New York State education officials and the local teachers’ union reached a deal on a new teacher evaluation system on Thursday February 16, just before Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deadline for imposing his own measures for teacher quality. Essentially, 40 percent of teachers’ evaluations will be measured by students’ performance on standardized test scores, half of which must be based on growth from the previous year. The other 60 percent will be based on subjective measurements such as classroom observations.
Though not coming as a surprise, this forced deadline by the governor continues to push the accountability envelope in an attempt to ensure that the best teachers are retained while weeding out the least effective. Appropriately, teachers will be ranked ineffective, developing, effective, or highly effective under the new system, as compared with unsatisfactory or satisfactory under the old.
The real concern will be the effects of this new system in truly improving overall teacher quality. If history has taught us anything, it is that Campbell’s Law has never failed to ring true:
The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.
This basically states that there is a higher chance of corruption and manipulation when too much emphasis is placed on a measure (e.g., teacher evaluation), which ultimately hurts the end goal (e.g., improving teacher quality). It happens when police officers issue trivial citations in order to meet traffic ticket quotas or when college administrators inflate their national ranking by giving competing institutions poorer ratings. In general, this applies to any situation where incentives are used as the major means of improvement since they tend to encourage gamesmanship; in this case, a likely exodus of teachers from low-performing or disadvantaged districts to either private schools or higher performing districts. High-needs areas will end up having less qualified teachers, which of course perverts the original purpose of improving the quality of instruction.
Proponents of teacher evaluations might reason that student scores comprise a portion that will be more than balanced by the significant 60 percent qualitative feedback; however, critics could easily argue that 40 percent is significant enough to tempt corruption. No Child Left Behind’s glaring spotlight on test performance has already led to grade-changing scandals in Atlanta, Washington, New Jersey, and Connecticut school districts in 2011. Who is to say the same thing has not happened (or will not happen) with teacher evaluations?
As always, the broader solution is prevention as opposed to treatment: investing in teacher education by applying a rigorous screening process in the beginning supported by massive ongoing support. High scoring nations as Finland and Singapore, for example, recruit from the best graduates, as I have detailed in a previous post, Teacher Accountability Starts with Better Teacher Preparation.