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Many school systems lack the means to evaluate teacher effectiveness

A look at the current state of teacher hiring

Teachers are the single most important factor in student learning. Yet, our field as a whole spends little time ensuring that only the best teachers enter our classrooms—and even less time ensuring that the best teachers feel supported.

In reality, many schools don’t have evaluation systems or performance measures in place to assess whether or not teachers are effective. In its study, “The Widget Effect,” The New Teacher Project explores “the tendency of school districts to assume classroom effectiveness is the same from teacher to teacher.”

The study reports that most urban districts give 99 percent of teachers a satisfactory rating. The lack of objectivity in evaluating teacher performance is problematic, since districts must be able to define and identify what makes an effective teacher prior to the hiring process.

Despite the current lack of systems to measure performance, the data to do so is available. Education has a research base that rivals any field, and hundreds of studies have shown us what matters in terms of teaching effectiveness.

However, these studies have been hard to distill and actualize into a program or tool that busy educational leaders can use in making decisions about hiring and teacher development.

Hiring challenges

Given national policy and the current status of the teaching pool, the need to find and hire the best teachers has never been greater. Consider these issues:

  • More teachers needed. Public school enrollment is expected to reach record highs with each passing year through at least 2017. What’s more, nearly 50 percent of currently employed teachers expect to depart the profession within their first three to five years on the job.
  • Teacher turnover and lack of qualified teachers. Urban and rural districts have many problems, from high teacher turnover to chronic shortages of qualified math, science, and technology teachers.
  • Declining quality. Many believe that the quality of the average teacher has decreased as teachers’ salaries have declined relative to those of other professions. It will be increasingly difficult for districts to compete for high-quality teachers.
  • Educational policy. Recent changes introduced by Race to the Top legislation and similar policies are compelling many states to begin measuring the effectiveness of individual teachers.

The questions that must be answered:

  • How do you define an effective teacher? There is a seismic shift occurring in schools and in the policy landscape at the federal and state levels driven by the development of teacher evaluation frameworks. Each state and district must spell out their plans for teacher quality.
  • What characteristics matter most in an effective teacher? Decades of research on teacher effectiveness offer a great deal of insight into this question. However, these characteristics have to be distilled into something that busy educational leaders, parents, and policymakers can use to solve the challenge of finding a great teacher for every classroom.
  • Is it possible to predict the impact that a teacher candidate will have on student achievement if hired? Nothing could be more important than to set new teachers up for success, and to make sure they will meet definitions of excellence established by new evaluation methods. Yet, a few decades ago, it wasn’t possible to evaluate the impact of a teacher candidate on student achievement.
  • Do you have the right professional development program in place? Providing teachers with a well-designed professional development plan is essential to supporting and managing educators, and developing their talents as teachers. Programs offering extended professional development help increase student achievement by 21 percentile points.

The science of hiring

Because many of the conventional indicators used to predict teacher effectiveness have proven unreliable, science has stepped up to the plate. A carefully crafted and statistically valid pre-employment assessment can be an invaluable means of determining which teachers are more likely to be effective.

Predictive analytics and evidence-based data can enhance the more subjective “art of hiring,” resulting in an efficient, equitable process. Educational science has taken a groundbreaking step forward in advancing the quantitative aspects of hiring. Why not blend the best of recent scientific hiring practices with the existing art of hiring processes to create a powerful, well-balanced equation?

Don Fraynd is a former principal at Chicago Public Schools (blue ribbon recipient) and co-founder of TeacherMatch.