Evaluating (and paying) teachers more effectively

The Deseret News recently published an article discussing how educators and education researchers are investigating new ways to evaluate the effectiveness of school teachers. Those ways include: (1) rigorous classroom observation, based on specific teaching behaviors associated with student learning gains, (2) computer-adaptive testing that provides a regular, ongoing snapshot of how much a student is learning, and is a more accurate measure of how much a teacher is increasing student learning than one-time tests, and (3) student surveys about their experience in the classroom, using questions that were tested and found to accurately capture a teacher’s effectiveness.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of the article is its report on research from the Measures of Effective Teaching Project, which seeks to discover how effective teaching can be “identified and developed.” The research of this project has thus far found that a well-constructed combination of rigorous classroom observation, student test-score gains, and student surveys are the best at identifying effective teaching.

This group’s research is directly applicable to policymakers, educators, and public schools in Utah. Public school teachers in Utah today are paid, because of collective bargaining agreements negotiated by local teachers’ unions, largely based on the number of years they’ve been a teacher and how many college degrees they have: both poor predictors of effective teachers. In other words, today’s system of pay for public school teachers ignores the welfare of children in public schools, and instead benefits the adults in the system.

Earlier this year, the Utah State Legislature got the ball rolling on reform of teacher pay in Utah. Perhaps it’s time for legislators and the State Board of Education to revisit the issue and take the next steps in requiring that teacher pay be based on actual performance in the workplace, rather than on a teacher’s ability to avoid being fired and his or her non-workplace achievements.

Several years ago Sutherland recommended abandoning the current wrong-headed, ineffective system, which gives collective bargaining processes the power to reward teachers regardless of quality or performance. Instead, we recommended a system of supervisor evaluations that empowered principals to make decisions on pay raises based on a broad spectrum of effective teacher-quality measures.

Such a system could easily be crafted to include the rigorous classroom evaluations (by principals or professional teacher evaluators/“master teachers”), student test-score gains, and student surveys that have been found to effectively identify quality teaching. Here’s hoping that Utah’s education leaders at all levels will abandon an unnecessary and broken collective bargaining process that neglects the welfare of children and caters to the whims of adults and special interest groups.