A state bill overhauling teacher evaluations, which was set to be voted on by the Legislature today, has been withdrawn. AB-5 would have made test scores optional in assessing teachers. We’ll discuss the controversy the bill has stirred up in Sacramento, and the broader issue of teacher evaluations.

Gary Ravani, vice president of the California Federation of Teachers, president of the Early Childhood/K-12 Council for the California Federation of Teachers and a classroom teacher for 35 years
Tim Melton, vice president of legislative affairs for Students First, a bipartisan grassroots organization focusing on education
Jill Wynns, president of the California School Boards Association and former commissioner of the San Francisco Board of Education
Eric Heins, vice president of the California Teacher's Association
Jill Tucker, education writer for The San Francisco Chronicle

  • Christie

    Once again you are discussing crucial issues about education– in this case
    teacher evaluation– on a school day, when — duh — teachers are in school.
    So, you have no input from teachers on this issue. This has been a huge issue
    for decades: Others discussing and deciding what “good” teaching is and is not,
    without any respect or regard for teachers themselves. Not only do you not have
    a teacher as a guest on your show, teachers cannot call in with their input.
    Why don’t you discuss these issues in the summer time, for heaven’s sake?

    • indiethink

      You have got to be kidding. My partner is an data evaluator in a large district locally. All aspects of instituting accountability systems are developed around classroom teachers needs and desires. And similarly the failure of these simple accountability systems succeed or failed based on classroom teachers compliance.

      As a parent I spent 20 years directly in the classroom and serving governance compliance committees. The constant complaint suggesting teachers are not being heard or considered is false.

      • thmazing


        Yes teachers are “developed around”—very well phrased. Ask for teacher input then do what you were going to do anyway. This is normal.

  • Mark, SF

    If test scores are used as part of teacher evaluation then students should take a standard test at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year. The comparative results should be used in the evaluation. Any comparison to a broad standard would be an evaluation of the system as a whole. This is a simplified comment, but to hold teachers solely accountable on one test at the end of the year compared against a nationwide standard is wrong and poor.

    • Lara

      Absolutely. And the students’ course loads and special programs should be part of the record as well.  We don’t actually test all the reading initiatives, writing programs, ESOL tutoring programs and so forth at all to know whether they’re effective, or just a waste of time

  • Teacher, SF

    How can we trust district admins to listen to input from families, students and community members? Last year as a non-tenured teacher I was let go with a no cause non-reelection by my principal who had a a file of grievances against her already. After petitions of over 300 students, 150 parents, and 50 faculty members, plus multiple visits to the school board to air our concerns. And nothing changed the mind of the personnel board and I was let go for no reason.

    Now seeing my test scores, in a struggling low-income middle school I took my students science proficiency up to 66%, up from the 34 percent the year before. And 50 out of 98 students were advanced. There seems to be a break in the system there.

  • Davidngo

    The problem with our public school system is very simple. It’s bad teachers. Everyone agrees on this.

    Why even talk about evaluations? Do we need evaluations in most other professions to be able to fire them? No. Evaluations happen every day on the job. The teacher’s customers are the students and the parents. When they are dissatisfied with a teacher, they will complain to their boss…the Principal. And when the teacher performs consistently bad on the job, they should be fired. Simple as that. 

    What other profession has a firing rate of 1 out of 2500? Doctors lose their licenses at a rate of 1 out of every 50. It’s crazy how well we’ve protected bad teachers from being fired. The union and the bureaucracy we’ve put into place it’s really absurd. We need to have a unified front to simplify this process and give the Principals and School Boards the power to get rid of the bad apples. After all, studies show that just getting rid of the lowest 5% of teachers would bring us up to the highest level of education (Finland).

    • Mark, SF

       Crazy generalization and no everyone does not agree. My son is in public school and has had a number of fantastic teacher that I don’t think we could have had any better in a private school. The two teachers one bad and one in over his head are no longer teaching.

    • Lara

      Don’t be silly. THere’s not just one problem with public schools. There are many! Underfunding, micromanagement by state government, pockets of poverty, lack of consistent teacher training and support, legislation that makes schools slaves to the textbook companies, etc etc etc.  There may be lousy teachers out there, but how do you figure out who they are fairly? And will firing them actually improve the schools as much as, say, paying enough in taxes to avoid furlough days?

  • Hilary

    I am in my 34th year of teaching high school. With all of the important focus on teacher performance, why is there not a position in every school where an administrator supports, provides guidance and evaluates the teachers? This ought to be the ONLY responsibility of that administrator. 

    My other suggestion is that administrators ought to be held accountable for teacher performance and their pay ought to be on the line if they don’t support, provide guidance and evaluate teachers. 

  • David

    Silicon valley engineering managers typically evaluate their employees QUARTERLY. It is shocking to hear that teachers are only eval’ed every 5 years. How on earth can anyone improve with such little feedback? I cannot think of anything more important for administrators to do, so the resource excuse is not valid. This shoud be a top priority.

    • David

       The teachers I know and work with would agree that there should be more frequent, even ongoing evaluation, but not relying entirely on an administrator whose expertise may or may not match the teacher’s assignment.  Peer evaluation programs in some smaller CA districts have shown some great results, and that approach would help ensure the frequency and improvement you rightly expect.  Of course, Silicon Valley engineering managers probably have more time and resources.  The ratio of administrators to students in California schools is the lowest in the nation.

    • Pontifikate

      I can only speak for San Francisco, which requires multiple evaluations during your first three years and after that one every other year. It’s true, teachers need more and better feedback. Tell that to the administrators who are supposed to provide that and who very often have left teaching for administration because they couldn’t hack it themselves.

  • Teacher, SF

    If you are not performing at your position, why should it be hard to be asked to leave and find a better fit? In any other industry that is seen as normal.

    This is coming from a teacher who lost their job after doubling proficiencies in school in science and earning awards for teaching. All because I was too young for tenure.

    • Pontifikate

      There is no such thing as being too young for tenure in San Francisco and most anyplace I know of. You usually have to have three years of  satisfactory teaching experience for tenure.

  • Blairtaffuri@hotmail.com

    What about training good teachers in the first place? WHAT IS THE BEST TEACHER TRAINING PROGRAM.? I am.presently attending National university on line program and im worried if im going to be trained properly to be a good teacher

  • Jim Stuart

    I am beginning my 26th year as a Michigan teacher.  Tim Melton was a Democrat legislator in my state who frequently deserted his constituents and party by voting for Repuplican union breaking initiatives.  Also Students First, his new empoyer, is the organization of Michelle Rhee, a three year teacher who suddenly became the panacea for all that is wrong in education.  Since her early success, her methods and that success have been found to be somewhat flawed.  No Child Left Behind should be called No Child Left Untested as standardized, mainly multiple choice tests, are the main component of this program.  My  sister was Teacher of the year in Torrance Ca a few years ago, recognized for her creative qualities and love of her students in fourth grade.  She is now demoralized by spending months practicing for standardized tests.

  • Parent

    How is a teacher expected to perform with limitations such as Positive behavioral interventional support (PBIS) discipline methods where teachers cannot remove disruptive students from a classroom?  In California there is a tendency to focus on the bottom rather on the top where academics are concerned. How can a teacher perform miracles where we have a vast majority of students in public schools who do not any family or home support for education beyond the classroom. They can get away without doing homework and their parents feel school is a safe haven while they are at work, so learning is only secondary.

  • Finnabennacht

    Teachers work between 50 and 80 hours a week.  Obviously there is going to be a difference in the quality of work between a teacher that puts in 50 and a teacher that puts in 80 hours prepping and grading.  To often the public holds average teachers up the standards of the ‘hero’ teachers we see in movies.  As you heard in the piece, 50% of California teachers quit within 5 years.  Currently we are asked to do a job that requires 10 or more hour days yet we are paid slightly more than middle class non college degreed workers.  If you don’t love the work, you are going to move on to something more lucrative as 50% of those who begin teaching careers do.  As long as education is underfunded, we will be stuck with a few under performing teachers because districts need to put someone in front of students even if they lack qualified applicants.  You can have robust evaluation procedures; however, if you lack talented employees because pay is low, you’re just changing the problem you know for the problem you don’t know.

  • David

    Some quick thoughts and links:
    The idea that “unions are the problem is demonstrably false.”  Some locals are better than others, but the NEA and CTA have shown a commitment to improving student learning through direct involvement in schools (look up Priority Schools and QEIA).  There are also pockets of innovation in California where local unions and school boards have longstanding practices of teachers as trained peer evaluators. An SRI study last year found that these peer evaluators provide more feedback, better feedback, and are tougher on their peers than administrators doing evaluations.  Teachers are trying to lead the way towards improvements.  See:

    The flaws of using test scores for evaluation are myriad.  Check out this video by U.C. Berkeley professor Jesse Rothstein.  He shows how test-based teacher ratings are unpredictable, unreliable, even non-sensical at times. 

    The fact that states are going down this road anyways is not a persuasive argument about the validity of the approach.  If every school in every state did it, the practice would still be scientifically invalid (under current conditions and practices).  Don’t take my word for it: I’m just passing along the opinions of the National Research Council, American Pscychology Association, National Council on Measurement in Education, American Education Research Association, Educational Testing Services, RAND Corporation, and the Economics Policy Institute.  Within these sources, you can find dozens of studies showing what a bad idea it is to expect valid assessment of teaching from tests that cannot isolate the effects of a teacher on students.

  • Neighbor

    I have seen dysfunctional superintend in school district. Is there a way to ensure the leadership are in right direction?

    The right leadership of principle and superintendent are important to support success of teachers. They should be accounted for, too.

    Power should be balanced to make sure the teach review are helpful. Too much bureaucratic leader will drive good teachers away.

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