Teacher Evaluations Should Be About Continuous Improvement
And Should Be Designed and Implemented at the Local Level
WASHINGTON—Reauthorizing a piece of legislation as far reaching and important as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is never a simple task. We commend Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.) for the care and thoughtfulness with which they are approaching this task. While we believe further improvements can and should be made in the draft—particularly in the area of turning around low-performing schools and ensuring that 360-degree accountability applies to all schools—we are pleased to see that significant changes already have been made in a substitute proposal concerning teacher evaluation.
The AFT has been resolute on the need to revamp teacher evaluations, laying out our proposals in a January 2010 speech. As we said then, when done correctly, teacher evaluations should be essential tools for continuous improvement in teaching and learning. When done incorrectly, however, they serve only as sorting mechanisms to get rid of teachers without even legitimately discerning who is or is not a good teacher. We are pleased that Sens. Harkin and Enzi revised their ESEA reauthorization proposal after listening to the concerns of teachers and others who believe that teacher evaluation systems should be designed on the local level, with teachers working with district officials to get it right.
Comprehensive teacher evaluations are a critical part of helping to ensure all our kids succeed. They are best developed and designed locally with teachers’ input, not federally. Sadly, as we can see from what is happening in Tennessee—one of the first recipients of the Race to the Top grants—a rush to impose an evaluation system does not yield true, sustainable reform. A better course is to focus on doing it right, not simply doing it.