Charleston Gazette Op-ed March 2, 2012
My memories of an upside down evaluation system were stirred by reading in the Gazette of Governor Earl Tomblin’s proposed legislation on the evaluation of teachers and principals
In the evaluation of any product, the user says how good it is. The customer evaluates the product and decides whether to purchase another and recommend it to their friends.
Don’t for a minute think I equate education with products for sale. Learning is a wonderful experience, it is not a product. Learning should not be managed like a business or in a military fashion. The idea of learner outcomes reminds me of the instructors I had in Air Force basic training. They had a list of what their students would learn and stuck with it. Nothing creative or new happened. The outcomes were pre-ordained, no discoveries expected nor wanted.
Who knows best how well a teacher is doing? Could it possibly be the users, the students? Who knows best how the principal is doing his job? Could it be the teachers who know how well they are being served?
The evaluation system in schools when I was teaching ninth through twelfth grades , 1977-1998, had the principals evaluating the teachers, the teachers evaluating the students and the students were never asked.
Assuming the user knows best, the students should evaluate the teachers and the teachers evaluate the principal. And for hiring it should run in a similar direction. Teachers would interview candidates and hire the principal who could best serve the teachers. Because politics are so pervasive at the administrative levels in public education, I hesitate to propose that principals evaluate and hire the superintendant. Maybe teachers should do that too.
I remember observing a class in California when the principal made an unannounced visit. The teacher in mid-sentence changed his presentation to one that he had especially prepared for such occasions. He was good at it and the principal was impressed. But students can’t be fooled like that, they are there every day. And the principal may be able to fool the superintendent but not the teachers who experience his leadership or lack of it every day.
“Hardly anything.” Was the answer I got when I asked his former student what a certain teacher taught. That teacher had political connections and taught past retirement age. I doubt if the former student’s honest, from the gut evaluation ever appeared in top down evaluations.
Some say students can’t be trusted to be fair in evaluating teachers nor take the responsibility seriously. I tried student evaluations several times with ninth through twelfth grade students. I found that when I gave students responsibility they were glad to be treated with respect and as a result acted responsibly. Student fairness was not what teachers needed to fear. It was far more likely that a principal with a political grudge would use the evaluation system to harass or get rid of a teacher.
Even if student evaluations are not included in the evaluation of a teacher they should at least be presented to the teacher for their consideration. It was good for this teacher to know what my students thought I was good at and where they thought I needed improvement. No one knew better than my students whether learning took place in my class.