Someday, when they write the history of the education-reform movement, future scholars will tug their chins in puzzlement as they ponder today’s obsession with high-stakes teacher evaluations. But not for all the usual reasons that people raise concerns: the worry about whether we’ve got good measures of teacher performance, especially for instructors in subjects other than reading and math; the likelihood that tying achievement to evaluations will spur teaching to the test in ways that warp instruction and curriculum; the futility of trying to “principal-proof” our schools by forcing formulaic, one-size-fits-all evaluation models upon all K–12 campuses; the terrible timing of introducing new evaluation systems at the same time that educators are working to implement the Common Core.
No, future historians are far likelier to wonder about the motivation behind the evaluation obsession. Was this a policy designed to identify, and remove, America’s least effective teachers? Or was it a kinder-and-gentler effort to provide critical feedback to instructors so they could improve their craft?
If the latter, as some reformers now claim, historians will wonder why we were so insistent on attaching high stakes to these evaluations—determined to “make human-resource decisions” based on the results, as the parlance goes.
And if the former, historians will ask: What the heck were they thinking? Did they really believe that teacher evaluations alone would be enough to push bad instructors out of the classroom?
Consider, for instance, the Obama Administration’s decision to place three states on “high risk status” because...