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Teacher Efficacy

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A recent review of employee efficacy came from the Vanity Fair article on how Microsoft lost its “cool” factor. On Page 4, they briefly describe “forced stack ranking” of employees in each group, which is a fancy way of saying “grading on a curve,” where someone is guaranteed to be considered the top and someone will be guaranteed to be considered the worst. Arguably, Microsoft probably only hires a certain high-level of employee. If the set of people working at Microsoft are already considered high-quality and high-intellectualism and high-production (assuming they’ve passed a number of interviews to get their jobs and twice-yearly reviews to keep them), it’s strange to assume that someone in every group at the company must be performing poorly. The Vanity Fair article goes on to describe that this system of ranking, necessitating worry about one’s politics and rank rather than product, is probably one of the reasons that morale and innovation are low at a once-booming company.

A new article in the NYTimes is skeptical of teachers’ efficacy in the classroom. At issue seems to be a low rate of “ineffective” personnel. Principals are blamed for not wanting to give poor marks to teachers, and to teachers for not wanting to drive success.

The Dept. of Education estimates that there were 3.7 million teachers in public and private schools in 2012. Even at the low end of the NYTimes article’s citations, where only 0.2% of teachers were considered “ineffective,” that’s still 7,400 teachers who are doing a poor job somewhere across the country. That’s far, far too many. What do you do with these bad teachers, and are they actually bad?

Perhaps this is the more pertinent question: How many ineffective teachers is too many? I don’t know of any teacher who absolutely refuses to be evaluated: it’s expected as part of the “business” side of education (and any other workplace). I think U.S. teachers are saddened and confused as to why their chosen profession is so demonized as to automatically be considered dubious and a lower caste of society.

But what does an effective evaluation look like? Student test scores only get you so far (since students are [so far] not tested yearly in every subject; in-person evaluations by administrators are time-consuming and expensive; and standardized tests for teachers are not considered viable (although strangely alluring to politicians in evaluating student knowledge).

So what’s really going on in the heads of those who are in control of evaluations? The response is probably something like this beautifully snarky in-head revision of Arne Duncan’s Teacher Appreciation Week letter.

Let’s turn teacher evaluations on its head for a minute: How do you know that teachers are bad, if you also think their evaluation system is ineffective?

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