Bruno: You Can't Fix Teacher Eval Without Fixing Teacher Supply
Over the past few years education reformers have been pushing officials to adopt new teacher evaluation standards to help remove the least effective teachers from the classroom. As the NYT's Jenny Anderson's recent report illustrates, however, reformers continue to misunderstand the nature of our teacher quality problems.
As Anderson explains, even states with the strictest new standards continue to rate virtually all of their teachers - often more than 97% - "effective" or better.
One reformer complains that "It would be an unusual profession that at least 5 percent are not deemed ineffective", but that is probably the wrong way to think about teacher evaluation.
It is unlikely that there is a "correct" fraction of teachers - or workers in any profession - who should be identified as "ineffective".
Rather, whether a teacher should be dismissed depends on the likelihood that replacing him will improve educational outcomes at a school. Those odds, in turn, depend on the built-in costs of employee turnover and the prospects for finding a worthwhile replacement.
The built-in costs of turnover are significant and therefore justify administrators' reluctance to dismiss. (Or to rate a teacher as "ineffective", which may require eventual dismissal and/or frustrate teachers.)
Additionally, administrators frequently cannot be sure that a worthwhile replacement will be available. Such certainty would require confidence that the ineffective teacher had been correctly identified, that a significantly superior candidate would be available to take the job, and that the replacement would stay on the job long enough to justify the school's investment.
None of those factors is a sure thing, especially in the highest-need schools. It is no surprise, then, that administrators resist pushing even their least favorite teachers out.
The hard truth about teacher evaluation policy reform is that it is unlikely to be effective in the absence of other reforms aimed at dramatically improving teacher supply and retention.
Reformers might respond to this by pointing out that they are focusing on both teacher supply and teacher evaluation. This response, however, misses the point.
For one thing, reformers' preferred teacher supply reforms are not well-suited to supporting teacher evaluation reform. For instance, alternative certification schemes - like Teach for America - might be good at increasing the absolute number of teachers, but they don't have much of an impact on quality and they probably have a negative effect on retention.
More subtly, though, the point is not just that evaluation reform and teacher supply improvements are complementary policy initiatives.
The real point is that improving the supply (and retention) of teachers is likely to be a necessary precondition for improving teacher evaluation. Reformers not only seem not to have a workable plan for the former, they don't seem to understand how essential it is to achieving the latter. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)