Having a great teacher has a tremendous impact on how much a child learns in any given year. The recent surge in proposals to change how to recruit, train and retain a high quality teaching force flows from this basic fact that every parent, student and teacher know well.
Teacher Evaluations and Financial Rewards
The vast majority of teachers do not go into the profession for its financial rewards. The primary way teachers' pay increases in Boston is through negotiated changes in the basic pay scale, increases for years of service and increases for level of education.
With the introduction of corporate management techniques into the field of public education, we increasingly see proposals that attempt to tie teachers salaries to performance evaluations, which in turn are tied to student test performance. The first problem here is that BPS' principals and headmasters have a terrible track record in actually carrying out meaningful reviews on a regular basis. It is sad to note that many teachers who were dismissed from "Turnaround" schools had not received a performance evaluation in years or had received a positive one. In its 2009 report, the National Council for Quality Education (hardly a friend to union teachers), admitted that any attempt to tie teachers' salaries to performance reviews would be impossible until this problem was addressed.
We look forward to working with the BPS to improve the quality of the assessment tools used to evaluate teacher performance so that they can have a positive, remedial outcome, not just a punitive one. It will then be on the shoulders of BPS principals and administrators to see that effective reviews take place on a regular basis.
Finally, we are opposed to tying teachers' salary increases to performance evaluations solely or largely on the outcomes of their students' scores on standardized tests. The number of problems with this approach have been well-documented.
- First, a system that rewards or punishes an individual teacher is inherently flawed. Students' performance on a standardized test in a single year is conditioned by the quality of teaching in prior years, not just on the quality of the current year of instruction. Such an approach flies in the face of the school department's own emphasis on schoolwide collaboration and improvement.
- Second, does the BPS have the sophistication and data to take into account for differences between, say, a high school English teacher at a school where most students have English as their primary language and a high school English teacher in a school with a large proportion of students for whom English is not their primary language?
- Third, the quality of a teachers' performance cannot just be measured largely by their students' test scores just as we do not believe that the progress a student has made should be based largely on his or her performance on standardized tests.
- Finally, problems with the quality of standardized tests show how unreliable they can be. The recent dramatic decline in test scores in New York City based on the revamping of the city's performance test should serve as a wake-up call to those promoting this approach.
All of this said, we agree with the school department's proposal to offer financial rewards to whole school staffs for improved student test scores, improved student attendance and improved student graduation rates. If student work improves, reward the whole school. While we view this as an imperfect solution and an incomplete road map for student success, we have accepted this approach in dealing with "Turnaround" schools. This subject remains a topic of discussion in negotiating our master bargaining agreement with the BPS.
By contrast, explore the links in "MediaWatch" and " Related Research" on this page to learn more about why rewarding individual teachers will not work.
Working to Help Ineffective Teachers
The performance evaluation of teachers is solely the responsibility of the School Department, not the Boston Teachers Union. The BTU's job is to ensure due process and protect teachers from arbitrary action by principals.
Despite the best of intentions, sometimes teachers go through a bad stretch, an illness, a personal problem, and the like that negatively affects their performance. It is the responsibility of the school administrator — as employer — to identify that teacher, to work with that teacher, to guide that person, and provide the help and assistance needed to bring about improvement.
In recognition of the need to help teachers who are struggling, the BTU has jointly developed with the BPS a Peer Assistance program where experienced, accomplished and specially-trained teachers work directly with veteran teachers who need help. This program has been well-received and we look forward to seeing it develop further. (Read more about the Peer Assistance program.) In addition, the BTU has proposed a pilot Peer Assistance and Review Program, similar in some parts to the Toledo Model, to help selected 1st year provisonal teachers. In this model, Peer Assistants play both a mentoring and evaluative role.