One of the things we’ve learned is there is no perfect way to measure teacher quality.  And that’s because there’s not one good kind of teacher.  We all know teachers who are incredibly charismatic, who are really good teachers.  We also know teachers who are sort of shy and diffident and they can also be quite good teachers. 

You have good teachers of all different personality types, all different sizes and shapes.  And so this is an art, this is not a science.  So that makes evaluating teachers hard because you can’t just do a checklist.  So the question becomes, what sort of measures do you use?  And I think we have to have a mixture of measures.  

I do think the proof is in the pudding, so the most important measure has to be test scores of the students who are in the class.  How fast are they improving?  One of the things we’re finding is that year after year, you’ll get Teacher A and students in his or her classroom will be learning 1.4 years of material in one year of school.  And so that’s a good teacher.  And we may not know how that teacher does it, but if they’re learning a year-and-a-half worth of material in one year of school, that’s a good teacher.  

If you’ve got Teacher Z and they’re learning a half a year of material in one year of school, you may  never understand why that learning isn’t happening, but that’s a red flag.  So I do think the test scores have to be important, we have to apply test scores to individual teachers.  Nonetheless, I think we know that can’t be the only measure.  And so we have to have some human subjective measures.  And I think the administrators and the faculty somehow have to find a way and peers have to find a way.  I think when you go into most schools, it’s not a perfect measure by any means, but I think other teachers in the building know who the really good teachers are and they know who the bad teachers are and obviously its subjective and obviously some teachers teach phenomenally well when they’ve got a visitor in the back of the room than they do normally and so there’s no perfect measure, but if you can do a series of measures, test scores, peers, principles, maybe outside appraisal, then you can get a better measure.  And the point is to get some measure. 

 And the final thing to be said is, we don’t need close calls here.  The teachers who are average, you know, we don’t need to be cutting so fine, but there are some teachers that are well below average.  And I think they’re reasonably clear, and those are the ones we need to do something about. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

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