Teacher evaluations

Teacher evaluations and testing transparency, like so many education reforms, are struggling to maintain momentum. USA Today reported Thursday that officials increasingly are cool to the idea of making achievement data and teacher ratings public. They’re caving to the arguments of teachers unions, which have long complained that test scores are not a fair way of judging the effectiveness of instructors, and that records of teacher performance should be kept secret.

Yes, judging a teacher on a single year of testing data can be problematic – if done incorrectly. However, “value-added” evaluations rate teachers relative to one another based on the improvement of individual students, year by year. The best teachers will get all students to improve their core skills, regardless of where they started a year academically, while the worst teachers will send along students who’ve made no gains or fallen farther behind.

This information is at the fingertips of every school district in the country, but most choose to ignore it. Meanwhile, parents never find out whether their child is stuck in the classroom of a bottom-tier teacher.

The Los Angeles Times pushed teacher ratings and testing transparency to the forefront in August 2010 when it produced a database with value-added ratings of more than 10,000 elementary schoolteachers. Then, just four months ago, New York City’s schools released the rankings of 18,000 teachers. Parents and taxpayers were grateful for information that had been unavailable to them for far too long.

Of course, those at the bottom of the teacher ratings inevitably end up with hurt feelings. As a result, the education establishment’s preoccupation with self-esteem has marginalized support for accountability. In 2010, Education Secretary Arne Duncan asked, “What’s to hide?” But in an interview with Education Week this year, he said, “Do you need to publish every single teacher’s rating in the paper? I don’t think you do.” And Wendy Kopp, accountability advocate and founder of Teach for America, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that she was “baffled and embarrassed” by New York’s big disclosure.

America’s public schools, which are languishing despite being the most expensive in the world, will never get better unless we’re serious about honestly evaluating our teachers. And you can’t be honest without transparency. Keep the value-added rankings coming. Give parents the choice of sending their child to another school when they’re stuck with a low-rated teacher. And give the best teachers generous pay raises so they’ll stay in the classroom.

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