Evaluating Teachers

The state’s Education Commissioner Stefan Pryor received a letter from the US Department of Education last week telling him that Connecticut has another year to implement a system of teacher evaluation that is linked to student performance — much to everyone’s relief. The state was supposed to start the new evaluation system next year, but this aspect of the state and federal government’s push for education reform has proven to be an easier thing to talk about than to implement.

Two years ago, the state enacted comprehensive changes in teacher evaluation requirements for school districts, but early this year, those ambitious reforms were scaled back in the face of widespread criticism from educators around the state. The state’s Performance Evaluation Advisory Council reduced multiple goals for student performance to just one goal and significantly scaled back the number of times higher-rated teachers needed to be observed and evaluated, thereby reducing the tide of paperwork associated with the evaluations that is increasingly diverting school administrators and teachers from their primary mission of educating children.

With the impending rollout of the Common Core Curriculum, which has itself been marked by confusion and controversy, and Connecticut’s school reform initiatives enacted in 2012, a lot of mandated — and not fully thought out — changes were hitting school districts at the same time. Now, our collective ambitions for school reform have gotten bogged down in the realities of implementation. These troubling realities were made abundantly clear in a series of forums hosted in January by the Connecticut Education Association state’s largest teachers’ union, where front line educators repeatedly warned of how some reform efforts had the potential to degrade and not enhance education in the state.

All the deadline delays and back-tracking by state and federal authorities on school reform and teacher evaluation has the embarrassing aspect of stumbling for the political class, which likes to be seen as confidently striding through election cycles. All the uncertainty and hesitation, however, provides both the additional time and impetus for further reflection, which may lack political sparkle but which, paradoxically, may be what most people want at this point.

The challenge is this: come up with a system of evaluation for teachers that creates meaningful opportunities for improvement and not simply a lot more perfunctory paperwork for a group of professionals who already have their hands full of demands in the classroom.

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