The Education Solution: Teacher Evaluation



Northside High School classroom

  Ginger Starling used phrases like “value added,” or “teacher bonuses,” but finally agreed she was talking about a form of “pay for performance,” a term that a lot of teachers want nothing to do with.  Starling is the Muscogee County School District’s Race to the Top Grant Administrator. She and MCSD Superintendent Susan Andrews are on the state committee that is devising a new teacher evaluation program, which Georgia must have to get the  $400 million  supplied by the federal program. Muscogee County School District, which is one of the 26 Georgia districts participating in the program, is getting $11 million. It is keeping $4 million of that in reserve to pay bonuses in the fourth year of the program. To give those bonuses it must be determined which teachers are performing well enough to get them.

 Many teachers are not interested in getting paid bonuses connected to evaluation results.  They like things the way they are.  They like getting raises for seniority and obtaining advanced degrees.  So a lot of them are fighting the evaluation idea.

One of the people they have to fight is arguably the richest man in the world, Bill Gates, who is now dedicating a lot of his life to education reform.  In a Washington Post op-ed he said,  “After the first few years, seniority seems to have no effect on student achievement.

“Another standard feature of school budgets is a bump in pay for advanced degrees. Such raises have almost no impact on achievement, but every year they cost $15 billion that would help students more if spent in other ways.”

He is also for larger class sizes, saying that surveyed teachers have said they are willing to teach larger classes for more money.   While there is no evidence that I know of that supports the idea that smaller classes get better results, many educators scoff at the idea that larger classes are just as effective. 

 The Georgia Board of Education has already dropped class size limits for budgetary reasons, but no one has said that teachers will be paid more for the increase in students.

 As far as the new evaluation procedure is concerned, former Richards Middle School teacher Judson Patten asks, “How do you compare a math teacher to an English teacher or a geography teacher to a science teacher? They all have education degrees and they all have 4, 5, 6, 7 years of college degrees. That’s why a state-wide salary schedule was created. Pay for performance is NOT the way to go.”
But, it is the way it’s going for a lot of states, including Georgia.

 Neither Superintendent Susan Andrews nor Grant Administrator Ginger Starling has a problem with having a new evaluation system.  Both agree that the one used now is weak. They tell me that fifty percent of the teacher’s score is expected to be based be on student achievement based on test results.  The other fifty percent will be made up of a number of factors, perhaps including student and parental input, plus classroom observations.  Whereas only one observation is required now, there will a lot of them in the future.

What about the comparisons that Judson referred to, things like comparing a science teacher to a math teacher,  or a teacher whose class is made up of affluent kids with one made up of children who in live poverty?  Starling admitted, “It is very complicated.”  She said, however,  those problems are not being ignored and ways to be fair are being studied.
None of this is set in stone. It’s a work in progress.  I couldn’t get an answer on when it goes into effect.  But, it will have to be ready three years from now because that’s when the district will start paying $4 million in bonuses to teachers who qualify. 
To be considered for a bonus a teacher will have to agree to participate in the bonus program.  What happens if they don’t?  They can’t get a bonus.  They can, however, continue to teach.   However, they will be evaluated under the new system whether they opt for a bonus or not.  .

 My evidence is anecdotal, but I have yet to run into a classroom teacher or retired classroom teacher who buys into pay for performance. Still, when one of the richest men in the world calls for pay for performance for teachers a lot of people are going to listen. 

In the Washington Post Op-ed he also wrote, “We know that of all the variables under a school’s control, the single most decisive factor in student achievement is excellent teaching. It is astonishing what great teachers can do for their students.
‘Yet compared with the countries that outperform us in education, we do very little to measure, develop and reward excellent teaching. We have been expecting teachers to be effective without giving them feedback and training.”
Changing an established order is never easy. However, anyone who doesn’t realize that America’s education system needs upgrading in order for the country to remain economically competitive globally, is, in my view, in a state of colossal denial.



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