How Professional Teachers Should Be Evaluated

On twitter some friendly folks (including Michael Josefowicz and Tobey Steeves) asked my opinion about how teachers might be evaluated in a practical sense. Good teachers should be rewarded and bad teachers should be fired, so what is the best method for doing this?

Obviously union politics and “tenure” (also called “due process”) should play no role. Schools should exist to promote an educated workforce, not provide jobs to a political rentier class.

That said, teachers are not now fungible commodities. There is no idiot-proof script a teacher can perform to create success in young people.

My approach would be to work backwards from how we view success, so we can at least begin the discussion. Some positive outcomes that we might associate with teachers are

  1. Near term: Improved grades on standardized tests
  2. Medium term: Measurable impact on early career success
  3. Long term: Creation on non-obvious chains of success

These levels would naturally correspond to junior, mid-level, and senior levels. They also assume that teachers should be viewed as professionals. Some more thoughts of how these levels could be measured are below:

  • Near-term goals, especially important for junior professional teachers, would rely on the ability to create a measurable “value-add” to test scores, whether these are state-specific, or associated with AP, CLEP, ACT, or SAT scores. A good teacher would be able to raise these scores more than a bad teacher. It would be reasonable to base pay on the ability to improve these scores, corrected for other factors. Naturally, administrators should also have their pay partially determined by these measures, and should be empowered to hire or fire teachers at will.
  • Medium-term goals could only be evaluated for teachers with some number of years of work experience. This would expand the time-frame of assessment beyond just test scores, into measures of career success. For teachers at this level, some part of their pay should be determined by their “value-add,” measured in terms of degrees, jobs, income, and other measures of success, corrected for other factors. Teachers who inspire students, not in some vague feel-good sense but in a measurable sense, to be more productive citizens should be rewarded for their efforts.
  • Long-term goals, appropriate for senior-level teachers, would involve the creation of non-obvious chains of success. This is the only level that I would be comfortable with non-objective, or “political,” measures of success. What chains of loyalty has a teacher inspired? How has this teacher improved the lives of students he or she has never met?

These methods for evaluations are appropriate for a professional labor force. To make it work teachers would have to be paid as professionals. It would also mean that H1Bs be made available for the teaching profession, so that Chinese, Indians, Russians, and other high-motivation individuals around the world can compete in the marketplace.

(On the other hand, if we as a society are unwilling to put forward the resources to make this happen, and teacher unions continue in their short-sighted effort to avoid and form of evaluations, then we can simply replace teachers with cheaper drones, give them scripts, and make them teach to the test, and evaluate them entirely on test scores.)