The Scarlet I

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The states and districts engaged in the hard work of developing new teacher evaluation systems face plenty of challenges, including making sure there are actually consequences for low performers. But making ineffective teachers wear a scarlet letter—through publication of evaluation results—shouldn't be one of those consequences.

We raised this point in our paper on state evaluation policies last fall, and we're pleased to see Bill Gates drawing attention to it in an op-ed in the New York Times

If the evidence says a teacher consistently underperforms, then that teacher shouldn't be in the classroom. States and districts need unambiguous policy that makes it clear that such teachers can be dismissed. But if we believe the purpose of teacher evaluation is to help all teachers grow and improve, then the reality is some students are going to have to be in those classrooms while lower-performing teachers are trying to grow and improve. And those teachers need to be able to go to the supermarket without their job performance being public knowledge while they are trying to grow and improve. 

Even putting the humiliation issue aside, publishing ratings creates a staffing nightmare. How can a school run with individual ratings published? This doesn't just affect the low-rated teachers: what parent would be satisfied with a teacher who is just effective when the teacher next door is highly effective?

Parents most certainly need assurance that their children have good teachers.  But that assurance needs to come from a system that doesn't allow ineffective teachers to stay on the job, not from public notification of individual teacher ratings.

We think Rhode Island has a better idea. Districts have to ensure that no student is placed with an ineffective teacher two years in a row. Combined with policy that clearly ties ineffective ratings to dismissal and prevents the awarding of tenure to teachers with ineffective ratings, this approach can give parents and the public confidence about the state's teaching force.

-Sandi Jacobs