"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why are we suddenly so interested in teacher evaluation?

My contribution to the NY Times Sunday Dialogue on how to evaluate teachers.
Published in the New York Times, March 18, 2012

Dr. Yatvin’s suggestions for teacher evaluation are excellent. But why are the Times and many others suddenly interested in teacher evaluation?
It is because of the belief that poor teaching is the reason American schools are failing. The perception that our schools are failing, however, is based only on American students’ international test scores. Rarely mentioned is the finding that middle-class American students in well-funded schools score at the top of the world on these tests; our overall scores are unspectacular because we have the highest percentage of children living in poverty among all industrialized countries.
The problem is thus not teacher quality. The problem is poverty, which means poor diet, poor health care, and little access to books. Quality teaching has little effect when students are hungry, sick, and have nothing to read.
Let’s improve teacher evaluation, but there is no evidence that there is a teaching crisis in the US.

Stephen Krashen


  1. I thought that this was a wonderful examination of the rationale behind evaluations for teachers. While I know it is with good intentions I think we are missing the idea that most teachers teach because they want to make a difference in some learners life, but as educators we have no control over the hand that we are dealt when the children walk into the classroom to learn.From overcrowded classrooms to deliberate unequal distribution of "At Risk" children teachers cannot and will not be evaluated fairly. One year my principal told me I had most of the" At Risk" children in my grade level. So when you evaluate the teacher with most of the" At Risk" children, and then you evaluate her coworkers at that grade level, do you think the evaluation process is fair? There is so much inequality in the education process that no matter what we blame student failure on teacher evaluation will not solve it.Yes, there are bad teachers, but there are also corrupt schools with biased principals that totally have no regard and no respect for the learning process when it comes to students who struggle. So they will just stick all the struggling students in one room together causing an extreme hardship on the teacher and students. And after all of that they show up to evaluate that teacher to the same standards that they evaluate the teacher next door that has as they call it , "all the high learners"( mostly Korean students or students of higher socio-economic background). Its sad but it is a reality.

  2. Anonymous9:30 AM

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Stephen! For over a year now I have been writing in newspaper blog after blog this same message, to no apparent avail. I'm so glad the message about the PISA tests and poverty is getting out more now.

    Yes, it's poverty that is keeping our poor children from doing better in school. Reduce the poverty rate using the methods you described above, and our international test scores will go up. Or, as a professor from Columbia University said to our school district a few years ago: I can close the achievement gap, guaranteed. Get regular medical care for every child, get vision tests for every child and glasses for those that need them, get dental care for every child, and get rid of the lead in every child's home.

    What the international tests tell us is actually quite the opposite of what the Duncans and Gates would have us believe. They tell us that American teachers are the best in the world! Try getting some of the Finnish teachers to come here and teach in our inner cities or in Appalachia or in the southern states!