In the burgeoning education reform movement, teacher evaluations—especially those using the “value-added” model—have become a central focus for aspiring reformers. Yet a teacher’s take in the New York Times casts serious doubt on these measures. NYC’s teacher evaluations, he says, are wildly inaccurate, with margins of error as high as a startling 57 percent. In his own case, the score rose from the 6th to the 96th percentile in one year:
Reality set in. If my first grade of 6 percent was bogus, so was this one. I had taught the same grade, in the same school, to the same types of students, using the same curriculum and many of the same lessons. And my score jumped 90 points year over year. If the value-added model were even close to being reliable, that couldn’t happen.
This ridiculous boost is evidence of the dirty secret of the teacher evaluation movement—most evaluation methods are terrible. Bureaucracies, especially massive ones in cities like New York, are terrible at this sort of complex evaluation process.But just because current methods of teacher evaluation are, to say the least, imperfect, doesn’t mean teachers can escape growing public pressure to show results. Teacher unions would like for virtually all teachers to have lifetime tenure and for evaluation to play little or no role in their lives. Principals don’t want parents nosing into administrative decisions or complaining that their kids are getting stuck with subpar math teachers. Pointing to the deep and real flaws in everything from standardized tests to score students to individual teacher assessments is, among other things, a way to stave off public pressure for more accountability in the schools.The public wants a look inside the “black box” of the American school. Some parents are too ignorant, too dysfunctional or just too laid back to care, but increasingly parents want to make sure that their kids are getting the best available teachers—or at least avoiding the turkeys.This pressure isn’t going away; school districts and teachers are going to have to live with it. Demand for parental choice is growing, and it will grow further as more educational opportunities arise. Between charter schooling, homeschooling, and new forms of online education, there are now opportunities that simply weren’t available thirty years ago.Back when modern public school systems were being organized, parents (often immigrants who didn’t speak English or illiterate farmers) felt out of their depth when assessing the performance of teachers and schools. That isn’t the case today, as most parents are high school graduates and many have college degrees.Ultimately most parents are going to insist on the right to choose which schools their children attend. Schools will have to provide information about their teachers and their success in order to attract pupils. Today’s crude and often unfair bureaucratic evaluation methods are a baby step in the direction of a choice-based educational system. More and better steps will come.