We cannot fire our way into Finland

Via the Shanker Institute, an insightful piece on getting teacher evaluaions right

Linda Darling-Hammond’s new book, Getting Teacher Evaluation Right, is a detailed, practical guide about how to improve the teaching profession. It leverages the best research and best practices, offering actionable, illustrated steps to getting teacher evaluation right, with rich examples from the U.S. and abroad.

Here I offer a summary of the book’s main arguments and conclude with a couple of broad questions prompted by the book. But, before I delve into the details, here’s my quick take on Darling-Hammond’s overall stance.

We are at a crossroads in education; two paths lay before us. The first seems shorter, easier and more straightforward. The second seems long, winding and difficult. The big problem is that the first path does not really lead to where we need to go; in fact, it is taking us in the opposite direction. So, despite appearances, more steady progress will be made if we take the more difficult route. This book is a guide on how to get teacher evaluation right, not how to do it quickly or with minimal effort. So, in a way, the big message or take away is: There are no shortcuts.

The original inspiration for the book – says Darling-Hammond, who serves on our board of directors – was the Albert Shanker Institute’s Good Schools Seminar Series, the goal of which is to build a network of union leaders, district superintendents, and researchers by creating a safe, off-the-record space where they can work collaboratively on issues related to improving teaching and learning. Getting Teacher Evaluation Right is a response to requests from these stakeholders, and is intended to help all sides “imagine and create coherent systems for evaluating teachers in ways that support continuous improvement in classrooms and schools.”

Despite the recent, intense and controversial focus on teacher evaluation as a means to increasing student learning, “existing [teacher evaluation] systems rarely help teachers improve or clearly distinguish those who are succeeding from those who are struggling.” (p. 24)* One problem is that they are not really systems. Judging from the attention to teacher evaluation these days, one wouldn’t suspect that teacher evaluation is really only one small piece of the educational improvement puzzle: “Changing on-the-job evaluation will not, by itself, transform the quality of teaching.” We cannot fire our way into Finland, Darling-Hammond says:

We will not really improve the quality of the profession if we do not also cultivate an excellent supply of good teachers who are well prepared and committed to career-long learning. (p. 26)

Continue reading...