Re-evaluating Teacher Evaluations

What prompted this post was my discovery that only 15 of the 714 Chinese drug factories get inspected every year. On average, foreign medical factories that bring products to the US are inspected once every 13 years. Our 300+ ports receive 18.2 million shipments of drugs, cosmetics, food and devices a year, and the Food and Drug Administration has only about 450 inspectors. Do the math!!

Teacher EvaluationThat got me thinking about teachers and how they are ‘inspected.’ For a few months now I have been corresponding with teachers I know. Here’s what they told me, with a few of my own thoughts stuck in here and there.

In the old days, teachers closed their doors and did their thing, for better or for worse. As long as things were quiet, administrators rather bothered to open the door to see what was going on, and teachers never watched each other at work. That’s changing, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. In some schools today, teachers are actually expected to watch their peers teach, after which they share their analysis. In other schools, however, principals armed with lists sit in the back of the class checking off ‘behaviors’ and later give the teacher a ‘scorecard’ with her ‘batting average.’

No Child Left Behind was supposed to close what is called ‘the achievement gap’ by forcing schools to pay attention to all children. Unfortunately, the gaps persist: Only 14% of Blacks and 17% of Latino 4th graders are proficient in reading, compared to their Asian American (45%) and White (42%) counterparts on the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress. NCLB’s critics claim that the law has narrowed the curriculum to a single-minded focus on reading and math, eliminated programs for the gifted, and turned schools into ‘drill and kill’ factories, and those claims are, in some places, supported by facts.

NCLB’s biggest change may be in teaching itself. For better and sometimes for worse, what teachers used to do behind closed doors is now scrutinized, often on a daily basis. That is, someone, often the principal, drops in regularly to watch the teacher at work. Whether these observations are diagnostic in nature and therefore designed to help teachers improve or a ‘gotcha’ game is the essential question. The answer seems to vary from school to school.

What were ‘the good old days’ like? Continue reading