Linda Darling-Hammond’s new book, Getting Teacher Evaluation Right, is a detailed, practical guide about how to improve the teaching profession. It leverages the best research and best practices, offering actionable, illustrated steps to getting teacher evaluation right, with rich examples from the U.S. and abroad.
Here I offer a summary of the book’s main arguments and conclude with a couple of broad questions prompted by the book. But, before I delve into the details, here’s my quick take on Darling-Hammond’s overall stance.
We are at a crossroads in education; two paths lay before us. The first seems shorter, easier and more straightforward. The second seems long, winding and difficult. The big problem is that the first path does not really lead to where we need to go; in fact, it is taking us in the opposite direction. So, despite appearances, more steady progress will be made if we take the more difficult route. This book is a guide on how to get teacher evaluation right, not how to do it quickly or with minimal effort. So, in a way, the big message or take away is: There are no shortcuts.
The original inspiration for the book – says Darling-Hammond, who serves on our board of directors – was the Albert Shanker Institute’s Good Schools Seminar Series, the goal of which is to build a network of union leaders, district superintendents, and researchers by creating a safe, off-the-record space where they can work collaboratively on issues related to improving teaching and learning. Getting Teacher Evaluation Right is a response to requests from these stakeholders, and is intended to help all sides “imagine and create coherent systems for evaluating teachers in ways that support continuous improvement in classrooms and schools.”
Despite the recent, intense and controversial focus on teacher evaluation as a means to increasing student learning, “existing [teacher evaluation] systems rarely help teachers improve or clearly distinguish those who are succeeding from those who are struggling.” (p. 24)* One problem is that they are not really systems. Judging from the attention to teacher evaluation these days, one wouldn’t suspect that teacher evaluation is really only one small piece of the educational improvement puzzle: “Changing on-the-job evaluation will not, by itself, transform the quality of teaching.”
We cannot fire our way into Finland, Darling-Hammond says:
We will not really improve the quality of the profession if we do not also cultivate an excellent supply of good teachers who are well prepared and committed to career-long learning. (p. 26)
Getting Teacher Evaluation Right provides a framework for thinking comprehensively about “the development, support, and assessment of teaching,” providing strategies based on research and successful experiences currently found in the field.
A second, important theme is that improving the skills of individual teachers is not enough to bring about large-scale, durable change:
We need to create and sustain productive, collegial working conditions that allow teachers to work collectively in an environment that supports learning for them and their students.
In other words, the way forward does not lie so much with teachers’ human capital as with their social capital or, as Hargreaves and Fullan call it, their professional capital. Carrie Leana and others have brilliantly called this theMissing Link in School Reform and social capital/network scholars refer to the same basic phenomenon as theSocial Side of the Reform Equation. What’s interesting to me is that such diverse disciplines, including sociology, organizational studies, and business management, as well as different methodological approaches, including systems’ thinking, social network analysis, etc. are coalescing around the exact same idea: We need to go beyond the individual and reflect more systematically about the behavior of groups if we are to really address our current educational challenges.
But how do we begin to build this system? What are its components? According to Darling-Hammond, in addition to high-quality curriculum and assessments, the ideal system should include five key elements, discussed in depth in each chapter of the book:
- Common statewide standards.
- Performance-based assessments, based on these standards.
- Local evaluation systems, aligned to the same standards.
- Aligned professional learning opportunities.
- Support structures to ensure proper evaluations, mentoring etc.
We should start with standards, says Darling-Hammond, as do most nations around the world. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a step in the right direction but they will require more open-ended assessments, capable of measuring deeper learning.
Next, work toward evaluation and state licensing and certification systems that are grounded in the same standards, and conceptualized as a continuum, so that they can jointly reinforce teacher development. Well-designed performance assessments for such a system would: 1) capture teaching in action; 2) observe and assess aspects of teaching related to teachers’ effectiveness; 3) consider and examine teachers’ intentions and strategies; 4) look at teaching in relation to student learning; and 5) use rubrics that vividly describe performance standards.
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