Education and Evaluation

April 19, 2011

Here’s my opinion, for what it’s worth. We truly do NOT dedicate enough time, energy and resources to good evaluation in education. Unlike many other businesses and institutions who devote serious time, money and attention to performance evaluations, we fall short. We just do. We always have. I’ve said countless times that tenure isn’t the reason we keep bad teachers around for years, a failure to do the hard work of evaluation and documentation by administrators is the reason.

This post isn’t going to be about the WHY of this problem. As a school administrator of eleven years, I’m pointing the finger at myself as much as anyone else. Especially as a building principal, there are 100+ reasons/other responsibilities to explain why good performance evaluation gets short shrift. Let’s suffice it to say there’s a general lack of training, time, attention, experience, resources,  and priority. Managing the needs of 600 children and adults in one building + the parents and community members and their questions/concerns=more than a full time job with problems pulling at the principal from every direction.

So here’s where this subject hit me like a ton of bricks today.

We have new regulations coming from the New York State Education Department for principal and teacher evaluation–the draft regulations are out this week and so, as a school superintendent, I’ve been studying the regs, taking notes, forming questions. They’re pretty daunting at first glance. Not insurmountable, of course, but let’s just say, there’s a lot to it. Just the regs for the district plan and the requirements for the training course are a lot to take in, not to mention the timeline. A district plan has to be adopted by September 10, 2011.

So I took a break from studying the new regs to read the news in my Google Reader. My college roommate, Lisa, is an HR Leader who works for a VA Hospital in Minnesota and she writes about leadership, growth and human resources over at Simply Lisa. She’s one of the few resources that I read regularly who isn’t in the field of education. Here’s what her post contained today that struck me:

Minding the details is what I’ll be doing this week as I:

  • Prepare for midterm reviews with my staff,
  • Offer advice on the Intuit Small Business Blog,
  • Welcome an HR Consultative Review team for a 3 day review,
  • Talk with supervisors and about performance management, and
  • Noodle employee relations, administrative investigations, objectivity and HR influence.

It’s not flashy, it’s not sexy, and it’s not Oscar worthy . . . but it is necessary.

Those are all responsibilities designed to give people feedback and training and skills in employee relations. When do we do that in education? At my bi-monthly admin meetings when we talk about how many evals the principals have completed or how our new faculty are doing OR at the four new teacher mentoring sessions we hold per year? We all take a little piece of the HR puzzle and no one person is dedicated to getting this crucial job done right–yet it’s the chance we have to really influence the central purpose of our existence.

We’re where we are in education–with pressures from EVERYWHERE from the federal government with RTTT requirements tied to all of that money, to the state with implementing the requirements, to competition from alternative ways of learning to our public school system, to scrutiny in the press about our results, to parent complaints–because we’ve historically paid too little attention to the performance of our teachers and administrators. The very core of what we do in this little institution with 200+ employees and 1000+ students. We haven’t dedicated enough human or capital resources to all of the responsibilities that Lisa’s HR department (a whole department!) manages every day. Instead, we have ONE building administrator in each of two buildings who’s on his or her own to get the job done. And training in how to do that well, or support then feedback–HA! Where has that been? It’s sporadic in the best of circumstances.

I’m embracing the new regs. As cloudy as they seem right now, we’ve simply got to get better at this evaluation piece. And that’s going to take some serious work and resources. Even for those of us who are already doing this work fairly well, who have the critical conversations with employees and recognize those who are doing excellent work, who see this as the most important feedback we can give—much more training and development of a fair and meaningful system has to happen. Let’s get to it. Those draft regs at least draw attention to the entire evaluation system–something which will help us improve, if we can figure out how to do it well.



  1.   Sheri says :

    What a great piece. I so agree with your opinion. We sure could use someone like you in Albany. Your attitude has altitude. With the ever changing regs you have a honest and direct approach. You are a breath of fresh air to read.

  2.   Jonathan says :

    I think they are “grade and punish” regs rather than “discuss and improve.”

    One positive could be increasing the amount of time that teachers work with teachers – but that’s non-evaluative, and not provided for. Long ago in NYC, departments were run by teachers – they were chairmen, not supervisors, and the relationships that grew there, the quality of the discussion, of the training, those were far more valuable than those we currently get with APs.

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