Public school self-evaluations are like elections in a dictatorship…

… nobody thinks the regime can afford to show vulnerability.  That’s why there’s such a gaping hole in Linda Borg’s Providence Journal article on results for Rhode Island’s new teacher evaluation experiment.

It isn’t just that weak-kneed administrators don’t want to risk the careers of teachers or the wrath of unhappy unions; it’s also that the administrators, themselves, look bad if they’re building “ineffective” organizations.  And if they start reporting an honest and negative assessment of their schools, then the only people who can really enforce accountability — those who ultimately hire them and pay their salaries (taxpayers and voters) — might actually begin to do so.

What these results suggest is that there is zero institutional incentive for school districts to evaluate themselves honestly, and much incentive for them to take up the teacher union talking point of “an effective teacher in every classroom.”

  • The Foster school district reported not a single teacher less than “highly effective.”
  • Another seven districts or charter schools reported no teachers less than effective (that is, either “ineffective” or “developing”).
  • Thirty-one of the 50 districts/charters for which there is data admit to no more than 5% of teachers’ being less than effective.
  • Only five schools put their “ineffective/developing” count above 10%.

This simply isn’t credible, and if you think about it, it isn’t surprising that those five systems reporting the worst results are Barrington and four alternative schools.  For alternative schools, accountability is enforced, ultimately, by parental choice (limited as it may be), so they can better afford to utilize evaluation tools as intended.

Allowing parents to evaluate their children’s teachers and potentially withdraw funding for them is the only means of real accountability.  When that’s the case, administrators don’t have to manage via public report and can actually work with teachers to improve.

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