Teacher Evaluation:

Educational Process for Pedagogical Improvement

Or Punitive, Political Tool?

©2000 Joseph N. Meloche


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Link to related article:
Educational Assessment: status vs. achievement



This paper examines the current teacher evaluation practices that are employed throughout the public school systems in the United States, and the effects that these practices have upon the systems. An historical perspective concerning the evaluatory process and the affective results of implementing such processes are scrutinized.

The questions that force the directive inquiry throughout the paper are: (1) What is teaching? (2) What does it mean to 'evaluate' a teacher? (3) Can a teacher be evaluated fairly and effectively? (4) What are the implications for the institution of public education resulting from the current system of teacher evaluation?

A case study drawn from The Ethics of School Administration,2nd Edition by Kenneth A. Strike, Emil J. Haller, and Jonas F. Soltis will be used to establish a palette for discussion.



I. An Issue for Thought - The Case
a. Strike et al., page 73-75
b. Perspectives
i. Paula Carlton, Principal
ii. Frank Banner, Chemistry Teacher
c. The merits
d. The questions
II. An Issue of Definition and Perspective-Historical and Ideological
a. Definitions
i. Teaching
ii. Learning
iii. Evaluation
b. Perspective
i. Historical
ii. Ideological
III. An Analysis of Controversy
a. Questions
b. Positions
c. Possibilities
IV. The Future
a. Is there an answer
b. Closing thoughts / Conclusions
An Issue for Thought - The Case (Strike73- 75)

Strike et al. devote a section of the book  The Ethics of School Administration, 2nd Edition to "Educational Evaluation," examining the nuances and legal establishments that affect teacher evaluation and its unique place in public education. The opening scenario that is presented in Chapter 5 describes what appears to be a relatively simple case, at least on the observable merits that are described. Yet, upon reflection and closer examination, the case embodies the subtle destructive factors that are incorporated in the very essence of the teacher evaluation process.

Paula Carlton, the relatively new superintendent of the New Delaware School District, is in the midst of meeting with an attorney for a teacher that she had hoped to dismiss for incompetence. John Corrales, the attorney representing high school chemistry teacher Frank Banner, is explaining to Carlton that a "mere $100,000" and a favorable letter of recommendation are all that it would take for Banner to resign. Feeling that her case for dismissal is weak, and believing that Banner must be removed from his classroom, Carlton is left to determine whether or not paying the money and writing the letter would be "a good deal for the district,"

Carlton's basis for removing Banner was built upon an examination of his personnel file, including her review of his previous evaluations and derogatory letters from parents, discussion with his principal, and a direct classroom observation. The evaluations that had been performed throughout the years by Banner's supervisor, the high school principal, were neither exemplary nor did they warrant grounds for dismissal. The ratings assigned had remained rather consistent during the years prior to Carlton's arrival in the district.

Banner's heterogeneously grouped and untracked students on average, as evidenced by the numbers contained in his personnel file, had scored lower than the other chemistry students from the high school. Letters accusing Banner of incompetence and of heavy drinking were contained in his personnel file as well. Taken in its entirety, the file persuaded Carlton to meet face to face with Banner.

The meeting provided Carlton with an opportunity to question Banner on his teaching perspective and his role in the classroom. Carlton explained that he had a different perspective than other teachers, and that he teaches "students to think, not just to regurgitate facts-" He continued by "pointedly" noting that the district did not have any policy that outlined a specific teaching strategy to be manipulated in the classroom.

The classroom observation that Carlton performed as a "surprise visit" was the proverbial breaking straw, as she described students that "ranged from inattentive to positively disruptive." The behavior that troubled Carlton the most, and resulted in her decision that Banner should not be in the classroom occurred as "three students were heating a beaker over a Bunsen burner, dumping into it spoonfuls of chemicals that were taken, seemingly at random, from jars removed from an unlocked cabinet" as "Mr. Banner seemed oblivious." From the superintendent's perspective, the situation seemed to be extremely unsafe and threatening to the welfare of the students. A serious question that is raised immediately with this incident, is why was he not relieved of his duties? If the students' safety and well-being was in question, then surely Carlton would have been justified and substantiated in removing him from the classroom and seriously reprimanding him.

The question that remained then, was what should Superintendent Carlton do to rectify the situation? Is it advisable to attempt to dismiss Banner and to face the lawsuit that had been threatened by his attorney? Would the best interest of the present and future students at the high school be served if Banner were given $100,000 and a favorable recommendation to a new school district?

The answers to all or any of the previous questions would be applicable for this specific case, yet they would merely answer the symptomatic results of the underlying problem. Ultimately, the question that must be answered by Carlton is, what role did the system for teacher evaluation play in the creation of this situation for the New Delaware School District?

An Issue of Definition and Perspective - Historical and Ideological

At the heart of the issue when examining and discussing the teacher evaluation process is the determination as to exactly what the terms "teaching" and "evaluation" actually mean. If teaching is more than simply the presentation of information to a group of children who are the embodiment of the theory of tabula rasa, and most would agree that that is has to be, then what is it? And what does it mean to evaluate someone who is teaching?

"To teach," beyond the scope of the common and modern clich6s, is commonly defined as "to impart knowledge or skill; to give lessons; make to understand by experience." Although this definition sounds simplified and understandable, it encompasses a certain degree of ambiguity because it permits the interpretation of the reader to assign a level of importance to each part of the definition. Countless thousands of people, men and women alike, claim that they teach each day in the United States.

Yet, if given the opportunity to define what exactly that is, each may provide an individual and original definition. Granted, the definitions may be closely aligned with the commonly accepted Western norms, but it could be guaranteed that nuances and individualized responses would abound.

The same issues are evident when a definition is sought for the term "evaluation." There are scientific and business definitions that are each applicable in a given arena, yet how does it apply to education? The human reality of a school and the unpredictability of a classroom setting remove the applicability of the scientific and business applications of this term, although they are assigned value in education on a regular basis.

Even the most respected educational theorists have not been able to agree upon a true definition of teaching that is supported by a concrete example. Pestalozzi urged teachers to begin with the experiences of children, their observations, their ideas. The teacher could proceed by means of carefully graded oral instruction to systematic and organized knowledge. The teacher was called upon to present directed and very specific lessons. (Perkinson, p. 71) John Dewey believed that teachers should become truly an educator, "teaching children, not subjects." Teachers, in Dewey's mind, were called upon to socialize the whole child. (Perkinson, p. 76) In this progressive perspective on education, the teacher was assigned the job of maximizing the possibilities for growth, both present and future, by supplying children with real problems, helping them to formulate hypotheses and guiding them in testing them. In this way children learned how to learn as a result of the teaching that took place -they learned the scientific method of discovery. (Perkinson, p. 135) The theorists that would complete the spectrum of educational knowledge would offer varying definitions along the same theme of what it is to teach.

Similarly educational evaluation has examples and definitions that may be accepted by some practitioners, but are rejected by others. Charlotte Danielson, in Enhancing Professional Practice: A Frameworkfor Teaching, identifies a framework for professional practice that is comprised of twenty-two components divided into four domains. These domains: planning and preparation, the classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities, are used to evaluate a classroom teacher on four levels of performance. (p.60)

The changes that have occurred in the structuring and the operation of the schools in the United States have often influenced the interpretive perspective that is used when discussing and examining the idea of teacher evaluations. Dependent upon the social perspective that is employed and the lens that is used to view the situation of classroom instruction, what is deemed to be effective and important practices has changed. Monitorial schools were authoritarian and regimented with a rigid and mechanical approach to teaching, reducing education and lean-ling to rote memorization (Perkinson, p. 16) The development of the "graded school" in the 1840's, based upon a model developed by Horace Mann, allowed for the perceived improvement of instruction because students were "grouped" by grade level. Grouping students in this manner allowed for more female teachers, who could be hired at a lower rate, and for males, who had been the classroom teachers, to be promoted as administrators. This hierarchical structure encouraged the systematic presentation of information in a setting that was established to create mirrored classroom images of lessons, within a top down bureaucracy. (Perkinson, p. 69)

To understand and explain why a particular teacher did a particular thing in a school, interpretivists would argue that it is necessary to understand the way of life in the society and the ways of doing things in that school. Teachers, who may have been struggling to meet previously defined needs, are often blamed for inadequately addressing a newly defined need. (Feinberg, p. 6, 7)

Functionalists see the goal of the school as serving the most important institutional task in society, the socialization of its members. (Feinberg, 10) Learning the subjects that are taught in schools is the "manifest function" of schools according to the functionalists. The notion of an existing and viable 'hidden curriculum' is examined and discussed by both the functionalists and the Marxists, although varying interpretations are developed as to its impact and its importance. When consideration is made of this 'hidden curriculum,' the role of the teacher and the effective impact that the teacher has on the children in her classroom changes from assuming the traditional roles are still applicable. Regardless of the perspective, the teacher is merely fulfilling the predescribed role of her position to prepare the students to be viable members of society. (Feinberg, p. 21)

Analysis of Controversy

Clabaugh and Rozycki provide an overview and an outline to be implemented when examining an issue such as this in Analyzing Controversy. Manipulating this model will allow the following questions to be addressed: What is teaching? What does it mean to 'evaluate' a teacher? Can a teacher be evaluated fairly and effectively? What are the implications for the institution of public education resulting from the current system of teacher evaluation?

The question of what is teaching is not truly confirmed within the perspective of current educational practice, nor is clearly identifiable from the historical perspective, as examined previously. Teaching and student learning should be connected and should be directly interdependent. But are they? Wherein does the "hidden curriculum" find applicability, as Fineberg and Soltis define it?

What does it mean to "evaluate" a teacher? Is evaluation truly completed when a school administrator spends upwards of forty minutes in a classroom watching a teacher, the presentation of her lesson, and her interaction with her students and then files a written report? Can the time that was spent in the classroom be effectively recorded and remain as an indicative example of a teacher's ability? Checklists, narratives, and combinations of these two forms of evaluatory observation reports are commonly used. What determines an evaluation's effectiveness? Is the fact that it has been written, signed, and filed enough to prove that it is effective because it is kept on record? Is it to be used for positive professional change for the teacher or is it simply an instrument that becomes valuable and necessary for a school district when it must be used as a punitive measure for a teacher?

Perkinson takes on the current situation by examining the relationship between the teachers and the administrators. The local administrator's job is to ensure order and stability, trying to satisfy at the same time the different demands of all the competing groups while seeing to it that no other groups are adversely affected. Teachers have secured sufficient political power to prevent local administrators from exercising leadership. Local administrators can do little or nothing to improve the performance of teachers. Teacher unions have tenure agreements, single-salary schedules, and collective bargaining rights that have effectively removed all control over incentives and punishments that administrators in the past could employ to extort or to cajole more work from their teachers. The current situation in many schools because of this is that administrators now make few, if any, demands on their teachers. Teachers and students negotiate tacit treaties not to expect or demand too much of each other. (Perkinson, p. 194, 195)

Most teachers do not like to be supervised, even though it is a required part of their training and professional work. They react defensively to supervision and do not find it helpful. (Acheson, p. 6) Tenure decisions are typically based on evaluations made by an administrator. Due to the reality of managing a school, the administrator most likely pays a quick visit to a new teacher's classroom a couple of times a year, which gives him very little basis for deciding whether or not a teacher is doing a good job. As a result, novice teachers who need help don't get it; instead, they are likely to receive a satisfactory or even an excellent on their evaluations. After three or four years, when the probationary period is over, they probably get tenure. (Shanker, 1996)

Charlotte Danielson, in justifying the performance levels that she incorporates in her work-unsatisfactory, basic, proficient, and distinguished-states that they are used as fair assessments of teaching. (p. 60) Another example that has been developed and presented as an effective and valuable method for evaluating and certify teachers was completed by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. This board was established in 1987 on the recommendation of the Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Rrofession. The mission of the board is "to establish high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do, to develop and operate a national voluntary system to assess and certify teachers who meet these standards, and to advance related education reforms for the purpose of improving student learning in American schools." (Rotberg, 1998) This mantra and this methodology could be adopted and implemented in schools and districts today, but process is challenging and not everyone is successful in completing it.

What really are the implications for the future of education in the United States as a result of the current evaluatory practices? Is the United States preparing its students for the future and to be viable and contributory members of society? Is the field of education responding to the 1989 call from President Bush and the nation's governors to create and implement "a Jeffersonian compact to enlighten our children and the children of generations to come. 7(Perkinson, p. 193)

The Future-Is there an answer?

If the present evaluatory practices that are manipulated in school districts are ineffective in the attempt to measure a teacher's ability and value to the district, then what is the answer? Keith Acheson believes that in traditional in-service supervision, the supervisor - usually the school principal-initiates the supervisory process to evaluate the teacher's performance. The evaluation function may be mandated by state law, by the local school board, or by ministries of education. This situation creates two problems at the start. First, supervision becomes equated with evaluation. People tend to be anxious when they know they are being evaluated, especially if negative evaluations threaten their jobs. No wonder, then, that teachers react negatively to supervision. The second problem is that supervision arises from a need of the supervisor, rather than from a need felt by the teacher. One answer to a productive working environment and developmentally effective relationship is clinical supervision. This is defined as "supervision focused upon the improvement of instruction by means of systematic cycles of planning, observation, and intensive intellectual analysis of actual teaching performances in the interest of rational modification." (Acheson, p. 11)

The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) posits that is a responsibility of the teaching profession itself to mentor, to guide, and to assist in the development of the pool of talent that is available to be placed in the country's classrooms. If we treated teaching as a highly valued profession, one that requires expertise and skill in a specialty, there would be no problem attracting and retaining more than enough excellent teachers. (Ingersoll, 1998) But once again, the question remains, what is an excellent teacher?

Principals are inundated with legal requirements for the evaluatory process. Coupled with these requirements, which include the position of due process, is the shear volume of evaluations that must be completed each academic year. How often are these current procedures effectively and productively used with experienced teachers that have been tenured within a district?

It is time that a developmentally appropriate and effective process is developed for the sake of the students who occupy the classrooms each day. Having a teaching job is not a guaranteed right, it is an earned opportunity. The value of the teaching position must be constantly examined, to a productive end. So too must the value of an individual teacher. Tenure or not, evaluations of some sort will always exist. What is the best for the future?


Acheson, K. A. & Gall, M. D., (1997) Techniques in the Clinical Supervision of Teaching: Preservice and Inservice Applications. Longman.

AFT Convention Resolution (1998, July) The Union Role in Assuring Teacher Quality. www.aft.org/EdIssures/downloads/assuretq.pdf

Clabaugh, G.K. & Rozycki, E.G., (1997) Analyzing Controversy: An Introductory Guide. Dushkin/McGraw-Hill.

Danielson, C., (1996) Enhancing Professional Practice: A Frameworkfor Teaching. ASCD.

Farr, R. & Tone, B., (1998) Portfolio and Performance Assessment. Harcourt Brace College Publishers.

Feinberg, W. & Soltis, J.F., (1998) School and Society. Columbia University: Teachers College Press.

Ingersoll, R. M. (1998, June) The Problem of Out-of-Field Teaching. Phi Delta Kappan.

Perkinson, H.J., (1995) Ae Imperfect Panacea: American Faith in Education. McGraw Hill, Inc.

Rotberg, I. C., Futrell, M.H. & Lieberman, J-M. (1998, February) National Board Certification: Increasing Participation and Assessing Impacts. Phi Delta Kappan

Shanker, A. (1996) The Wrong Target. www.aft.org/stand/previous/1996/091596

Strike, K.A., Haller, E.J. & Soltis, J.F., (1998) 7he Ethics of School Administration. Columbia University: Teachers College Press.

Toledo Federation of Teachers (1999) The Toledo Plan. www.tft250.org/the_toledo_plan

Urbanski, A. & Erskine, R. (2000, January) School Reform, TURN, and Teacher Compensation. Phi Delta Kappan.