Editorial: Truth in Teaching

| The New York Times | Editorial

Education reform will go nowhere until the states are forced to revamp corrupt teacher evaluation systems that rate a vast majority of teachers as “excellent,” even in schools where children learn nothing. Education Secretary Arne Duncan was right to require the states that participate in the school stabilization fund, which is part of the federal education stimulus program, to show — finally — how student achievement is weighted in teacher evaluations. The states have long resisted such accountability, and Mr. Duncan will need to press them hard to ensure they live up to their commitment.

A startling new report from a nonpartisan New York research group known as The New Teacher Project lays out the scope of the problem. The study, titled “The Widget Effect,” is based on surveys of more than 16,000 teachers and administrators in four states: Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois and Ohio.

The first problem it identifies is that evaluation sessions are often short, infrequent and pro forma — typically two or fewer classroom observations totaling 60 minutes or less. The administrators who perform them are rarely trained to do the evaluations and are under intense pressure from colleagues not to be critical. Not surprisingly, nearly every teacher passes, and an overwhelming majority receives top ratings.

At the same time, more than 80 percent of administrators and nearly 60 percent of teachers surveyed said that they knew a tenured teacher who deserved to be dismissed for poor performance. Half of 12 districts studied had not dismissed a tenured teacher in the previous five years. The study also says that teachers who need and want to improve their skills find it very hard to get help.

Until things change, excellent teachers will not be recognized and rewarded, low-performing teachers will remain in the classroom and teachers who could become high achievers if they had more support never will.

To break out of this failing system, the report says, the states will need to create effective evaluation practices. Those must fairly rate teachers’ different levels of ability. School districts must also invest in teacher development programs and be prepared to fire bad teachers who show no ability or desire to get better. These are the kinds of changes that the states need to embrace — and that Secretary Duncan needs to push for.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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