(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in The New Republic. It’s reprinted here with permission from the American Federation of Teachers.)
Some see us as education’s odd couple—one, the president of a democratic teachers’ union; the other, a director at the world’s largest philanthropy.
While we don’t agree on everything, we firmly believe that students have a right to effective instruction and that teachers want to do their very best. We believe that one of the most effective ways to strengthen both teaching and learning is to put in place evaluation systems that are not just a stamp of approval or disapproval but a means of improvement. We also agree that in too many places, teacher evaluation procedures are broken—unconstructive, superficial, or otherwise inadequate. And so, for the past four years, we have worked together to help states and districts implement effective teacher development and evaluation systems carefully designed to improve teacher practice and, ultimately, student learning.
While many factors outside school affect children’s achievement, research shows that teaching matters more than anything else schools can do. Effective teaching is a complex alchemy—requiring command of subject matter, knowledge of how different children learn, and the ability to maintain order and spark students’ interest. Evaluation procedures must address this complexity—they should not only assess individual teachers but also help them continuously improve.
Yet both of us have become increasingly concerned that states and districts are doing evaluation quickly instead of doing it right, which could have serious adverse effects.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) study in 2009 to identify effective teaching using multiple measures of performance. The foundation also invested in a set of partnership sites that are redesigning how they evaluate and support teaching talent.
And the AFT has developed a continuous improvement model for teacher development and evaluation that is being adapted in scores of districts to help recruit, prepare, support, and retain a strong teaching force.
From our research, and the experiences of our state and district partners, we’ve learned what works in implementing high-quality teacher development and evaluation systems.
(Next page: The six keys to effective systems)