Viewpoint

What works — and what doesn’t — when it comes to teacher evaluations

June 25, 2014 

Julian Crocker, San Luis Obispo County's superintendent of schools, in 2007.

JAYSON MELLOM — The Tribune

It is probably human nature to blame the “system” when things go wrong. That’s what Cassius was warning Brutus about in “Julius Caesar.”

There is plenty of evidence that the teacher evaluation system in our state has gone wrong. Earlier this month, a Superior Court in Los Angeles ruled that five of the laws governing teacher evaluation are unconstitutional, primarily because the system places the protection and due process rights of teachers above the rights of students, specifically low-income students and English language learners, to be taught by an effective teacher.

In simple terms, the court ruled that the system is too cumbersome, time-consuming and costly to work effectively.

However, as Cassius told Brutus, the fault (and the solution) is in us. We can rework the process and the system and the legal requirements all we want, but unless we have school administrators who are true instructional leaders with the courage to use whatever system is in place to confront ineffective teaching, blaming the stars will not help. I think we have these leaders in our county.

This ruling, the subsequent appeal that will be filed and any eventual legislation will focus on changing the laws, policies and rules governing teacher evaluation. I strongly agree that much needs to be changed in the system. However, as Catherine Rampell (Commentary, June 15 Tribune) points out, reforming the state’s teacher evaluation system will not narrow the achievement gap for the students mentioned above. It is only effective teachers who will narrow the gap, and dismissing ineffective teachers does nothing to build effective teachers. This is not a system problem. It is a human problem, because we know with some certainty what does work for supporting effective teachers, and we — all of us — need to do it.

What works is a constellation of actions known to make a difference. These include a clear rubric for effective teaching; frequent coaching from both principals and peers based on classroom observations; access to targeted professional development with particular attention to successful strategies for students who live in poverty and/or are English language learners; use of student-performance data as one measure of effectiveness; reasonable working conditions; early intervention for struggling students; rigorous hiring procedures that also include an extended probationary period of at least three years; participation by the teaching staff in the decisions of the school; consistent leadership; assistance from the principal with parents and students; and recognition for a job well done.

As important and interesting as this court case may be, we cannot be distracted from the real work of narrowing the achievement gap.

Finally, the great majority of our teachers in the county are effective and are dedicated to improving their craft. The results of student performance and success are testimony to this. Our teachers need to be acknowledged for a very difficult job, and a very human one.

Julian Crocker is county superintendent of schools.

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