K-12 Education

Evaluating Teachers So that Everyone Wins

April 26, 2013  • Ross Wiener

Ross Wiener is a vice president at the Aspen Institute and executive director of the Education and Society Program.

Public education is making massive investments in more meaningful teacher evaluation methods, which is a good thing. Evaluations establish a foundation for improving teacher practice and increasing student achievement. To convert evaluations into better outcomes, however, we need to make sure a few things are happening. Teachers should receive feedback that identifies strengths and gaps in performance. Principals should provide guidance regarding action steps teachers are expected to take to improve. And professional development activities should align with teachers’ identified gaps.

While most new evaluation policies require these components to be in place, public education systems generally have weak mechanisms for assessing implementation. If we want to know if these things are happening, we should ask teachers. That’s the argument presented in a new report from the Aspen Institute, “Evaluating Evaluations: Using Teacher Surveys to Strengthen Implementation.”

Employee surveys are a component of well-designed, continuous improvement in high-performing businesses, health care organizations, and education systems. The new report profiles several leading examples:

•Apple surveys its store employees every few months and expects store managers to process the results with employees, who can propose ways to address issues surfaced in the survey results. Part of a manager’s responsibility is to make progress by the time the survey rolls around again a few months later.

•Aspire Public Schools, a network of high-performing charters in California, uses surveys extensively and has built a robust system for using the data to deepen employee engagement and signal the importance of teachers’ voices in shaping the organization’s priorities. Aspire begins every school year with a whole-staff “Close the Loop” meeting at each school, using the prior year’s survey results to establish priorities for the coming year.

•The state of Tennessee committed to support teachers with low performance ratings, and used a statewide survey early in 2013 to gauge whether teachers had received support. The survey results revealed a mixed picture, allowing Tennessee to celebrate some successes and target oversight and technical assistance to the districts and schools where support is lacking.

Surveys certainly aren’t a silver bullet and done poorly they can reinforce negative impressions of school systems as employers. Too often, survey results are ignored or published without analysis or action, which can reinforce the impression of school systems as bureaucratic, non-responsive places to work. When districts and states publicize and act on the results, however, surveys can deepen teacher engagement, signal to teachers that their growth and development is a priority, and create the expectation that principals demonstrate the openness to feedback we expect teachers to embrace.

The report, co-authored with Kasia Lundy of The Parthenon Group, is filled with examples from the field, and practical advice—including a draft teacher survey. View it here.