Can we grade the teachers?

The Los Angeles Times has announced it will publish a data base to measure the effectiveness of each individual teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the nation.

The newspaper obtained seven years’ of math and English test scores, and applied a statistical method called value-added analysis.  This measured the improvement in students’ performance in each school year from the previous year.  As the LA Times said, this controls for poverty, race, English proficiency and other factors blamed for poor school performance.

This is what the reporters concluded:

  • Highly effective teachers routinely propel students from below grade level to advanced in a single year.  There is a substantial gap at year’s end between students whose teachers were in the top 10% in effectiveness and the bottom 10%.  The fortunate students ranked 17 percentile points higher in English and 25 points higher in math.
  • Some students landed in the classrooms of the poorest-performing instructors year after year — a potentially devastating setback that the district could have avoided.  Over the period analyzed, more than 8,000 students got such a math or English teacher at least twice in a row.
  • Contrary to popular belief, the best teachers were not concentrated in schools in the most affluent neighborhoods, nor were the weakest instructors bunched in poor areas.  Rather, these teachers were scattered throughout the district.  The quality of instruction typically varied far more within a school than between schools.
  • Although many parents fixate on picking the right school for their child, it matters far more which teacher the child gets.  Teachers had three times as much influence on students’ academic development as the school they attend.  Yet parents have no access to objective information about individual instructors, and they often have little say in which teacher their child gets.
  • Many of the factors commonly assumed to be important to teachers’ effectiveness were not. Although teachers are paid more for experience, education and training, none of this had much bearing on whether they improved their students’ performance.

It would be a mistake to use these tests as a basis to reward and punish.  Instead, every elementary teacher in the Los Angeles area should be given a day off during the school year to observe a high-performance teacher.  Then at the end of the year, teachers should go on a retreat to talk about what they’ve learned.

The way you improve in industry is to learn the best practices, adopt them and figure out how to improve upon them.  But in the public school system, there is no systematic way that you learn the best practices.  Each teacher operates in isolation.

Michael O’Hare, professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, put the case this way:

What the LA performance data does is highlight a batch of teachers at the top of the data whose classrooms need to be visited by their peers, perhaps by videotape, and discussed. The point is not that everyone should be completely focused on increasing these test scores, but that a successful record at that measurable result is a good (not perfect) indicator of teaching practices that, if observed and discussed, will lead to better outcomes for students on a variety of dimensions. …

Teachers never see each other work, almost never get to talk to each other about individual students, and have practically no opportunity for the core practice of quality assurance, which is observing and then discussing a particular practice, comparing alternatives, in a group of peers. …

via The Reality-Based Community.

A.J. Duffy, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, objected to the survey.  I think he is wrong, but I agree there is a danger the numbers be misused. The more test scores are used as a basis to reward and punish, the greater the temptation to manipulate the results.  I’m reminded of one of the favorite sayings of W. Edwards Deming, the father of Total Quality Management – that if you give a manager a numerical target, he’ll make it, even if he has to destroy the company in the process.

There also is a danger of taking one measurement and assuming it is the only thing that matters.  School performance is affected by many things, including the backgrounds of the students, by how many days a year the schools are open, by the textbooks and facilities and by whether having a diploma will in reality make a difference in getting a job.

Deming was a statistician, and he was aware of how statistics can be abused.  One is judging people by how they rank (1st, 2nd, 3rd … last) rather than by their distance from the goal or from the average.  The performance of most people in most things is very similar, Deming said.  When someone’s performance is so outstanding that they are off the charts, they should be put to work instructing others.

My mother was a public school teacher in the primary grades for more than 40 years.  The affection and respect of her former students show she was an excellent teacher.  She developed her own teaching methods, which were private to her. When a supervisor came to observe her work, she would switch to whatever instructional method was in favor that year.  What a legacy she could have left if there had been a means by which she could have shared her experience and knowledge with others!

Click on Who’s teaching L.A.’s kids? for the full Los Angeles Times article.

Click on Teacher performance data and its discontents for Michael O’Hare’s full comment.

Click on Dukenfield’s Law of Incentive Management for the pitfalls of linking financial incentives to test results.

[P.S. 12/31/10]  Michael O’Hare in a later comment specifically related teacher evaluation to the Deming philosophy.

Deming – brilliant, tough-minded, and humane –  demonstrated that if you reward individual workers for performance, you are going to be rewarding random variation a lot of the time, with poisonous effects.  Right away, when the top salesman among twenty gets a trip to Hawaii with his wife, the response of the other nineteen is not to emulate him (and how could they, if they don’t see what he does, which is the case for teachers in spades), but to be pissed off and jealous, which is, like, really great for collaborative enterprise.  Next year, regression toward the mean sets in and he is only number five, or ten, so he looks like a slacker, coasting on his laurels. Even his wife starts giving him the fish eye; don’t be surprised if his lunch martini count starts to go up.

It is a universal, desperate, desire of lazy or badly trained managers to find a mechanistic device you can wind up like a clockwork, loose upon the organization, and go play golf.  Like testing and firing to get people to do good work.  Please, Lord, show me the way to manage without any actual heavy lifting!  But many desires, no matter how desperately we cleave to them, are not fated to be fulfilled, and this is one.  Teaching, like any complex production process, will get better when teachers watch each other work and talk about what they are doing, why, and how it works; what to watch is usefully indicated by statistical QA methods.  Period.

via The Reality-Based Community.

[P.S. 3/10/11]  However, I do agree with this observation by Conor Friedersdorf on the American Scene web log, and I think W. Edwards Deming would, too.

Is it difficult to develop a precise metric for ranking every teacher in a school from highest performing to lowest performing in order to divide up compensation by merit? Yes, very tough indeed. In extreme circumstances, however, it is very easy to evaluate teacher performance. Say that there’s a student at your school who attempts suicide, and on his first day back, one of his teachers tells him, “Carve deeper next time – you can’t even kill yourself.” Or imagine another teacher who is caught keeping a stash of marijuana, pornography, and vials with cocaine residue on school grounds. Ponder a case where a male middle school teacher is observed lying on top of a female student in shop class. Or a special education teacher who fails to report child abuse, yells insults at children, and inadequately supervises her class. These aren’t hyperbolic examples crafted to make a theoretical point that has little bearing on the real world. These are actual examples of misbehavior by Los Angeles Unified School District teachers who weren’t fired!

via The American Scene.

In a large group, there may be a couple of outstanding performers who are in a different category from all the rest, and there may be a couple who are grossly incompetent or worse.  But it is always obvious who they are.  You don’t need a complicated evaluation process to identify them.

[P.S. 5/7/11]  Click on The Testing Machine for an article by Barbara Renaud Gonzales in The Texas Observer about how high-stakes testing works at one Texas middle school.  (Hat tip to Steve B sending me the article).

The school is testing for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) benchmarks before the real TAKS test, which determines which students progress to the next grade.  The tests, administered by the Texas Education Agency, also determine how the school is rated academically. Benchmark testing is supposed to help schools project how students will perform on the actual TAKS. If too many students fail in the spring, the principal’s job, along with everyone else’s in the administration, is at stake. The school I’m visiting is considered at-risk for being labeled “low performing.”

The school district, out of desperation, has contracted with a prestigious university, my employer, to help the teachers in math, reading and science.  I’m here to gather data about attendance, behavior and grades—key to researching how to reduce dropouts.

At my university, researchers have spent almost 15 years examining the complexities of student success in at-risk schools.  We have found that standardized tests like the TAKS are not predictors for high school graduation. Students flunk the TAKS for reasons other than academic skills.  Some have oh-my-God! panic attacks.  Some, like the dyslexic Albert Einstein, can’t perform well on tests.  Many progressive educators believe that standardized tests should enhance the curriculum, not punish students by failing them. … …

Because of my job, I get to observe the different seventh-grade classes.  There are more than 30 students in most of the math and science classes, and the teachers try hard to ignore whispering, jostling and paper-shuffling.  One-third of the class seems to be at risk of failing because of emotional and academic problems.  Some are special education students who have been mainstreamed.  Some are wannabe gang members.  Some are just bored.  The teachers must get through their lessons in 45 minutes and don’t seem to breathe the whole time.   They are absorbed in their LCD boards, their colorful markers, swooping through the fractions and formulas once and again.  They give tips and shortcuts for solving the math problems likely to come up on the TAKS.  Pay attention!  The front of the class is quiet, but the back third is buzzing at the end of the day.  My university’s master teachers are helping teachers keep students engaged with the coursework.  Play games, they tell the teachers.  Give real-life problems.  But the TAKS seems to be the dark cloud in their classroom.

The math teachers call the last period of the day “the class from hell.”

At the end of the third six-week period, in early January, I tell my university that it doesn’t seem right to me that the grade reports show only six seventh-graders out of 350—the target group we’re following—are failing math.  I’ve been in those classrooms, observed how one-third aren’t paying attention.  How can this be?  I’m a product of working-class public schools and know how easy it is to fall behind in math. … …

At the end of the school year, seven of 357 seventh-graders have failed math, according to the official roster.  Six have failed English and reading.  The school meets the TAKS standards and receives a “recognized” rating.  With the help of master teachers, after-school and Saturday morning tutorials, 70 percent of the students have met the standard in math.  But do they know how to solve a problem that’s not on the TAKS?

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84 Responses to “Can we grade the teachers?”

  1. CrystalSpins Says:

    I really think that teaching — and I mean being a great teacher — is something that you just have. A talent, rather than a skill that can be developed. Skills can, of course, be developed, but with out the initial talent I don’t know if a teacher can be great. Like being a great designer or a great artist. You can learn to paint — but that doesn’t make you a great artist.



  2. LaboriousLiving Says:

    I see what you are saying Crystal, but I don’t think it’s talent that makes them great. It’s passion. Passion can read as talent in a job like teaching. You need the skills and the passion. And if you have that, you should be paid what you are worth.


  3. dmarshall58 Says:

    As a teacher, I recognize the need to assess teachers’ effectiveness and study good teachers, but I share some squeamishness about statistics. Rewards and punishment are part of the trouble–someone will always want to use numbers that way–but the real issue is the vision of teaching implied by identifying some teachers as good and others as bad.

    Learning never rests entirely on the effectiveness of the teacher. Parents make a huge difference as do students themselves. Nearly 30 years of teaching tell me the biggest factor in learning is how receptive a student is. I recognize I have a great deal to do with students’ desire to learn and appreciation of education and do everything I can to create excitement in my classroom), I won’t get far without parents’ and students’ cooperation and support. A little goodwill and encouragement goes a long way. Why aren’t we studying how to make parents and students better?


    • badkidsgoodgrammar Says:

      Great idea 🙂 I’d love to see how parents stack up!!


    • poetichaos Says:

      I agree, dmarshall! I am also a teacher — 11th grade English — and believe ALL stakeholders should be EQUALLY responsible. Any way you cut it, these “tests” to “measure” efficacy will be flawed in some way, though — there are too many variables, and conveying “success” via statistics is just too risky — and sometimes, downright inaccurate!

      As a side note, what do you do to gain administrative support when you encounter a parent who is out of line? There is bound to be at least one “crazy one” every year!


  4. James Says:

    teaching is hard. you cant really learn it, its a gift. you can learn teaching techniques, but as stated above, never really be a teacher …


    • jackie Says:

      And you can be a good teacher by learning the techniques. That’s why I love my job


      • ann Says:

        Learning technique is a part of it—the mechanics, but pedagogy is confining as well as defining. Colleges do not allow for permission to be creative and innovative–that comes from within each teacher…giving themselves permission to be who they really are doing what they really love to do–making a difference in the lives of (an)others and allowing them permission to likewise find their creative voice(s). I do not believe the field of education coddles those talents, especially for the students who struggle…that is why I have given myself permission to be my most creative self around the technique and teach them in the way they learn best.


  5. WorstProfEver Says:

    A sincere thanks for letting your mother’s experience inform your judgment — most people don’t seem to understand that if you haven’t stood up there and tried to teach, you should should think very hard before having opinions about how to do it well. I agree that tests absolutely shouldn’t be used in this way, and best practices is a nice alternative.

    The other problem with teaching to the test is that tests are only ever going to give you the most superficial assessment of what someone knows. Human evaluation is always going to be a better tool of student progress, it’s just not “cost-effective” and frankly I think it would result in more, not less, students being held back if we started looking at holistic learning.


  6. WorstProfEver Says:

    And a quick agreement/rebuttal:

    Totally agree that if students aren’t interested you can’t make them want to learn.

    Disagree that teaching can’t be taught — this teaching as “vocation” stuff is really pernicious in that it allows for low pay and low performance. There’s individual variation in what makes a good teacher, but a lot of it is just learning some basic performance and communication skills.


  7. The Ignorant Bystander Says:

    I agree with crytalspins and the other posts on here. I think for the most part, teaching is a skill you are born with. No matter how hard you might try, you also cannot force a lazy and indifferent teacher to give a damn. I do, however, agree that probably the most effective way to improve the overall quality of education may be the sharing of techniques and methods used by successful teachers to those who may be struggling. LL, I think that passion and talent are usually intertwined. You are born with both and it is usually indistinguishable which came first or which led to the other.


  8. Fred Says:

    Why can’t we grade the parents? Nobody says that.
    Why can’t teachers have a say as to which parents they deal with (since people want to have a say as to which teacher they deal with).

    I also have found that most people who label teachers as “lazy and indifferent” have never stepped foot in a clasroom in their lives.
    I would like to see these people teach a class for one week and hear their updated view on things.


  9. mrsc1963 Says:

    I would never want the responsibility of being a teacher, especially when they aren’t even allowed to reprimand students who act up. However, I’ve also seen teachers that weren’t worth a dime…. and parents who were worth even less than that.


    • ann Says:

      yep–some people are not capable–and so what do you do with that? Educate them to the extent that they will allow it–by letting them know that you believe they are capable -to the best of their ability-teaching them step by step how to be capable.
      It may sound trite, however I believe when people know better, they will be more likely to do better. What is there to lose in the effort?


  10. Charles Gulotta Says:

    Teaching is like any other profession: it has its share of brilliant practitioners, as well as its share of people who should have gone into some other field; most teachers, I suspect, are somewhere in between. It took me a while to understand this idea. I’d always assumed most teachers were geniuses who knew how to help students learn. The problem is that the profession doesn’t attract — and keep — the best teachers. School systems everywhere lose smart, gifted, dedicated instructors who just refuse to put up with the dangers, bureaucracy, and lack of respect that goes with the job. They’re often replaced by mediocre teachers who are then largely responsible for the education of the next generation of teachers. And so it all continues to spiral downward. For something so important, it’s alarming how hit-or-miss we are in our approach.


    • Miss H Says:

      Very well said. I left after 1+ years. Was I a good teacher? I think so. I taught at a large, challenging inner city HS — we had the record for most student-set arson fires citywide! I liked my students, but the job was impossible. I felt there was no support from the administration, had to spend about $1000 of my own money for supplies in a year, had 49 students in one class on the first day, taught 80-minute periods and had students come and go constantly (some from juvenile detention or removed from other schools for violence). Still I actually TAUGHT every day and was told that my test scores were some of the highest in the school that year. I saw students that I wanted to get rid of during the first week of school thrive in my classroom while failing in other classes. It’s the hardest job I ever had and burn-out is high among the best and brightest so the mediocre teachers do remain to the detriment of the whole system. I don’t know what the solutions are, but they aren’t simple…


  11. theprofeswife Says:

    “He uses statistics as a drunken man uses lamp posts, for support rather than illumination.”

    Quantitative data never paints a complete picture – if we are going to assess teachers, we must engage qualitative measures as well.

    And then there is the issue of what to do once we recognize the variations of achievement across the ranks of our teachers. My guess is that most of those who excell in the classroom will not want to take time away from students to train their peers. Teachers already participate in professional development – but every year the focus is on a new bandaid solution. We seem not to recognize that the decay of our educational system did not happen over night, and the repair will take consistency and time. Finally, how do we motivate the “lazy and indifferent” teachers (and, speaking as a former teacher, there are plenty to go around!)?

    I truly believe that until teaching is defined within our society as a valued and prestigious profession, we will continue to see intense differences in ability and accomplishment.


    • ...Something To Learn... Says:

      I so agree with you – quantitative evaluation only gives us one side of the picture. Qualitative analysis will give us a more comprehensive view of the situation.

      Perhaps in order to value teaching as a prestigious profession we must first begin by valuing the education of our children and understanding the importance of the quality education needed in the early and middle years. Parental support of education and educators is also needed – those that support teachers through encouraging their child’s participation in education, exploration of reading for leisure, and positive support of student achievement at all levels.


    • ann Says:

      “…until teaching is defined within our society as a valued and prestigious profession, we will continue to see intense differences in ability and accomplishment.”
      Who do you propose should do the defining?


  12. johndyn Says:

    it’s good at least not only the students is are now graded but also the teachers it gives them full attention and to be aware that anymovement they done are counted now it’s reelly gonna be a good company to each teacher to be aware


  13. Greg Camp Says:

    For the last twelve years, I have taught high school and community college classes, and it’s my observation that the student bears one half of the responsibility for the success of education.

    I teach English–writing and literature. My students often tell me that they have never read a book. Not that they don’t read often; they simply don’t read. Such students are far beneath the level that they need to reach to produce good work. They know nothing about how to write, understand nothing about the context of events, and have little of what is called common knowledge. I do as much as I can with them, but they have limited themselves.

    What is the solution to this? We have two choices:

    1. Change the culture to value academics. As long as basketball players and rap stars are the focus and writers and scientists are largely ignored, the majority of children will care nothing for intellectual attainment.

    2. Recognize that only a small portion of the population is suited for academic work. We need to give up the notion that everyone must go to college. Most jobs require some technical skill, so we ought to return to putting most students into the vocational track in high school and sorting out the intellectual students for going on to college.

    Perhaps there are other possibilities, but I don’t see how the first one that I named can be created by the government or schools. It’s the hopeful choice, although it’s likely just dreaming. The second choice makes sense and is the one that human societies have taken through most of our history.


    • badkidsgoodgrammar Says:

      A harsh reality, but very true. Some students are just not capable, for a HUGE variety of reasons, to learn and work in a regular classroom. I think there needs to be more alternative education, and more value placed on all tracks of life, not just higher education. When boards take away our ability to teach common sense and responsibility (ie: that an assignment has a due date) they take away our ability to instill real life skills in our students.


  14. fitinstandout Says:

    This is such a subjective topic! I’ve have been with and seen teachers that are outstanding in what they do, yet the students do not necessarily test well. Add to the mix children that arrive to school late, do not eat breakfast, and experience a stressful home life and non supportive parents. It is not all about the teacher. There are so many other variables that affect student performance. I have experienced success in teaching when all those variables are positive and offer support to the child. I don’t believe in evaluating teachers based on test scores. Are dentists evaluated by how many cavities their patients have? No, because it depends on the patient and how well he/she follows the dentist’s advice. Let’s keep the human aspect of teaching and not subject teachers to “threats” if their students do not score well. It’s extremely unfair.


  15. notesfromrumbleycottage Says:

    As much as I agree with Greg that not all students are going to college, I also believe that as much as possible we need to weed out bad teachers. My kids have had a few and they destroy that love of learning like nothing else. My oldest was lucky to have a teacher the following year who gave it back but it was rough for a while. I wish there was an easy answer to this, some easy test or way to give an opinion knowing there will not be reprucussion.


    • badkidsgoodgrammar Says:

      Nothing makes me more angry than teachers who are just sticking around to finish up their required time to collect a pension. I’ve been bumped from school to school in the name of seniority (which I agree with, to an extent) while horrible, boring, uninspiring teachers are left to take up valuable oxygen in the halls of academia, sucking the life and love of learning out of the students who pass through their doors.


  16. Genie Says:

    There are many great teachers teaching today, but we cannot dispute that there are some teachers who should not be in any classroom whatsoever. Teachers are placed in classrooms based on qualifications – and that’s important – but I believe that, in addition to qualifications, they should be in the classrooms teaching because they love to teach. Teachers should only be in the classroom because they want to be there and not because they have to be there. Many people sign up for teaching in order to make ends meet; they take time out to get the theory (qualification) but when it’s time for the practical, teaching is not in them.

    In today’s economical uncertainty, many people find themselves taking on jobs and roles that they would not normally have taken on if there wasn’t a crisis, and they could choose what they like to do. Also, the teaching profession is not being paid as well as it should be and some good teachers are forced to leave the profession – even though they like teaching – they have to choose between surviving and teaching.

    According to the article, “Highly effective teachers routinely propel students from below grade level to advanced in a single year.” This is a no-brainer, and one that I can relate to. For two years my son “landed in classrooms of the poorest performing instructors” and I decided that there would never be a third year of that. I did some research at his school and decided that he will have the teacher he deserves. (It was not easy, but I was determined) He got the teacher I chose, and has excelled within one year. My son has exceeded his expectations at his grade level within a year, and all because of this teacher’s passion and love for teaching. He has allowed so many students to excel in their studies, and this has given him the advancement of moving up to higher grades – which he truly deserves.

    There is no ‘one solution’ to this problem, but a combination of what is mentioned in this article and the responses given here are worth giving consideration. Teachers need to network; share their experiences and learn from each other. I believe that they will be able to implement different techniques and methods within their teaching styles, which will subsequently enhance their effectiveness in the classrooms. Also, the teachers who have the lowest grade students at the end of each marking period, should be evaluated and released if necessary.

    In closing, I must say that teaching is not an easy profession and teachers should be given the respect, tools and resources they need to carry out their duty and also function as a person. They are human first and teachers second.


    • ann Says:

      …dump tenure?


      • thefrenchchick Says:

        Absolutely! Tenure is the dumbest idea of all in education. All it does is stick schools with mediocre teachers. I do not believe that teachers should keep teaching if they are not passionate about passing on knowledge to their students. Those individuals only hold students back from realizing their full potential.

        When I was a student in high school, I had a math teacher who was one of those. He did not care if we learned the subject or not. He did however have several favorite students. Those individuals could ask questions and actually get answers. The rest of us he wrote off completely. Luckily one of those students took me under his wing and got me the answers I needed so that my grade in that class went from an F to a B. Yes, really! Amazing what getting your questions answered can do for a kid isn’t it!

        Yes, parents need to motivate their kids to learn. Mine did. And students need to motivate themselves to learn. I still enjoy attending training and I search for fun ways to help my kids learn as well. I also think that if teachers no longer have that spark, we should try to find a way to help them get it back before just chucking them out the door. However, I also believe that “the door” needs to be an option so that no student has to go through what I did with that unmotivating teacher.


      • Greg Camp Says:

        Well, tenure does have its place. It exists to protect minority opinions and those who hold them from being supressed by the majority.


  17. Natassia Says:

    Your idea relies on the assumption that good teachers only care about being good teachers and have no desire to be financially compensated for their hard work and ingenuity.

    Really, where’s the incentive to be a really great teacher (other than the personal motivation based on ones belief system) when you will earn the same pay as the crappy teacher and will be doing all the hard work (creating lesson plans that work) only to be handing it over, for free, to a crappy teacher who gets to sit in the classroom and take notes?


  18. raisingable Says:

    As someone who attended an under-performing high school with a poor and minority demographic, we had many excellent teachers, and many not-so-excellent.

    Grading teachers is a slippery delicate imperfect undertaking.
    However, we must come up with a way to weed out the under-performing teachers – who waste our children’s time and our resources.

    Try it. See what happens. There is no perfect system to evaluate teachers.


  19. raisingable Says:

    As someone who attended an under-performing high school with a poor and minority demographic, we had many excellent teachers, and many not-so-excellent.

    Grading teachers is a slippery delicate imperfect undertaking.
    However, we must come up with a way to weed out the under-performing teachers – who waste our children’s time and our resources.

    Try it. See what happens. There is no perfect system to evaluate teachers.


  20. deldobuss Says:

    Are children really learning or are their tests scores simply improving? It is dangerous to grade teachers’ effectiveness by their statistical outcome rather than their ability to help children think critically and gain skills.

    Great post!


  21. Irene Says:

    First I just want to say I’m surprised we’re not calling them “educators”. I had a friend who got very indignant when she was called a “teacher”. “I’m an educator.” she proclaimed at a picnic once. I’m not friends with her anymore.

    There are good and bad teachers out there. I’ve been through two school systems with my kids. And both were about the same. There were teachers my kids did fantastic with, others not so much. Each child has a different way of learning. Each teacher has a different teaching style. During the year, some of those kids will be productive because they adhered to that particular teacher’s style of teaching, others won’t.

    Plus we have to look at the state requirements that are put on teachers. Some of them are just ridiculous, but have to be taught. That has an influence on the teaching style and attitude as well.

    Also, I’ve noticed, if a teacher is having personal issues, it reflects on her teaching habits as well.

    There are alot of factors to look at when “grading” a teacher. Numbers aren’t always good indicators.


    • 2writers4cats1baby Says:

      The truly good teachers adapt teaching style to the students’ learning styles. Having one “style” that you deliver to each and every student that comes through the door does not make you a teacher, in my opinion. Getting to know each student and adjusting your teaching to the student will help him/her learn. The student should not have to adjust learning style — after all, who is the kid here?
      Of course, with more and more students being packed into the classrooms, it’s getting harder for even the excellent teachers to get to know every student that well. You need a knack for sizing people up and knowing how to get through to them. And that can’t really be measured by any test in teachers’ college, unfortunately.


  22. bradenbost Says:

    There are so many valid points on both sides of this debate . . . but I cannot side with anyone that says evaluation is not okay. I can agree that test scores are not the best scale, but the impact of a bad teacher vs. a good teacher is massive. I’ve recently come to understand it.

    “Some students landed in the classrooms of the poorest-performing instructors year after year — a potentially devastating setback that the district could have avoided.” And it should be. Looking back on grade/primary school days, I can confidently say that I had two teachers from first to sixth grades that worked at connecting with me and challenging me, and both times it worked. The other four treated me and many of my peers like a burden, instilling in us a distaste for hard work, learning, and acedemia, and reinforcing our desire to run to simpler things like TV and video games.

    I can somewhat respect when someone uses the defense, “Don’t knock teachers for how they do what they do until you’ve tought yourself,” but be careful that you’re not using that as a justification for poor performance and ineffectiveness.


  23. marjoriekayenbl Says:

    I totally agree. Many ineffective teachers work very hard to help their students progress and are hampered by the isolation and the lack of adequate training–mostly in management.The only time one gets feedback is during an evaluation, usually by someone who hasn’t taught for years and often in an entirely different setting. Being able to observe a teacher who successfully helps her students move forward and to discuss what specific practices were effective and why would be very helpful. Seeing it, you could model it. So many think “real teachers” are dedicated and unsuccessful teachers are uncaring. A few may be, but only a few. The rest work hard and are disheartened by the incredible disrespect of those who have no idea how complex teaching is. Peer support coupled with best practice instruction would do wonders.


  24. thelifeofjamie Says:

    I was nervous when I started reading this posting. You have an excellent idea though. As a teacher for the past 8 years, I have learned the most not sitting in a PD, but watching and observing. We teachers are known thieves and steal the best of ideas. It is scary to think that we could be graded on things that are out of our control. I worked in LAUSD and the three years I worked there, I have multiple students who didn’t speak any english and in Kindergarten had more education than their parents. Additionally, education is a joint effort and cannot be done in the 6 hours that the students are in school. Great post!


  25. afriworld Says:

    Teachers are rated by students, good idea. That will give the teacher the opportunity to improve. Teachers rated by their peers, another good idea, because they can get their colleagues to make suggestions. Obviosly admin would want to see if things are up-to-scratch in the classroom, also nothing wrong with that. The problem comes in when those ratings become a whip to beat the teacher with. When parents see stats published, and they do not like those stats, the teacher’s head will be on the chopping block. It all sounds like a witch hunt instead of a tool to improve teacher performance. I suggest that cities use that money that would have used to pay a person to collect the stats, another to decode the stats, and another to take the stats to the newspaper, rather use that money to implement good professional development programs that will benefit teachers.


  26. Evie Garone Says:

    Teachers rated by students is an INTERESTING concept. No more favoritism. Teachers working hard to be nice and motivate students, I like! No more cronism.


  27. Naomi Says:

    I think rating teachers has some merit, but if you are a teacher stuck with non-English speakers, your class level is probably going to focus on those students more than the talented ones. The talented ones are expected to teach themselves. In classes with disruptive students, they are the ones who get the attention, and, again, all the others suffer for it.

    Rating teachers by students may prove to be a way of bullying to occur by students against a teacher they don’t like – just like people who make up false rape and abuse charges. I think it is subjective, and teenagers are anything but objective.

    Test scores are objective. However, to only use test scores undermines the art of teaching, and teaching to the individual. Individuals also need to take responsibility for their learning; parents and family need to understand this, and not blame the teacher because Johnny is out of control in the classroom.

    Thankfully, I do not teach in LAUSD.


  28. MrsOdie2 Says:

    I think teaching is a skill that can be learned and taught. So much of teaching is management and many teachers are bad at that. I’ve taught for 11 years and I’m going back this week after a year of childcare leave and management is what makes me nervous.

    I learned from a few great workshop leaders AND from discussing best practices with colleagues. I despise the notion that we be measured by how kids do on ONE test given ONCE a year. I would never measure my students that way.


  29. sayitinasong Says:

    I am not a teacher but I work in a school and I see what a difficult job that is…I have nothing but respect for teachers and everuthing that they have to balance in their jobs.


  30. Can we grade the teachers? (via Phil Ebersole’s Blog) « Space Bound Says:

    […] Can we grade the teachers? (via Phil Ebersole’s Blog) Posted on August 24, 2010 by floggit The Los Angeles Times has announced it will publish a data base to measure the effectiveness of each individual teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the nation. The newspaper obtained seven years' of math and English test scores, and applied a statistical method called value-added analysis.  This measured the improvement in stud … Read More […]


  31. Frank Lee MeiDere Says:

    I teach College English at a large city college in Toronto (Canada). It’s not the same as teaching on the elementary level, I admit, but many of the issues are connected. Perhaps more importantly, however, I have also sat through over 100 courses, many of them more than once — and by that I mean attending from the first class to the last (except for tests). The courses have ranged from Java script programming to construction management, architecture, web design, gemmology, dental assistance, IT management, and a whole host of others.

    On a very conservative estimate, I have spent over 400 hours in the classroom watching teachers teach (most of whom didn’t know I was actually a colleague — it’s a large college).

    From this I have seen a number of professors and instructors who manage to motivate their students, regardless of background. There are also a number who barely go through the motions. By far the majority, however, struggle to meet almost impossible demands, not the least of which is a student body which, after completing the entire public education curriculum, is functionally illiterate and completely uninterested in learning.

    The problem, from where I’ve been sitting, is the education system itself. It has become so self-absorbed with its meaningless language and esoteric “philosophy” that it no longer even comes close to providing an education for its students, nor a guide for its teachers.

    Those teachers who do succeed tend to do the same as your mother: they hide what they do in the classroom from their colleagues. It’s certainly what I do.

    My classes are well-attended, with students switching sections to attend, and refusing exemptions that would get them out of it. Some who have exemptions still come. So I know I’m doing something right. But tentative forays into explaining any of my “techniques” to colleagues have quickly taught me to keep my mouth shut because they don’t match the accepted wisdom of the system.

    I don’t normally promote my own posts on another person’s blog, but I wrote a four-piece chronicle of a recent experience that, I think, speaks volumes about the inherent problems we face. It starts with “Fear & Loathing in the College Boardroom: The Invitation” and continues from there.

    Rating teachers may not be a bad idea — although it is certainly susceptible to the disadvantages already mentioned here. But until the system itself is overhauled, I think rating the teachers could be put on hold.

    Thank you for an excellent post on a very important subject.


  32. jackie Says:

    I am a English teacher in Indonesia. My country has different system from many of yours. In my country, it doesn’t matter if the students rate the teacher good or bad. The teacher will still be their teacher whether they like it or not. They do not have the rights to choose which teacher they want to teach a certain class. The school, if it is a public school, does not have any power to fire a teacher because it is only done by the country. It is sad but that is true in most cases.


  33. Can we grade the teachers? (via Phil Ebersole’s Blog) « I Solve Everything I Want To Says:

    […] The Los Angeles Times has announced it will publish a data base to measure the effectiveness of each individual teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest in the nation. The newspaper obtained seven years' of math and English test scores, and applied a statistical method called value-added analysis.  This measured the improvement in stud … Read More […]


  34. lifexam Says:

    Ok, good post. This was interesting and informative. Thank you for mentioning Deming, I haven’t thought about him for a while, and need to. But you know what gets me to comment is the glaring inconsistency I see between talking about statistics and critical thinking and then moving right into a typical emotional appeal which doesn’t seem compatible with critical reflection. I’m talking about your line to the effect that, “The affection and respect of her former students show she was an excellent teacher.”

    Now, I ask you, is that really likely to be a good measure? The first thing anyone who knows anything about statistics should ask is whether there might not be a selection bias at work. Its a matter of counting the hits and forgetting the misses. To say nothing of how subjective feelings of affection or gratitude relate to skills and information retained. Similar arguments can be advanced in favor of corporal punishment or palm-readers.

    Now, I’m not trying to put your mom down. I’m only saying that you might want to be more aware of when you’re turning on your critical thinking and then turning it off again.


  35. mgheinsbergen Says:

    My 16 -old daughter “Says teachers are lame”. I have worked for a school system for 26 years. I am a cleaner I clean up the stuff they both the students and the teachers leave behind at the end of the day. Its the same stuff each year. They are still teaching the same stuff that I had when I was in school 40 years ago, accept now they use Smart Boards and computers to expell informantion instead of Black Boards and chaulk. Oh yes Sports are king. We have sports groups in our Gym all weekends and evenings to after 9:pm.


  36. CrystalSpins Says:

    LaboriousLiving: What something is worth is very subjective.

    I am so tired of people complaining about what teachers get paid. If you don’t like it join a different industry or work at a private school. I work more hours per week than the average teacher in my area and I work all 12 months of the year with far fewer holidays than a teacher and the starting salary in my industry — which requires a college degree — is lower than the starting salary for teachers in my state. And teachers in my state are on the bottom of the salary chain.

    Teachers are just as underpaid as everyone else.



    • thefrenchchick Says:

      Agreed, with one exception. Private schools do not necessarily pay their teachers a higher salary that the public school teachers receive.


  37. homo symbolicus Says:

    The main reason why my idea will not work is that schools get moneys based on the neighborhoods (not even the districts) they work on. An elaborate substantiation of my point you can get from the 1992 (yet still very current) book
    Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools, by Jonathan Kozol
    Paperback: 262 pages
    Publisher: Harper Perennial (August 3, 1992)
    ISBN-10: 0060974990
    in which Kozol explains how PUBLIC schools belonging to the same district, such as those in the South Bronx and in Riverdale (both within walking distance to me) , would one 13 times more PUBLIC money than the other and he I mean if the school in the South Bronx get $10, the one in Riverdale would get $130 from our government …
    How about paying teachers some base salary and an extra depending on their concrete results?
    Now, -concrete results- means the difference between previous and this year’s and this way “seniority” would naturally factor in, since experienced teachers would know best …
    Some people may think I am a “socialist” but many professionals in various capitalist countries, such as doctors in Britain, work under such a schedule


  38. Cameron Evans Says:

    You’re central argument is can we grade the teachers? The real question is do we need to study the performance of teachers post-mortem? Helping teachers make a positive impact on student learning at the point of instruction is where the real issue lies.

    Once the academic year is over, you can do all of the Monday morning quarterbacking you desire, it will not help the student that just left that class, maybe the next student…but a year could have been lost already for a generation of learners.

    So how do we get more immediate delivery of best practices? That’s really the ideal situation. Web video, search, and social networking all have key components that if used together can boost teacher practice and student learning. Cameras are cheap. Storage is cheap. Crowdsourcing and digital reputation are powerful. Search and education analytics need to be connected. We have enough technology and human talent to change our schools for the better. And we can do it today.


  39. The Simple Life of a Country Man's Wife Says:

    I agree; passion makes all the difference in the world. It’s inspiring and contagious to be around someone who truly believes in the work they are doing.


  40. Natassia Says:

    Call me a radical, but we could always privatize education.


  41. Ana Says:

    Make individual teachers accountable for their actions!


  42. alivingsong Says:

    Thanks for this. It really is a complicated issue, and I appreciate that you make the point of statistics not being the only way to measure. As well, the idea of visiting strong teachers is a good point–at all great levels. I work at a school with a largely low-income, diverse demographic. I absolutely love it. Of course, there are always some teachers getting stronger performances out of students than others. That said, strong students will point out those teachers who give them an easy A. But the biggest issue (aside from ineffective teachers/staff remaining as such largely because of seniority/union issues) is that our students arrive to our school without the backgrounds necessary to succeed in college prep classes. Those who are motivated will make it work, and might struggle in the process, but succeed (or at least not fail). Those who aren’t, or who aren’t sure why they should be motivated, will not succeed, or will drop out. When they don’t have the skills necessary to succeed (which is of course not just about early education, but also about parents, income and resources, peer influences, etc.), it’s highly demoralizing. They find other, less healthy ways they can succeed instead. Regardless, if there’s one thing we can do to help it (ie: training/hiring ever more effective teachers), we should.


  43. LD Says:

    Set up a baseline and use a scoring system which allows students to be evaluated on an individual basis. Then evaluate remedial, average and advanced performance on the entire classroom.

    Do a statistical measurement for each group. Statistically significant results point to successful teachers.

    Use the measurement for Reading, composition and math only as these are functional academic areas. Making the measurement too broad will weaken it’s credibility.

    Credit points are factored in for classrooms challenged with special education, SST, 504 and medical provided that the baseline average and advanced learners are showing scholarly progress.

    Get rid of the union and belligerent paraprofessionals


  44. ladydeborah Says:

    I am a teacher. I would not have a problem with being graded during the course of the year. I would be curious to see where my skills would rank.
    I know different types of teachers. A lot of talented individuals work in different classroom settings. There are also people who entered the profession but they are not motivated to improve their skills or their course materials. I am sure that this happens in a lot of professions.

    Successful students are not just the products of good teachers. They also have well developed skills and support from their families. It takes a lot of different elements to produce a good education.


  45. LD Says:



  46. mandymcadoo Says:

    standardized tests are such a strange way to measure the effectiveness of a teacher. especially when there has to be a certain amount of progress. A kid who got a 98% on a test the first time does not have much room for improvement. is that the teacher’s fault? The results also probably show which teachers spend the most time teaching test-taking methods and strategies. Does that really benefit the kids in any way?


  47. ann Says:



  48. cheneetot08 Says:

    I remember way back when I was still schooling before classes ends, students are given the opportunity to rate their teachers and give comments on how to improve their teaching skills. This way they will know what areas to focus on for better teaching skills.


  49. Bennitt Says:

    The teachers here in sunny South Africa are on strike. Kids are sitting at home with nothing to do because of the greed that these teachers have. And it’s sad because when they were at school, their teachers didn’t strike. Instead, they taught because teaching was their passion and not because of the money involved.


  50. ladyjustine Says:

    A similar system has been in place – within schools, not available externally – in England. All it’s done is caused distress, heartache and cheating. There is still no evidence that ‘league tables’ in England have caused any difference to standards of teaching. Schools’ results have increased, but it has led to a narrowing of the curriculum, as only the things that can be measured are taught, and many other things are sacrificed. Kids are pulled from classes in other subjects to catch up in English and Maths, and yet it’s made not a single bit of difference to whether they can read or not. As always, some minorities under-perform, as do gender groups and social groups. If you are a poor white boy or a poor black boy with Caribbean heritage, you are unlikely to have added value. If you are a poor Indian girl, you are fairly likely to make a lot of value-added.

    It’s flawed, ridiculous and divisive. There are still just as many ‘bad’ teachers and burn-out is incredibly high for those deemed ‘talented’. No amount of being watched by bad teachers actually improved their performance, only created a ‘have’ and ‘have not’ system, especially when one woman who was an excellent teacher with 30 years’ experience in a school dominated by poor white boys was sent to watch a young whipper-snapper of 5 years who was deemed ‘excellent’ by value-added. It’s a horrible system.

    I’m not saying that teachers shouldn’t be expected to improve, but league tables and forced observations are not the way forward. In many ways, only those who have ‘the passion’ should be allowed in to the profession – but that’s far too few teachers to go around. Having been ‘in charge’ of progress in English in 21 secondary schools, the only thing that really made a difference was narrowing the curriculum to jump the hoops set by the final progress/achievement test. Do that and you succeed, even if you kill pupils’ subject enthusiasm. The more you teach to the test, the more success you have. And that’s not a positive thing at all.


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