Our guest author today is Cara Jackson, Assistant Director of Research and Evaluation at the Urban Teacher Center.
Teacher evaluation has become a contentious issue in U.S. Some observers see the primary purpose of these reforms as the identification and removal of ineffective teachers; the popular media as well as politicians and education reform advocates have all played a role in the framing of teacher evaluation as such. But, while removal of ineffective teachers was a criterion under Race to the Top, so too was the creation of evaluation systems to be used for teacher development and support.
I think most people would agree that teacher development and improvement should be the primary purpose, as argued here. Some empirical evidence supports the efficacy of evaluation for this purpose (see here). And given the sheer number of teachers we need, declining enrollment in teacher preparation programs, and the difficulty disadvantaged schools have retaining teachers, school principals are probably none too enthusiastic about dismissing teachers, as discussed here.
Of course, to achieve the ambitious goal of improving teaching practice, an evaluation system must be implemented well. Fans of Harry Potter might remember when Dolores Umbridge from the Ministry of Magic takes over as High Inquisitor at Hogwarts and conducted “inspections” of Hogwart’s teachers in Book 5 of J.K. Rowling’s series. These inspections pretty much demonstrate how not to approach classroom observations: she dictates the timing, fails to provide any of indication of what aspects of teaching practice she will be evaluating, interrupts lessons with pointed questions and comments, and evidently does no pre- or post-conferencing with the teachers.