The nation's schools are failing to adequately assess teacher effectiveness, resulting in a system in which excellent teaching goes unrecognized, hard-working teachers who could improve are ignored, and poor performance goes unaddressed, a new report from the New Teacher Project finds.
Funded primarily by the Robertson, Gates, and Joyce foundations, the report, The Widget Effect: Our National Failure to Acknowledge and Act on Differences in Teacher Effectiveness (48 pages, PDF), found that the evaluation systems used by most U.S. school districts do not distinguish between teaching that is great, good, fair, and poor. As a result, teachers are treated as equivalent, interchangeable parts — "widgets." Indeed, 94 percent of teachers in districts with more than two performance ratings received one of the top two ratings, while less than 1 percent of teachers received unsatisfactory ratings, even in schools where students failed to meet basic academic standards.
Based on two years of research in four states and with input from advisory panels in each state, the report also found that nearly three-quarters of teachers did not receive any specific feedback on improving their performance in their last evaluation, while half the districts studied had not dismissed a tenured teacher for poor performance in at least five years. To address these issues, the report recommends a performance evaluation system that accurately appraises teachers' effectiveness in promoting student achievement. Such a system would require trained evaluators accountable for utilizing the system fairly, integration into functions such as teacher assignment and compensation, and dismissal policies for ineffective teachers.
"Enacting these common-sense recommendations will require uprooting decades of ingrained complacency about teacher performance," said New Teacher Project vice president of policy Daniel Weisberg, who co-authored the report. "But we can't afford to wait. When an excellent teacher leaves, an entire school suffers. When a poor performer remains year after year, whole classrooms of children fall behind, sometimes forever. This is happening every day, in thousands of schools around the country. We have to stop treating teachers like widgets."