What role should evaluations play in teacher job security?

The Minnesota House is considering a bill that would make teacher evaluations a factor in determining teacher layoffs. The bill would end the “last in, first out” approach dictated by teacher seniority. Today’s Question: What role should evaluations play in teacher job security?

  • Kurt

    Evaluations should be considered in all occupations. Good luck getting such a bill passed though. Public unions worship at the altar of seniority-it would be Wisconsin 2.0

  • hiram

    Evaluations are important, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves in to thinking that the reason some schools are struggling and that other schools are doing well, has much at all to do with an evaluation policy they both might share. That’s the kind of shallow thinking that is only persuasive to newspaper editorial boards.

  • Gary F

    Hiram,

    Newspaper editorial boards are in cahoots with “Big Education” labor unions and the government schools.

    It’s too bad that unions don’t reward productive employees in favor of tenured employees.

  • Jen

    Everything, it seems, comes down to politics and parties, unions against unions, pro union against anti union, how sad this is for a serious issue that needs addressing. The people who should be first in the discussion are the teachers themselves. There is one very important truth that we all know but is not politically correct to speak: that children who come from homes where education is valued and supported (not just given lip service)will be educated those who come from homes that lack this value will not. A student who doesn’t show up, or sleeps in class or is never prepared, or never studies will not do well. When parents are held as accountable as the teachers, student performance will increase. Those outside the profession find it easy to cast stones and tell us what we should be doing. I challenge anyone who thinks the ‘job’ is easy to try to meet the individual needs of 25 (or more) children in a classroom who not only have educational needs, but emotional, physical and behavioral issues as well. Further, using a test score as a measure of teacher quality is absurd. The variables cannot be controlled and most tests are set up for failure to justify the continuation of testing. The incentive of ‘Merit pay’ is insulting. Are doctors or lawyers or government officials paid based upon their level of success or failure with patients, clients or constituents? Comparing schools state to state is absurd when the curriculum and testing devises are vastly different. Teachers know who the good teachers are and who the not so good teachers are. Peer review and team teaching are good ways to mentor those who need it and acknowledge those who are dedicated, capable, outstanding teachers. When school boards, (state and local) change the curriculum year to year and the ‘latest’ fad becomes the ‘right way’ to teach year after year, there will be no consistency, but there is frustration, anger, and finally apathy. Finally, the presumption that people working in a specific field in the private sector can magically become teachers just by being hired is so, so wrong. Just because you do, does not mean you can teach. This idea further devalues all of the dedicated people who spent years and many dollars in colleges of education and then getting the required master’s degree and the continuing education credits to remain certified year after year. Stop devaluing and insulting us, hold parents accountable, and bring the teachers to the table for discussions.

  • Steve
  • Leslie

    On a recent NPR StoryCorps, a high school teacher was interviewed by a former student who had dropped out before graduation. The former student told the teacher “there was nothing he (the teacher) could have done.” “It wasn’t your fault” he told the teacher and he just wanted the teacher to know.

    Evaluations for jobs – important, as long as the evaluations are realistic. Tenure- important so science teachers can talk about evolution without fear of a parent demanding a curriculum change or a resignation, for example. But I agree that tenure should include a realistic and fair evaluative component.

  • Gary F

    Education Resource Information Center.

    Sponsored by whom? Of course, BIG EDUCATION, the union run government schools industry.

  • James

    How hard would it be to come up with a fair and comprehensive teacher evaluation system that has consequences for both pay raises and retention decisions?

    A proposal:

    - all teachers would be rated each year

    - ratings would result in a forced ranking (just like students endure) across the school or across the disctrict

    - low rated teachers would be more vulnerable to market forces, like layoffs

    An example evaluation system:

    - 25% of score tied to seniority

    - 15% of score tied to last year’s score

    - 10% of score tied to last year +1′s score

    - the other 50% tied to indicators of teacher’s skill and effectiveness. Perhaps:

    - 10% tied to test score progress

    - 10% tied to attendance record

    - 10% tied to a subjective evaluation by a qalified evalulator

    - 10% tied to extracurricular participation

    - 10% tied to student’s evaluations

    No factor has too much weight, in case of error or bias.

    Seniority still has significant weight.

    Previous year’s performance has weight…in case of a “bad year.”

    All the attributes that are elements of being a great teacher have weight.

    The scoring system is simple and clear and can be well communicated.

    This proposal probably doesn’t have a chance either, but it is an example of a comprimise between 100% seniority based andn 100% student evaluation based, both of which are bad ideas.

  • DandyRandy

    Kids should be the first concern. The good teachers I had as well as the bad are forever burned into my mind. When one multiplies out the number of children affected, it is really quite disgusting that unions dictate that bad teachers continue to teach our children.

    Senority should only be used only as a tie-breaker for similar evaluations. Peer reviews should be used as well because other teachers know who is capable and doing their jobs properly.

  • Alison

    “Are doctors or lawyers or government officials paid based upon their level of success or failure with patients, clients or constituents?”

    Why, yes. Yes they are.

  • curt

    Many factors, including parental values, incomes, social incentives and others influence the outcome of children education everywhere. While focusing on better teachers and lessening the influence of unions always make for good argumentation, the best teachers cannot make up for poor economic conditions at home, decline of family structure and erosion social values that re-enforce the value of education. How skilled a teacher need to be to make up for violence at home, drugs, addiction, unemployed parents who are potentially being foreclosed on and gang violence in the neighborhood just to name a few of the ills that ail us? Why not call up Superman for $45k/yr?

  • Rich

    Most teachers are decent, reasonable people, who try to do their best and aren’t any more lazy or stupid than the rest of us. Collectively, however, they stand in the way of reform because of the inexorable logic of the closed shop union. They must join the union to get a job. The union is run by those who have been there the longest without advancing, who of course highly value seniority, conservatism in all matters, and lack of pressure to perform as they get close to their pension. Teachers need to act like professionals, but they’re stuck in unions that force them to act collectively like assembly line workers. Teachers do need unions, as they are facing a monopoly employer (the state), and often get caught between parents and the school system in battles over individual children, battles which people rightly take very seriously. But the teachers’ unions should be more like professional associations than industrial unions. Allowing teachers to join whichever union or association they wanted, including none at all, would be a big step forward towards reform. When teachers become valued professionals rather than unionized laborers, teaching will once again attract bright and motivated graduates.

    Student success is most highly correlated not with good teachers or good schools, but with good parents. Parents of any income level who drill into their kids’ heads the importance of education, who stress written rather than visual media, and who support the actions of their childrens’ teachers and schools produce consistently successful students. The generation that survived the Depression and WW2 was able to provide a better life for their children, with lots of food and free time and fun, and few of the deprivations and horrors that had gone before. This indulgent behavior was reinforced and amplified in the generations that followed. We’re now way too easy on our kids for their own good. Schools will never really succeed until parents force their kids to take education seriously, and allow hard work and discipline to be the watchwords at their children’s schools. Teachers need to ask more of students, and adults need to stand resolutely in the face of their beloved yet lazy children, and force them to deliver. In the end, that will be the real reform

  • Lynn Florman

    I understand that idea, and agree with the sentiment, but the reality is that schools are not compensated by the state based on their effectiveness. Consequently, districts do not have an incentive to retain experienced teachers who are more expensive during lean years if a less experienced teacher who costs them less money will do the job.

    This happens in the private sector as well when more experienced workers are laid off in an effort to save money even if it decreases the effectiveness of the organization slightly. We saw this all the time during the recession.

    Unless the “teacher performance” can be quantified and linked to state funding, schools will be under tremendous pressure to let go of the best and brightest teachers who are expensive in favor of the adequate and functional teachers who can keep them afloat but cost less.

  • Steve the Cynic

    The real question is what makes for a good education system, isn’t it? Other folks are way smarter than I am on that question, but one thing I’m certain of is that making teachers a political soccer ball is not likely to prod them to do a better job for our kids. Supervision and evaluation are well and good, but when people feel like they’re under constant scrutiny, with every decision subject to being second-guessed by some demagogue with an axe to grind, so that the workplace feels like a minefield, it stifles the kind of imagination and creativity we want our kids’ teachers to have.

  • Eiolgj

    Regarding unions: When I was teaching, the district told the rookie teachers that they had to join the union because part of the benefit was to get an equivalent of mal-practice insurance. I don’t know if this is still true.

    I think that teachers should be evaluated. But how could this be done fairly? The principal popping in once a year isn’t enough. Even four visits per year wouldn’t give a complete picture. And student tests hardly tell the story.

    My son is currently teaching 3rd grade in a low income grade school. Half the kids struggle because other languages are spoken in the home. He says that he can help them understand during class discussion, but they can’t understand the questions on written exams.

    Should this be counted against the teacher or school?

  • Mark G

    The evaluation process is difficult to quantify, because there are so many variables that go into the mix. Being evaluated by a principal who is trained to look for the common denominator in what a good teacher looks like is unreasonable, because often, a principal has gotten that position from additional education and not necessarily more experience. In addition, I know how my students react when a principal walks into the room: they are wary, watchful, tense, and unwilling to “be themselves”…..which makes for an artificial and unrealistic picture of what I do each day. What worries me more is that all this emphasis on evaluating and weeding out ineffectual teachers is putting pressure on an already underfunded, underappreciated, and overburdened system…..where in the world does Minnesota think its next generation of teachers is going to come from? Alternative licensing is a bitter joke; knowing the subject matter is one thing, relaying it effectively to other human beings is quite another. The very idea that anyone with the expertise is able to effectively teach it is a cruel and short-sighted jab at the art of teaching.

  • Hiram

    “Newspaper editorial boards are in cahoots with “Big Education” labor unions and the government schools.”

    Actually, and you can look at Sunday’s Pioneer Press editorial,for the most recent example, newspaper editorial boards are in cahoots with big business and the political and media establishments. What is absent from these cliched appeals for teacher evaluations is any understanding at all, of how our schools work. In reading those editorials, what always strikes me is how assiduously they avoid any discussion of any particular change that would make our schools better.

  • Gordon Hommes

    While performance evaluations should occur in every profession, including education, the students being taught must be part of the equation, because poverty, parental involvement, adult mentoring, language barriers, and mental disabilities all have an important role in the success,or failure of students.

    It’s kind of like evaluating an oncologist based solely on the long-term survival of his/her cancer patients.

  • Chuck

    Fair and objective performance evaluations ought to play a significant role in determining job retention. In my view, this is particularly true for those who educate us and our children.

  • Tim

    IF this passes, which I wholly DO NOT support, can you imagine the “In-fighting” it would breed within secondary departments, within elementary buildings, and within all categories of “specialist” teaching groups? Anytime it looked like there may be cuts coming, instead of uniting these groups to rally and do their best with larger class sizes or simply handling the stress of administrative analysis via infrequent yet highly valued observations, individuals across the spectrum of tenured seniority would be forced to protect their own job or their program by arguing with their colleagues within as to who should be next – literally sacrificing one colleague, possibly regardless of experience or expertise, for the sake of their own or they’re favorite “new” teacher or their best friend or . . . Yeah, those are the classrooms I want MY kids to attend. NOT! What corporate influences are encouraging here is a bastardized form of capitalistic competition as seen in “Glen Gary, Glen Ross,” or any other vindicitive, cut-throat business environment message. But this is the age-old failed analogy as we do NOT sell items or manufacture “widgets,” we educate the minds and souls of young human beings and there really is NO CALCUABLE exact value they (our corporate benefactors) can identify to measure universally with that human element – - and they HATE that, so belittling educators into accepting a purely competitive environment is the next great ploy. Division from within. Don’t let it occur. Keep teaching as a passion not as a possession.

  • Jim G

    Teacher evaluations should play an important role in determining job security. They need to be fair and broad based and offer a remediation track for those struggling to master the skills demanded in teaching profession. Teachers must be skilled in their curricular areas and also must be able to teach content in effective methods to “every” child that comes through their classroom door. However, evaluations must not be used as a back door way of getting rid of veteran teachers because they are more expensive labor units than the newly hired, which I suspect is the real objective of the bill’s sponsors.

    If students’ test scores are to be used, they must accurately reflect the students progress in that teachers class. The same assessments must be given at the beginning and again at the end of the year. Only then can you most accurately compare the growth in learning of the same students. That’s what my district did over the last ten years of my career. During my 34 years of service, evaluations changed over the years depending on funding, district goals, and state mandates. Evaluations were constantly in flux, and that’s what most folks don’t understand about public schools. Local policies are whipsawed back and forth over the short term as districts wrestle over budget short falls and shifting legislative priorities. We were lucky to get 2 or 3 years of consistency in the criteria, and in evaluation process before it was changed. Big Brother always seemed to have a better idea and the idea changed depending on who the new Big Brother was.

    I was fortunate that over a twelve year period my district funded a small district staff development team to work with all new hires. In addition to being full time teachers with their own classroom responsibilities, they also observed and critiqued individual staff identified by administrators as needing coaching in specific instructional weaknesses. Unfortunately, the winds of change facilitated by both the administration and the local union quietly cut the program. Now they need to reinvent what has been lost. Teaching is a difficult job, you probably couldn’t do it without a lot of practice. Support teachers in becoming the best they can be. They want to be successful and it will help our kids too.

  • Philip

    The same as mine.

  • Joe Schaedler

    All institutions function best when they function meritocratically. Evaluations, if well designed & applied, would serve as effecive gauges & demonstrations of teacher merit.

    As such, regularized teacher performance evaluations should become an integral part of US educational institution.

    Still, seniority and longevity of service should not account for nothing. They should be mitigating qualifications on performance evaluations themselves, though they shuld not serve to exempt sub-mediocre teachers from due dismissal.

  • Lisa

    First and foremost I believe evaluations should play a role in teacher job security. The only way we get better is by feedback and most of us can improve on something. The problems I see with this are how they may be used, who will do them, and what safety nets are in place for the teacher who needs them.

    On another level, how will we/they determine why a student or group of students isn’t/aren’t making progress? Will we eventually fine parents who don’t read to their children? Actually create and enforce a truancy system where parents are penalized when their child doesn’t get to school?

    Because of the human element in teaching and learning, we are looking at a very complicated and difficult situation here. Will we get rid of the expensive teachers with their master’s degrees? What happens to that teacher with high standards and strong ethics that won’t give in to the vocal parent of a “good kid”?

    Teachers need to be held to high standards. Teachers also need to have support, both financially through true funding of education as well as respect from the very people they educated enough to win public office.

    As I consider the seven new systems of scheduling, collecting data, data analysis, specializing in reading, embedding math, deconstructing benchmarks, and identifying students for assistance that have been asked of me just in the last two years, I feel it’s a bit ironic that someone wants to evaluate the way I teach. I wish that I was allowed to do more of that.

  • DCM

    Evaluations should play a large role in job retention, public or private sector. To this date I don’t believe there is a meaningful or accurate way to evaluate job performance in most large institutions, especially in education. I have a lot of respect for teachers- they do a job I have no desire or aptitude for. I’m certain that public school teachers are not our enemies and we should stop treating them as such. The more important question is how do we help teachers succeed? By providing a peaceful, stable home where education is valued.

  • Andrea

    Until teachers are valued in our society and paid as the are in Finland and China, the continuing evaluation of teachers is just a way to look like the country is doing something to improve our education system, without really doing the important things to improve our system. Continually attacking those benefits that protect teachers jobs, merely demoralizes teachers and the profession. When the country values teachers and pays them appropriately, then let’s evaluate them to the degree of private professionals. I have a daughter that would be a great teacher and I discourage her from the profession at every opportunity. Our country devalues them as we become more and more illiterate through our government policies that fail to care for the basic social and health care needs of our children.

  • Ron

    I would like to see a system similar to the military where individuals have a set period of time to achieve a particular rank. If they cannot demonstrate the ability to make the grade they cannot continue in the military. Give teachers a set number of years to demonstrate their ability. If the teachers cannot prove their effectiveness they lose their certification. This keeps the most effective teachers in the system and helps reward those teachers who sacrifice a great deal to stay in the profession.

  • John

    No school district states that they cut great expensive tenured teachers to keep low paid beginning teachers, they just do it. It would be politically inexpedient to state the truth. When school districts hire experienced teachers, the districts often don’t give the teacher pay credit for all their years of experience in order to save money.

  • Scott

    Teacher evaluations are already part of the system;

    thus this bill “puts in place” something that’s already there. Administrators are to evaluate probationary teachers a minimum of 3x per year, and continuing contract teachers at least 1x per year. The evaluation is to include suggestions/

    requirements for teacher improvement if necessary; those who fail to “measure up” accordingly can be terminated.

    The REAL issue at the state legislature seems to be whether teachers, any teachers, should be on continuing contract at all. YES! Continuing contract = experienced teachers in the classroom rather than a rotation of “rookie teachers” cycling in and out. Obviously there are teachers on continuing contract who should not be; there is a system in place to “send them down the road” already, as outlined above. The goal of much of the

    legislature’s current list of proposed bills is to hack

    into union solidarity and undermine workers and

    their right to a good job and a decent work environment.

  • Bob Lucas

    I taught for 20. I had a child go through the public school system in St. Paul. One caller said that his children will be in school next year and private school is the only way to go. What a load of rubbish. My daughter, a minority, attended public schools in St. Paul. She was a National Achievement Scholar and graduated with honors in philosophy from a private college in Minnesota with a high academic rating.

    My first years of teaching did not have seniority or other systems for evaluation for teachers. Staff was at the mercy of the principal and school board. Personal issues and agendas influenced many decisions. The discussion seems to assume that ineffectual teachers must be tolerated because of seniority. Teachers and unions do not want their profession pulled down any more than doctors, lawyers or engineers.

    You can waste your money sending your kids to private school where they will be educated in an environment that does not reflect the world today. I hope they work in that same sheltered world.

  • Sue de Nim

    Any system of teacher evaluation that puts teachers in competition with each other is doomed to fail. Teachers teach best when they work as a team and trust and support each other. Competition among teachers undercuts that trust. The free-market fundamentalists like to hold up competition as an engine of improvement, but they miss the point. What makes for improvement is having challenges to rise to, and competition is just a lazy way of putting challenge into a system. The bottom line is, I want the faculty and administration in my kids’ school to work as a team for the benefit of all the kids.

  • Erik Jacobson

    Should police officers be evaluated on the crime rates of the neighborhoods they work in?

    As important as police are to neighborhood safety, most people would realize that there are far too many factors involved in neighborhood safety to evaluate and rate police officers in this way. It really is no different than teachers.

    Effective teacher training and evaluation is far too nuanced for this politically charged legislature to create – particularly for a group of people who, for the most part, have never worked in education.

  • Steve the Cynic

    And the REAL real question is whether public schools should exist at all, and to what extent laissez faire ideologues will go to sabotage and undermine political support for them so that they can eventually privatize the whole thing and sell our education system to the highest bidder.

  • Alison

    Evaluations should absolutely be used. I’m not sure why teachers should be exempt from the rules most of us play under. I understand that all teachers should always be at the top of their game and working together for the good of their students. But the reality is that teachers are human too. Some are good at what they do, some aren’t. Some put in 110%, others 75%. The effort and success of each changes over time. I’ve been a teacher. I’ve seen the spectrum of teachers, and not surprisingly, ability and effectiveness don’t strictly correspond to years in the district.

    I don’t see how this differs from my current job not in education. We are all working together for the good of the company. We really do work together, despite being judged against each other at times of review, promotion, and layoffs. When it comes time for evaluations, some people really are more valuable than others. Those people should be rewarded, and if job cuts are necessary, the best should be retained. The same is true for teaching.

    Here’s the problem though. I have known very few school administrators who have a handle on what makes a teacher effective AND the knowledge of what each of their teachers are doing and how well they are doing it. If this is going to work, we need to tackle the problem of administrators who are detached from their classrooms and the daily work of their teachers. I suspect this is responsible for much of the apprenhension to change that you hear from teachers.

  • david

    While last in first out does seem like a bad idea, most of the worst teachers I’ve had where older than Methuselah, and the best were young and idealistic, teacher evaluations seem like it should just be part of determining who stays and who goes. Bad teachers should go, but so should wanting our cake and eating it too. You can’t keep slashing budgets (and not keeping up with inflation and population growth is cutting the budget), packing more and more kids into a classroom and expecting a single teacher to perform a miracle in 9 months. Life, teaching kids especially, is far to complex for a simple answer imposed on a system by simpletons, voted in by other simpletons.

  • Dawn Kuzma

    I am thinking that annual reviews and performance-based pay for teachers is a great idea – but only as long as state legislators also have to reviewed annually, and can be put on probation – and have their pay cut if necessary.

    Fair is fair!

  • Lawrence

    Again, to me, the discussion about teacher evaluations is simply a ploy to reduce money by forcing thousands of veteran teachers to retire so that the state can pay a young teacher less money and therefore save itself money. This discussion has absolutely nothing to do with helping students achieve. We know what helps students achieve – smaller classroom sizes (and I’d say 10-15 students max), access and less stigma on tutoring (mandatory tutoring for children that are not doing well), great command of the English language and solving word problems, and a high degree of parental involvement and advocacy in their children’s learning. The rest of this discussion is totally about disenfranchising a group of students who are already severely disenfranchised currently, namely African American, Hispanic, and Native American children whose academic achievement rates are the worst in the nation.

  • Retired SPPS Teacher

    The state of Minnesota owes the Minnesota Department of Education over 3 billion dollars with no plan to repay it. If they repaid the loan, this subject would not need to be on the table.

  • Victor

    Few citizens, especially those who have made negative comments about “unions” have little knowledge of public schools.

  • Richard

    I would expect that by evaluation we might get smarter about which approaches will work where and with whom, but I’d also guess there will always be ideas in opposition to one another in education, which look stupid if you’re using them and brilliant if you’re not.

  • Dennis

    Getting rid of seniority is what this is all about and it’s a Republican fantasy.

    It ain’t gonna happen.

    What WILL happen is Republicans are going to get kicked out of office in November.

    Then we can fix the problems.

    I have to laugh at the arrogance of the Republicans and their total loss of contact with reality.

  • Raymond Gorski

    I tutor at a parochial school presently and last year wasat a public school also. Every year you

    are facing a different set of challenges. Last year

    at the public school two students were placed in

    psychiatric treatment. Children came in hungry.

    In the middle of class students would just shut

    down for no perceptible reason. I had the same issue with a young lady in the fourth grade three

    years ago. Her dad told me that she was taken

    to the doctors, psychologist and psychiatrist. It turned out she was upset her best friend was at a

    different school. Is that the teachers fault if the

    child does’nt want to learn. This year at the Catholic I volunteer at, one child’s mother died

    of cancer; another student’s father was deported.

    This year for some reason there seems to be

    more students who are consistently late or ill.

    When all these factors are taken into consideration then I might be more open to what

    the state legislature is up to. I know from personal

    experience that my first graders are not doing as

    well as the past three years. These issues have

    very little to do with the teachers.

  • Jean

    I taught elementary school for 34 years. Teachers know when they’re doing a good job-and that doesn’t just mean the kids do well on a test. It means that kids connect to you and to each other in positive ways. It means that they like to come to school and engage in interesting, age-appropriate, hands-on learning activities that teach them to think, and to see how what they’re learning relates to their lives. It means children sharing information that they discover by working together, rich and poor, smart and average (yes, MN children can be average) and not so smart. It’s helping children learn to be understanding of others not like themselves, and to develop empathy toward those with disabilities. It’s observing those “Aha!” moments when a child finally understands a concept and beams with pride. It’s when a child comes back to tell you something they remembered about your class, or to share what they’re doing now.

    Good teachers affect children in many ways. A person can be very knowledgeable in his/her field, but you also have to love kids and be able to relate to them to be a good teacher. Find a test for that.

  • RexNearAnoka

    Rich said, “Teachers need to act like professionals, but they’re stuck in unions that force them to act collectively like assembly line workers.”

    Even if this were true, it would not dictate the way teachers act in the classroom. Why? Because teachers are human beings and working in a profession which is similar to trying to grab soap bubbles all day long. You take each bubble as it comes. If you’ve prepared well, you’ll catch more bubbles.

    Students who are treated like human beings also act that way, I’ve found, and I taught in the Milwaukee Public Schools for 15 years, subbed up here some. And when people act like human beings they are going to do things you cannot predict. You cannot box people up and market them and try to sell them as you could with widgets or any other product.

    Uniformity in education IS a Republican fantasy.

    Jean was right, you just have to love kids and work hard. If that’s not a recipe for success in teaching, then there is no recipe for success. The best thing to do to make sure kids achieve is to make sure they come to school prepared to learn and to make sure teachers are trained properly.

    Merit pay and other systems that demote teachers might work in private schools where the priorities are different, but in the public schools there is no room for them. Those systems dehumanize the profession as a way of forcing them to become factories. Schools are not factories and if you see a school that works like one, try to change it, or warn others NOT to send their kids there.