Measuring teachers' effectiveness - Obama's school reform

07 Sep 2010

 The current buzz in American school reform is 'teacher evaluation'. According to President Obama's Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, measuring teacher effectiveness and using it to raise the esteem of the profession is  'the big game-changer'.

But it is controversial as teachers fear the judgements will be made on imperfect or narrow data and will be used to determine job security and pay.

The whole issue was given a electric shock recently by the Los Angeles Times which took seven years of student achievement data, did a value-added analysis, and then linked the results to individual teachers. Readers could search a database on the paper's website to see how well individual teachers scored.

The newspaper was only doing - albeit rather more publicly - what several US states have started to do with the active encouragement - and financial support - of the Obama government through its 'Race to the Top' programme. 

This involves giving $4.3 billion of federal grants to states which best make the case for reform. Its a competitive grant and of the 46 states which applied only 11 so far have been awarded money, usually for programmes which seek to raise targets, collect  achievement data and turn-around low-achieving schools. Several of the successful states have included plans for using student achievement data for teacher evaluation.

It's a big turn around for a country which, until recently, steered clear of monitoring teacher quality. For example, there is no equivalent of the inspectorate Ofsted in the USA and, until quite recently, teachers reacted with horror to the idea of anyone coming into their classroom to monitor their teaching. 

One state, Louisiana, is even tracking students' scores to teachers and then tracking those teachers' performance back to the training college they attended.

In a speech marking the start of the new school term, Education Secretary, Duncan, said 'every state and district should be collecting and sharing information about teacher effectiveness with teachers and...with parents'. 

While accepting that such data should include meaningful context, he argued it should be 'tied to opportunities for advancement and bonuses'.

Arne Duncan's full speech can be read here:

The Race to the Top grant announcements is here:



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