Teachers should be evaluated, too

Evelyn Wright of Melrose Park looks over materials while waiting to attend an information session on getting certified as a teacher. ( April Saul / Staff Photographer )


Imagine a job performance evaluation that amounts to a cursory review and gives everyone a satisfactory mark.
Such is the system routinely used to grade most public school teachers around the country. With the bar so low, the large majority pass with flying colors, while their students continue to fail or drop out.
With nearly every teacher supposedly performing above par, it is nearly impossible to improve, let alone remove, bad or ineffective teachers in failing districts. The problem is especially acute in urban districts like Philadelphia and Camden, where many students perform well below average and it is harder to attract and retain good teachers.
Instead, because of union rules, teachers often get promoted and rewarded with coveted assignments based mainly on seniority. Just outlasting everyone should not be the main requisite for getting ahead.
To be sure, there are lots of good teachers. But when nearly half of the students are unable to read or perform basic math, and 30 percent nationwide drop out, not all the teachers can be doing a good or even adequate job.
In fact, allowing bad teachers to remain in place hurts not only students. It also demoralizes good teachers. Instead, a system that rewards the very best teachers and gets rid of the duds would go a long way toward improving education.
President Obama has added an incentive to bring about such a change: more funding for the states willing to change the status quo regarding how their education systems operate.
Competition for a slice of the $4.35 billion in funding has motivated some states to change policies in order to hold teachers and administrators more accountable. School districts that fail to change will receive less funding and fall further behind.
New Jersey and Pennsylvania could receive up to $400 million each in the first round of the “Race to the Top” program. Obama said this week that he would ask Congress for an additional $1.35 billion to extend the program.
As part of the reform, Congress should put the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Law and provisions for tougher teacher evaluations on its agenda.
Traditionally, unions have resisted any proposals to change how teachers are evaluated, but the tide may be changing some.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten<NO1>cq<NO> last week called for a year-round teacher evaluation system to improve teaching and develop new procedures to make it easier to get rid of the bad apples faster.
In addition to using student test scores to evaluate teachers, she wants other criteria considered, such as classroom observations, portfolio reviews, and students’ work.
Those seem like reasonable standards with adequate safeguards to protect teachers’ rights. But getting the 1.1 million-member union and the National Education Association to support it will be a tough sell.
Since she was elected AFT national president in 2008, Weingarten has shown a willingness to at least talk about tough education issues like tenure and merit pay.
But it will take more than talk to remove the bad teachers and reward those at the head of the class.