STOP treating all teachers the same

October 22, 2012

In 2009, TNTP (formerly known as The New Teacher Project) released a report titled The Widget Effect. This report highlighted the treatment of teachers as interchangeable, like parts on an assembly line, on so-called evaluations. As we all know, not all teachers are created equal. Yet, this study found that 94% of teachers were rated in one of the top two categories (e.g. highly effective or effective) when more than two rating categories were used. How could this be?

Common sense and data tell us this is just not accurate – 94% of teachers are not "highly effective" or "effective." We know this by simply looking at how students are performing. Unfortunately, even when four categories (e.g. highly effective, effective, needs improvement, or ineffective)  were used, this trend of evaluating “high” remained unchanged according to a new report by the research and advocacy group, Education Trust–Midwest.

Last school year, every public school in Michigan was required to measure teacher performance. Regrettably, even with the best of intentions, the Education Trust–Midwest survey of large Michigan school districts found that more than 99% of teachers were rated "effective" or "highly effective" on their 2011- 2012 performance evaluation. Furthermore, only 0.2% of teachers were rated "ineffective."

When looking at the data, it is clear that there is no way this is anywhere close to an accurate and honest evaluation. Here are some data points from Michigan’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the Nation’s Report Card:

8th grade reading

  • 89% of Black students are not proficient
  • 74% of Hispanic students are not proficient
  • 64% of White students are not proficient
  • 81% of low-income students are not proficient

8th grade math

  • 93% of Black students are not proficient
  • 77% of Hispanic students are not proficient
  • 65% of White students are not proficient
  • 84% of low-income students are not proficient

At what point are we going to be ok with putting the education of students ahead of patting adults on the back, telling them they’re doing a great job? The report states, "when nearly all teachers are told they are doing well, expectations are lowered or remain ill-defined, and teachers miss out on opportunities to help students learn." I couldn’t agree more. We must prioritize student learning and stop treating all teachers the same. 

To add more salt to the wound, according to a recent article, the state law that requires all Michigan public schools to “implement and maintain a method of compensation for its teachers and school administrations that includes job performance and job accomplishments as a significant factor in determining compensation and additional compensation,” was made a joke by the negotiators of the new contracts.

To be in compliance with this new law while still protecting the status quo, many districts made a mockery out of trying to recognize and reward highly effective teachers by differentiating pay by $1.00 – $3.00 a year. In the Davison and Stephenson districts, “highly effective” teachers got a $1 bonus. Similarly, the Gladstone district awarded “highly effective” teachers with a $3 a year bonus; “effective” teachers with a $2 a year bonus; and teachers that “meet goals” receive $1 a year bonus.

The even more ridiculous thing is that many states and districts don’t even differentiate this much. The reality is that some teachers are more effective than others, being "highly effective" is rare, and until we have 99% of our students on grade level we simply can’t have 99% of teachers rated "effective" or "highly effective." Until we are willing to put the interest and long-term well being of children ahead of adults, we will continue to fail countless numbers of kids.

Cecilia Retelle is Senior Director of Policy at ICW.