Friday, July 31, 2009


A central initiative of the Administration’s proposals to reform education is to tie student performance to teacher evaluation.

Both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers oppose this initiative because it does not allow teachers to hide poor performance behind protestations of good intentions or complaints about parents and students. Their argument against this initiative is a simple and seemingly plausible one: student performance results from the combined work of many teachers.

However, using student performance to evaluate teachers is really something quite easy to do. Use student proficiency test scores as the measure of student performance. Match each student with all previous teachers. Rank the “strings” of students and teachers by test scores. Then analyze the distribution of teachers to identify which teachers are associated more frequently with higher test scores and which with lower ones. Final result: the distribution will identify the better and worse teachers.

Superintendents, principals, teachers, and union leaders know that such data used in this fashion could effectively be used to identify good, mediocre, and bad teachers; to focus staff-development efforts on those most in need; and to establish the basis for possible discharge if poor results continue. The obstacle to this initiative is not any unfairness—it is very fair—but embarrassment to bad teachers. For their sake, the public education of students suffers. Perhaps, with this initiative, among others, they will suffer less or no longer.

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