Policy Documents

Research & Commentary: Teacher Evaluations

July 1, 2011

Teachers receive job evaluations much like workers in other professions; except the “satisfactory” rates for teaching usually lie somewhere in the high 90th percentiles, according to an Education Next study. Meanwhile, even higher percentages of students fall behind in school. This casts great doubt on the validity of teacher evaluations.

As states and districts alter teacher evaluation systems, lately because of federal government pressure, to include measures such as “value-added” assessments showing how a particular teacher contributes to or impedes student achievement, teachers unions and other education establishment organizations are fighting to block them.

The unions and other defenders of the education status quo tend to be highly critical of statistics-based teacher evaluations, emphasizing studies and anecdotal incidents that indicate high-stakes tests for students encourage cheating and do not accurately reflect student learning. This makes them a poor measure for judging teachers, these critics say.

Those generally in favor of data-linked teacher evaluations cite them as a useful and more objective way to tie subjective, in-class evaluations to hard evidence. They note value-added assessments have been shown to correlate well with teacher effectiveness. They also cite, as a reason to find and either improve or fire poor teachers as quickly as possible, evidence showing students with poor teachers two years in a row can almost irretrievably fall behind.

The following documents offer additional information on teacher evaluations.

Grant Program to Encourage New Methods of Teacher Evaluation
The state of New Jersey has announced it will award grants to districts and charter schools that opt in to a new system of teacher evaluations, which includes the use of student test scores. Teachers in the program will give feedback to district advisory committees, which they also can join, to help the state department of education design a teacher evaluation system for the whole state in future years.

For Va.’s Proposed Teacher Merit-Pay Program, Few Hands in the Air
A Virginia pilot program for awarding grants to schools that attempt tying merit pay to teacher performance on data-centered evaluations has only ten schools in the state willing to test it. The Washington Post reports teachers and districts are wary of performance pay, seeing it as an insult to assume teachers are not already giving their all. These groups and the teachers unions oppose using the criteria to measure teachers.

Teacher Merit Pay Hard to Arrange, Harris Says
The Columbus schools superintendent discusses the difficulties in switching from seniority pay to merit pay based on teacher evaluations, including readjusting expectations and career plans for teachers in Ohio. These, he says, are not reasons to forego merit pay, but important considerations for lawmakers when making such changes.

Evaluating Teacher Effectiveness
The four authors of this study, forthcoming in the Journal of Human Resources, evaluate whether classroom observations can effectively identify teaching styles and methods that raise student achievement, given that such observations recently have overwhelmingly rated teachers “satisfactory” when students continued to perform at low levels. The authors conclude from their studies in Cincinnati Public Schools that evaluations “based on well-executed classroom observations do identify effective teachers and teaching practices.” This would provide another component for teacher evaluation systems, in addition to student test scores.

California in the Dark Ages
Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Terry Moe reports on how California’s teachers unions dismantled the state’s data and evaluation system for students and teachers through their influence on Gov. Jerry Brown. This represents a step backwards, removing a use of technology to improve education in a state renowned for technological advances. Because test results expose poor teachers, Moe says, the unions closed the system that collected those results.

Grading the Teachers
Writing for the City Journal, Larry Sand discusses value-added teacher evaluations and the consequences of an investigative report by the Los Angeles Times. He concludes the evaluations are a useful accountability tool for teachers, unions, and schools, and explains why teachers unions are quick to discount and litigate against them.

Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the School Reform News Web site at http://www.schoolreform-news.org, The Heartland Institute’s Web site at http://www.heartland.org, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database, at www.policybot.org.

If you have any questions about this issue or The Heartland Institute, contact Heartland education policy research fellow Joy Pullmann, at 312/377-4000 or jpullmann@heartland.org.