Photo courtesy of Chris Palmer via Flickr

The Widget Effect called us out. Education does a pitifully poor job of acknowledging, recognizing, and acting on differences in educator quality.

Perhaps some of this stems from the fact our field is much more about “support and celebrate” than “punish and shame.” But we aren’t even doing the “support and celebrate” part very well when it comes to recognizing great teaching. Even holding the “fire bad teachers” debate at bay for the moment, are we identifying the most effective and talented teachers we have, celebrating them, and then finding ways to use them in supportive roles to spread their effectiveness and expertise? I’d argue that, for the most part, the answer is no.

Several issues relating to educator evaluation have emerged recently, calling for us to redesign and improve our evaluation systems. First, waivers for increased accountability flexibility from No Child Left Behind require that states improve their evaluation systems to provide regular and more meaningful feedback to educators. Second, the InTASC Standards present a national framework for what good teaching is and how it could be measured from preservice through inservice. Finally, within a few weeks of each other, two studies have recently emerged concerning measures of educator effectiveness and its impact on students’ lives. The Gates’ Foundation work around Measures of Effective Teaching released its Gathering Feedback for Teaching report which positively and significantly correlates a number of teacher evaluation systems with student results and Harvard economists demonstrate that “teachers’ impacts on students are substantial” in terms of increased lifetime earnings for student who have more effective teachers.

So let’s sum up what we know:

1. There is variation in educator effectiveness (teachers aren’t all the same).
2. The components of effective teaching are known.
3. Effective teaching can be validly and reliably measured.
4. Effective teaching has an impact on students’ lives.
5. We, for the most part, ignore all of the above.

Most evaluation systems are “drive-by” and once-every-three-years measures that fail to accurately measure anything and provide little meaningful information. We go through the motions where the forms come out, an observation happens, everyone signs the papers, and then into the file drawer it goes. If this is all we are going to do, it would be a more productive use of everyone’s time to just drop the evaluation process altogether.

Improving evaluation systems means creating measures that both discern effective teaching and provide meaningful, individualized and “at the shoulder” supports for how to improve. So let’s not push against efforts to define, measure, and spread effective teaching. Given the evidence at hand, this is exactly the work we need to be engaged in.