Reflections on the St Louis Teacher Evaluation Blues

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Reflections on the St Louis Teacher Evaluation Blues

As part of the Department of Education’s ongoing conversations with teachers, recently I held a teacher roundtable in St. Louis, Mo.  I am a product of St. Louis Public Schools, so it was exciting to go back to my hometown to talk with teachers about their joys and struggles in the classroom.  On this day, I mostly heard about the struggles, not the least of which include their persistent frustration with the quality of their professional development and teacher evaluations.

The teachers complained about inconsistent and irrelevant teacher evaluations, describing a lack of praise for what they do well and feedback about areas to improve.  “Each person should know their shortcomings; one size fits all does not work,” one teacher explained.  Teachers also described how subjective evaluations can be when, often, their evaluators don’t know much about their subject or best practices for teaching.  They felt that personal politics should be taken out of the evaluation process, and that they should be measured in part by the success of their students. (The Obama administration’s Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act agrees that student achievement should be a significant factor in teachers’ evaluations, along with other measures, including in-classroom observation by trained evaluators.)

In addition to lacking quality evaluations, the teachers struggled with constant changes in their professional development, describing perpetually being required to learn Strategy A in one year, only to have it replaced by Strategy B the next.  As one teacher put it, “Time is needed to implement and learn about the professional development to be utilized.” Furthermore, the teachers described a missing relationship between their evaluations and their development.   All said that what they are taught is usually unrelated to their needs in the classroom.

Flying home to DC, I ruminated on this common problem in education.  At ED, we call it “drive-by PD,” a metaphor that reinforces the lack of depth and relevance in many poorly planned systems of professional development.  I also thought about how we really need to support teachers by providing candid, relevant evaluations and connecting a teacher’s professional development to his or her needs.   Student data should be used to give teachers what they really need, to develop them as the professionals they are.  Maybe then these teachers won’t be singing the St. Louis Blues.

Kim Morton
Office of Communications and Outreach

Kim Morton is a former social studies teacher who works in the Office of Communication and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.  Recently the Department released a brochure, Built for Teachers, which explains teachers’ role in President Obama’s Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.