The recent release of two important reports led me to ask this question.
The National Education Policy Center shared a brief that reviews available research on several different aspects of teacher evaluation and makes recommendations for a comprehensive approach to teacher evaluation. If different measures, like observation (by peers and principals), teacher self-reports, student surveys, classroom artifacts, portfolios and value-added assessment are used, then the weaknesses of one measure can be offset by the strengths of another.
Meanwhile, the much-anticipated PISA rankings came out, revealing that America is (still) in the "middle of the pack" of international rankings of 15-year-old performance in reading, science and math. Putting anxious hand-wringing and concerns about representativeness and meaning aside, if we take the rankings at face value, then there is merit in examining how more successful school systems work, and learning from what makes them so successful.
One of the key things that such systems have in common is that they take teaching seriously. Drawing from research summarized in Linda Darling-Hammond's The Flat World and Education, common features of the teacher experience in places like the Scandinavian nations, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong include:
Recognizing that "teaching is the profession that makes all other professions possible," other nations devote considerable time and resources into teaching. Note, too, that all of these investments are based on two key assumptions:
Though we have examples of strong teacher education, induction and professional development programs here, there is no large-scale effort to coordinate and/or duplicate these programs to ensure that every single teacher benefits from them. Here, it is more often the case that:
Unlike our international peers, Americans don't consider teaching a prestigious profession or even much of a profession at all ("Those who can, do, those who can't, teach"). We don't invest in teachers or teaching, we only nominally (if at all) involve teachers in the process of making major decisions about education, and we've even become shockingly comfortable with the idea of teaching being a disposable job -- something people do for a couple of years before moving on to something else (...better? ...More important?).
And our national conversation about improving the quality of teaching focuses primarily on "getting rid of bad teachers." Instead of doing what's necessary to develop and keep good teachers, like improving teacher education and induction programs, implementing comprehensive evaluation systems and embedding teachers in supportive, well-resourced school communities, America glorifies whomever seems the most willing to fire people.
Rather than guaranteeing teacher quality before teachers take responsibility for students, we're growing a system where we put teachers in the classroom, then try to figure out if they're good enough after the fact. This experiment-and-punish approach is remarkably cruel to both teachers and students, especially the neediest ones -- who are often subjected to strings of over-worked, under-supported, and under-trained instructors year after year. If we really want to build a world-class school system, why waste time and money on witch hunts and magic bullets?
Why not emulate world-class school systems?
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