New York

‘Widget Effect’ report: ‘Meaningless’ teacher evaluations need improvement

A new report is urging school districts across the country to beef up their methods of evaluating teachers, which the report describes as so slipshod as to be "largely meaningless." The report, by a nonprofit group that has clashed with teachers unions in the past, describes the poor evaluations as "just one symptom of a larger, more fundamental crisis—the inability of our schools to assess instructional performance accurately or to act on this information in meaningful ways." The report is called "The Widget Effect" because accuses districts of treating all teachers alike, regardless of how much they help students learn. It goes on: This inability not only keeps schools from dismissing consistently poor performers, but also prevents them from recognizing excellence among top-performers or supporting growth among the broad plurality of hardworking teachers who operate in the middle of the performance spectrum. Instead, school districts default to treating all teachers as essentially the same, both in terms of effectiveness and need for development. The report, conducted by The New Teacher Project, a nonprofit founded by the lightning-rod D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, calls on districts to develop more robust teacher evaluation systems that reward successful teachers and easily identify less successful teachers. The report comes amid a growing push to improve teaching quality across the country. President Obama has said that teachers who are not helping students learn should be removed from classrooms, and even the national American Federation of Teachers union is working internally to build a new method of evaluating teacher quality. The report bases its findings on surveys of thousands of teachers and administrators across four states and 12 school districts, plus a scouring of the districts' evaluation records. New York City was not one of the districts studied.