Education: The Good and Bad of Teacher Evaluations

by Lilburn Wesche

         Outstanding teachers choose to teach where they know they are wanted     

         Will a tiered salary scale attract outstanding teacher education graduates to Idaho? And if it does, will they stay?   

         Upgrading beginning salaries is badly needed but, if schools are to improve, the emphasis must be on retaining effective teachers. We need to be competitive with other states and occupations at the experience levels. The problem has been the dollars, not the single salary schedule.    

        The downside of the tiered salary proposal is that, to keep their jobs or advance, teachers must meet a complex set of performance standards, and therein lies a major deterrent to attracting teachers. No one has yet come up   with a teacher evaluation system that is not fraught with subjectivity — subject to bias and prejudice.   

         The difficulty with any measurement of ‘quality’ in the classroom is the challenge to account for all the variables among students and classes and from year to year — variables which are infinite and defy valid or reliable assessment.  What is the evaluator’s perception of a “culture for learning?” Is it a deadly “quiet” classroom, a “noisy” classroom, a “busy” classroom? What is the attitude toward creativity? Does the evaluator favor a punitive or a supportive approach to behavior issues? Is the emphasis on learning or testing? How are these and other behaviors defined and implemented?   

        Unfortunately, decisions for measuring teacher effectiveness are too often determined by policy makers who have no real knowledge of what it takes for successful learning. Cost and even profit have become the driving force in decisions about schools. When legislators and board members ignore research and professional advice, are blinded by prejudice, dedicated to their own agendas and give only lip service to “progress” or “improvement,” the end result is what one would expect — nothing!   

         Education is not a business! It is a service. What education policy makers, mostly from the world of profit-motivated business, fail to recognize is:    

1. Teachers want to be respected   and, while fiscal compensation is a factor in respect,

2. For dedicated, professional teachers, salary is just one of several determinants in selecting a teaching position.   

3. The current salary schedule has worked well; the problem has been the salary, not the schedule.    

4. Confident, competent teachers support constructive evaluation, recognize the need for continued professional development and appreciate emotional support, but   

5. Professional teachers, like any professional, will resent evaluation driven by whim and caprice and used only to determine if one should be fired or retained.   

6. Student learning won’t improve by expecting teachers   to teach in isolation, by building schools designed for containment rather than learning, by structuring the school day and student placement in lock-step format   

7. To upgrade teacher quality it is counterproductive to offer licensure to almost anyone who thinks they can teach despite lack of knowledge or skills or who have had only a casual study of teaching and learning.   

8. To recruit the best qualified teachers, licensure should be granted only to those who have satisfactorily completed the requirements of nationally accredited teacher education institutions.  

 Lilburn Wesche is an NNU professor emeritus and past president of the Seattle University and SW Idaho PDK Chapters.