This week, Paul Bruno wrote a thought-provoking piece for the Brookings Institution arguing that the waning teacher supply in certain parts of the country could be driving overwhelmingly positive teacher evaluation ratings in most states and districts. “The extent to which a principal is willing to dismiss (or give a poor evaluation to) a teacher will likely depend in part upon her beliefs about the probability of finding a superior replacement in a reasonable period of time,” Bruno writes. While there is some truth to Bruno’s argument, his framing of teacher evaluation—as a system that is built to “dismiss teachers”— furthers a flawed narrative about the purpose and use of teacher evaluation systems.
The purpose of reformed teacher evaluation systems, first and foremost, is to identify teachers’ strengths and weaknesses in order to refine educators’ instruction for improved student learning. New evaluation systems were meant to be a tool to reward excellent instruction, provide opportunities for targeted professional development, and create systems of support in schools in districts. Unfortunately, new teacher evaluation systems in many places were sold as ways to “get rid of bad teachers,” which greatly hurt implementation efforts.
While teacher shortages are a real issue in California, they do not eliminate the need for effective evaluation systems. To Bruno’s point, a principal will not be able to fill any teacher vacancy (regardless of why that vacancy exists) with a guaranteed effective teacher until there are systems in place that define what effective teaching looks like and how it is measured—for incoming teacher candidates and practicing teachers alike. Teacher evaluation systems differ given the varying context in states and districts, but the importance of leaders identifying what effective teaching practice looks like remains constant.
The ESEA bills moving to conference in the coming months will not include teacher evaluation. This means that states will not have the political cover from federal policy to move forward with teacher evaluation. So it is perhaps more important now than ever before to change the tired teacher evaluation narrative from a system that “fires of bad teachers” to one that improves teaching practice and rewards excellent practitioners.