Opinion and Economic Analysis

HICKS: Teach teachers to value performance evaluations

September 22, 2012

Mike HicksAfter my column earlier this month in which I remarked upon dogged resistance to teacher performance evaluations, I heard from many educators. The gist of these complaints: Teaching is getting harder, and performance evaluations (and thus pay) are linked to factors thought to be outside teachers’ control. These points are worthy of discussion.

I admit that teaching might be getting harder. I find it so, but if schools are to get better—and they must—we’ll have to ask more of teachers, parents and students as well as taxpayers.

On the other hand, I cannot believe that more than a small group of teachers honestly feel that performance evaluations are misguided. It is clear that they must play a big part in salary and job security—and that test scores and other metrics of child performance are part of that. Evaluations will never be perfect, but they are the way of the world and the teaching profession has been insulated from this reality.

It might be helpful to provide anecdote. Like most working adults, I have had performance reviews at least every year. As an 18-year-old group leader in the National Park Service, I was evaluated on the miles of trails we cleared and the number of bee stings my workers received. As an Army commander, I was evaluated on such things as sexually transmitted disease rates.

Today as a professor, my students weigh in on my performance, and I am graded as a researcher on dozens of measures, from website visits to the number of people who reference my studies. I hardly have direct control of these outcomes.

Businesses (i.e. taxpayers) have it even harder. The local gas station owner cannot control petroleum prices any more than the barber can control hairstyles, or the restaurateur can control the location and pricing of competitors. Yet all these matters affect pay and employment.

I think most teachers get this, but if I am wrong (and the Chicago teachers strike argues that I am), then the problem lies in the way we educate teachers.

Colleges of education are insular affairs, and most have resisted the many changes to education our Legislature recently enacted. This includes the unremarkable requirement that new teachers have more education in the subjects they teach. (I proudly note that Ball State has the courage to engage change in charter schools and other reforms.)

So perhaps we ought to entirely rethink the role of teachers’ colleges. Maybe we need education leaders who can understand and explain that performance evaluations are part of every profession. Maybe we need more teachers from business, arts and sciences who understand that reality.

Getting an education isn’t supposed to be easy, and it requires a cadre of skilled, dedicated and probably better-paid teachers. No doubt the implementation of teacher performance evaluations will be imperfect, but it is long overdue.•

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Hicks is director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at cber@bsu.edu.

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