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Changing Teacher Evaluations to Create Effective Teachers

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For more of this event, click here.

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The United States is currently failing many of its students, said John Podesta, President and CEO of the Center for American Progress at an event Wednesday. “Ensuring that every child has an effective teacher is one of the most important things” we can do for students, so we need “rigorous evaluation systems” that will help to improve the “quality of teaching in high-poverty schools” and diminish the achievement gap, he explained.

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) followed Podesta and spoke about the inadequacy of our human capital systems for teachers and the importance of creating an effective teaching workforce, and Robin Chait, Associate Director for Teacher Quality at CAP, moderated a panel of experts on teacher evaluation and instructional practice: Elizabeth Arons, senior human resources policy advisor for New York City Public Schools and the Gates Foundation; Jessica Cunningham, principal at KIPP DC: WILL Academy; Morgaen Donaldson, assistant professor at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education; Heather Peske, national director of programs at Teach Plus; and Kim Ursetta, a kindergarten ELA-S (bilingual) teacher at the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy in Denver, Colorado.

Ninety-nine percent of public school teachers receive satisfactory evaluations in systems that use binary evaluation systems, according to Chait. But 99 percent of students are not learning to high standards. Current teacher evaluation systems do not give proper feedback, so effective teachers are not identified and rewarded, and ineffective teachers are not given the tools to improve. Students and teachers lose out as a result.

Three new reports released at the event focus on aspects of this discussion: The first outlines how states and districts could do a better job recognizing and acting on differences in teacher effectiveness, the second outlines the barriers to dismissing chronically ineffective teachers and offers policy recommendations that support a better system of performance management, and the third presents original research on teacher evaluation practices within three high-performing charter management organizations.

Current evaluation systems are “terrible” and treated like confusing “legal documents,” Arons explained. This needs to change—states and districts must create comprehensive evaluation systems and use that information to make critical decisions about careers, tenure, compensation, and professional development opportunities. The focus should be on capacity building and “the team,” she added, because underperforming teachers “sap” the school’s energy, forcing quality teachers to “find a way out.”

Many teachers do not even know what it means to be an excellent teacher. Evaluations don’t provide the how necessary to change performance, said Cunningham.

Teachers should be evaluated in a more “robust manner” with continuous observation, said Donaldson. Teaching is a profession of continuous learning, so naturally it requires continuous evaluation. “Frequent observations followed by feedback sessions” must become a “professional habit that’s ongoing,” she added. “Feedback is a gift” and if we are “clear and honest upfront” with teachers about their progress or lack thereof, there’s no surprise when they’re not asked back.”

Administrators and teachers should be “constantly looking at teaching…constantly having conversations about it” so that teachers know “what excellence looks like,” Cunningham explained.

While there is a “culture of fear” in many schools that stops teachers from speaking out and saying what’s best for kids, Ursetta said that teacher-led schools provide a new model that allows teachers to lead in their area of expertise and provide space for this “constant observation.” This type of feedback will “inform professional development” and lead to reform, she added.

Reform should be implemented immediately. The students with the most needs should have the most experienced teachers, rather than new and inexperienced teachers fresh out of college who do not know how to handle these students. This misplacement results in a classroom where no one learns, grows, or wants to be there, Arons said. And after rounds of observation, feedback, and support, routinely ineffective teachers need to get better at the profession or get out—not transfer to another classroom or another school. “This should no longer be tolerated in our system or in our nation,” she said.

“We will not be equipped to compete in the 21st century…if we don’t solve these issues,” Sen. Bennet asserted. Therefore, “the burden of proof” must shift from those who want to change the system to those who want to keep the status quo.

For more of this event, click here.

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