As school districts contemplate implementing the state recommended teacher evaluation system (aka, Marzano or Hazelwood plan) and the State Board of Education considers a “Report on District Alignment to the Essential Principles of Effective Evaluation” on October 27th, it would behoove them to read Anthony Cody’s piece on this process. He says that embedding teacher growth into an evaluative framework can actually produce the opposite of the desired effect.  The Gates Foundation has been the bulldozer behind the scenes pushing this model. Bill Gates spoke on October 7th about the “successes” of his foundation in the area of education, into which the Foundation has poured millions of dollars. I guess success is in the eye of the beholder because, like his small schools experiment, so much of what the Gates Foundation has pushed has failed. Cody wrote, “While Gates acknowledged some missteps in the rollout of the Common Core – blamed on their ‘naivete’, the emphasis was on advances made, with a pledge to continue pushing in the same direction.” Gates falls on the classic “the plan wasn’t bad, it was just the implementation” excuse, insinuating that the rest of us just aren’t smart enough to implement his plan correctly.

Cody has provided a great deconstruction of Gates’ teacher evaluation framework to explain why this model is actually destructive to both teacher growth and student education.

cody teacher

A critical segment of Cody’s post is provided here, but I encourage everyone, especially school board members, to read the entire post.


Responding to Bill Gates’ Destructive Model of Teacher Evaluation

Here is how Gates describes the rationale for this work:

We decided to focus on what goes on inside the classroom, and focus on the teaching profession and how we could facilitate improvement there. The evidence is very strong about the importance of an effective teacher. If you take two classrooms from within the same school, and you have a teacher in one classroom who’s in the top quartile – not at the top, but just in the top 25%, and another teacher who’s at the top of the bottom quartile, the 75%, and you look at their students’ achievement over the course of the year, their scores will be ten percent different by the end of the year. And that’s a very dramatic difference. If you go three years in a row having that top line, you would completely close the income inequity of learning in the entire country. And so making sure there’s more of those top quartile teachers, and that we’ve moved people up from that bottom quartile, that, if it’s done at scale, can have dramatic effects.

This has become known as the “Three great teachers in a row myth.” Here is some background that reveals how misguided this idea is. From Diane Ravitch:

Over a short period of time, this assertion became an urban myth among journalists and policy wonks in Washington, something that “everyone knew.” This particular urban myth fed a fantasy that schools serving poor children might be able to construct a teaching corps made up exclusively of superstar teachers, the ones who produced large gains year after year.

This is akin to saying that baseball teams should consist only of players who hit over .300 and pitchers who win at least twenty games every season; after all, such players exist, so why should not such teams exist. The fact that no such team exists should give pause to those who believe that almost every teacher in almost every school in almost every district might be a superstar if only school leaders could fire at will.

The teacher was everything; that was the new mantra of economists and bottom-line school reformers.


In addressing the evaluation model that focuses on teacher growth and requires constant feedback and observations Cody said this.

This understanding, that power dynamics affect people’s willingness to engage in these processes, is a useful one. He [Gates] goes on to say:

We have many systems today that are viewed negatively because they are mainly about hiring and firing. They are not a tool for this learning. If we don’t get that balance right, the whole evaluation system does not strengthen teaching, it actually inhibits it. So you get cases where teachers would prefer to have no feedback at all, which was the system a decade ago most of them worked in.

Every teacher has a right to ask about these evaluations, “Is it designed to help me get better?”

School districts across the country have been struggling with all sorts of variations on the model Gates has advocated — after the use of test scores [for teacher evaluations] was made one of the requirements for Race to the Top and NCLB waivers.   Recently, the Gates Foundation pulled the last $20 million from a $100 million grant to the Hillsborough schools in Florida. One roadblock encountered was that “peer coaches” came to be seen as bureaucrats by teachers they were assigned to work with. Now Gates seems to be saying that their model is fine, but the recipe must be just right for it to work. If things go haywire, then it was not done just right. But I think there is a more fundamental problem.

I am going to make a rather strong departure from the Gates approach.

It is not only wrong because the systems have defined excellence in terms of test scores. It is wrong about the proper role of teacher evaluation in relationship to teacher’s professional growth. Teacher evaluation systems are NOT primarily about helping people get better. Nor should they be.

Just as Gates has defined student tests as the critical lever to increase learning for them, and sought to use such tests to rank and sort students, he has defined teacher evaluation as the lever to increase teacher growth, and likewise sought to rank teachers according to their “effectiveness.” But teacher evaluation has never been an important avenue for professional growth, and there are good reasons why it is poorly suited for this task.

Teacher evaluations are directly connected to significant, even career-ending consequences. Especially under the policies advocated by the Gates Foundation, and coerced into effect by the Department of Education, evaluations are used to determine if one gets respect or is pushed into remediation – or even fired — as an “ineffective” teacher. Talk about high stakes!

Let’s think about the way we grow as individuals in a genuinely collaborative environment. In my dialogue with the Gates Foundation several years ago, I drew their attention to the Teacher Inquiry approach being used at New Highland Academy in Oakland. The teachers there work with the Mills Teacher Scholars program, and defined questions about their teaching practice to investigate. They were unhappy with the level of reading comprehension their students were showing, so they investigated and developed some strategies to apply. They met monthly and observed and collected data in one another’s classrooms. They made all the key decisions about what changes to make. They worked closely with one another, and gave each other critical feedback about their teaching. This did not need to be part of their evaluation process, and in my view, putting it in an evaluative framework would have destroyed the trusting environment this work needs to unfold.

Real reflection and growth is a risky thing. It requires seeing our own weaknesses, and even drawing attention to them with others so as to get their insights and help. What person in their right mind would draw attention to their own weaknesses in the context of a “high impact” evaluation system? The places where I have seen teachers take real risks and grow have been in Critical Friends groups, through Lesson Study, through the National Board process, and through the Mills Teacher Scholars. These practices all have one thing in common. They require deep trust between the people doing the work. That trust comes from knowing we are all supporting one another to be the best we can be. It is destroyed by an evaluative context. (emphasis added)

 Ask teachers, off the record, how they feel about their work environment today. Many will answer that it is hostile, that they try to just keep their head down and avoid being too noticed by the administration. They are pessimistic about their ability to meet the targets set by the district because their ability to affect those targets is limited and the targets are often not reasonable. Then ask how much money is currently being diverted to this complex evaluation model that has, as a major goal, advancing the teacher’s skill set, not student growth or understanding. Is this what our public schools are supposed to be about?

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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