Behind the Headline: A New Era for the Battle Over Teacher Evaluations

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A New Era for the Battle Over Teacher Evaluations
The Atlantic | 3/8/2016

Behind the Headline
When Fancy New Teacher-Evaluation Systems Don’t Make a Difference
Education Next blog | 3/9/19

Obama signs the Every Student Succeeds Act into law in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building at the White House in WashingtonIn the Atlantic, Tom Toch looks at the evolution of teacher evaluation systems over the past decade and considers what might come next.

As he reminds us, the new education law signed by President Obama late last year largely takes the federal government out of the business of pressing states and school districts to ratchet up their teacher evaluation systems.

Two powerful forces at opposite ends of the political spectrum had attacked the president’s strategy—teacher unions wanting to end the new scrutiny of their members and Tea Party members targeting the Obama plan as part of a larger anti-Washington campaign. As a result, the new Every Student Succeeds Act terminates the Obama administration’s incentives for states and school districts to introduce tougher teacher-evaluation systems. And the law effectively bans the U.S. Secretary of Education from promoting teacher-performance measurements in the future.

Toch argues that the earlier policy was moving things in the right direction.

The teacher unions have dismissed the Obama strategy as ineffective, as more hurtful than helpful to the teaching profession. But over three dozen states have embraced more meaningful teacher-measurement systems under the Obama incentives, combining features like clearer performance standards, multiple classroom observations, student-achievement results and, increasingly, student surveys. And state and local studies, teacher surveys, and other evidence reveals that many of the new systems have been much more beneficial than the union narrative would suggest.

But on the Education Next blog, Rick Hess challenges this interpretation. He points readers to a new study that finds that new teacher evaluation systems are not making much of a difference.

Hess argues that

the enormous effort and expense invested in these teacher-evaluation reforms have thus far achieved next to nothing. The reason is a straightforward failure of follow through. Legislators can change evaluation policies but cannot force principals to apply them rigorously. And it turns out that, even after policies were changed, principals still were not sure what poor teaching looked like, still did not want to upset their staffs, and still did not think giving a negative evaluation was worth the ensuing tension and hassle—especially given contractual complications and doubts that superintendents would back up personnel actions against low-rated teachers.

— Education Next

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