction here: health-care providers are not held to a definite “cure or not” standard of performance. Rather, society seems to have agreed that when the treatment works it is the result of the care. However, if some patients are NOT helped, the primary cause of the failure of treatment is NOT the fault of the health care provider.

Why the different standards? First of all, 250 years ago, economist Adam Smith famously said , “A profession is a conspiracy against the public.” He could never have imagined how true that has become in today’s capitalist democratic society. For teachers, unfortunately, their “profession” is not the “monopoly” that medicine, law, and many related and unrelated but licensed occupations have become.

For example, Teach for America, a generally well-meaning but often criticized organization, bypasses the “profession” part of education and makes teaching into a vast “internship,” where recent graduates of colleges are sent to “learn to teach” by “doing it” to young children. As psychologists know, the first 100 months of a child’s life are when he/she learns most efficiently; they know remedial work NEVER can compensate for that loss of the opportunity to enhance their “neurons and synapses,” that disappear forever as they age.

Too many of our cost-conscious local school boards and politicians, and a gullible public, can’t believe that education is a profession. After all, anyone can teach. They believe the old saying “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Strange, though, that these same people criticize their “cut-rate purchases “ of “education” as inadequate, while still believing they “got a good deal” when they “discounted” the salaries of the persons to whom they committed their children’s “educations”.

Apparently, though, they are (again, too slowly) coming to understand that perhaps it is not the teachers but the systems and the process; American medical care, too, is no longer world-class for most people, though it costs twice as much as better care in other parts of the world. (But that’s another (horror) story. Fixing, not blaming, should be, but is not the typical politicians’ mantra these days.

Back to education. The evaluation of teachers is not magic. But those who measure student progress have different responsibilities than those who are responsible for teacher proficiency. The “short cuts” to “proving” that the “education provided by the school” (different from that provided to individual students), has resulted in major scandals, not all of which have been made public. Atlanta and Washington, D.C. are just the tip of an iceberg. Test scores of groups of students, even if accurate, DO NOT prove the effectiveness of teachers. Well-publicized studies show that only about 19% of student learning results directly from teacher presentations. This of course is somewhat misleading, because WHAT ELSE teachers do, and are, (other than direct “teaching”) is very important in facilitating what students learn.

Those who “evaluate” (measure how well they cause students to learn) teachers need, themselves, to understand what they are doing. I don’t hear of many schools doing direct “supervisor in-service training.” Nor is there “evaluation” of how well the supervisors have done. You may well ask why, and your intuition would be useful—they don’t believe they NEED to because most of them have escaped (they would deny that word) to “better” things. Is it a stretch to say that, the old (inside the university) saying, is alive and well in our local school districts? What is it? “Those who can’t teach, teach teachers.” That may be mostly true in local school districts where principals and supervisors have a responsibility for “in-service training,” and the development of skills in ALL teachers.

The need for evaluation is clear. What is NOT clear is how to do it, who should do it, and what should happen as a result. The past two decades of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, with their emphasis on testing of students and blaming of teachers, schools, and school districts has failed. The Core Curriculum has been reviled as evil. . States have felt, to some measure rightly, that they were sold something that was other than what was promised. Though the Core Curriculum does set goals, those goals require some kind of measurement—and that means states somehow have to “fess up” to how much students have learned. States, then, will need to “test” in some way, even though there is no “punishment,” as there was with NCLB.

The “magic short-cut” of “measuring teaching ability by testing students” has always been a foolish pipe dream of politicians and critics of the schools. Testing students by teachers is (or should be) to determine what they don’t know, what they have learned, and what they still need to know. How they do that has always been primarily their own responsibility. How well teachers do the things that help students to learn IS and SHOULD be the joint responsibility of teacher, the school environment and curriculum, with help from the family.

The goal must be—because like it or not students will leave schools whether or not they have learned—to be independent learners, capable of continuing their own educations. In most democratic nations, an education is a right of all; a good education should also be a right—as good a one as it is possible to provide.

Our society has come to believe that a good education can be provided without the necessary investments in time and resources. Maybe Walmart can import adequate consumer goods “on the cheap” from China, but it doesn’t export “education.” (In fact, that is what the US exports to them.)

It is impossible to address the issues in American education without your attention being
focused on “who is responsible for NOT providing better schools, better teaching in them, better supervision of teaching, a better environment for learning, a better way of measuring student progress and teaching performance.” Pursuit of money may be the root of all evil; but lack of money is only one of the major problems of American schools. The others are the will to make them better, and the willingness to work, and to persevere until they DO improve. Looking for cheap “fixes,” or scapegoats doesn’t work. If you want good teachers, stop driving them away with criticism, inadequate recognition and salaries, and unreasonable expectations.

Educators do not now see themselves as a “profession,” “a conspiracy against the public.” If they did, and if the public did, perhaps their performance would improve to meet the public’s demand for better education. Now, both this country and its teachers have the worst of both worlds. America can’t force teaching to become a profession, but they could make it possible.

John H. Langer, JD, Ed.D. Retired Federal agency manger, former professor of education, public school administrator, and writer of a number of articles and publications on education, public affairs, substance abuse and social issues. In writing a book on attention and memory as it relates to education, this blog is helping to focus attention n current issues, and hopefully, add something useful as well.

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