The Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness

June 08, 2009

If teachers are so important, why do we treat them like widgets?

Effective teachers are the key to student success, yet our school systems treat all teachers as interchangeable parts, not professionals. Excellence goes unrecognized and poor performance goes unaddressed. This indifference to performance disrespects teachers and gambles with students’ lives.

The Widget Effect is a wide-ranging report that studies teacher evaluation and dismissal in four states and 12 diverse districts and reflects survey responses from approximately 15,000 teachers and 1,300 administrators.

Key Findings:

  • All teachers are rated good or great. Less than 1 percent of teachers receive unsatisfactory ratings, making it impossible to identify truly exceptional teachers.
  • Professional development is inadequate. Almost 3 in 4 teachers did not receive any specific feedback on improving their performance in their last evaluation.
  • Novice teachers are neglected. Low expectations for beginning teachers translate into benign neglect in the classroom and a toothless tenure process.
  • Poor performance goes unaddressed. Half of the districts studied have not dismissed a single tenured teacher for poor performance in the past five years.

The report gives policymakers and school leaders recommendations for acquiring better information about instructional quality to give great teachers the recognition they deserve.

Additional Resources

Executive Summary and Advisory Panel Responses June 08, 2009 > ˅

The executive summary of the report, and perspectives from district and state officials and teacher union representatives who advised on the research and writing of The Widget Effect.

Race to the Top Resources November 08, 2009 > ˅

Building on the findings in The Widget Effect, these resources offer guidance on the federal government’s Race to the Top educational funding initiative and takes a critical look at the efficacy of the program.

Toledo Public Schools Teacher Dismissal Data February 01, 2010 > ˅

In June 2009, TNTP released data on teacher dismissals in Toledo Public Schools (TPS) in The Widget Effect. The data, collected in collaboration with the Toledo Federation of Teachers, reported five dismissals of non-tenured teachers for performance concerns and one dismissal of a tenured teacher for performance concerns in TPS during school years 2003-04 through 2007-08.

Following the report’s release, the Toledo Federation of Teachers (TFT) contacted TNTP with concerns about the accuracy of the data. TNTP agreed to work with TFT on a careful examination of the data to reach a conclusion about final figures.

This memorandum provides an overview of the reconciliation process and a summary of our findings.

How Federal Education Policy Can Reverse the Widget Effect February 24, 2010 > ˅

Title II funding, designed to improve teacher quality, is inadvertently treating teachers like interchangeable parts. This policy brief proposes a new vision to focus the funds on improving teacher effectiveness.

TNTP Re-imagine Teaching