The recent suicide of a Los Angeles teacher has stoked the heated debate about teacher evaluations and teacher accountability. This teacher was labeled "less effective than average" when the Los Angeles Times released teacher performance data, and it is suspected that his sub-par rating contributed to his death.
How to evaluate teachers has been an especially hot issue lately. In New York, Mayor Bloomberg tried to disseminate this same type of information but the teachers' union took him to court over it. So what's the deal with teacher assessments and how should they be conducted? The benefit of value-added assessments is that they offer a look at how a teacher's performance has affected student progress. A pitfall is that it is a one-dimensional analysis that leads teachers to "teach to the test." Many people agree that teacher assessments should be composed of a number of different factors, not just value-added assessments, but what these factors should be is not so clear. Perhaps some of the following would be helpful factors: (1) how are the students in this classroom doing (i.e. exams, homework, other assignments); (2) what are the students' impressions of their teacher (e.g. does she motivate them to want to learn more); (3) are the students able to have an intelligent conversation/debate about the material; (4) has the teacher been observed in the classroom on a regular basis by a professional and does that professional conclude that she is teaching effectively; (5) does the teacher bring the material to life with other tools (e.g. visual learning aids, auditory aids, class trips, experiments); (6) can the students generalize this knowledge to the everyday real world. These are just examples of some of the important points that could and should be addressed.
Without commenting on the benefits of effectiveness of teachers unions, I have three major issues with what teachers unions represent: (a) they firmly oppose changes to the tenure system (which have proven to be more of a means of protecting bad teachers than rewarding good ones); (b) they won't entertain changes to the pay scale which could mean significantly better salaries for effective teachers; (c) they are against the release of public data on teacher performance and teacher accountability. With respect to this last issue, the teachers' unions claim that reliance on value-added assessments hinder efforts toward comprehensive teacher evaluations. Randi Weingarten claims that the union has "proposed a comprehensive system of teacher evaluation that more than 50 districts have adopted." If that is the case, perhaps they could share with the rest of us what that so-called comprehensive system involves...