How Can We Increase Teacher Quality?

By Lawrence Hardy

A few months ago, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan made a curious request of states interested in receiving some of the $44 billion in economic stimulus money for education: Show us the evaluations of principals and teachers in your districts, then tell us the number and percentage scoring at each performance level.

“He knows what he’ll find,” says Daniel Weisberg, vice president for policy and general counsel of The New Teacher Project (TNTP). “The ratings are all good or great, and they are based not at all on student achievement.”

Weisberg is exaggerating, but not by much. A recent TNTP survey of 12 districts in four states found that states using a “binary” evaluation system (ranking teachers either “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory”) pronounced more than 99 percent satisfactory. Among districts using a multiple-rating system, the vast majority were awarded one of the top two ratings.

Why is teacher evaluation so flawed? The report blames institutional inertia and “a culture of indifference.” It’s no single entity’s fault, TNTP concludes; it’s just the way things have been done for years.

But not anymore. At least, not if the Obama administration has anything to say about it. Say what you will about the president’s ambitious plan for improving public education: you can’t call it timid. Indeed, the very title of its signature initiative, the $4.4 billion Race to the Top Fund that urges states to experiment with new education initiatives, suggests a president anxious to shake up an ossified system and put his mark on school reform. And central to the plan’s success is increasing teacher quality.

Would you like to continue reading?
Subscribers please click here to continue reading. If you are not a subscriber, please click here to purchase this article or to obtain a subscription to ASBJ.