Evaluate teachers fairly

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By Optic Editorial Board

There’s no question in our minds that the system used to evaluate teachers needs to change.

Effective teachers have the power to change the course of a child’s life, and they deserve to be recognized for the great work they are doing. But there are also teachers who struggle in the classroom, and that, too, needs to be brought out in the evaluation process. A good evaluation system would flag those individuals who are struggling so that they can be given the opportunity to get additional training in hopes of turning them into effective teachers.

Given what’s at stake for teachers, students and our state as a whole, we need to get this evaluation system right.

Unfortunately, the new teacher evaluation system developed by the state Public Education Department has a major flaw.

Charles Bowyer, executive director of the New Mexico chapter of the National Education Association, says the state’s new process will remove the responsibility of principals to be instructional leaders and put teachers in the position of having to evaluate one another. The union official says  he feels strongly that principals, not colleagues, should be handling evaluations, and we agree.

Observations will account for a fourth of teacher evaluations. The remaining 75 percent of the evaluation will be based on measures of student learning and other measures to be determined by school districts, according to The Associated Press.

The best-run schools have strong principals, and we fear that stripping principals of their responsibility to evaluate teachers will only weaken them. We also fear that having colleagues perform evaluations could further politicize the process and result in some teachers getting poor evaluations because their colleagues had an ax to grind, and it could mean that other teachers get glowing evaluations because they are liked.

Put another way, this is a little like stripping teachers of their responsibility to assign grades to students and allowing students to decide each other’s grades.

To be fair, the evaluation system the state has come up with specifies that only teachers with at least five years of experience can be classroom observers and then only if they undergo training and pass a test. The teachers must also be rated as highly effective in their own teaching before they are allowed to be observers for other teachers.

Still, the potential political implications of this move make this a bad idea.