Rick Hess writes about a new study of teacher evaluation systems in 19 states by Matthew Kraft and Allison Gilmour. It shows that the new systems have made little difference. Instead of 99% of trachers rated effective, 97% are rated effective.


This was Arne Duncan’s Big Idea. It was an essential element of Race to the Top. The assumption behind it was that if kids got low test scores, their teachers must be ineffective.


It failed, despite the hundreds of millions–perhaps billions– devoted to creating these new systems to grade teachers. Think of how that money might have been used to help children and schools directly!


Hess writes:


“Emboldened by a remarkable confidence in noble intentions and technocratic expertise, advocates have tended to act as if these policies would be self-fulfilling. They can protest this characterization all they want, but one reason we’ve heard so much about pre-K in the past few years is that, as far as many reformers were concerned, the big and interesting fights on teacher evaluation had already been won. They had moved on.


“There’s a telling irony here. Back in the 1990s, there was a sense that reforms failed when advocates got bogged down in efforts to change “professional practice” while ignoring the role of policy. Reformers learned the lesson, but they may have learned it too well. While past reformers tried to change educational culture without changing policy, today’s frequently seem intent on changing policy without changing culture. The resulting policies are overmatched by the incentives embedded in professional and political culture, and the fact that most school leaders and district officials are neither inclined nor equipped to translate these policy dictates into practice.


“And it’s not like policymakers have helped with any of this by reducing the paper burden associated with harsh evaluations or giving principals tools for dealing with now-embittered teachers. If anything, these evaluation systems have ramped up the paperwork and procedural burdens on school leaders—ultimately encouraging them to go through the motions and undercut the whole point of these systems.”