The New Haven Model
(5/3/2010) To improve the quality of schools, districts need a rigorous system for evaluating the quality of teaching — rewarding teachers who do their jobs best and retraining or removing those who fail their students. The city of New Haven and the American Federation of Teachers deserve high praise for the new teacher training and evaluation system they unveiled earlier this week.
The proposal, which deserves swift approval from the board, shows what can go right when school districts and unions work together.
In most schools today, teacher evaluations are not worthy of the name. An administrator typically observes the teacher at work once or twice during the year. Nearly every teacher passes — even at the most dismal schools. Struggling teachers rarely get the help they need to improve. Once they are tenured, it is nearly impossible to dislodge them.
The New Haven system would completely rebuild the evaluation process. Instructional managers, mainly principals and assistant principals, will be assigned to teachers to help them lay out academic goals and development plans. These managers will then meet with the teachers throughout the year to give detailed feedback.
At the end of the year, teachers will receive a rating, on a 1-to-5 scale, based on how much students learn, how well teachers do their jobs and how well they collaborate with colleagues.
Teachers rated a 5, or exemplary, will be eligible for promotion to leadership positions, in which they share their skills with colleagues. Teachers who are rated at the 2 level, which means they are “developing,” must improve within a reasonable but limited span of time if they wish to keep their jobs. Teachers who are rated at the 1 level will receive intensive guidance and coaching. If they do not improve they can be dismissed as soon as the end of the school year.
New Haven will need to reallocate resources for this system to work. It will need to start by shifting some of the burden for school operations from principals to lower-level administrators, so that principals can invest more time in novice or struggling teachers.
Many high-performing charter schools have already adopted similar systems, with measurable success. If New Haven moves ahead, it could quickly find itself at the forefront of the national effort to improve the caliber of instruction in the public schools.
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