Michigan teacher evaluations: Valuable insight or waste of money? (Society’s Slideshow)

It seems that politicians never tire of finding ways to assess the effectiveness of teachers. Usually, it involves more paperwork, which in turn requires more non-instructional staff (i.e. administrative assistants) to deal with its volume.

Michigan’s politicians are no different, and now have drafted an assessment method that they are sure will be able to measure a teacher’s total worth to education as well as what they are actually teaching students. But how effective is it at gauging what makes a teacher effective?

The first part of the assessment tool features 32 performance-related items, but only five of them actually directly relate to a teacher’s instructional ability, one of which is not limited to formal classroom work. Three more deal with classroom management capabilities, which is taught in most teacher education programs as one of the key ingredients to successful instruction side by side with a good knowledge of course material.

Based on this, eight out of the 32 items actually deal with what is considered by many teacher education programs to be the most important components of a successful classroom.

The rest are very important as well, but they are addressed in teacher education as part of what is expected of a teacher day in and day out. These include, but are not limited to, dressing professionally, showing an interest in teaching, providing an atmosphere in which students are unafraid to ask questions, and providing for individual differences.

One of the most interesting points of evaluation on this form is “Appears to be in good health, which is the second item in the list of 32 evaluation points. What makes it interesting is that teachers are being required to pay 20% of their own health insurance cost out of their own pocket, which may necessarily limit a person’s ability to pay the co-pay when they go to the doctor or afford the prescription drugs that would make them better. It also makes me wonder how an administrator might evaluate someone with cancer, emphysema, heart problems or other chronic illness.

The form also contains 26 items dealing with school policies and procedures of which the administration must apprise their teaching staff. There is also a single, ambiguous line item which reads “Measurable Student Growth.” Just how Michigan legislators intend for administrators who spend no time in a classroom to measure student growth is not specified on the checklist.

As it turns out, Lansing has specified how they intend to measure student growth. As usual, it’s up to the teachers to figure it out by drafting their own pre-test and post-test for the classes they are teaching. Legislators have acknowledged that this is a stop gap policy until they can draft their own pre-tests and post-tests.

The idea behind the pretest is to measure a student’s prior knowledge of course material, which legislators are obviously assuming is none. Once the baseline is established, the course continues in a normal fashion through a semester or a school year depending on the course. Never mind that most teachers have found that giving a test students know they cannot pass

The post-test is supposed to measure a student’s knowledge after the course is given. Legislators are assuming at this point that every student has had equal access to in-school instruction (where complex concepts are generally explained in a meaningful fashion) and course material (the source of the complex concepts.)

Once the state develops its own pretest and post-test, it will in essence be deciding what are the most important things to know about any given subject. In other words, the state will be almost completely controlling all aspects of course curriculum.

This sounds like a good idea on a piece of paper, but most teachers are wary of government telling them what is important and what is not important. This is especially true of history, where teachers may be forced to deal with a state re-write of important historical concepts to fit within the government’s agenda. If you don’t think that can happen, just read up on how German education curriculum changed when Adolf Hitler took the chancellorship.

My assessment of the state’s assessment methodology is that it will be ineffective. Based on the number of checkpoints on their list that actually deal with instruction and classroom management, it would seem that the state cares more about how their teachers dress, how healthy they are, what their personality is like, and their ability to follow administrative procedure

These document-based assessments will serve to further inflate an already inflated school bureaucracy. Dealing with these requirements will require more non-instructional staff, taking more monetary resources away from a school’s ability to provide the quality education politicians are trying to enforce.

If Lansing is insistent on evaluating teachers, perhaps they should let teachers evaluate the effectiveness of administrators. Some of the checklist points might be:

Teacher’s material needs for instruction are met by administration

Teacher is able to easily requisition and receive materials in a timely fashion from administration

Teacher has ready access to new technology in order to instruct students in proper technology use via administrative provisions.

Administrator is fair and impartial.

Administrator provides for students’ individual needs.

Assessing teacher performance is only one part of reforming education as a whole. Lots of attention is paid to how much teachers are paid ans what their benefits are, and how they can be fired if they are bad at their job. However, little attention is paid to administrator salaries (often in the high five-figure or even six-figure range) or their benefits (some district superintendents and lower positions are given district-financed cars and a gas allowance).

Perhaps the best way to reform education would be to start with the administrators by making sure that they are meeting the teachers’ needs rather than the other way around.