Behind the Headline: The War Over Evaluating Teachers—Where it Went Right and How it Went Wrong

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The War Over Evaluating Teachers—Where it Went Right and How it Went Wrong
The 74 | 11/3/15

Behind the Headline
Getting Classroom Observations Right
Education Next | Winter 2015

Writing for The 74, Matt Barnum describes and evaluates the massive transformation in how teachers are evaluated that has taken place over the past few years.

Barnum writes that some of the impetus for the reform of teacher evaluation came from a 2009 report called “The Widget Effect” which found that in many districts, every teacher receives a positive evaluation. “Districts’ evaluation systems failed to differentiate between good and bad teaching meaning struggling educators got limited feedback and high-performers went unrecognized, according to TNTP.” Moved in part by this report, Arne Duncan went on to use two tools at his disposal–Race to the Top grants and No Child Left Behind waivers–to pressure states to reform their teacher evaluation systems and to include student test scores in these evaluations.

Barnum’s article goes on to examine the ways that student test scores were incorporated into teacher evaluations, the backlash that quickly emerged, and debates that have arisen over the goals of teacher evaluation. He concludes by suggesting that “a policy agenda that hinges on disempowering — rather than empowering — people in schools will likely fall short both politically and practically.”


A study published in the Winter 2015 issue of Education Next, “Getting Classroom Observations Right: Lessons on How from Four Pioneering Districts,” looked at the strengths and weaknesses of different teacher evaluation systems.

Another study in the Winter 2015 issue of Education Next asked “Does Better Observation Make Better Teachers?”

A study published by Education Next in 2012 looked at how some kinds of evaluations can improve teacher performance.

An earlier study published by Education Next looked at whether an evaluation system based on classroom observations performed by trained professionals could identify the teachers whose students demonstrate the largest learning gains.

– Education Next

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