The Downside of Rigid Teacher Evaluation Systems

In “Teacher Quality 2.0,” Rick Hess warns that rigid teacher evaluation systems threaten to stymie innovative instructional models:

Most of today’s teacher evaluation systems rely upon value-added calculations and observational protocols that are engineered for school environments where one teacher owns 25 or 30 students for 180 days in a traditional classroom. If these conditions don’t hold, value-added metrics can get really messy, as can efforts to simply apply the familiar versions of Danielson- or Marzano-style observation (this is especially true in virtual or hybrid environments). If a school has one fifth-grade teacher do the bulk of math instruction and another take the lead on English language arts, many of today’s teacher evaluation systems break down. If schools are piping in virtual instruction, or making heavy use of in-house tutors (a la High Tech High School or Boston’s MATCH School), the systems break down. If a school adopts the New Classrooms model, with teachers sharing ownership of middle school math instruction in a slew of ways, the systems break down. In short, many of the teacher evaluation systems calling for “21st century” evaluation and pay work only so long as schools cling ever more tightly to the rhythms of Horace Mann’s 19th century schoolhouse.

The danger, according to Hess, is that reform advocates are tearing down existing policies on tenure and pay only to replace them with equally rigid structures. The deeper problem with school governance is not that the wrong one-size-fits-all structures are in place. Rather, it is that K-12 schools are structured in such a way that it is very difficult for them to embrace new instructional models or managerial practices or tools that might increase productivity. If school choice means that students can choose among schools that are ultimately very similiar, it won’t mean very much.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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