Can we get teacher evaluation right?: Bill Gates, Tom Brady, and Linda Darling-Hammond

Teacher evaluation is one of the most contentious issues in educational policy today. Here on CI I recently discussed how policymakers have ignored the experts on the use of VAM statistical models. I will be honest, I have not often been a fan of how the Gates Foundation has typically gone about education reform (See parent trigger). But let me tell you, I am a fan (I am also a HUGE fan of my alma mater The University of Michigan. Beat Syracuse in the Final Four!) of what Bill Gates had to say in the Washington Post in a column entitled. Bill Gates: A fairer way to evaluate teachers:

Tom Brady may be the best quarterback in football, but he is also infamously, hilariously slow. YouTube videos of his 40-yard dash have gotten many thousands of hits from sports fans looking for a good laugh.If the New England Patriots had chosen a quarterback based only on foot speed, they would have missed out on three Super Bowl victories. But National Football League teams ask prospects to run, jump and lift weights. They interview them for hours. They watch game film. In short, they use multiple measures to determine the best players.

In much the same way that sports teams identify and nurture talent, there is a window of opportunity in public education to create systems that encourage and develop fantastic teachers, leading to better results for students.

Efforts are being made to define effective teaching and give teachers the support they need to be as effective as possible. But as states and districts rush to implement new teacher development and evaluation systems, there is a risk they’ll use hastily contrived, unproven measures. One glaring example is the rush to develop new assessments in grades and subjects not currently covered by state tests. Some states and districts are talking about developing tests for all subjects, including choir and gym, just so they have something to measure.

In one Midwestern state, for example, a 166-pagePhysical Education Evaluation Instrumentholds teachers accountable for ensuring that students meet state-defined targets for physical education, such as consistently demonstrating “correct skipping technique with a smooth and effortless rhythm” and “strike consistently a ball with a paddle to a target area with accuracy and good technique.” I’m not making this up!

This is one reason there is a backlash against standardized tests — in particular, using student test scores as the primary basis for making decisions about firing, promoting and compensating teachers. I’m all for accountability, but I understand teachers’ concerns and frustrations.

Even in subjects where the assessments have been validated, such as literacy and math, test scores don’t show a teacher areas in which they need to improve.

If we aren’t careful to build a system that provides feedback and that teachers trust, this opportunity to dramatically improve the U.S. education system will be wasted.

The fact is, teachers want to be accountable to their students. What the country needs are thoughtfully developed teacher evaluation systems that include multiple measures of performance, such as student surveys, classroom observations by experienced colleagues and student test results.

Of particular concern is the possibility that test results alone will be used to determine a large part of how much teachers get paid. I have talked to many teachers over the past several years, and not one has told me they would be more motivated, or become a better teacher, by competing with other teachers in their school. To the contrary, teachers want an environment based on collaboration, in which they can rely on one another to share lesson plans, get advice and understand what’s working well in other classrooms. Surveys by MetLife and other research of teachers back this up.

Teachers also tell me that while compensation is important, so are factors such as high-quality professional development opportunities, a strong school leader, engaged families and the chance to work with like-minded colleagues.

While there is justification for rewarding teachers based in part on how their students perform, compensation systems should use multiple measures, including classroom observation. In top-performing education systems in other parts of the world, such as Singapore and Shanghai, accomplished teachers earn more by taking on additional responsibilities such as coaching and mentoring other teachers and helping to capture and spread effective teaching techniques. Such systems are a way to attract, retain and reward the best teachers; make great use of their skills; and honor the collaborative nature of work in schools.

States, districts and the U.S. Education Department would do well to encourage the right balance. States such as Connecticut, Delaware and Kentucky are showing leadership in creating feedback and evaluation systems that reflect the patience and involvement of teachers and administrators. This is what’s required to build the kind of infrastructure that stands the test of time.

Exciting progress is being made in education across the country. The challenge now is to make sure we balance the urgency for change with the need to ensure fair ways to develop, evaluate and compensate teachers for the work they do.

Let’s be thoughtful about our approach so that one day we can say this was the moment we joined together to drive the long-term improvement our schools need.


I don’t often profile books, well, I never have. But is anyone else excited about the release of this book on teacher evaluation by Linda Darling-Hammond?

Getting Teacher Evaluation Right
What Really Matters for Effectiveness and ImprovementLinda Darling-Hammond
Pub Date: April 2013, 192 pages

Paperback: ISBN: 0807754463
Cloth: ISBN: 0807754471

“This book is a must-read for anyone who wants to improve teaching and learning, rather than simply wax poetic about it. Darling-Hammond has given us a practical roadmap to success based on research and best practice.”
Randi Weingarten, President, American Federation of Teachers

“If anybody knows how to get teacher evaluation right, it is Linda Darling-Hammond. Her new book presents a system that includes development and support, in addition to teacher assessment, and promotes teaching as a collegial activity, rather than reinforcing isolation and competitiveness.”
Dan Domenech, Executive Director, American Association of School Administrators

“Darling-Hammond knows that we must ‘get teacher evaluation right’ and her book is as clear a guide for doing that as we will ever see.”
Ronald Thorpe, President and CEO, National Board for Professional Teaching Standards

“Finally, a book that captures what educators have been saying. This is a must-read for those interested in building a world-class education system!”
Dennis Van Roekel, President, National Education Association

“This stimulating and provocative book outlines a comprehensive system for the development, support, and assessment of teaching based on research and best practices.”
Gail Connelly, Executive Director, National Association of Elementary School Principals

“Regardless of where one currently stands on teacher evaluation issues, a trusted, well-researched, comprehensive framework is needed to help navigate the complex policy issues facing policymakers at the local, state, and national levels. This book provides that framework and much more.”
Jim Kohlmoos, Former Executive Director, National Association of State Boards of Education

“In Getting Teacher Evaluation Right, Darling-Hammond emphasizes elements essential to creating an evaluation system that contributes to better student outcomes. This book offers well-conceived guidance to address a complex and thorny topic.”
Stephanie Hirsh, Executive Director, Learning Forward

Teacher evaluation systems are being overhauled by states and districts across the United States. And, while intentions are admirable, the result for many new systems is that good—often excellent—teachers are lost in the process. In the end, students are the losers. In her new book, Linda Darling-Hammond makes a compelling case for a research-based approach to teacher evaluation that supports collaborative models of teacher planning and learning. She outlines the most current research informing evaluation of teaching practice that incorporates evidence of what teachers do and what their students learn. In addition, she examines the harmful consequences of using any single student test as a basis for evaluating individual teachers. Finally, Darling-Hammond offers a vision of teacher evaluation as part of a teaching and learning system that supports continuous improvement, both for individual teachers and for the profession as a whole.

This groundbreaking book:

  • Presents a comprehensive teacher evaluation system based on research and best practices.
  • Describes a variety of models from across the United States that base evaluations on an assessment of classroom practice in light of professional standards, an array of student work, and active participation in the professional community.
  • Explains how teacher peers become part of the evaluation and support system.
  • Demonstrates how to create a fair and substantiated process for removal of teachers who can’t improve.

Darling-Hammond is the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University. Her books include The Flat World and Education which won the 2012 Grawemeyer Award in Education.

In sum, we need a multiple measures approach to teacher evaluation that limits the inconsistency of VAM models and high-stakes exams. Just like Tom Brady, we need consistent, reliable, and balanced approaches to teacher evaluation.


  • Pingback: Actual Educators on Reforming US Assessment Paradigm | Cloaking Inequity

  • Pingback: Academia Esoteric and Inaccessible?: Not this month | Cloaking Inequity

  • Pingback: The Teat: Is Leadership for Educational Equity getting TFA’s dirty work done? | Cloaking Inequity

  • Pingback: ED4Change » year one almost done… are we “passing” the test?

  • Monty J. Thornburg

    You wrote: “The fact is, teachers want to be accountable to their students.” Do they? Is this “fact” measured through teacher evaluation? How is it done? What evidence tells us this is true? How true? For example, on a scale of 1-5; i.e., 1. very accountable to students (learning needs), 5. not accountable at all to student’s (learning needs)!

    Isn’t the question of accountability, with respect to “clients”, i.e., students, students and parents, something different than accountability to meet professional standards? Standards that tell how “proficiently” large groups of students are learning subject matter?

    Does not the meaning of “accountability” depend on the “clients” and how they interpret its meaning? Might not “accountability” be different for different groups of clients? For example, parent groups with high expectations that their children will go to college, vs. parents with little respect for schools and “schooling” in general, or parents and/or students looking for job readiness after public schooling?

    What about administrators? What about the larger “system” (the state), when “political groups” make comparisons through test scores without regard for student differences? For example, when comparisons are made between countries as we witnessed recently with negative TV advertizing by Exxon; advertisements that sent the message that; “we can solve this!” Those advertisements told viewers that the U.S.A. lags far behind countries like Finland? Finland? Statistical comparisons between Finland and the USA are meaningless! Thanks, Exxon!

    You wrote, “What the country needs are thoughtfully developed teacher evaluation systems that include multiple measures of performance, such as student surveys, classroom observations by experienced colleagues and student test results.” I agree!

    However, I must ask; “the country?” Not the students? Are they really ALL one and the same? How can “accountability” be done so that as you wrote, “a way to attract, retain and reward the best teachers; (can be found to) make great use of their skills; and honor the collaborative nature of work in schools.”

    Can we make it really happen in this political climate? A political climate that confuses good with “private” and bad with “government” thus making (in some people’s minds) public school teachers the scape goat for the nation’s economic and social problems.

    In my opinion, the type of “teacher evaluation systems” are less important than the level of trust in our overall educational system. The ongoing efforts to destroy public education with these privatization efforts; in my opinion, will continue to undermine efforts toward building the trust needed. Therefore, any hope that (we) -the experts or the politicians- can find an accountability system that works remains very problematic.


  • Bravo for Bill Gates.

    In his own industry, compensation is surely not a simple matter of “how many copies did the software you worked on sell?”

    A teacher who can take a low-IQ student from a chaotic and impoverished family background, and teach them how to read and write do basic sums, preparing them to ‘fit in’ to society, has done a far greater job, and if it comes to that, deserves financial compensation in excess of, the teacher who just oversees the academic success of a high-IQ student from an already-educated and supportive family background.

    Or to switch metaphors, if you came ashore at Normandy on July 6th, all honor to you, but don’t expect the same honors as the men who came ashore on June 6th, even if it only took you twenty minutes to go from the water’s edge to a mile inshore, while it took the men on June 6th all day.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s