Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Teachers Gather in New York to Talk Education and Evaluations

April 03, 2012

Accountability: The word brings up a host of responses from teachers, students, and parents. It can mean different things to different people, and, in some cases, is twisted into an exercise in humiliation. I had the chance to reflect on these issues and more with an audience of 2,500 educators at the WNET Celebration of Teaching and Learning in New York City recently. The gathering reinforced my strong belief in how critical the voice of teachers is to this debate.

Our discussion was centered on the findings of Primary Sources 2012: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession – a survey of 10,000 teachers undertaken with our partner, Scholastic.

 The survey found that teachers overwhelmingly agree that they should be held accountable for their students’ performance. In fact, 85 percent say that student growth over the course of the year should factor significantly in their own performance evaluations. But their challenge to the broader education community is to ensure that accountability is a shared responsibility.

 
Policymakers, advocates, parents, principals, administrators, and people like me all have an important role to play to ensure that teachers get the support they need to do this incredibly difficult job.

The foundation strongly believes that while teachers are central to the success of their students, they can’t do it alone. Policymakers, advocates, parents, principals, administrators, and people like me all have an important role to play to ensure that teachers get the support they need to do this incredibly difficult job. And that starts with assessing teachers’ work in multiple ways – including classroom observation by a trained and certified principal and/or peer, student surveys, and student learning.

Teaching is multifaceted, complicated work and a quality evaluation system must reflect that. If a teacher evaluation system is just a score or a letter grade and doesn’t provide clear feedback and a road map to improvement, it’s no better than the status quo.

When it comes to multiple measures of teacher performance, one of my co-panelists, New York City public school teacher Naima Lilly said it best: “When you apply for a job, you don’t submit an SAT score, you submit a resume.”

 

Allan Golston at the "Celebration of Teaching and Learning" with Chelsea Clinton and public school teachers, including Naima Lilly.

We know this work can be done in the right way. Hillsborough County Public Schools in Florida provides a great example in both the design and the implementation of a quality evaluation system. To develop a way to properly measure teacher impact on student learning, the full complement of the district’s course testing map was thoroughly evaluated. Courses in need of improved assessments were identified and experienced teachers helped craft better tests.  That work, when combined with peer and mentor observations, and principal observations, revolutionized the way Hillsborough County teachers are evaluated and supported.

The importance of teacher participation and leadership in the design and implementation of this new system cannot be overstated. 

When teachers are listened to, as they are in Hillsborough, New Haven, and Memphis, great things can result.  We have seen the harsh side of accountability and how it can undermine the collaboration required to achieve results for our kids. A teacher evaluation should not be – to quote Bill Gates – “twisted into a capricious exercise in public shaming.”

It is going to take time, patience, hard work and, above all, a collaborative spirit that keeps teacher voices at the center of this conversation to get this right. That’s something I know we can do—I’ve seen it.

 
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