Public enthusiasm for evaluation blows hot and cold

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It's hard to change teacher evaluation systems!

Recent reports reveal that virtually all teachers are still being rated highly, even in districts using new evaluation systems designed to illuminate true variation. Now a survey of Chicago parents shows how hard it is to reconcile the thought of some teachers being weak with the possibility that your child's teacher might not be the best instructor.

In the course of last year's strike we heard a lot about what Chicago teachers and school leadership thought about their city's new teacher evaluation system. Here's how parents weighed in:

In general, Chicago parents favor using student scores as one of the measures when evaluating teachers. When asked by the Chicago Tribune how they would choose their own children's teachers, city residents responded that evidence that the teacher's students are learning would be the most important factor (although "evidence of student learning" was not defined until later in the survey). When the teacher evaluation system was explained, two-thirds said that student test scores should account for a larger percentage of teachers' ratings than they currently do, even under the new system. In addition, there was strong support for using the new teacher evaluation system to inform retention and exiting decisions.

However, like most parents, Chicago residents think that their children's teachers are wonderful, even if they think the average teacher is not. Ninety percent of parents reported that they were satisfied with their children's teachers, although opinions varied greatly on the percentage of all teachers who deserve a top rating.

If Chicago's new ratings system works as promised, providing a more detailed, multilevel evaluation of teachers, not everyone -- and that sometimes means "not my child's teacher" -- will get a high score. Time will tell if parents in Chicago, and elsewhere, can accept this.