With the expiration this month of federal incentives for states to introduce more meaningful teacher evaluation systems, and with the new
Every Student Succeeds Act giving states a free hand to stay the course on evaluation reform or not, there's reason to worry about policymakers' continuing commitment to the reform. Building comprehensive new evaluation systems is hard work and teachers unions have mostly opposed the effort. But there's
new evidence from Tennessee—a state that has committed itself to building high-quality teacher performance systems—that teachers value the opportunity to improve their practice through meaningful evaluation systems. A new survey of half the state's teachers has found that 71 percent of Tennessee's instructors believe new teacher evaluations have led to improvements in their teaching, up from 38 percent in 2012, the year the systems were introduced. Similarly, two-thirds of teachers report that Tennessee's more comprehensive evaluation systems have led to improvements in student learning, up from about one quarter in 2012. Tennessee's new systems feature clearer teaching standards, increased numbers of classrooms observations, measures of student achievement, and, in a growing number of school districts, student surveys of teacher performance. The state has also taken steps to ensure that principals and other evaluators are well-trained and has established a system for pairing struggling teachers with high-performing peers. In the past, teachers were observed only twice a decade and teaching standards were left to school principals. Importantly for teacher morale, a majority of the teachers surveyed reported valuing the feedback on their work that the new evaluations generated, and nearly every teacher who reported receiving feedback took some action as a result. Teachers with lower ratings were more likely than higher-rated peers to respond to feedback, suggesting that the new evaluation systems drove improvement where it was most needed. The survey suggests that the quality of the feedback provided to teachers is inconsistent, as it is nationally. Only 58 percent of surveyed teachers say that principals and other evaluators gave them helpful feedback on their performance. And teachers reported wanting school leaders to create more opportunities for them to work with colleagues to strengthen their craft. Only 32 percent of teachers reported having enough time for such collaboration. Creating learning cultures in schools for teachers is hard. It doesn't happen overnight. But that discussion wouldn't be happening in Tennessee and other parts of the country if the wave of new teacher evaluation systems in recent years hadn't sparked new conversations in schools about what good teaching is and what it looks like in classrooms. These conversations can start when teachers like those in Tennessee increasingly believe that well-designed evaluation systems can help them improve their work.
Thomas Toch is director of FutureEd, an independent think tank at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. He is a former senior partner at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and director of the foundation’s Washington office. He is a founder and former co-director of the think tank Education Sector, a former guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, and he ...