That ‘teacher performance’ Issue

Recently, I’ve carried a number of articles that have highlighted the complex issues associated with the whole arena of assessing the performance of teachers. This is a real and very genuine challenge. There are plenty in the education field who feel innately that they would wish to reward and recognise the high achievers, the excellent teachers to a far greater extent than has hitherto been possible.

There is also a thorny issue that many find hard to come out and acknowledge in public. If any profession keeps every person ‘for ever’ then, by implication, as well as including pockets of excellence, that profession will also be providing a safe harbour for the incompetent and sub-standard – those whose performance drags down the profession. This can have all sorts of implications. It can limit the desire for some highly talented people to move in to the profession. It can lead to a general diminution in effort across the profession (when he/ she and I are paid the same and given the same recognition, why should I expend extra effort or aspire to higher standards?). It can also diminish the reputation of the profession in the eyes of the public, who often may be inclined to judge by the lowest rather than the highest evidence they see. Finally, it diminishes the standing of those who lead in the profession because they are seen to be tolerant and accepting of mediocrity or even worse – implying that they don’t care enough about thew quality of outputs/ product.

So, for all these reasons, those who are serious in their desire for raising standards of professionalism in education cast around for potential solutions, ways to judge performance, ways to determine and recognise the performers and separate them from the crowd. However, as we’ve seen from some of the articles posted earlier this is a big challenge, fraught with far more difficulties and challenges than are first apparent. The following article really encapsulates all that can go wrong, however noble the starting intentions may have been:

New York Times Article

This piece is extremely well written. Thoughtful, balanced and perceptive. However, as I read it, a new thought came in to my mind. What if this and many other analyses are missing the point, because their focus is all on the outcomes and the ‘content’ of what’s being tested and how? After all, educators can hardly be blamed for this in a scenario where most of the education system has made itself obsessed with content and outcomes for the last 200 years, l;argely at the expense of deep thought and analysis about process.

The education process that a child goes through is going to have a fundamental impact on their whole life, economically, socially, psychologically, even spiritually. Further, the prevalent education paradigms are going to fundamentally shape society economically, socially, psychologically and even spiritually. When the impacts are potentially so vast, could we buy in to a school of thought that suggests that even an imperfect system that weeded out some of the ‘wrong’ people who shouldn’t be in education was infinitely better than no system at all.

Thus, we could say, sure, work to make the system the best it can possibly be for evaluating teachers’ performance, but accept its imperfections. Above all else, don’t allow leeway to those who suggest that no system should be allowed until it can be proved to be perfectly ‘just’ to every teacher. Imperfect or not, if the net effect is that the process is removing some wrong and bad people from classrooms where they shouldn’t be allowed to work that is in the best interest of the children, the profession and ultimately the entire education system (and therefore the country).

In a Machiavellian sense – will the end justify the means?

For a doctor to practice, the Hippocratic oath is deemed sacrosanct – do no harm. I suggest that the education profession will only be able to say that it is committed equally to ‘doing no harm’ when it is prepared to weed out, without emotion or sentimentality, those who should not be in education.


One Response

  1. It’s a very very good topic Mark, and I completely agree with a balanced approach you suggest. Performance measurement, for professions like teaching that involve softer skills, is largely relative. The question always is – just how much imperfection can or should be tolerated for a go/no go decision to be made? Is there really a tipping point for that scale?

    It’d be great to get your thoughts on it!

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