Some see us as education’s odd couple—one, the president of a democratic teachers’ union; the other, a director at the world’s largest philanthropy. While we don’t agree on everything, we firmly believe that students have a right to effective instruction and that teachers want to do their very best.
Effective teaching is a complex alchemy—requiring command of subject matter, knowledge of how different children learn, and the ability to maintain order and spark students’ interest. Evaluation procedures must address this complexity--they should not only assess individual teachers but also help them continuously improve.
From our research, and the experiences of our state and district partners, we’ve learned what works in implementing high-quality teacher development and evaluation systems.
1. Match high expectations with high levels of support. Teacher evaluations should be based upon professional teaching standards that spell out what teachers should know and be able to do. Teachers should receive regular, timely feedback on their performance and support to get better.
2. Include evidence of teaching from multiple sources. Measures of student learning gains commonly based on end-of-year tests provide teachers with too little information too late and may not reflect the full breadth and depth of instruction. We know that a balanced approach works best. Combining a range of measures yields the greatest reliability and predictive power of a teacher’s gains with other students.
3. Use information to provide constructive feedback to teachers, as befits a profession, not to shame them. As Bill Gates, the co-chair of the foundation, wrote in The New York Times, “publicly ranking teachers by name will not help them get better at their jobs or improve student learning. On the contrary, it will make it a lot harder to implement teacher evaluation systems that work.”
4. Create confidence in the quality of teacher development and evaluation systems and the school’s ability to implement them reliably. This means using a valid rubric for observing teacher practice; training and certifying raters to ensure they can observe classrooms fairly and consistently; and observing teachers multiple times, using multiple observers: administrators and peer or master teachers. It also means preparing principals and others to give skilled feedback that can support teachers’ growth.
5. Align teacher development and evaluation to the Common Core State Standards. School districts must provide continuous and relevant professional development and growth for teachers that address their skills, knowledge, and needs. New tools and resources can help. For example, Teach Live, developed by the University of Central Florida, enables teachers to practice new techniques in simulated classroom environments before trying them with real students. Tutor.com provides teachers with individualized, online coaching on how to teach concepts. And the AFT, with Britain’s TES Connect, has developed “Share My Lesson,” an online community for U.S. teachers to collaborate and share teaching resources and innovative ideas, with a significant emphasis on resources to guide teachers in implementing the Common Core.
6. Adjust the system over time based on new evidence, innovations, and feedback. It’s essential that states and school systems measure the extent to which new teacher development and evaluation systems are being implemented with fidelity, meeting their original purposes without creating unintended negative consequences.
Teachers must have a system of professional growth that reflects the sophistication and importance of their work, and they must have a meaningful voice in that system. Just as we have high expectations for teachers, we must also for leaders. Officials must invest in these systems—it is more important to do it right than to do it cheap. And, lest anyone expect that teachers, single-handedly, can save public education, we must also focus on the accountability and responsibility that rest with school and government leaders to ensure that students and teachers have the opportunities and supports they need to succeed.