Keep Your Yardsticks Off Teachers’ Careers, Unless . . .

Numerous commentators, experts, and teachers themselves have offered critiques of teacher evaluation. Critiques aren’t limited to 1.0 evaluation systems. New systems adopted in recent years with abundant stakeholder input are also in the crosshairs. Typing “What’s wrong with teacher evaluation” into search engines produces pages of well-reasoned thought and evidence, not just angry rants.

The critiques are many, including that teacher evaluation does not: measure teachers accurately with its drive-by observations by principals and third parties; take into account teachers’ varying roles and working conditions; reveal measurable differences among teachers (absence of actual differences would make the profession unique on planet Earth); lead to better professional development; and more.

Some teachers have decided that no evaluation is better than bad evaluation. We understand. Why should teachers let policymakers use yardsticks to measure teachers’ worth without providing some benefit, not just to a few but to most teachers?

We’d like to propose an “unless” that could get teachers, administrators, policymakers, and unions on the same page: Let’s keep yardsticks off the teaching profession, unless… unless teacher evaluation leads to these changes:

Teachers get routine, personalized, on-the-job development. Teachers deserve access to scaffolded development on the job—with modeling, coaching, practice, and feedback—not just once in a while, but day in and day out.  Yes, other kinds of development like training may be useful supplements, especially when a teacher is new to a role. But working collaboratively with peers who have mastered elements of teaching and who are committed to the success of the same students is far superior.

Teachers can use their strengths more often at work, even as they seek to improve weaknesses. Teachers can teach their best subjects or play the roles they do best—small-group instruction, student work review, motivating lectures, and so forth. Teacher-leaders can lead.

Schools offer sustainably paid career advancement in the classroom. Advancement must be meaningful, letting teachers increase their impact by reaching more students and leading while teaching.  The best advancement starts early and helps teachers, not just the school. Advanced roles can include more teamwork, conducting complex planning and instruction on teams, reaching more students directly by partnering with paraprofessionals, and leading teams of increasing size and challenge.

None of these are possible at scale without changes in how teachers’ work is organized, which is why we continue the drumbeat that the one-teacher-one-classroom model must be replaced with models that value teachers’ growth and paid advancement, along with excellent teaching for all students.

Interestingly, moving to team-based, teacher-led, extended-reach models instead also fixes many of the challenges with teacher evaluation, as we explain here and here with practical help for districts.

It’s one thing to talk about it, but quite another to do it, which is why we and our colleagues shifted gears a few years ago to help schools implement these changes, not just write about them. It’s not enough to help individual schools, though. Scale requires districts to change, too. They must offer training to teachers new to advanced roles, especially when teachers have had no opportunity to learn on the job. Districts must clarify new roles and help schools change schedules so that teachers have time with their teams to plan, review student work, reflect on progress, and make changes.  They must provide interim student assessments that can truly predict success in meeting long-term learning goals and provide data reports at the team level, not just teacher-by-teacher, so teachers can collaborate without mushrooming work hours.

And districts must match evaluations to the team-based, teacher-led, extended-reach jobs similar to those that dominate in other professions and that must grow much faster in the education sector. Districts must advocate for changes in state policies, both those affecting evaluation and others, that act as barriers to scaling up these kind of roles across districts.

Until then, we think it’s very reasonable for teachers to say, “Keep your yardsticks off my career. Don’t measure me if you aren’t going to help me succeed.” Teacher evaluation should open far more doors than it closes. Until it does, more of us need to roll up our sleeves and help teachers make the changes needed to achieve the outstanding profession they deserve and that students need.

– Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel

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