3 Tentative Truths about Teacher/principal Evaluation

Things are getting pretty emotional as Minnesota legislators (and those in other states) talk about whether, how often and how to evaluate teachers and principals.   For some, this is “teacher bashing.”  For others, it is critical.  Here’s how I see it, after 40 years in public education as a public school teacher, administrator, parent, PTA president, researcher and advocate.

  1. Everyone should be evaluated periodically.  Every effective organization does regular evaluation of its employees.  People need and deserve feedback on what they have done.  They need to know, from the viewpoint of their supervisor, and possibly from co-workers, what they are doing well, and what needs improvement.  Feedback to employees should be a priority in any organization.  People improve in part, because they are praised for their successes.  People also either improve, or the organization and sometimes people themselves gradually conclude that they are not the right person for the job, based on what the individual is not doing well.
  2. Effective evaluation is not easy, so sometimes it is not done, or not done well. Educators generally want to be kind and nice with each other.  Many teachers and principals tell me that they have not received any formal evaluation for years.  Teachers are speaking accurately when they say school districts often have procedures to evaluate, teachers but that they are not carried out.   As Don Hill, the former president of the Minnesota Education Association recently wrote in a letter, “All teachers in public schools are evaluated regularly, or the school system is not doing its job.  All schools have procedures to hire, fire, promote, demote, put on leave and discipline their employees.” Evaluating principals is part of the job of more senior administrators.  But again, it often is not done.
  3. Because it’s hard, important and often not done, we need a law requiring regular evaluation of teachers and principals, and incentives for school districts to do this.   Schools generally are very busy places.  Principals are very busy, if they are doing their job well.  Without a strong push to evaluate teachers, many principals don’t do it.  That’s in part because they themselves often are not evaluated.  Requiring that educators do something does not mean it will be done everywhere.  But requiring regular evaluation will produce more assessment for teacher and principals, in more schools and districts.   That can be a good thing for students.

Having a law doesn’t mean everyone follows it.  Think for example about speed limits.  Some people ignore them.  However, what would happen if we did not have speed limits?  That would be pretty chaotic.

So the next question is “how are teachers and principals evaluated?”  That’s a large, critical question.  “How” will be the subject of an upcoming column.  But I want to be clear about this: Requiring regular evaluation of educators is not a bad thing.  It’s a recognition that everyone gains from being told what she or he is doing well, and what needs improvement.