The Missing Piece in Teacher Evaluation Laws: Empowering Principals

Sara Mead of Bellwether Education recently wrote in an Education Week blog about her investigation into teacher evaluation legislation in 21 states that have passed laws in the last three years requiring teacher evaluations based in part on student achievement. Bellwether’s study finds that 12 states’ laws link tenure to teacher effectiveness, 16 explicitly give districts the ability to dismiss teachers rated ineffective, and 14 require or incentivize performance-based compensation.

Does this legislative activity represent a victory for human capital in the education profession? Maybe not. Mead’s big takeaway from the analysis is that states are more willing to pass evaluation laws than to empower principals and districts to manage human capital decision-making. She writes:

We have to give school districts–and in particular, principals–the ability to effectively manage their teaching staffs, by making decisions about hiring, assignment, and so forth. Right now, a host of provisions in state laws, district policies, and teacher contracts–such as seniority-based transfers, excessing, and “bumping” policies–limit principals’ ability to make decisions about who teaches in their schools or even the positions to which teachers are assigned. Taken together, these provisions also prevent districts from developing sound human capital strategies based on the interests of students, rather than adults…

This is a problem. New evaluation systems have been sold as a way to drive improvement in teacher performance–but evaluations can’t do everything that’s been promised. Driving real improvement in teaching and student learning requires a degree of human judgement and effective management that must be done by people acting in principal and district-level leadership roles–who currently are too often precluding from using this judgement to effectively manage staffing. Moreover, the theory of action behind new evaluation systems remains largely untested in public education, and there are many implementation and design principals. That’s not an argument against new evaluation systems–the status quo they replace was clearly deeply flawed. But, in contrast, it’s abundantly clear why assigning teachers to schools without a principal’s say or agreement undermines the principal’s ability to create a coherent culture in the school and drive improvements in teaching and learning. And it’s worth asking why many states are addressing the former while ignoring the latter.

For more, see Mead’s full blog post:
See the report: